Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Family Day, Part One

Five years ago tomorrow (or, if you're keeping up with the crazy time difference between Chicago and Blagoveschensk, Russia: today) we officially adopted Helena Marjorie Westhoff. Laney Bon Westhoff.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I'd write a couple of blogposts. Today, I'm putting up one for the grown ups. A bunch of unfettered, unadulterated, unromanticized shit. Tomorrow night, I'll pour myself a glass of red wine and write up the schmoopy one. I prefer the schmoopy one because, as you may know, I think my daughter is made of awesome and she makes me feel all schmoopy. But there's merit in the warts-and-all stuff. And, I shall do my best to present it in a way that's reasonably entertaining and shall furthermore try to keep my f-bombs to a minimum.

First of all, it was worth it. It was all worth it in spades. If I had to go through it again; the agonizing waits, the mind-numbing bureaucracy, and (worst of all), the crushing expense, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart. It's hard. It's really really hard. And it costs a lot of money. Laney's adoption has put us in a financial hole from which we can barely make out the light at the top. I kid when I say we'll have done paying for this adoption just about the time when Laney's ready to head off to college. And that, dear readers, is what we call "kidding on the square."

And it was worth it all. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Secondly, and I cannot overstate this: adoption is NOT about rescue. It's about desperately wanting a child. If anything, it's an act of pure selfishness. If you ever wonder why your average adopted parent adopted, understand this: they did it for the same reason you had your children. Unless your pregnancy was unintentional. In that case, pretty much the exact opposite. But when we adoptive parents think about the orphanages we took our children from, we don't feel a swell of pride that we've rescued them from these hard places. We feel the same way you'd feel imagining your own child in a place where they didn't get enough food, much less enough love. It feels awful to remember those places.

I got married in May of 2000. Two weeks later (after a charming Mexican honeymoon) we pulled the goalie. So to speak. We spent the next two years trying to conceive. It sucked. Nothing will take the romance out of sex faster than trying, month after month, to make a baby and failing. Every month, when I got my period, I felt like my greatest and fondest wish had died. Every month, I felt like someone I loved had died. It was hard for Don. It was hard for him to want a baby so bad but not get a chance to grieve because he had to be strong for me. It was hard for us to be happy for friends who were having babies. It was really hard to be happy for my brother and his wife who got married a year after us and had their baby barely a year later. But, you suck it up and try not to force your damage onto the people you love. You try, in a word, not to pee in other people's cornflakes. I like to think we did a pretty good job. But, it was hard.

Finally, at some point during these two years, we determined that there was no biological reason for our failure to conceive and we considered, briefly, alternate paths to pregnancy.

But I'm a planner. And a problem solver. If you know me, this is probably something that drives you crazy. I like to find a way to attack a problem and I couldn't stand the not-knowing of clomid or IVF. Besides, my heart had been too broken by all those months of trying. And we didn't trip on the biological tip so much, anyway. So, we decided to go the adoption route.

We'd had friends who'd adopted from Russia. And they had the gold standard experience. Nine months after they filled out their first forms, they were home with their daughter.

Our experience was roundly different.

You do a lot of paperwork when you're adopting. You have to get your fingerprints taken. And you have to have things notarized and then you have to notarize the notarization. Seriously. There's a word for this, but I've forgotten it. It takes a long time to gather all this paperwork together. And it costs a lot of money. All that notarization comes at a cost. Plus you had to pay whichever governmental apparatchik was managing the form. We did it all. Got it all turned in. And then it took so fucking long to get a referral, we had to do it all over again.

And then one day we got a call. You think this is going to go well, don't you? Well, this wasn't the call you're thinking of. This was the call where they told us that there just weren't any kids coming out of Russia. I think this was about 18 months into the process. They told us it wasn't happening and that we should start all over again and that Ukraine was probably a good place to go.

I called in sick to work. So did Don. We went to see a movie. I don't think we talked all the way to the movie. Finally, at the bar after the movie, Don said to me "I haven't felt like this since your father died." And I nodded. Because, it felt almost that bad. Almost.

Eighteen months of focusing our energy and hope and money in one direction and then one phone call and... sorry, not happening.

But, we are made of steely stuff, me and Don. So, after a day or so (maybe a few weeks... Don remembers this stuff better) of wallowing. We jumped back up on the horse and got cracking. A few weeks? months? after that call I was exercising in my bedroom when we got another call. I answered the phone and the caller identified herself as our liaison at the adoption agency.

"Oh good," I said. "I'm glad you called. Listen, we've got our paperwork for the Ukraine adoption and..."

"Hold on," she said (and I could hear the smile in her voice). "I'm calling because we have a referral for you."

Two(ish) years after we got our first packet from the adoption agency, and we'd finally gotten our referral. She told me she was nine months old and her name was Elena.

I had to sit down.

Tomorrow at lunch, I'll tell you about the trips. It's time for me to make Laney's lunch and watch Glee now. But, I feel just filled with happiness remembering that phone call. Best. Phone Call. Ever.

Edited to add links to the next part of the story. Here for Part Two. Here for Part Three.