Author's note: If you are at this moment inn a paranoid sort of state of mind about your adoption, you may not wish to read this chapter right now. As the chapter title explains, it deals with some exceptionally hard times in our adoption journey...
It was a normal afternoon in the office spent preparing for an important set of sales meetings in San Francisco and Orlando. Having a reputation for putting together fun Power Point presentations for these meetings; I did not want to leave my audience disappointed. I was introducing a new product I believed had great of potential for success. It tasted better than the entire competitive set. Consumer taste tests had proved that. It offered preparation advantages over the competitors as well. There was a large opportunity because most of the market used a competitive form. And the size of the market was growing. There was only one thing that I needed to ensure success and that was the support of the sales team. This presentation was my chance with them. I decided not to do a normal presentation and instead took the information and converted it into a game show. Members of the sales team would be contestants and the answers to the questions would all lead to the fact that this new product is just what we need.
Putting together these kinds of presentations takes a lot of time but it also one of the most enjoyable things I get to do because it is creative. The presentation was almost completed and I was feeling confident about it. In short, I was in a pretty good mood when the phone rang.
It was Carol Anne.
We had been trying to get an answer to some question and she was, finally, getting back to us. I can’t recall which of the many questions we had it was at this particular time. It is amazing how weird intricacies cause so many questions throughout the process. Carol Anne answered the question we had and then we were chatting a little bit. She sounded like she had something on her mind that she wasn’t sure she wanted to tell me. Adoption professionals are a weird sort. I think it must have something to do with the environment under which they operate. They have to be careful because they can get it from all sides. In any case, I didn’t know what was on Carol Anne’s mind so if there were something to tell me, she would get around to it.
There wasn’t exactly something to tell me.
There was, however, something to ask me.
An unexpected surprise
Alejandro was about four months old and was riding in a bad stream of luck. He had been referred to a family after he was born. He ran into some problems when a medical test said he had some form of rubeola. In the wake of discovering this, the family backed out of the adoption. It turned out that it looked like the test had been a false positive as subsequent tests had come back negative. It didn’t take much for me to believe there could be a false positive! He had been taken to see the man the adoption community considers the best pediatric doctor in Guatemala. Alejandro’s issue was his age.
Believe it or not, being four months old was a strike against him. This is one place the critics of ICA get the fodder for their fire because the kids do get to be like sports cars in a way. People want to adopt infants as young as possible so that they have that time with their child. While there were some waits for girls, there were not for boys. If Alejandro had been an Alejandra, four months would not be an issue. But if people could choose between the newborn and the child who is older, it makes sense that they would choose the newborn without realizing what that might mean for the other child. The reality is that all infants, newborn or not, and generally toddlers can be found a family. It just takes a little more work.
Because of Alejandro’s age, Carol Anne told me that the lawyer would give us the referral and then just wait until we got our INS approval to start the work. That way the lawyer would know he had Alejandro placed with a family. Carol Anne wanted to know if we were interested.
I was in a state of shock and almost speechless. It is true that things never happen the way you expect them to. I wasn’t prepared for this right at this moment. I think I babbled some question to Carol Anne to stall her for a minute and give me the chance to breathe. Then my mind cleared and I thought, “What the hell is the matter with you?”
Of course we were interested!
I didn’t have to commit or anything like that. Obviously I’d have to talk to Sheila first. We also would definitely want some time to look into this medical test thing. While Sheila and I would have to discuss it, I knew his age would not matter to either of us.
Five minutes later Carol Anne had e-mailed me Alejandro’s picture.
The sensation of opening up that picture file was amazing. I didn’t know what I was looking for and couldn’t quite capture the reality of what I was looking at.
Was this my son?
Is such a thing possible?
Could this be?
This is another adoption feeling that is difficult to define. In one way, you already love that child. In another way, he is a complete stranger.
For the shallow readers dieing to know, he was adorable. He was more Spanish than indigenous in his appearance. He looked like a stocky fellow with the potential to play linebacker for Notre Dame. He was very handsome and cute at the same time. Maybe he was my son.
After looking at his picture for a minute I forwarded it on to Sheila and called her on the phone with the news. It is very hard to sense emotion in Sheila, especially on the phone. She just doesn’t use lifts in her voice as much as most people. So I couldn’t really tell what was going through her head. I’m sure it was excitement, surprise, fear, and skepticism. Since I had been the one to talk to Carol Anne, I was naturally going to be more comfortable about the false positive. Carol Anne’s southern draw and soft voice makes it very easy to have faith. I gave Sheila the time to digest and we agreed to discuss it that night when we’d be together.
By the time I got home from work, both of us had already made up our minds. But we both wanted to give the other the promised discussion. We tried to make it sound like we were really thinking it all over. We even tried to play up concerns. But we both knew that unless something was not as Carol Anne described, there was no way we were going to pass on this referral. We did agree to talk to some doctors to get some more opinions on whether we should feel safe about his health.
Before we could officially accept the referral, we needed to get a series of documents from the lawyer in Guatemala. The usual referral package has a photograph, a copy of the child’s birth certificate, a copy of the birthmother’s cedula, the results of some blood tests, and a document certifying that both the child and the birthmother are HIV free. All we had was the picture.
Everything seemed positive and we were very excited. This adoption thing was for real. We now had a child. All we needed was the paperwork to prove it. So while the lawyer got us the documents we needed, we could verify the medical stuff. I had to leave for my meetings the next morning so I agreed to try to squeeze in the doctor stuff when I had time on the road. We didn’t have long to celebrate together, but we felt it inside.
Fear and loathing in Las Vegas
Some say that it isn’t smart to start showing pictures of the child to people and referring to him as your child until much later in the process. I can agree and debate with this perspective. While it certainly makes sense because many referrals do not result in adoptions, it is very hard to deny the adoptive parent the pleasure of finally showing someone a picture of “my son”.
On my business trip, I could not show the pictures of Alejandro to enough people. I was a proud daddy and no one was going to stop me from proving it. While on this trip, I was able to e-mail with the doctor in Guatemala and got his assurances that Alejandro was fine. I also managed to talk to a couple of specialists that did not seem to be overly concerned if I was confident in the second test. There weren’t any other tests we could have done to be more certain unless we wanted to request another retest of the original one.
Another important thing happened while I was on this trip. Sheila came home from work and low and behold there was an envelope in the mailbox from the INS. We had received our I171H. We had everything needed on our end to begin. But we still did not have all the documents we needed from Guatemala. Once we had them, we would sign a Power of Attorney to the Guatemalan Attorney, have it notarized, certified and authenticated and get it down to Guatemala with a check. Then we’d be official. But until we had the documents, we were not going to sign that Power of Attorney or send any money. Carol Anne agreed with us.
A little over a month had passed and we still did not have all the referral documents. We were getting quite frustrated with the delay. We did not know what the hold up could be. Carol Anne wasn’t exactly full of answers either. We starting to get a little bit concerned but were actually being pretty calm and patient.
My dad had arranged a family get together in Las Vegas. My elderly grandmother was going to be there as well. We were very excited to be able to show her pictures of her great grandson. Alejandro would be my parent’s first grandchild and my grandmother’s first great grandchild. My brother, the perpetual bachelor, was even going to let his girlfriend meet the family. My dad’s brother and my cousin would be flying in from New Jersey. It was something to look forward to.
There are no exciting stories to tell about a trip to Las Vegas with your grandmother. At least not mine. Needless to say, the baby, the pictures, and the ten-second video of Alejandro we had were the hot topics of conversation. My grandmother was the one family member we were concerned with accepting a child from another ethnicity. She comes from a much different time. Strange as it may seem it is very hard for a Jew who barely escaped the Nazis to believe that race doesn’t matter. She had seen that it does matter, on the receiving end. So it was a huge relief to see her smiling at the pictures and enthusiastic about the adoption.
When we returned home from Las Vegas there was a message on the answering machine.
It was from Carol Anne.
She was calling to tell us that she had lost faith in our lawyer. She said that he was a great guy and that he used to be on the ball but had just become incredibly flaky. She said this started with one of her other clients and was obviously apparent with us thus far. We had already talked to the other family she was mentioning and knew about what she was talking about. We had been trying to just hope something would get better with movement on our case. Carol Anne made it pretty clear she didn’t see that happening.
Her advise to us was to abandon this referral since we had not yet signed or paid anything. We could tell that she felt really badly about it. In fact, her reputation with the Guatemalan lawyers could be damaged for having one of her families back out. She made it clear that the decision was ours and that she supported whatever we decided to do. But she also made it clear to us that if we stayed with this case, it would be the last one she did with this lawyer. She also told us about a couple of infant boys through a different lawyer ready to be matched if we decided to make a change. She had e-mailed us their pictures.
We had a very difficult decision to make.
So many thoughts and emotions were spinning through our heads. We had become attached to Alejandro. At least we thought so.
Or maybe it wasn’t actually him but just what he represents?
We are not ready for a process that is going to be a struggle!
How we can leave him behind?
We should trust Carol Anne!
Should we trust Carol Anne?
Why can’t anything ever go as planned?
We started to make a big mistake by looking at the pictures of the two new referrals as we were discussing what to do. It suddenly became very bothersome. The reality of what we were doing started to settle in. Here we were looking at these three kids deciding which one we wanted. There was nothing commercial about it but nonetheless the futures of these three kids lied in the hands of a couple of gringos in California. We both agreed that we needed to step back for a minute.
Whether we had two possible referrals waiting was not what was important. The first thing we needed to decide was whether or not we were prepared to walk away from Alejandro because of the lawyer’s incompetence. So we placed the photos of the two children face down on the table. We then had to put the emotions and attachment we had for Alejandro in a prudent place. We needed to take those emotions and place them on paper as being one of the considerations that would favor continuing with his adoption, but we had to be objective about it and not let them control the other considerations. In other words, we weren’t going to try to ignore the emotions we both knew we had. We were going to stop them from being the whole enchilada.
We really did trust Carol Anne. I reminded Sheila of why it was that we hired her. It was because we felt confident that she was honest, would look out for our best interests, and have the knowledge to navigate the process. If that’s what we were paying her to do, then how foolish would it be not to follow her advise. She was basically telling us that she didn’t think she could get this lawyer to do his job anymore. If we were her last case with him, he might even go slower on our case just to piss her off. It did not sound like something to look forward to. As much as our hearts were sincere in wanting to adopt Alejandro, it had already been over a month and this lawyer couldn’t even fax us documents that should have been sitting in his office. This was probably a sign of things to come. If we had paid him anything, I would have been wondering if he was crooked. But given he didn’t have any legal commitment or payment from us, it seemed like real incompetence.
As we continued the conversation we realized that we should take Carol Anne’s advise. The prospect of being one of the adoptions that takes forever when we had the chance to prevent it was more humanity than we had in us. We felt regret and sorrow about it. There is no doubt about that. But we had to have the strength to remind ourselves that while we were being selfish in a way, we were also being honest about what we were capable of. Being put into these types of decisions is not what one imagines adopting will be like. Going in, we’re not prepared for them and yet when they come, you have to answer.
It is sad and wrong that a child like Alejandro should ever be the pawn in the chess game of adoption. I will always feel some guilt for having played in the game myself. We didn’t choose to ever have to make a decision like that. When thrown onto the chessboard, we did the best we could to look at the whole picture and develop our best strategy. In an unfortunate way, we had to realize that Alejandro was just one of many pawns on the board. We were not in control of the game nor could we understand everything our moves might mean. It felt like we just figured out how it is that the knight moves and we were playing against the famous Big Blue computer.
It was time to move on and leave the past behind. We still had those two photographs sitting face down on the coffee table. With the decision about Alejandro made, we now had to separate ourselves from it and move on to the next decision. As I sit here writing this, I honestly cannot recall how we came to which of the two children we were going to adopt. Maybe there was some reason or maybe we picked at random. After all, our heads were still spinning at the time. I know we didn’t choose by picking the cuter one or anything like that. However it was that we decided, we did, and his name was René Ottoniel.
He was a little guy with a very hairy face. He looked like a little baby wolfman. Behind the fur was what appeared to be a very handsome indigenous child with beautifully soft features. Rather than living with a foster family, he was living at a hogar in La Antigua. The hogar had been started and was run by an American and was known for providing a level care in line with “American standards”. The location was a plus because La Antigua was a very nice tourist area. It is where most Americans stay if they are fostering their child. It would be convenient when we visited. So while we knew he probably would not get the level of attention he might with a foster family, we were confident he’d be well cared for. We had done some research on the lawyer handling the case and had heard nothing but good things about him. We even came up with a nickname for him because it was so hard to say his names with the proper inflection. We called him “Rocket Boy” after a cartoon character whose name is Otto.
There was no wait for the referral documents this time around. But within a day or two of giving Carol Anne the go ahead, we had a new problem arise. Rocket Boy wasn’t sucking. The nurses at the hogar were using an eye-dropper to feed him because of this. The condition is not all that uncommon, so it wasn’t a something to worry excessively about. Usually children just figure the sucking thing out sooner or later. But to be sure he was okay, the director of the hogar wanted to have him checked out by a pediatric neurologist before we made anything official. This reassured us about the people we were working with and their integrity.
It took a couple of weeks for them to finally feel everything was okay with Rocket Boy. They had one of the hogar employees acting as a wet nurse and he seemed to be feeding okay that way. He must have been holding out for the real thing! The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with him. At last we were finally going to have an adoption officially started. So we signed the power of attorney and instead of using Fed Ex to get it certified and authenticated, we used Kev Ex. I got in my car and drove to Sacramento to get it immediately certified. Then I got back into my car and drove to the Guatemalan Consulate in San Francisco to get it authenticated. By noon I was at the bank getting a certified check. The power of attorney and check were in the capable hands of Federal Express later that afternoon and were in Guatemala sometime the next day.
Once you have sent in the check and signed the papers, you have one of the last moments of peace you will experience until your child comes home. It’s because you have nothing to be upset about so far as the pace of your case is concerned. This peace does not last long, as nothing is more unbearable than “nothing new” after a while. Because we had never made it official with Alejandro, we had not quite reveled in things like getting the house ready. That was different with Rocket Boy. We were enjoying these types of things.
We had some time to come to peace with adopting him. We received regular updates on him that we never received with Alejandro. We felt a part of his life. We even sent a care package out for him. It had a little soft photo album that said “My Family” on the cover. Carol Anne had sent us this photo album in the mail and we added the pictures. We, actually Sheila, also made him his first tie-dye. Babies in tie-dyes are a love of mine. So we also sent down some extra dyes for the other kids at the hogar. This whole thing felt real at last. You’ve probably noticed I had that feeling every time we reached a milestone. You are correct. This is, however, exactly how it felt to me. Maybe I should be saying “more real” instead. More accurately, “closer to real” is the best description.
Amongst our excitement we started to seriously talk about Sheila going to La Antigua to foster Otto. We weren’t sure if there might be some way to integrate fostering and helping at the hogar together. And of course, even if she opted against fostering, we were anxious to visit. Until the point in the process where you have had the DNA test completed, visiting is generally not much of an option. The reason is because the DNA test is the first and only time since the birthmother relinquished the child that she has to see the child. In fact, the laboratory that takes the saliva samples is required to take a picture of her holding the child. So the common logic is that if she has second thoughts and might reclaim the child, this is probably when it is going to happen. As such, best not to have parents visit the child until after the test has been done.
Our patience was running dry as we couldn’t see any progress on the case. Rocket Boy was six weeks old now and we really just wanted to visit him.
I had an interesting experience while at a trade show in Las Vegas. At one of the social events, there were tarot card readers you could sit down with. I had never had my cards read and I could certainly use a little look into the future on this unpredictable adoption thing. So I gave it a shot. The card reader impressed me. When the topic of children came up, she said the cards showed a child coming over seas. Guatemala isn’t across the ocean, but the prediction was close enough to keep my interest. She thought it would be pretty soon but couldn’t elaborate. She said the child would bring us great happiness and joy. And then she said it would be a girl. Hmmm. We do live in the Bay Area. Rocket Boy did have very soft features. I joked with Sheila that maybe the card reader could tell he was gay or something. Don’t take that wrong, Sheila and I would have no problem accepting our child’s homosexuality if that ever proved to be the case. But somehow with no prodding she managed to pick out the intercountry adoption thing – impressive even if she did get the gender wrong.
A short time later back in my office, it was another average late morning. Nothing special was happening worth noting. The next couple of days were going to be interesting. My company had hired some Harvard professor to conduct a seminar for the management staff. It was going to be a couple days back in academia where I’d be chilling with the big whigs. So I was trying to get things in order so that I’d be okay to be out of the office for two days. Like I said, nothing special was happening. I was on some business call when my administrative assistant came in to tell me I had another call I needed to take. There was only person that I had a “I can take a call anytime” policy for.
It was Carol Anne.
She was barely coherent and very hard to understand. She was obviously in tears. I couldn’t follow exactly what she was saying. She finally got her composure a bit and told me that Rocket Boy had a problem the night before. He had stopped breathing. The nurses had tried CPR. They had rushed him to the hospital.
Rocket Boy was dead.
Rocket Boy had a condition called hydroencephela or something like that. This condition is not normally detectable unless you’re closely looking for it and does not manifest itself until right around his age. She said that if they had been able to save him that night it would have only been a matter of months before he passed away.
I was not mentally in my office when I hung up the phone. I have no idea where I was at the time. I couldn’t feel anything. I was caught somewhere between shock and denial. I sat in my office for a few minutes, trying to shed the ocean sized tear I felt in my heart. The tear refused to flow from my eyes. I wasn’t sure what to do, how to feel, whether to lose it or try to keep my composure. I suddenly realized that what I needed to do was tell someone. I needed to share it. I needed a hug as soon as possible. I walked down the hall to a coworker’s office with whom I felt the most comfortable and told her what had happened. I’m a pretty open person so she had been keeping up on us since infertility. She had been supportively following our adoption path. I don’t remember what she said. It didn’t matter because I just needed to tell someone to let it out of me. The hug brought me back to the real world.
Obviously I had to tell Sheila. I had no idea of how to tell her. Nor did I know when to tell her. Sheila’s job at the time was not one where she could leave very easily. While under these circumstances I wouldn’t have worried about whether or not I had permission to leave, Sheila is more responsible than I and wouldn’t push it. So if I went and told her, she’d likely be at work for hours before having some time to dwell. On the other hand, could I really go home and not tell her until she gets home at around eight o’clock at night? Could I sit there for hours without being to able to hold my wife? In a completely selfish manner, I needed her!
After talking to a couple more people in my office, I realized I had to tell her. While driving to her work I tried to figure out how to do it. Keep in mind that I was struggling to keep it together myself. On the outside I seemed okay. On the inside I felt my anguish building up and it was just a question of when it was going to come barreling out. Determining the words to say was so hard that I couldn’t even get beyond trying to figure out what environment we’d be in when I told her. Sheila worked in the service department of a car dealership. I kept imagining the sounds of an auto shop like the drills used to take off lug nuts in the background and couldn’t get beyond that to think of the words to say.
I brought Sheila outside of the shop and told her there was something wrong with Rocket Boy. I didn’t need to say any more. I can still remember her looking at me and asking, “What happened?” in a very quick, almost stern matter. Her face looked normal, except for the pressure building in her eyes. They were already red. She did not have a problem opening the tear ducts. She already knew what was about to come out of my mouth so I think I just said, “he died.” Then I held her in my arms.
We went someplace less public to have a few minutes alone. I told her everything Carol Anne had said, which I was only beginning to be able to remember. Really, we didn’t talk much. I do remember a few minutes just pondering how such an innocent life could be taken like this. We were not just mourning our loss, but also his. We held each other for a while but mostly we just stood there together in awe, unable to connect with what our lives had become. I think that for both of us all the pain we had ever experienced in this simple desire to be parents came thrashing back at us all at once.
There is supposedly a point in torture where a person has been beaten so badly that he ceases to be able to feel any pain. This was Sheila and I. The upside is that as long as you can stay in that state, you function pretty well. After having only about fifteen minutes together, we both somehow managed to feel we were okay and Sheila went back to work. I went home, had a beer, and listened to the Grateful Dead.
When Sheila came home from work, I was amazed at how strong she was being. She said that she had to step away from her counter a few times during the afternoon, but overall was able to handle being at work. I felt so absent that I don’t think I could have done it. I think being at work would have forced me into reality and the workplace would be no place for that. We sat down and talked for a while, chain-smoking cigarettes as we did.
The next day we tried to go back to normal. My boss had left me a voicemail the prior afternoon to offer his condolences and let me know to take as much time as I need. It was very kind of him and the organization. It occurred to me that in the workplace, the higher you are on the chain of command and the more you get paid, the better you get treated in times like these. Poor Sheila didn’t even feel comfortable leaving after she got the news and I was being offered as much time as I needed. Despite this offer, I decided to attend the Harvard professor seminar as planned.
There was some part of both of us that felt that because this was an adoption and we hadn’t met Rocket Boy yet, we somehow we weren’t entitled to much personal grief. It was as if we felt like it should be taken in the same light as if some child in your neighborhood that you don’t really know passed away. It would be a tragedy and you would feel bad about it. But you wouldn’t be taking off of work. We were definitely in a state of denial.
Toward the end of the first day of the seminar, the pain I had been holding inside of myself started to manifest. I lost my ability to pay attention to the seminar. This is a scary thought when you have a Harvard professor talking business strategy. My mind kept moving to Rocket Boy. All the obvious questions that have no answers filled my mind. I felt the pressure building in my eyes. I’d try to contain it and would manage to for a moment. But I knew that wasn’t going to last for long. I got up, whispered to my boss that I had to leave, and got in my car as fast as I could. I was about to explode. A logical person would have probably parked somewhere. I, instead, got onto the freeway. As I got my car into a steady position, my face turned red. Tears flowed down my cheek. Every muscle in my face tensed. All the pain rushed out of me at once.
I let out in an extended roar, “WHY!”
Just a few days after Rocket Boy passed away, we had plans to go to North Carolina for a wedding. In order to explain what this entails, I’ll spell it out. I’ve mentioned my group of friends from high school and that I originally moved to North Carolina because a roommate from college lived there. Over the years, my group of best friends from high school and my college roommate’s group of best friends had become the best of friends. Weddings are one of the precious few times that we all got together. So four days in North Carolina actually translates to four days of partying, bonding, and jubilation. We may be a crazy group at times, but we always have a great time.
Sheila and I had to decide whether or not we should still go to the wedding. We weren’t feeling very festive. We already had the plane tickets and we had already taken the time off of work. If worse came to worse we could always stay camped in at our hotel. We decided to go and hoped it would prove therapeutic.
At some point before we left for North Carolina, Carol Anne called to see how we were doing. She also had something to ask us that she once again wasn’t comfortable with. It was a referral. A little girl named Isabel. Carol Anne explained how she totally understood if we wanted to wait a while. But because she knew Sheila had originally preferred a girl and she had received this new referral, if we were interested she would forget about the waiting list for girls. The kicker was that we couldn’t wait too long to decide because there were families waiting for girls. This made it hard but we understood. We both knew that our misfortune shouldn’t delay someone else’s blessing. We told her to e-mail us Isabel’s information and picture and that we’d let her know when we got back from the wedding.
It was very difficult at that moment to think about another referral. It was hard to look at the photo and believe that there was a real future child of mine on it. We hadn’t been given very much time to adjust and accept what had happened. I had cut myself off from it for part of that time. This was so soon after that I wasn’t sure if we were ready. I was pretty confident that I wasn’t. When we boarded the plane for Raleigh, my heart was telling me to wait. It would be interesting to see what the trip would hold.
A good friend picked us up at the airport. In fact, she and her husband were named as godparents for our home study. They were one of our references as well, and not the one who screwed up. Asleep in the back seat was her infant son, who we were meeting for the first time. The little boogers that make you angry at other people’s joy were not taking over luckily, though it was hard to enjoy him like I ordinarily would a friend’s child. She took us straight to our hotel, where we would have a few hours before the camaraderie would begin.
Without going into detail about everything that happened, the trip brought us back to life. We had a wonderful time and felt the love of friendship. We didn’t dwell on what we had been through. Instead we enjoyed the moment. We put it all aside and appreciated where we were. In a way, we came to terms with our sorrow.
Sheila even danced, wore funny hats, and acted goofy.
Following the wedding reception, the party moved to our hotel where many of us were staying. Sheila and I were sitting in our room before joining the crowd. We were looking at Isabel’s picture. I think Sheila had made up her mind earlier than me. For me, it took being around all these friends and enjoying the precious moments of life that made me realize we had to move on. Rocket Boy’s death did not change the fact that we wanted to be parents. Waiting for some comfort level to arrive that we haven’t felt since Stage One of infertility didn’t make any sense.
We decided to accept the referral.
We were going to adopt Isabel.
At least we hoped so.
Posted by Kevin at February 20, 2006 02:30 PM