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The Waiting Garden

After my dream of a family through adoption had been planted, it grew in the warm soil of my backyard.

by Ellen Simon

The seed catalogs came on a frigid winter day. There was almost nothing I wanted more. In a garden, you get results. If a seed doesn't sprout, you plant something else. Water your plants, fertilize them, put shade plants in the shade and sun lovers in the sun, and you will succeed -- a formula that seemed to me to be completely unlike adoption.

When China forbade parents who'd recently had cancer from adopting, we left our first agency. When a social worker at our second agency told us it didn't look like that agency would place more than one child in two years, we sought a third. When the director of our third agency told us she'd coerced a birthmother into signing papers to terminate her parental rights, we looked for a fourth.

To the seed catalogs, then. I could have anything I wanted, and I wanted lots. I folded down pages and circled possibilities. Tuscan kale, Japanese cucumbers, Armenian Tigger Melon. Let other waiting moms decorate a nursery. I went to Home Depot and loaded our car with 50-pound bags of potting soil.

A crop of hopeful parents

I have a friend who, while researching adoption, became fixated on a photo of a boy in a Kazakhstan orphanage. Not me. I kept returning to a site called Edible Landscaping, which sold fruit trees. An acquaintance, who was trying to adopt from Russia, spent hours on message boards. I got sucked into a book called The Bountiful Container, rifling through my dirt-stained copy again and again as I checked the depth of my pots.

A colleague came to adoption after years of infertility treatments. "They tell me there will be a baby at the end of this," she said, her voice as dead as her sentiment. While I was being treated for cancer and talking about adoption, a friend told me about a billboard she'd seen. It read, "Hendersons WILL adopt," with a picture of the would-be parents and an 800-number. We cried as she talked about it. I'm sure we were thinking the same thing: It's never going to happen. Not for them. Not for me.

No billboards for us. No ads. No lawyers. We would do this when a birthmom walked into our agency, got counseling, and picked us based on our profile book. This was the only path for us, we said. In the recesses of my heart, I thought I had a better chance of riding a space shuttle. I went to other extremes. I made my husband drive across the state on an icy spring day, to visit Well-Swept Herb Farm, which stocks 104 kinds of thyme. I bought a dwarf pomegranate tree, which I dragged inside each night until the weather got warmer.

I shared the garden with our downstairs neighbor, who had her own frustrations. Our unspoken rule was that we didn't talk about what we didn't have. We talked about plants, and the plants were thriving.

Without intending to, we turned an area the size of a suburban driveway into a jungle. Tomatoes splayed up the cinderblock wall, and cardinal climbers wrapped around a railing. Honeybees buzzed in the lavender, while a wasp patrolled the fennel.

Love's bounty

It was a warm fall and the peppers lasted into November. Around Thanksgiving, our social worker called to tell us they were working with two Latina birthmothers. We were one of two families they had who were open to a child of any race.

Our baby was born in February. We brought him home when he was three days old. My husband stayed up all night the first two nights, holding him in his arms and staring at him. I slept like a baby. I'd worn myself out.

I kept tending the garden until the neighbor who'd shared it with me moved away. After that, I let all the plants die. I was busy with Gabriel, by that time a smiley, babbling 15-month-old. One of his dozen words was "tee!" for tree.

I'm not the only one who got her happy ending. My jaded colleague with the dead sound in her voice now has two children. The acquaintance obsessed with Russian adoption message boards adopted a distant relative's newborn. My friend who was fixated on the boy from Kazakhstan brought home a 10-month-old from Korea. I dearly hope the Hendersons are now telling their child about that billboard.

Despite my neglect of the garden, a surprising number of plants sprouted the following spring, filled with the promise of something you planned for, but still didn't expect.

Ellen Simon, a former reporter for The Associated Press and The Star-Ledger, is a freelance writer and co-founder of the Jersey City Adoptive Families Meet-Up.


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