A self-proclaimed bourgeoisie bohemian, I would have been voted least likely to adopt, but I did.
As cliché as it sounds, I spent my dirty thirties finding myself. I indulged the historian in me and traveled abroad to see slave castles, the haunts of Harlem’s elite on Martha’s Vineyard, Spanish missions and the flash point of the Civil War in South Carolina. I danced atop tables at beach retreats; sunned on whimsical weekend trips; moved residences every year; changed cars and jobs every other year and maintained standing hair and massage appointments.
An introverted extrovert, I dated but never settled on anyone special. Either their interest didn’t go that deep or mine didn’t. Alright, a moment of confession: I spent a lot of years invested in being right, worried that my post feminist armor would shatter to reveal a woman who was deeply sensitive. Being emotionally unavailable was easier and didn’t require me to yield to the space between being right and being loved. A conscious decision, I chose the less messy “friends with benefits”. Far from being a fail-safe, I caught feelings for the dick man. I even took trips of angst and longing, pretending nights of passion equaled genuine affection. Eventually, that got old, and after the last vitamin D dispenser was caught in an “I’m not married lie”, I faced my magic mirror and asked her to be honest. “Princess,” she purred, “you’re too old for that. Time to put your big girl panties on”.
Until then, I had been saving my most authentic self for the trees I was killing by writing, printing and shredding drafts of novels. A published author in my twenties, I completed a third then fourth novel. The latter one would be my masterpiece, while the third book was a bridge from Romance to women’s fiction. A second-generation writer, my father wrote revolutionary poetry in the 1960s and 70s, the translation of letters into words then feelings and images flows through my veins. I would be nothing without my dear sweet words.
It took some doing but in 2006, I managed to reconcile my artistic and emotional selves. Everybody in the same space, I became reflective and asked the obvious: “what’s next?” Though publicly I continued to run to and from myself, avoiding traps that would ground me, I knew the truth. I had been so blessed and fortunate to have had so many amazing good and bad experiences, the next step was to share. More specifically, to become a mother through adoption.
The seeds of adoption were planted in high school but the actual journey didn’t begin until 2003, when I met a woman* who had adopted a South African toddler infected with HIV. Though the orphan remained in Johannesburg, Janet sent money and even visited her. The pictures of her baby were beautiful and haunting and made me think that maybe I could adopt one of the other children at the orphanage. Inspired, I contacted the agency and selected a HIV negative sibling set from the list of orphans. I emailed a short note and committed to sending clothes and a monthly nominal allowance. Free-spirited me was so moved that I could help these orphans that I wanted to bring them to America to live with me and my two Yorkies, in a one-bedroom apartment. Irrational, I know.
I had no clue of the legalities or costs of my most ambitious endeavor to date, but a little research blew my hair back. First, I’d have to complete a homestudy by a licensed social worker in my home country and immigration paperwork for South Africa, declaring specifics like age and number of children I wanted to adopt. My dossier had to include a photo, fingerprints and personal history that would be distributed to social workers and lawyers in South Africa. Though I had identified the children, I was cautioned not to be too persistent, as it was a lengthy process for children to be declared free for international adoption. During the wait, the U.S. Embassy in South Africa would send documents for me to complete and personally submit in South Africa. If those hurdles were surpassed, there would be meetings with social workers, a court date, a medical exam by an Embassy approved doctor, passports to obtain, visas to secure, return trip to America to re-adopt or finalize the adoption and then file paperwork to make the children legal U. S. citizens. Whew.
Don’t get me started on international adoption fees. We’re talking $20,000 on average. The number of trips to and from Johannesburg plus airfare for two children, housing, processing fees, ad nauseum made my head spin. I needed a different approach: I’d visit them! Far more reasonable, but that aha moment left me unprepared for the deal breaker: the kids had a living HIV + mother and relatives. They lived in an orphanage because no one could afford to care for them. Even if I had the means to successfully complete an international adoption, the agency could not legally release them, as that would have been human trafficking. A dream deferred, I continued to follow the progress of my co-worker’s adopted toddler until she died from AIDS later that year.
Feeling like Sisyphus, I didn’t have the wherewithal to select a different child, even one without family ties. A small part of me felt like I had given up too easily, but in 2004 I was not ready to adopt or parent. I asked God to watch over those children, tabled that time in my life and went to Rio de Janeiro.
Minding my own business, the mommy-jones moved into my shadow two years later. In 2006, I caught the eye of every stroller, bib, car seat, diaper bag, crib and onesie ever made in the entire world. In my mind, I decorated a nursery, kissed the bottom of little feet and pictured us doing the Hokey-Pokey. I couldn’t shake the desire to be a mother, for I had a “Love Hangover”. And much like Diana Ross’s breathy if there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it, I didn’t want one either.
I started categorizing men into two groups: sperm donor or not. I began to worry that in my haste to become a mother, my relationship discernment antennae was off kilter. Sure enough, I became a married man magnet; a prize for younger guys into designer labels or men newly damaged by divorce. While I suspected there were great guys out there, I stressed that I’d choose one with an inferior gene pool or spend the rest of my life attached to a fool I couldn’t stand. That seemed like a waste of time and incompatible with the period of spiritual growth I had entered. On the verge of losing my wits, I got quiet and asked myself what I really wanted. The answer was to adopt a baby boy.
Adoption, domestic this time, had grown roots and I was ready to move heaven and earth to make that happen.
* not real name
from MY EGGS ARE FINE…I Adopted Anyway: Profiles of Single Women Who Couldn’t Shake the Mommie-Jones by Nefertiti Austin ©2011