I don’t know anyone who hasn’t panicked on some level about the home visit, a required part of the home study. As soon as I heard about it, I spent my spare time obsessively cleaning my house, scouring every closet, finding mates for every sock and digging around in the corners of the kitchen cupboards so every container had a matching lid. I checked the kids’ coat pockets for candy wrappers and little gray balls of lint. I scrubbed the floors with Murphy Oil Soap.
For the record, however, social workers don’t check for cobwebs in the chandelier or dust bunnies under the beds. Ours didn’t, anyway. And they don’t make sure that every outlet is rendered inoperable with a plastic child protector. Our social worker didn’t even seem to care that the eggs in our refrigerator were organic and cage-free.
The home visit came and went: we passed.
Our home study was done.
Our dossier was complete and sent off to Guatemala.
But who would our child be?
I looked at photos of Mayan children and tried to imagine what my daughter would look like. “Do Guatemalan children have fair skin? Blue eyes?” our social worker asked me one day.
“No?” (Was it a trick question?)
“Actually, some do. Most of the kids will look traditionally Guatemalan, but there are many mixed-race orphans in Guatemala too. I meet children once in a long while with blue eyes. Latino kids with freckles.”
I didn’t care what she’d look like. I knew, just as was the case with my older three, she would be beautiful – and extraordinary – in my eyes. The agency that had completed our home study didn’t yet have a direct placement program in Guatemala so they connected us with a partner adoption agency there. On its website was a waiting child list. With photos.
In case you haven’t heard, prospective adoptive parents are advised never to look at photo listings. For those who don’t yet have a relationship with an agency, an online photolisting of children is a bad place to start. Families are advised to choose an agency because it has met their high standards of ethics, because it is well-established and because preliminary meetings or phone calls with adoption facilitators have proven that the agency is a good fit with them. They shouldn’t choose an agency on the basis of a child they have seen on its website.
I knew the dangers of looking at a photolisting. Sometimes such pictures are dated. Prospective parents fall in love with a child, but the child pictured has long since been adopted by another family. Sometimes the child is much older or sicker than she appears to be in her picture. Or perhaps he is no longer able to be placed for adoption because his birthmother has changed her mind. Some disreputable or fledgling adoption agencies post pictures of children with whom they don’t even have relationships in order to hook prospective adoptive parents into their agencies. It is wise, then, to start the adoption process with a well-respected agency, not with a child’s picture.
But…we already were signed up with this agency and had the canceled check to prove it. I skimmed through the pictures of past clients and their Guatemalan-born children and I clicked through the pages of waiting children.
Things were beginning to feel more real.
One baby girl on the agency’s photolisting was older than the rest. Her picture held me captive. She had inky black hair that stood on end, as though someone had just pulled a cap off her head. Her skin glowed, her cheeks were very full and rosy, and she gazed directly into the camera. Her raised left hand somehow looked like a wave. (Was she waving at me?) Her birthdate was listed and she was two years younger than my older daughter Isabel, just the age we’d hoped she might be. I copied the picture and set it as the wallpaper on my desktop.
“Hey,” my husband said, looking over my shoulder. “You shouldn’t do that. We’re not supposed to do that.”
I knew he was right. I removed the picture, pasted it into a word document and replaced it with a photograph of our three children. But I couldn’t stop opening that document when my husband was out of the room. I loved looking at her – just her. All the babies on the site were beautiful, but this one looked familiar somehow. Like I knew her already. The others, as adorable as they were, looked like little strangers. (And, wasn’t she waving at me?)
The agency emailed us to say that our forms were in order. It was time to talk about our referral. I said we were very open, but just was curious whether that one little girl, the one on the waiting child photolisting had been placed yet. Did she have a special medical needs? Why was she older than the others? At that time, many people chose to adopt Guatemalan-born children because the babies often were able to come home so young. Couples who hadn’t ever had a newborn baby didn’t want to miss the experience of parenting a child from the earliest possible age. They wanted the full experience, the whole shebang.
Older children, like the one I couldn’t keep my eyes off, would be at least a year old by the time they came home. But my husband had told me when we first discussed starting the adoption process that he was “over” the newborn phase. Having been through it three times before, the sleepless nights, the sour spit up, the endless diapers and the grim game of playing private investigator as you search for clues to solve the mysteries of why the baby is crying or refusing to sleep didn’t hold a lot of magic for us.
The agency sent me a fax. The baby I inquired about had not been placed and did not have any known special needs. They had been caring for her since she was a few days old and knew her well. The agency faxed us information about the baby including medical reports written in Spanish. They promised to get the documents translated for us soon. Unable to wait, I faxed the reports to an acquaintance who speaks Spanish fluently. She translated them for me over the phone. The baby was healthy and alert and, like the three children to whom I’d given birth, weighed just over seven pounds when she was born. We accepted the agency’s referral and showed our excited children the baby that would be their new sister.
I put her picture back up on my computer desktop and the wait began.