Adoption Stories

Published on February 23rd, 2021 | by Cheryl Klein

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On the Other Side of the Curtain: A Year of Waiting

On the rare occasions you see friends—outdoors, masked, double-masked, or on a laptop teetering atop pillows—they ask how the adoption process is coming along. Or they say, “Are you still trying to adopt…?” They’re just being friendly, but their ellipses hint of a mission grown dusty and quaint as an old song.

Yes, you say. Nothing to report. You are working with a facilitator, which was supposed to be an indulgent, semi-expensive shortcut to matching with an expectant mother. But the silence is thick and maddening. Birthmothers have always been half-mythical creatures, at least before you meet them and they become specific, as your son’s did six years ago. In the pandemic, more so. At this very moment, a woman could be lying in bed, feeling her baby kick, and wondering what’s next in her zig-zagging life, which could intersect with your zig-zagging life. Or not.

There are miles and years and reams of paperwork between her and you, and now there’s a pandemic too. Words are muffled behind KF94s. The world shrinks and fades. There’s nothing to do, but somehow you’re exhausted.

This is a story about adoption. This is a story about a year of quarantine. How do you tell a story when there’s nothing to tell?

Your days start at 6:30 and end at 11, and sometimes you wake up at 2:30 and think about virus variants and watch cake decorating videos on Instagram. You edit things and deliver snacks and Zoom with coworkers and tell your son to pay attention in his Zooms. Yesterday you made the mistake of giving him two flavors of Jell-O that were touching, and he said, “That’s not what mommies do. Mommies take care of people” and your boss told you to use higher resolution photos going forward. 

Things you can see as you wait, a chimera of hope and dread, for the world to change: the free bunk bed you assembled, already threatening to splinter apart; The Last Jedi, playing on a loop on your TV, old Mark Hamill choosing again and again between peace and his calling; your son’s plastic Chewbacca; the driveway where your partner wages battle against leaves. Again and again. 

Waiting is awful. Waiting is a privilege. You can work from home. Your dad is helping with adoption fees. You are safe and housed. You already have a child. 

A year ago, the world shut down. A year ago your world shut down. You almost adopted a baby. He was only with you two weeks before his birth parents took him back, but during that time, he ran a fever and you took him to the ER and waited for hours with him in a curtained alcove. On the other side of the curtain, doctors and nurses scrubbed their hands and patients coughed, but inside your bubble it was just you and the baby. His pale round tummy. Your whispered love. Every now and then you’d poke your head through the curtain to see whether you were waiting your turn or had been forgotten entirely. It was hard to tell.

Is nothing happening because you are patient and this is how it works? Or is nothing happening because you’ve failed and you’re too dumb to know it?

In the world beyond your driveway, your friend who had four miscarriages gives birth to her second baby. Your friend who didn’t plan to be a dad becomes a dad. Your friends who fostered two babies adopt two others. 

Your friend who works in fundraising for a homelessness organization gets the vaccine. Your friend who analyzes data for the county gets the vaccine. Your friend whose son has seizures gets the vaccine. 

Your dad’s girlfriend, who is 74, cannot get an appointment. She is a strong but timid person; sometimes you wish she’d speak up or yell. You feel a quiet rage on her behalf. But probably on your own behalf.

On the screen, on a rocky Irish isle, Mark Hamill tromps through fog and wind and rain, trying to evade the young warrior who’s traveled her whole life to find him. The warrior doesn’t know why she’s there either. 

The word that squeezes your stomach like a jungle snake is unfair. You deserve a baby. Your dad’s girlfriend deserves the vaccine. Fairness—what a ridiculous concept to cling to, the product of hubris and entitlement. Talk to the two million COVID-dead. Talk to the young Indigenous women who drank Chevron’s oily water and died of uterine cancer. Rage instead at your partner when she takes two hours to herself and you only get one and a half. 

Photo by Jesse Kao on Unsplash

It’s almost spring again. The days turn warm and sweet, and the anniversaries glimmer on your calendar. The baby’s first birthday. He lives in Wisconsin now. The day you stood on your porch and handed him back to his birthmom. The day you returned from maternity leave but never went back to your office.

There are pink-white buds of hope, but you always say Hope is a sneaky bitch. There is a world beyond this waiting, but will you be invited to the party? There is a tsunami of grief, far out in the ocean now, but gathering force, ready to slam us to the ground at the strangest moment. 

Like when your son runs into old preschool friends biking down the street and gets to play with them in the leaf-strewn driveway for twenty glorious minutes. After they ride home, he’s so mad he punches you in the stomach. When—if—a birthmom finally selects you, you will tighten your belly and wait.

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About the Author

Cheryl Klein

Cheryl Klein’s column, “Hold it Lightly,” appears monthly(ish) in MUTHA. She is the author of Crybaby (out in 2022 from Brown Paper Press), a memoir about wanting a baby and getting cancer instead. She also wrote a story collection, The Commuters (City Works Press) and a novel, Lilac Mines (Manic D Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Blunderbuss, The Normal School, Razorcake, and several anthologies. Her work has been honored by the MacDowell Colony and the Center for Cultural Innovation. She blogs about the intersection of art, life and carbohydrates at breadandbread.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @meadowbat.



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