But some were decidedly pregnant. We were matched with a woman we'd had long meals with, whose family we'd met, and to whom I'd talked nightly until she went into labor. From that day forward, we never heard from her—ever—again. In another situation, I spoke once with a birthmother who the next day went into labor two months early. Despite the risk, we flew across the country for this child, who, it turned out, had Down Syndrome. As open as my husband and I were to adopting a baby of a different race and as open as we became to adopting from a mother with a history of drug use, this is the one choice we were not open to. And so we did not take the child. We were told there was another family waiting, and we were trying to do the right thing for this baby. But I won't be able to forget the moment when we left the hospital without her.
The piece de resistance of our adoption experience, however, was when, last April, I was in the delivery room—and cut the umbilical cord—of a child whose biological mother we had supported and gotten to know well. This child was subsequently with us for several weeks. We named him. We were in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania, due to interstate laws, which decreed we had to stay in the state until the legal paperwork was completed. There were goats and chickens, a stream running through the backyard. And it was spring. Everything was waking.
We had been told that the birthfather was one of two people: either the birthmother's abusive Caucasian boyfriend or a Hispanic man with whom the birthmother had mentioned having had a brief affair.
When the baby was delivered, we were delighted he was half-Mexican for many reasons, not least that it meant the baby's father was not the boyfriend. We believed that if the baby had been his, they might have kept him. We were told the birthfather lived in Mexico and had no desire to deal with any of this.
You can see where this is going. My sister was visiting, breastfeeding her newborn as I bottle-fed ours, when we got a call. My husband spoke to him in Spanish, and just from his gestures, the desperation in his voice, I knew it was over. The birthfather was in the next town over and apparently he had been supporting the birthmother and his unborn child through the entire pregnancy. The birthfather wanted his son.
Later we would find out that our presence in this baby's life was a way for the birthmother to get away from her abusive boyfriend and to reunite with the man she loved. We had been cast to keep the baby—and the baby's mother—safe from harm. And yet last we heard he was in foster care. What happened to that child will always haunt us.
Every adoption story begins with the story of someone breaking someone else's heart. Whose heart was not broken here? There are no laws to protect prospective adoptive parents. No one is held accountable, and nothing is federated. State to state, the laws change in regards to how long a birthmother has to relinquish her rights and how long she has to revoke them, as well as how much she can be compensated for a gift so precious it cannot be priced. But for the prospective adoptive parents, it is all a "legal risk." Few will dispute that a birthmother has every right to change her mind. It is a chance we take, and anyone would be foolish or ethically irresponsible to think it should be otherwise. But when there is deceit, and when the adoption fails because of it, hope is lost, and so is most of the money that has been, for most, painstakingly set aside. The bills increase and still you hope. Still you pay.