Once we had settled on domestic adoption, it was time to find an agency to work with. If you’ve got a lot of money, this basically means hiring a team of lawyers. These lawyers scour Planned Parenthood clinics, promoting your parental power along with other perks like that upgraded apartment the birth mother needed in order to feel comfortable giving up her child. Not that American domestic adoption could amount to buying a baby.
Fertility treatments had already drained our meager savings and maxed out our credit card. My parents would be providing the only real financial muscle we had at this point. We settled on a San Francisco non-profit agency, Adoption Connection. Part of a larger Jewish Family Services organization, they offered lifetime counseling for the birthmother as well as training and supportive services for parents. They pair newborns with straight, gay couples and single parents. Additionally they had super-human powers when it comes to handling desperate, freaked out parent wannabe’s.
The first step in getting on their adoption roster (after the FBI finger prints you and searches your background for any criminal activity – bonus!) is to learn how to market yourself. Like many adoption services, this agency required their parents to create a brochure telling potential birth-mothers who you are and what kind of parents you would make. Imagine explaining to a pregnant teenage girl, why you would make the best parent for their unborn child. When I was a teenage you’d have a tough time convincing me all parents weren’t insane.
The agency staff were great at trying to convince us that we just needed to be ourselves and everything would work out fine. Of course that wasn’t going to happen. We second guessed ourselves at every turn, creating new lives for ourselves. At one point we were considering making me a physician and Terry a veterinarian. I tried to use Photoshop to give me a better hairline but I just looked like one of the Munsters.
In the end we came up with a glossy, reasonably honest reflection of who we were and the kinds of parents we imagined ourselves to be. That brochure was also transformed into a web page and posted on the agency’s website. We thought this was the place where many young, prospective birth mothers would go to research possible parental hookups for their fetus. We imagined our bright young birth mother leaving her job at the health food store, going to the library and scrolling through the pages of possible parents. Her attention would be caught by our bright smiles and healthy attitude. She would return a few times, studying our photos and re-reading the bit about how much we love each other. You may have noticed these fantasies sound bizarrely romantic. She would provide our marriage with the missing link to complete its consummation – the pregnant part. Do we bring flowers or just cash?
In reality, birth mother visits to parent profiles probably only accounted for 1% of their web traffic. The majority of the web hits came from parents like us, checking out each others profiles daily, agonizing over our current – random placement on the list, and getting more and more depressed with each parent that was matched ahead of us.
“They went through the orientation with us and they’re already matched!” Terry would proclaim.
For another couple:”they’ve been matched twice!” She would cry out. “Bastards” I muttered dutifully.
In hindsight our brochures and the website served more as tools for the agency than actual outreach to birth mothers. The agency “weds” birth mothers with parents they think might be good matches and have been waiting the longest. There is some wisdom in this. Not all parents are prepared to accept children of all ethnicity’s. There may be other special qualities that haven’t been listed in a profile. Still, it gave us something to obsess about, probably kept us from calling them as much.
This game went on for a little over a year before we got our first phone call. Thats a year of obsessions. A year of frequently sleepless nights. At least one re-write of our brochure, and several whiny phone calls to the agency counselors asking them why we hadn’t gotten a single call.
This phase of our parenting attempts was similar to the pregnancy phase in that there was a strong element of self-torture. What was so bad about us that not a single birthmother was interested us? Were we so completely horrible as human beings we couldn’t even recognize what total losers we were? God and Oprah continued to punish us for not trying to get pregnant at a younger age.
And then we got a call. It was while we were setting up for Terry’s art opening. Not the waifish adolescent we imagined, but rather an overly fertile mother of 3 on her firth pregnancy. She had given the previous one away and it worked out pretty good. She wanted someone youngish, hip and alternative. We were second on their list.
The first couple they called were visiting family in New Zealand. Of course they were, they were cooler than us – so they had to be visiting family in a cool place like New Zealand. We found their profile online. We had already obsessed over how much cooler than us they were. She had purple and red tints in her hair, they were both successful San Francisco dot-commers. Definitely way fucking cool.
Trying to sell yourself over the phone to a husband and wife, who you’ve never met, who think you’re only the second coolest couple on a website – really sucks. I knew that sooner or later, the New Zealand Cools would check their messages, call back and we’d be out of the picture. Terry thought this colored my attitude, making me a poor salesman. Which made it my fault we didn’t get the kid. After several days of calling back and forth, it became apparent that the Cools had swung into action and pushed us out of the running. We were left a merciful voicemail, letting us down easy.
To say the next few weeks were icy would be like calling the arctic a bit chilly in the winter time. I had blown it. We had blown it. Why did Oprah and God hate us so? Alternately encouraged and discouraged by our near-adoption experience our conversations sounded more and more bizarre.
“I swear there is nothing more I could have said.”
“It was your lack of enthusiasm, your tone. Not what you said but how you said it. Anyways its probably for the best. That child was not meant for us.”
“Well yeah, obviously, we don’t have it!”
“I mean the birth mother sounded strange.”
“What do you mean?”
“She could barely concentrate.”
“She had three children and was seven months pregnant.”
“And then there was the whole circumcision thing.”
“I thought that went well.”
This is how we spent our evenings. Then we got another call. Someone at the adoption agency had paired us with a young woman in Colorado. We found this out leaving a campground one morning. We were the first choice this time, and we weren’t going to blow it! That was at least until we found out about all the pharmaceuticals the Birth Mother was on, some for psychotic behavior that might impact the childs neural development.
At first our connection went well. We had similar values. Though smoking a pack of clove cigarettes a day is not something we do. And then there was the depression. And then there was the recent hospitalization. And frankly the weird relationship with her parents. If we had made a good connection with the birth mother, we would likely have said yes to the child anyway. But there was something about her that just didn’t fit. We asked the agency to let her down easily.
This gave us another path of obsession. Had we made the wrong decision? Was this really our child despite its potential problems? Was this special needs fetus God and Oprah had given us the only opportunity we were going to get? I imagined our brochure, balanced precariously on top of a mile-high stack of other brochures falling to the bottom. Maybe it would wind up under a table – only to be found and thrown out by a janitor.
We were now nearing 18 months on the adoption website roster. The longer you’ve been around, supposedly the more attention you get. We would call occasionally – “I showed your brochure to a young woman today.” That sounded hopeful, but when there was no followup call it just made you feel crappier than you did to begin with.
Then we got THE call. This is the important call, the life changing call. Remember that Chinese restaurant I told you about? The one where I got the call about having the sperm count of a dead man? A week or so before I ordered takeout from them.
They have the best potstickers in red sauce you’ll ever taste. I ate a lot of them. Turns out at least one of them was bad. The combination of food poisoning and way too much spicey, hunan red oil sauce had a lethal impact on my stomach. This happened the day before we were driving down to LA for a family Christmas gathering.
This was a week of physical and emotional cleansing for me. Think of it as the last phase of my militaristic preparation for fatherhood. I walked gingerly, in more than a little agony, from one family affair to another in which I would valiantly abstain. “I’m fasting this Holiday season, thanks to my favorite Chinese restaurant in Santa Cruz.” It was a time of grim introspection in which the phrase “no, no movement on the adoption front”, rang hollowly as I interfaced with relatives day after day.
After seven days of fasting and reflecting on poor cuisine choices we were finally ready to take the trip back home up interstate 5. My sister joined us for the ride, she’d spend a night with us and then we’d drop her at home in Berkeley the next day. I was an hour into the first driving shift when my cell phone rang. It was a social worker from Adoption Connection.
“Is this Tim?”
“Hi, this is Randy from Adoption Connection. How are you?”
“Hi, we’re doing fine. We’re driving back up from Christmas with family in LA.”
Long pause. “Ahhhh.” Pause again. “How soon do you think you can make it up to San Francisco.”
Short pause. “Are you serious?”
“I may have a match for you. The baby was born this morning. I have to know today.”
Shaking, I handed the phone to Terry.
“She has a baby for us. I’m driving, you should take this call.”
(My sister in the back seat), “are you serious?”
What followed was several minutes of crying, over hearing broken conversation between Terry and Randy, rough details about the birth mother, her background, and then the big question: “Do you want this baby?”
“Are you absolutely sure.”
“OK, I’ll call you in a couple of hours and let you know.”
If you had looked through the front windshield of that car at any point over the next few hours, you would have sworn three terrified deer were piloting that car down the road at 70 mph. We talked, listened to music, but none of us were really there. Instead we floated in the world of “what if.” Alternately imagining our baby, and pushing the image away, trying to protect ourselves against our familiar companion, disappointment.
Eventually we approached the off ramp for 152 on highway 5. This is the point of no return, where we usually turn west to Santa Cruz. If we were going to San Francisco, now was the time to know. Randy hadn’t called yet, Terry tried calling her through the switchboard at the agency. Leeah one of the most patient staff members, answered.
“We can either go home or come up to San Francisco. Randy hasn’t called back, do you have any news for us?”
Pause. “If I were you I’d drive to the hospital.”
“Have you heard from Randy?”
“Just go to the hospital.”
There is an odd tradition in my family. All of the children share a birthday with an Aunt or Uncle. Tadg Rowan Flynn was born on New Years Eve, the same day as his Uncle, Gerheart Guter. Tadg is of primarily El Salvadoran descent. Everybody says he looks like Terry.
We met him that night, the big black tussle of hair he had then has only grown more formidable. The hospital wouldn’t let us take him home for two days, as his breathing was a little labored. We met his Mother that night. She made me promise he would always be loved. It has not been a difficult promise to keep.
There is a lot I could say about Tadg’s birth mother. I’ve come to realize, through the wise guidance of my wife, that its his story to tell. When he’s ready to carry it, we’ll tell him everything we know and he’ll decide who to share it with. I will share this, an Irish American family understands like no other, how auspicious it is that a new family member has spent time in the slammer even before he was born.
That night we walked out of San Francisco General, fresh off the road from LA and called our own parents to tell them they had a new grandson. My sister was there, our lucky charm helping us to turn the corner in our hunt for a child. We could not have been given a more perfect child if we had ordered him up ourselves.
Watching my son practice his Nixons, I feel like I should ask myself – “was all worth it”, to get this amazing being in my life. Somehow that question doesn’t even compute. Its more like having a child, just washes the past away. There is only what tomorrow will bring.
previous chapter: The Most Expensive Sex Someone Else Had ~ next chapter: Epilogue – Tadgs Day In Court