April 10, 2008

The Checklist

The hardest part of the adoption process was completing the adoption checklist. Essentially, this is a list in which you indicate everything that you are willing to accept in a child. This list gives your identity, morals and values a run for their money. It is extremely excruciating to go through a checklist in this amount of detail. Some of the options are easy but most are incredibly difficult decisions to make especially when you just want to become a mother.

The first portion of the checklist includes the birthparent's health history. You go through a list of dozens of health conditions that you would be willing to accept in either parent's genetic background. This includes things like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, lupus, mental retardation etc. etc. This feels incredibly hypocritical and crazy as you would never sit down with a potential partner to review both of your health histories before deciding to start a family (unless there is a history of inherited genetic disorders). Both of our families have had cancer, heart disease, arthritis etc. We're not really a genetic jackpot so it felt strange to select certain attributes for our child's birthparents. Needless to say we weren't all that worried about most items on the list in consideration of all of our own genetic shortcomings.

The checklist becomes harder when you have to determine your tolerance for drug and alcohol use by both of the birthparents. The detail on this list is very impressive. You can select which trimester and to what degree drugs or alcohol were used, if at all. We did very thorough research on the effects of various drugs and alcohol when completing this list. The most challenging aspect is a woman finding herself pregnant without intending to start a family would likely not know she is pregnant for quite some time and might go about life as normal including potential drinking and drug use. I know that when I wasn't trying to get pregnant I did my fair share of happy hours. It's hard to balance what you would do as you are trying to start a family with the reality of how a woman who has no intention of starting a family is living her life. This for me, was the biggest psychological hurdle to overcome. I'm not the person who is pregnant. Of course, I gave up alcohol, caffeine, took vitamins and ate organic foods while trying to become pregnant. It took me a few weeks to get over the fact that I need to be realistic about our situation and realize that the birthmother is making a mature decision to care for her child after birth and of course this would also apply to the pregnancy. She might not be drinking organic spinach juice but will be doing her best to care for her baby.

The final portion of the checklist pertains to the physical characteristics of a baby. I found some of the checklist items to be ridiculous- droopy eyelid, off-center pupil etc. Really! I'm just happy to have a healthy baby- droopy eyelid and all. My husband and I have decided that these questions are added to screen out people with unrealistic expectations for another human being. Of course, some of the characterstics are life-altering like Downs Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and other medical conditions. We were very realistic about what kind of life we could give a child with special needs and what those needs might look like.

Finally, you may choose the gender and race/ethnicity of your child. My husband and I are both white and we both took a long time on this topic. Obviously, we would love any child that we were fortunate enough to have join our family regardless of gender or race. However, it's naive to not consider the social and emotional impact of transracial adoption on your child. My husband and I took awhile to consider what we should do. We would love a child of any race but also had to consider what the implications of that decision would mean. We read many many books and spoke with different people including our families and others who have adopted transracially.

My greatest concern was for my child. I have no illusions that racism is alive and well both overtly and subtly in our society. As a white person, you have the unfortunate position of being subject to comments from other individuals regarding people of other races. Usually this is very subtle, veiled racism, but, racism none the less. I could not comprehend what I would do to someone who made a comment like this to my child. (I have a fiery temper when it comes to those close to me). I thought about my African American male teenager being racially profiled by cops and about strangers making comments to us in a grocery store. How would I react? Would I be prepared to support my child in a positive and self-affirming way? Would I be able to provide my child with the cultural identity that they needed and the self-esteem that they needed? How would I prepare my child to deal with the realities of the outside world and give him/her the skills to cope?

I have the privilege of living in an inclusive, diverse community with a great support system. My husband and I decided that we were open to adopting a child of a different race and doing everything in our power to make them feel loved and proud of their heritage and their race and to help them build a healthy self-esteem by including them in events and programs that support their racial identity. This was not an easy decision. More than anything in adoption, I think this really brought home to our families that this child would not look like us. Of course, a white child wouldn't look like us either, but, I think this was very poignant for everyone. Our families are supportive; however, they too are not naive to the challenges that this will present to everyone.

Creating our checklist was very eye-opening to me. It truly makes you explore and own your feelings about physical disabilities, attributes and race. It's a very humbling experience to go through this list and see your values on paper. However, as painful as it might be, it was so important for us to be true to ourselves and realistic about what we can handle. I would have loved to go through the list and say yes to everything, but, that's not fair to our future child or to ourselves. Each child deserves a family that can truly and openly meet his/her needs and provide a supportive and nurturing environment.

Finally, with the checklist completed, we were ready for our final meeting!