A Calculated Risk

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” -Benjamin Franklin

We are in the middle of our third adoption. Embarking on a domestic adoption is like being a backseat social worker. We have heard about financial troubles, medical crises, birth mothers in jail, birth fathers in jail, a birth mother who wants to split up her twins, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexual abuse. Birth mothers who can’t decide, those who use the system, and those who are outright scam artists. This journey is really a treasure hunt for that sincere gem who finds herself in hard times and just wants what’s best for her baby.

Since we started this process a year ago we’ve heard about at least half a dozen moms who were a potential match but didn’t work out for different reasons. Last month we immersed ourselves in the stories of two. One a homeless teenager who seemed interested in us but now may place with a friend in town. The other keeps getting services from the agency but doesn’t want to commit to a family and keeps asking for more profiles. They tell us to keep our hopes up for her, but we know she’s not the one. Last week I got a call about birth mom #3, someone who has several kids of her own and has placed for adoption before. The agency says she checks out by every measure of sincerity, reasoning for adoption, and life circumstances to support her choice. The intuition of the director, which I trust about 90%, is that she’s the real thing.

But we live in Oklahoma, a state with strong Native American legislation and somewhat lenient birth father rights. Although both birth parents deny Native American heritage, if their names appear on some list a tribe can come and snatch a baby from our home, no matter how long she’s been living there. And then there’s the birth father. He’s not for adoption. He also doesn’t seem to want to parent since he hasn’t given this lady any support nor promised any in the future. But after mom signs away her rights (7-14 days after birth) he is informed of a hearing 30+ days after that. We can hope he doesn’t show up; because then his rights are terminated and we breathe a big sigh of relief. But if he does, and says “no”, he gets to prove that He’s an able father. If he can convince the court, the mom’s rights are unprovoked, and the State of Oklahoma gets to decide who will parent our baby.

If all this happens, how long will she have been with us? Two months? Six? I will have to wait months to see if I’m fostering or really adopting. In most cases the parental rights are terminated smoothly, but the “what ifs” are terrifying.

Another unknown on this journey has been the race of our baby. We were very fortunate to be able to specify a girl (since we have already adopted two boys). Because of the need for racially open families, and the dearth of families of color adopting, we felt called to welcome any girl chosen for us. Since making that choice I have read some articles featuring African American and Asian adoptees, and their adolescent and adult identity struggles due to being raised in a white family. They grew up feeling like they were white, and struggled greatly in later years to reclaim their lost heritage. Some of them were sympathetic to their adoptive parents, some of them estranged. They encouraged us to adopt in pairs, to have friends of our child’s race, to do whatever we could to help him embrace his “blackness”, etc. One interviewee said bluntly that it was better for black families to adopt black children. And I have heard that this is an attitude held by some in the African American community.

Reading this sent me in a bit of a tailspin. Were we right to be open, or were we being naive and presumptuous to think that we can shape a healthy racial identity in our several children of different ethnic backgrounds? The first baby we heard about this year was biracial AA. The second, full AA. And this one is white. I long to picture my daughter just like any mom with a baby in utero, but I can’t, because that would default to one race over another. I might attach myself to a certain color or look, and pay for those repeated reveries with disappointment when the real baby arrives. So I have loved and wanted all of them. The Hispanic little girl with long shiny black hair. The biracial child with gorgeous curls like Nick’s. The African American darling with carefully crafted braids. And yes, the Caucasian little one who looks like me. I have tried to remain open, prolonging the fantasy for the real. And when that one comes I will feel a pang of loss for all the others, the beautiful daughters I didn’t get to mother.

Yesterday we signed the matching agreement, filled with legalese about the rights of birth parents to change their mind, the lack of guarantee of satisfaction, and the promise of a blank check for birth mother expenses. If all I had on this journey was an agency with good intentions, a solid birth mom, and a reasonable hope for a healthy baby, I don’t know if I could finish it. Yes, we have had 2 successful adoptions, and yes, if we keep pushing forward we are likely to have final success. I desperately want a daughter. But the emotional and financial risks highlighted above are just too great. And all our careful calculations may prove inadequate. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”- a brave and cheerful statement that can’t give me courage for this. There is something more than optimism that gives me the faith to make this leap. For the past several months I’ve had peace that God is in this adoption, and even with the false leads and disappointments, it will work out right in the end. Peace that settles deep, filling the crevices of fear and doubt. I’ve even had a sense that March is our time. This came from lots of prayer, baring my heart before the One who knows every longing. Adoption is His heart, His calling. I’m still afraid, but I don’t have that seismic rumble that tells you something is fundamentally wrong. God is not a fortune teller. But He can give that guidance in the dark that no one else can. And the courage to risk.

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.” –Minnie Louise Haskins