All storms start with a single drop of rain. From there the weather either builds to a ground soaking down pour. Or a cooling shower. Last Tuesday, what started as a sprinkle, a discrepancy between the dates on two different documents in Tayech’s adoption file— one that stated that she entered the orphanage on her second day of life, the other that claimed it was a month later—shifted, within a day, into a ground swell that broke the levy of my three-year-old resolve.
“The Ethiopian Embassy wants to give a DNA test the man who was given Tayech to see if he is the father,” Jan, the social worker’s, e-mail read.
For a long time I’ve known that international adoption is not for the faint of heart. It takes the kind of will that Edward Pena, the rescued Chilean miner #12 had to survive, even thrive, while entombed 2,000 feet below the ground for 69 days.
Pena jogged. Three to six miles a day.
“I was challenging the mine,” Peña said, “I was determined to outwit, and win over the mine, so the mine would birth me out into the earth again.”
Adoptive parents-to-be face the same head game that Peña tackled for more than two months. International adoption isn’t for the faint of heart. The game can change overnight because of a war, an earthquake, Hollywood or even paperwork.
When I began my adoption process back in 2007, the wait for a bouncing baby from Ethiopia was six to nine months. The high-profile adoptions of Madonna and Angelina Jolie of recent years had just begun to land on the radar of the average American.
Then wait rose to 12 months.
The following year, the summer of 2008, news broke that a Guatemalan woman, Ana Escobar, reported to police back in 2007 that armed men had robbed her at gunpoint in her family’s shoe store. They didn’t take money. The men stole her six-month-old baby. After a 14-month search, in July 2008, Escobar saw a child she believed was her daughter on the streets of Guatemala. The toddler, who was two days away from heading to Indiana with her adoptive parents, had the same, peculiar, curved little finger as the woman throwing a fit in the street. The police were called. DNA tests were taken, which confirmed Escobar was the biological mother of the toddler.
In January 2008 Guatemala adoptions were shut down so the government could repair its broken system. Some of the Guatemalan adoptive parents-to-be, in their ongoing quest for a child, migrated over to the Ethiopian program.
The wait extended to around 18 months.
Sometime after that, somewhere along my journey, while attending a monthly waiting parent meeting at my adoption agency on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I learned that the waiting time for Ethiopia had stretched to a jaw-dropping 24 months. Tears pressed against my eyes, as depression tamped down my heart.
“I bet Madonna and Angelina Joie didn’t have to wait that long,” Arlene said from across the table. Out aloud. Sure, we all thinking it. Arlene said it. The thirty-something, African-American, New York City Public School teacher didn’t take any guff at work, from students, or social workers.
Another waiting parent to be on the left of the raging Arlene a white middle-aged woman wearing black from head to toe, sighed. Hard.
“Sometimes, I think I could just steal a baby,” she said without any irony or bitterness. Just stating a fact.
The woman’s husband squirmed in his chair beside her, delivering an angled, anger-soaked, glare at his wife. My eyes lowered to the blond wood of the conference room table, afraid to connect to the others the room. I’d experienced those feelings, especially during the times when I listened to mothers on buses, subways, airplanes, trains, at the mall, and in supermarkets as they used their kids as verbal punching bags. But I knew enough to keep it to myself.
From the opposite end of the able, I heard the scratch of a ballpoint pen against paper. I glanced up and saw a social worker writing a note, recording the moment, I believed, when we witnessed a waiting parent showing signs of stress. The moment when a crack in her foundation opened up, and the darkness of waiting, broke her.
Now, a year later, I was cracking. When I received the final e-mail from Jan—the day before departure— saying I should cancel my airline tickets that the adoption was delayed, I broke.
“Please tell me you have good news,” Elsa the travel agent said on the other end of the phone
“Afraid not,” I said trying to blinking back tears and failing miserably.”We’re not going.”
“Hopefully soon, you will, soon you will go to bring your baby home.”
I hung up and wept at my desk. I don’t believe crying at the office is good move for any woman. Ever. But that day I was a mother crying at the office. With the cave door closed.
After sending out an e-mail to friends and family, many sent back the same wishes and prayers as Elsa the travel agent. I could read them but I could not take them in. Some called. Voice mail became my ally and portal of support. I could only talk to my mothers.
I spent Saturday—the day my brother and I were scheduled to leave to bring my daughter home—in Tayech’s room surrounded by her massive wee wardrobe, her shower gifts, her empty crib, her empty changing table encircled by a herd of stuffed animals: an English sheep dog, a penguin, even a pink, woolly sheep that giggles when its cord was pulled. Tayech is not here to pull its string so I can not bear to hear its laugh.
I’ve always been a glass is half full and rising sort of gal. Until last Friday. My friend Holly, another single baby mama, put it best.
“After going through this ordeal, actually being at home with your child will seem relatively easy, ” her e-mail read. “And… at least you’ll be able to tell your daughter that every possible lead was followed up to find out her identity, and I think that may someday mean something to her. Meanwhile, it’s just a giant worry and pain in the ass.”