After two years of trying to conceive a second child, my husband, Tim, and I made a decision. We wanted another child, but neither of us wanted to start down the in vitro fertilization path. Hovering around and just above age 30, we both knew that if we wanted to be young parents, our fastest route to a second child would be adoption. In vitro could take years, with no guarantees. Adoption, on the other hand, could fulfill our dream of expanding our family to four.
In September 2005, we submitted our initial application to adopt a baby boy from Korea. We had no clue as to what the process would entail. None of our close friends had adopted, so we were flying blind. All I knew for sure was that it would be nothing like our pregnancy four years ago. No more struggling to get pregnant, no weird nesting instincts and a simple delivery.
Was I wrong! Not only has the adoption process reminded me of my pregnancy, but some uncanny similarities arose when we least expected them.
One of the first things many couples do when they want to conceive a child is buy a book about how to do it. It's funny, because we all know how babies are conceived. Yet somehow we gain reassurance from moms before us and specialists who tell us all the minute details of conception. We become experts in words such as ovulation, fertility and tax deduction.
It's similar with adoption. When we decided to adopt a child, I read every Web site, magazine and book I could grab. I called a colleague who had adopted, called my mom who had friends who had adopted and called local agencies. I learned terms such as attachment parenting, forever family and tax deduction (yes, there is a special one-time tax deduction for adoptive families to offset the high expense-which is rarely covered by insurance, unlike birth).
For pregnancy, hospitals are offering a new breed of pre-pregnancy class, such as "Pre-pregnancy and Dinner With the Doc" at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village. Therese Doyle, a certified nurse-midwife and director of Midwest Midwifery in Addison, urges parents-to-be to seek out a full medical examination to determine overall health.
"They can be tested for general health, STDs, medical conditions that might interfere with pregnancy, depression and lifestyle," says Doyle. "Adequate preconception counseling generally leads to healthy babies."
It's the same with adoption. While adoptive parents are not preparing their bodies for conception and pregnancy, we are required to see our doctors for a complete medical exam. Our doctor screened us for disease, overall health and lifestyle. Lucky for us, we passed and could proceed with an adoption from Korea. Some couples are not so fortunate. South Korea has weight, disease, income and age requirements. Each country, though, has different qualifications, so almost every person desiring a child likely can meet the criteria somewhere.
We also filled out dozens of pieces of paperwork, wrote 12-page essays summing up our lives, met with a social worker repeatedly, had our house inspected and were fingerprinted by three different government agencies. Definitely not easier than getting pregnant.
Boy vs. girl
When I got pregnant in 2001, I wanted a son. I didn't know what I would do with a daughter, since I wasn't a girlie-girl. Dress-up, hairstyles and tea parties had always been outside my interests. But the ultrasound revealed a girl. Just my luck.
I now adore my daughter and her unending requests for new dresses and lipstick, and I couldn't imagine having a son. But that's what we were getting through the adoption and it wasn't fully our choice.
Going into the process we assumed we would be able to choose a boy or a girl. I wanted a girl; my husband, a boy. But our choice was made for us by the country we chose. Each country has its own set of requirements and restrictions. Some have better medical records than others and possibly healthier children. Korea offered all of the details that were important to us, but Korea has many, many more boys up for adoption than girls. So many more boys, in fact, that we were not allowed to ask for a girl unless we already had two sons. We have a daughter, which meant our second child would be a boy. I'm thrilled with the idea of having a son.
Getting the news
With today's technology, doctors often confirm pregnancy, rather than give the news. Most soon-to-be parents know they have conceived before visiting the doctor's office simply by using home pregnancy tests.
When adoptive parents find out they have received a referral, it's over the phone. In our case, I knew when I looked at the caller ID. The screen showed a cell phone number I didn't recognize, but I knew in my gut, the same way a pregnant woman knows before her missed period. It was my social worker calling from her car to give me the great news that a baby boy's information had arrived. I could barely breathe. All of that, followed by a trip to the social worker's office to view the paperwork, comprises the basics of finding out about an adoptive child.
Beth Ilnyckyj, an adoption caseworker with Lifelink in Bensenville, loves telling parents that they have been matched with a prospective child. Joy, excitement and, sometimes, a bit of anxiety are the feelings Ilnyckyj experiences as she gives people the news. Parents often respond in much the same way, with some feelings of relief as well.
It's a rite of passage for a mom-to-be to be showered by her friends and family. At showers for pregnant moms, games are played, prizes are handed out and moms receive countless gifts. You might think a shower for an adoptive mom would be different.
Not so, says Kenna Hart of Chicago. When Kenna and her husband, Eric, moved to the top of the wait list for a baby, she had two showers in her hometown of Atlanta.
"They were pretty much like any baby shower, except they were able to serve wine," says Hart. "We registered for all the normal baby stuff and played normal baby shower games."
Her third shower, in Chicago, coincided with the referral of her son. Not only was she excited to celebrate, but she was able to show all of her local friends a photograph of her child.
During pregnancy, around the seventh month, a phenomenon called nesting emerges. Moms-to-be suddenly realize their house isn't clean enough or they begin decorating the baby's room in earnest. Many doctors and baby books claim this sudden onset of fanatical cleanliness is hormonal.
"It's a commonly seen phenomenon," says Doyle. "Maybe it's hormonal and maybe it's just the psyche helping moms gain some control over an uncontrollable situation."
The nesting instinct hit around my eighth month of pregnancy. Even though I knew we were going to move after Tessa was born, I decorated my daughter's nursery with the abandon of someone who was never leaving. I washed her clothes, sheets and blankets twice and cleaned every inch of her bedroom. I vaguely remember something about scrubbing the trim with an old toothbrush.
But with adoption, there were no crazy hormones involved, so I could relax and enjoy decorating the baby's room. Before the referral, I chose a jungle theme and had a little fun decorating and choosing paint colors.
When the referral came this June, something snapped-the jungle-themed room wasn't right. I gathered up all of the bedding and decorating items and sold them on eBay. I stripped the room to its bare bones and started all over again.
This time it was a surfing theme. My mom and her friend sewed a custom bed skirt for the crib. I bought ceramic fish and dyed a piece of mesh to act as a net. Much to my husband's irritation, I chose all new paint colors and we set to work making the nursery perfect (again) for our boy. You might say I went crazy, but at least this time it didn't involve a toothbrush.
Labor vs. 'the call'
When I felt my first labor pains, I called the doctor, who asked me to come into the office. He examined me, determined it would be days until I was in full-blown labor and sent me home. Within three hours, my contractions accelerated and I was rushing to the hospital on my doctor's orders. The next morning, my daughter arrived by Caesarean section, not by the natural water birth we had planned.
Few things go as intended during labor and delivery. I had sworn off drugs and medical intervention. Funny that I ended up receiving two epidurals (don't ask-it wasn't pleasant), more drugs than I can remember and a very painful C-section.
With international adoption, the delivery of a new child is just as crazy, chaotic and joyous as a birth. People ask me when Luke will be coming home. I can honestly say I don't know. And get this: I won't know until two or three days before he arrives.
I'll get a call from my social worker, who will tell me when to pick him up at O'Hare International Airport.
For Terah and Chris Bozarth of Evanston, their adoption experience was just as crazy as a mom who unexpectedly goes into labor. While in a meeting at work, Terah, a Korean adoptee herself, received a cell phone call from her social worker informing her that her son was ready to be picked up in Korea.
"It was very exciting, but there was so much to do," Bozarth recalls. "Within two days, we had made all of the arrangements and were on our way to Korea."
After spending a week in Korea, the Bozarths boarded the plane for home with their new son, Alex. He cried and screamed for the first couple of hours, but finally fell asleep for the rest of the trip. One week later, his parents still were struggling to find time to sleep, just like any couple bringing home a baby from the hospital.
The majority of biological children are delivered by doctors or midwives. Parents hope for a medical professional who loves his or her job and delights in the birth of babies. Therese Doyle adores delivering babies.
"When everything goes well, it's nearly blissful," the midwife says. "I feel honored to be chosen to participate in their intimate moment. It's phenomenal."
Social workers feel the same when giving a family the news of their adoptive baby. Ilnyckyj of Lifelink feels great, she says, "like Santa Claus."
While these are just a few of the similarities, the path to parenthood differs widely with each pregnancy or adoption. Everyone is different, but the goal is the same: a family to love. Parents can take comfort in knowing that while we all face challenges, we have much in common no matter which path we take.
The Web. Check out Web sites such as www.adoption.com, which hosts a forum of adoptive parents from around the world. Topics range from international adoption to adult adoptees to attachment. If you have a question, chances are someone can provide an answer.
Adoption agencies. Call each agency and ask about total cost, time frame, requirements, restrictions and informational meetings. These meetings offer access to social workers, other prospective adoptive parents and experienced adoptive parents.
Share your dream. If you don't know someone who has adopted, chances are you are within six degrees of someone who has. Our initial information came from a co-worker of my mom's, a work acquaintance of my husband's and a freelancing colleague.
Read, read, read. There are hundreds of books on adoption, many of them at the library. Basic concepts are covered, but don't rely on the books for the most recent information-laws change all the time and some parts of the adoption process are constantly in flux.
Family. Most importantly, talk with your spouse and older children, if you have them. Adoption is a decision that should not be made lightly. These are children to be loved, not to be saved. Make the decision together.
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer living in Bolingbrook. She is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her son, Luke, from Korea.