Sir, Are You Pregnant?

This is Part 4 in a 5-part Book Excerpt Series in the run-up to Orphan Sunday on November 8. Today’s short excerpt is a lighthearted list from a chapter called “The Boring Part.” Details on how you can pre-order your own copy of Lily Was the Valley: Undone by Adoption to follow soon! Enjoy.

Months went by. No matter which part of the process we found ourselves waiting in, it all seemed long. I determined one day to distract myself from another day-sweat picturing our dossier inch across someone’s desk. I made a list of all the differences I could see between expecting this baby and what it had been like to expect our other three:

Pregnancy is a very exciting time building toward one special date on the calendar: the due date. It is written in ink months ahead of time. It might be off, but it won’t be by much.

Adopting has building excitement toward countless due dates. There are more due dates than items on the dossier checklist. The big ones like LID and LOA and Article 5 and TA are generally celebrated with enough ballyhoo to make the casual observer ask if the home study had turned up any insanity in the family.

Pregnancy, often planned, may also come to a couple unplanned. Since the beginning of time people have procreated and borne children. It is an unstoppable force. It just happens.

Adopting is always premeditated. It is a conscious response to need or desire. It does not just happen. The dossier-savvy quip that people do not practice unprotected paperwork, and they do not experience unplanned adoptions.

Pregnancy is timed. Everyone knows basically how long it is going to take.

Adopting is not timed in the least. There are people who signed up for an adoption program with promises of a one-year wait and may have waited four. Or twelve. Others could have planned for four and waited less. [The differences in feelings brought on by the two kinds of waiting were dumbfounding.]

Pregnancy comes with visible signs of physical progress.

Adopting doesn’t. [Or at least it wasn’t supposed to. But having just moved back to the States after having dreamed for months about what, where, and with whom I would be eating, I was beginning to show. Concern really spiked when my jokes about being the pregnant one started drawing double takes.]

Pregnancy is not something you can hurry. People sell prenatal Mozart with promises of heightened intelligence, but nobody is throwing research dollars at experiments to reduce gestation to a more convenient, say, 25 weeks. No, the process is what it is, wholly necessary, and you cannot hurry it.

Adopting, on the other hand, has many points at which you might try to influence or hurry the process. You could switch programs. You could switch countries. You could widen the scope of special needs you will accept. When there is a snag in the process of dealing with multiple agencies across separate governments in two countries, the solution might be a simple workaround orchestrated within the adoption agency. Or maybe phoning your senator. Perhaps someone else is a candidate for a personal visit or a forceful conversation or a bribe. None of Tammy’s pregnancies required us to make decisions on best practices with any of those options. And in adoption they are all extreme exceptions. What is generally required and universally expected from the waiting family is only that. Waiting. Hurry up and wait.

Pregnancy cannot be slowed down. Barring something tragic, the process that began with conception will inexorably march forward toward birth. The “Honey, I think we should wait two years until I’m finished with my PhD program” conversation must take place before the pregnancy or not at all. There is no pause button and there are no two-year pregnancies.

Adopting can always be slowed down, ostensibly at the drop of any kind of hat you can conceive of. [We were forever waiting for news of this or that piece of paper. When the expected time of receipt for one came and went, we could only stab at possible explanations: Was it languishing somewhere on someone’s desk? Why? What if they were eating at their desk and spilled General Tso on it? What if it fell off the desk? What if it was lying in the crack between the desk and the wall? Reality quickly evaporated to make room for fantasy.]

Pregnancy is understandable by everybody. Which is understandable, as it has been around since, well, everybody. A majority of earth’s women will experience pregnancy. Many men live through one under their roof. Everyone has watched a mom or a sister or a cousin or a neighbor progress through its stages. We don’t remember being in our own mother’s womb, but it isn’t long afterwards that we know what growing bellies are all about. It’s common and normal, even if it is miraculous.

Adopting, on the other hand, is poorly understood by most, unless they’ve experienced adoption themselves.

Before we started our adoption process, I understood nothing.