Once in a while, in the wacky process of creating families, the universe tosses out a serendipity so unlikely, it makes everyone gasp in amazement.
A couple we know of adopted a newborn son; then, two years later, they were in the right place at the right time when their son's birth mother decided to surrender a second little boy. This was obviously an unbelievable stroke of luck for the adoptive parents: Their sons would be genetic siblings, with all the presumed benefits and simplified logistics of that biological bond.
Three years later, lightning struck once more. The same couple learned that the boys' biological mother had given birth again, this time to a girl, and hoped to give the baby to the same family who was raising the brothers.
The couple's reaction this time was different. On the one hand, they had a chance almost any couple in their position would envy. On the other, this potential third child was completely unexpected.
Just as fertile couples have to take the physical rigors of a pregnancy and the personal and financial strain into account when they consider having one more child, adoptive couples also have to factor in the emotional and economic costs of adoption.
So, with genuine regret, they turned down the placement. This little seven-pound, three-ounce bundle of possibility would be adopted by and prosper in a family with siblings bound by love, not blood. Even the birth mother understood. After all, she was not in the position of being able to raise the child, either.
When I heard about this, my first reaction was disappointment. How could they turn down the baby? My second reaction was empathy -- how could they not? And my third reaction was a bewildering combination of the two. What I kept coming back to was the nagging concern that this couple was stopped not by an internal brake but by exterior pressures.
We all need to be honest with ourselves about how many children we can emotionally and economically afford. That said, I believe that too many good parents stop too soon.
I can think of a dozen families who are raising one child when they'd love a second, or who've bypassed the chance to raise a child of their own because their paths seem strewn with the needs of older stepchildren, older parents, or consuming careers. Every road not taken requires some sacrifice, of course. But how many of those choices are inspired by a real analysis of the situation, and how many by knee-jerk fears?