I tend to stare at the shiny side of my adoption coin a lot. Because that’s the side I see most often. And it’s the side I want to see. My son was a gift I could not obtain on my own. But everything has two sides. A shiny copper penny sitting in my yard glints up at me, reflecting the sunlight as I walk by. If I pick it up, I know that clinging to the underside of that coin is pieces of earth, moisture, and whatever was on the ground when it landed there. I can’t pick it up without acknowledging both sides. And I can’t pick it up without getting my hands dirty.
In March 2001, almost exactly 8 weeks before we brought our son home, we got a call from the agency. About our son. Or so we thought. At that point, we’d only been active on the waiting list for 5 months. Our case worker told us we’d been picked by a family. But there was a strange caviat in the situation. The baby was already 3 weeks old and had a 3-year-old full-blood sibling. This gave me a sour feeling in my gut, but that emotion was overpowered by my hope. So we moved forward.
The plan was made for our agency’s director, Ray, to pick us up and drive us to Orlando where we would meet this family–and the baby to be adopted–in a park. We would spend as much or as little time as seemed appropriate. There would be a lot of unknowns in the day and we’d have to be okay with winging it to some degree. I remember more about that day than I wish I did. I remember my first impressions of the couple. They were attractive. He was tall and dark. She was shorter and red headed, though it was red from a bottle and not from God. She was a Hooter’s waitress who was eager to go back to her “career.” The baby was an inconvenience? I honestly don’t know. And I remember the tiny toddler this couple was already raising together. That little girl was smart as a whip. She could recite her ABCs forwards and backwards. I’ve tried to do this many times. I can’t do it.
As the meeting progressed, this newborn son was handed to me and I learned to hold him like he liked to be held. His skin was pure and the color of weak coffee. He was beautiful. When he got fussy, the birth mother took him and walked off to a concrete bathroom where she nursed him before reappearing and giving him back to me.
I don’t remember our conversations in the park. I do remember the conversations in the van once we were back with only Ray. After lots of back and forth about impressions and opinions, I spoke up.
“So what would you say about today in one sentence?” I directed my question to Ray.
“Well,” he paused. “I would say that you just met your son.” My heart jumped at this statement. “And I would predict that within a week, you’ll have him home with you.”
That was all I needed to hear. To my ears, this was not one man’s opinion. I took it as a booming message from the mouth of God.
Unfortunately, it was one man’s opinion. And even more unfortunately, Ray was dead wrong about everything that day. Within 6 hours, the shiny copper penny I had spent a day with and planned my life around had been kicked. It was now shiny side down. What was left was a trail of phone calls between the birth couple and Ray that began to smell like a black market operation. They needed $5,000 in back rent. The check couldn’t be made out to a land lord, because they’d already found ways to pay him. The check had to be made out to them. They were trying to reimburse themselves. They needed to get back on their feet.
They had a life together, another child together, a Mitsubishi Eclipse together. What did they want from me?
The answer wasn’t a loving adoptive couple. The answer was money. And after the trail of phone calls between Ray and this couple, there came a barrage of calls from Ray to us.
“Missy, I’m sorry about this. You can’t imagine how sorry I am,” he said, his voice dripping with the weight of everyone’s sorrow. “I’ve tried every way I know to make this happen in some legitimate way. But this looks like a sale to me. Like they are trying to sell me their baby. And if I jump through all the hoops and meet their demands and somehow make it happen, two years down the road, the state of Florida may catch wind of this and pull you all into court and take this baby away from you. I can’t let that happen to you or to that child.” Ray paused for a long second. “I’m sorry, you guys, but I have to let this one go.”
And with that, the boy was not our son.
That broke my heart.
But that wasn’t the worst part for me. I was prepared to pick myself up after 3 days of crying and a bad meal at Golden Corral. What killed me–and what kills me still–is that those parents were willing to use that boy as a pawn. I could get over that baby not being mine. I couldn’t get over that he was theirs.
I’ll never know how that turned out for the boy, who is 18 now. I pray they pulled it together and raised him well. Or that someone did. But like Ray, I had to let that one go.
Two months later, we got another call. This one was a much different situation. And this one was about our son, Andrew. A new story began with that phone call on May 21. It’s a story that is still unfolding. And it’s a story that has some serious shine to it, but it’s not without its underneath side.
November is nationally recognized as Adoption Awareness Month. In the last few months, I’ve followed an author named Carrie Goldman who lives and works in Chicago and is a huge advocate of adoption and building healthy kids and families. For the next 30 days, starting today, she is featuring an article a day about adoption. 30 days of 30 adoptions. Some of them are tied with beautiful bows. Some of them are raw and painful. In the words of Carrie Goldman: As always, one of the things that makes this community so incredible is the willingness to hear each other’s truths. There are going to be stories that celebrate adoption. There are going to be stories that lay bare the agonies of adoption. There are going to be stories that embrace the contradictory facets and dialectics of adoption. Each person who submitted a story is using immense courage to put their story out there, and I ask that readers offer empathy, support and kindness. If someone’s truth doesn’t sit well with you, please engage in distress tolerance instead of personal attacks. One of the most beautiful things I see each year is when adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthparents can read each other’s stories and sit with those truths and offer a word of validation, even when we have a totally different experience than the guest writer. #30AdoptionPortraitsin30Days
If you are a fan of adoption, you can find these stories on Chicago Now:
Or you can read them on Facebook here:
Today’s was fascinating to me, and presented a side of international adoption I didn’t know with any detail. Mine will be featured on Monday, November 11. Most of you already know it, but maybe you can humor me anyway.
Happy Adoption Awareness Month.