March 2000 to October 2000
Josh: We conceived Olivia with relative ease four and a half years ago, so I'm a bit surprised when a year of trying to have a second child yields no results.
I'm willing to attempt a few low-tech fertility treatments, but elaborate in vitro techniques hold little appeal. The hormones that Christina would have to take seem wild and unpredictable. And there's a slippery slope: If you try IVF once and it doesn't work, you're tempted to try again. We've met couples who are on their third or fourth attempt, and it's as though what started as the most natural of impulses has become an awkward lump in their relationship.
It just doesn't feel quite right to spend thousands of dollars in order to have a baby when we already have a biological child and there are babies all over the world who need parents. We love Christina's adopted niece, Katherine, so the notion of adoption doesn't seem odd -- it feels logical. So all in all, the decision has evolved naturally and quickly: We'll adopt.
April 26, 2000
Christina: Josh and I meet at Spence-Chapin, the adoption agency, for an orientation session. We're here, along with 20 other couples and many single women, to learn what our options are for adopting abroad. (We've rapidly ruled out domestic adoption now that we've learned that it takes much longer and is more complicated.) We hear about programs in various countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Parents speak about their recent experiences adopting from China, Vietnam, and Moldova and show off their children.
At first, we consider Russia. We think it might be easier for a child we adopt to look somewhat like the rest of our family. But new laws in Russia have slowed down the adoption process.
Our next choice is Vietnam. Based on what we've heard, the babies are generally healthy, well cared for, and available at 4 to 7 months old, about as young as you can get with international adoption. The wait is reputed to be relatively short. Katherine is Korean, so another Asian child in the family makes sense. Plus, the Vietnamese baby at the meeting is adorable.
Josh: Another reason we're attracted to Vietnam is that its program allows parents who already have one child to choose which sex they'd like. Korea had appealed to us too, but it doesn't let parents specify gender preference. We've decided we want a girl.
Most people assume that since we already have a daughter we'd want a boy. But our apartment is small, so the kids will have to share a room; as we already have a girl, we kind of know what to expect. And for many reasons, Christina feels strongly that she'd like a girl.
I never thought I'd be able to choose the sex of any of my children anyway, so abdicating the decision to her isn't a sacrifice. We'll have another daughter!
Christina: First we need to be formally admitted to Spence-Chapin's program. We meet with a weary social worker in a stuffy meeting room for an exhaustive three-hour "intake" interview. We're grilled about our upbringing (mine's an O'Neill drama; Josh's, a '50s sitcom), our relationship (terrific), any drug experimentation (well, we were teenagers once), criminal records (none), and tendency to beat children (none).
Josh: The social worker asks what we like about each other, and it's ultimately an exercise that delivers more than just information to put on a form. By having to articulate in front of a stranger what has kept me with my wife, I am describing -- for perhaps the first time ever -- the nature and underpinning of my love. Interestingly, we both cite almost the same things: We share a particular understanding of the world; we like and get each other's sense of humor; we respect each other's opinions. And, speaking for myself, I think Christina's hot.
July 12, 2000
Christina: We enter the "home study" leg of the process, which begins with two group meetings about six weeks apart. With a social worker, we discuss with other parents-to-be the particulars of adopting from Vietnam -- the paperwork involved, travel details, and feelings about "transracial" issues.
Josh: In a group session with six other couples who wish to adopt from Vietnam, we're supposed to share our fears.
While I don't admit to being scared or worried, there is one thing on my mind: Shouldn't we really give some thought to the implications of becoming a biracial family? On one level, I think race is immaterial -- love is what's important. But I also know that's naive. Depending on our daughter-to-be's temperament, the fact that she's Asian and we're Caucasian could be an issue. Will she feel like an outsider in our family? Olivia is blond and blue-eyed; she looks a lot like both of us, as well as her grandparents. How will it feel for our other daughter to resemble no one in the family, and to have racial characteristics that stamp her immediately as genetically unrelated to us?
The adoptees we've spoken to, Christina's niece among them, all have widely different answers. Most say that their race isn't an issue in terms of their feelings of belonging. They know they're adopted, they can see they're Asian, and it doesn't matter. But a few are keenly aware of their differences and wish their parents had done more to make them comfortable with their Asian-ness.
There seems to be no formula to learn though.
August and September 2000
Christina: We're handed thick folders with reams of daunting instructions, flowcharts, and poorly photocopied forms, many in English, French, and Vietnamese. Are we intelligent enough to do all this correctly? The Spence staff assures us that everyone feels this way and everyone still manages to get it done. But having counted more than 30 forms to sign, we're not so sure.
Josh: I'm annoyed by the whole adoption process. There's the sheer quantity of work -- Christina and I have to supply certified birth certificates, a certified marriage certificate, certified medical certificates, proof of employment, a financial statement, color copies of our passports (each of which states quite clearly that it's illegal to make a color copy of it), photos of a very particular size of each of us, and on and on. A total of 24 separate documents have to be prepared just for the initial application packet.
As we wade through the scores of detailed specifications for not only what we have to fill out but also how we have to fill it out, I start to bridle. We already have a child, so to have to provide all of this documentation seems like a joke. No one asked us for financial records or character references or proof of employment before we had Olivia. We just want a baby -- should it really be this complicated?
But I guess I understand the mounds of paperwork. If I were in charge of giving away a baby, you can be damn sure I'd demand proof that it was to someone who seemed at least marginally capable of meeting her needs. So I take a few deep breaths and carry on.
Christina: We're assigned to another, Vietnam-specific social worker, named Rose, who will see us through the process and be there to discuss the inevitable emotions that surface. With her, we endure another exhaustive, multiple-hour discussion about our upbringing, relationship, and any bad facts about us that might have slipped through the cracks during the intake interview.
We're also asked to write a "Dear Birth Mother" letter, in which we try to communicate to our prospective child's birth parents our feelings about the adoption.
Josh and I flinch at this kind of forced, touchy-feely exercise and spend a lot of time making inappropriate jokes about what we might write. Eventually, we decide to be honest. "At this point, we're mostly thinking about our own family," we write in the letter, "though we do wonder what the circumstances are that have forced you to put this baby up for adoption. When we actually have this baby, you'll probably become more real to us."
Rose also asks us to share any fears we have about the unknowns of adoption. I hesitate before I fess up to something that I'm certain will get us booted out: I'm afraid that the baby will be hideously ugly and that I won't be able to love her.
Rose laughs and says this isn't uncommon -- it's really about deeper issues of bonding and love. As with a birth child, the connection will grow, irrespective of the baby's appearance. I try to accept this idea, but I still feel guilty for being so shallow. What I really want her to tell me is that Spence has never placed a less-than-perfect baby with a family.
Josh: Adoption may be more of a sure thing than fertility treatments, but it can be just as expensive. We're starting to squirrel money away every chance we get. I've calculated that we'll be sending out some 19 checks totaling $14,000 or so, all for either the adoption itself or services required by the process. (This seems to be the standard cost.) And that doesn't include travel -- another $7,000 for hotel, airfare, and living expenses.
October 12, 2000
Christina: We prepare ourselves for the final step in the process: the dreaded home visit. We're told not to go crazy scrubbing and polishing; no one is going to check our closets. The agency just wants to make sure we have the square footage for a crib -- something you don't take for granted in a New York City apartment.
Rose meets Olivia, who doesn't want to go to preschool that day and dissolves into a tantrum. I worry that maybe we'll seem like an undesirable family for a new baby after all. But we end up passing this test too.
Josh: A couple of days before Rose comes, we tell Olivia that she's going to have a little sister. Ideally, we'd wait longer to tell her so she doesn't spend the next six months asking when the baby is coming, but the home visit makes this impossible. She's very excited and asks many questions about the adoption, Vietnam, babies, and when we'll go get her little sister.
October 20, 2000
Christina: We submit our initial application -- which contains Rose's write-up of us as well as assorted certificates and forms -- to International Mission of Hope (IMH), the organization in Vietnam that will handle our adoption. For now we can relax a bit and start counting the weeks until we get a referral -- the assignment of an actual baby. At this point, we're expecting it around March.