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What to Expect When You're Not Expecting

Find the joy in your pre-family moments, whatever they may be.

by Lori Bolton Fleming

My husband did manage to pull off the road before I burst into tears. "What is it? What's wrong?" he asked.

We had spent the last two hours at Babies 'R' Us, scanners in hand, registering for items for our son, Aidan, whom we expected to adopt in the early fall.

"I want you to enjoy it! Why don't you enjoy it?" I wailed back. This, of course, was my release after my husband had shown so little interest in choosing between baby jogger or stroller, bouncer or walker, sling or backpack. When he nearly registered for baby formula without lipil, I almost went over the edge.

“Seriously, are you this upset? Did I do something wrong?”

I should explain that my husband rarely does anything wrong. Seriously. He cooks, cleans, laughs, cries, and is about as faultless as a husband as can be. Nonetheless, on this occasion, I felt he had done something horrible.

“We don’t get the moments. We get like one-millionth of the moments that everyone else gets,” I choke out over my snorting hiccups.

“What in the world are you talking about?”

“I want a sonogram, dammit.”

“Huh?”

“And I want to feel him kick.”

“OK, Hon, OK. I’m sorry.” And he got it. He really did.

Registering for baby gifts had brought it to a head. Maybe it was the way the salesgirl stared at my flat stomach. She must have thought we were nuts, never considering that we might be adopting. Or maybe it was when the registry asked for our due date, and the best we could do was “Fall 2004.” But at some point, it occurred to me that there would be few traditional “moments” during our adoption journey. No sonograms, no kicks, no morning sickness (OK, not a big complaint here), and no delivery.

So after some tissues, a hug, and a cool drink, my husband and I set off, determined to make our own “moments.” OK, so I would never listen for my baby’s heartbeat nor feel the flutter of little feet in my belly. But few people can say they waited for two long hours at Immigration and Naturalization for fingerprints. Or that they spent three days safety-proofing their house for a homestudy. Or that they spent three weeks in Kazakhstan, where, for two hours a day, they visited their son, surrounded by the hopeful faces of children waiting for a home. These were our moments. Our moments waiting for Aidan.

 

Every Moment Counts

Ironically, the “moments” of our adoption have somehow mimicked those of a traditional pregnancy. We announced our decision to adopt to our family, albeit a bit more anxiously than I had imagined announcing a pregnancy. This was what I like to call our “pregnancy test.” We were shy, hesitant. What would people say? Why were people apologizing for our decision? The most common reaction was, “Don’t worry, as soon as you adopt, you’ll get pregnant. It always happens that way!”

 

At first we protested such comments, but it finally became too much trouble to educate others. It was easier just to smile and nod. Adoption is not our second choice. There is no medical reason why we can’t reproduce biologically. Adoption has always been part of the plan. Sure, we were disappointed, no, devastated, when, after eighteen months, pregnancy just wasn’t happening. But once adoption was mentioned, it quickly moved to the front burner. We would pass on spending a fortune on fertility testing in favor of using those savings for adoption.

Just as a pregnant woman gathers information about her pregnancy, the adoptive mother gathers information about the adoption process, and about her child’s transition from his caregivers to his parents’ home.

I suppose a woman who hopes to become pregnant might start by researching various fertility methods, charting, and so on. We started by researching types of adoption. We learned that international adoption can take as little as four to six months. Rather than purchasing What to Expect When You’re Expecting, we tracked down every international adoption book—fiction and non-fiction—known to man. We began searching for an agency. We heard about a local couple who had adopted through an agency for which we had read rave reviews. As we inquired further, we learned that a law school classmate had had luck with the same agency. With one phone call to the director, we made our decision, and experienced one of our first “moments.”

Our next moment arrived with our research of various countries. So many factors would be compared: caregiver ratios, health, cost, travel time, age requirements, to name a few. We decided on Kazakhstan, which at the time had healthy infants and a reasonably short waiting period. Our biggest concern was the three-week stay in-country. Somehow we’d figure it out.

And so the expenses began. Rather than paying for maternity clothes and doctor visits, our savings were soon going to agency fees, INS fees, and, of course, the homestudy. I began a journal of these little moments, noting the day we sent our application to our agency, our homestudy, anything of adoption significance. I wasn’t able to find an adoption calendar with those cute little stickers marking important days, so I decided to create my own.

The anxious mother begins thinking of nursery themes early in her pregnancy. I started thinking about them the day after we decided to adopt. With few other “motherly” tasks to occupy my time, I spent my free hours designing and decorating the nursery, with my husband’s and mother’s assistance.

As a former juvenile attorney, I was familiar with the homestudy requirements. I scanned every checklist I could find. The nursery was finished and decorated. Cabinets were safety-locked, carbon monoxide detectors installed, extra extinguishers purchased. No stone was left unturned. You can imagine my disappointment when the social worker approved our home after a brief walkthrough. “What? You don’t want to see the safety precautions on my changing table?” Our 27 outlet covers were equally unimpressive.

If our adoption process can be compared to a pregnancy, we’re in the second trimester. We completed our I-600A and fingerprinting, and we hope to be traveling to Kazakhstan in four months. Like parents going through a pregnancy, we know that many changes will soon occur. At the end, there will be no delivery, but instead, a “Gotcha Day.” We’re excited.

We don’t all become mothers in the same way, but we all have a road to travel, with an amazing gift waiting at the end of the journey. It’s up to us to make the most of our “moments,” whatever they may be.

Lori Bolton Fleming is a soon-to-be first-time mother and an attorney in private practice in Pittsburg, Kansas.


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