It’s Saturday morning and my husband, Stephen, and I are waiting to have our fingerprints taken. After many years of infertility, we are now in the process of becoming certified “AdoptReady” so that we can register with adoption licensees as prospective parents.
“This is adoption foreplay,” I say as we wait for our number to be called. When it’s our turn, I snap a picture of Stephen’s hands being scanned because this is our version of an ultrasound. He looks at the camera and smiles as his fingerprints are transmitted to the RCMP, who will verify that we do not have criminal records. It may not sound romantic, but I am flushed with excitement and affection.
As Stephen and I complete each step of the adoption process, we celebrate. We complete a Vulnerable Sector check for Toronto (where we live now) and for London, Ontario (where we attended university more than a decade ago), verifying that we have no record suspensions for sexual offences. We provide Notices of Assessment and supplement them with additional details of our finances. Our doctors examine us and complete forms about our health, and every specialist we have ever seen in the past 10 years forwards forms and letters as well. Friends and family members complete questionnaires and write reference letters, endorsing us as parents. There are so many steps involved, so much paperwork to complete, so many people involved now in our wish to have a child, but it feels so good to be actively trying to become parents. It’s far more empowering than the waiting: We do a lot of that, too. Every time a form comes back and every time we cross another item off the list, we toast our small victory. “To the baby,” we say.
Friends, family members, neighbours and co-workers have all been so supportive that when they ask “When will you get a baby?” I don’t want to tell them we may never get one. I don’t want to tell them about the forms and the papers and the fingerprinting and the evaluations and the cheques. I don’t want to tell them about the 27 hours of mandatory training we’ve attended or about the many visits from our adoption social worker, who will be conducting a home inspection to verify that our electrical outlets are covered and that we have a fire evacuation plan. I don’t want to tell them how nauseous I felt when I heard at our training that there were 65 private adoption placements in all of Ontario in 2015 or that 20 percent of birth parents change their minds about choosing adoption in the hospital. So, I smile and say “Hopefully sooner rather than later.”
We are hopeful that adoption will make us parents, but we had been hopeful we would get pregnant naturally and, when that didn’t work, we were hopeful that each fertility treatment would work, too. We know how this goes now. While we want to believe that adoption will make us parents, that our story will now merge with another’s in a meaningful way, we know there are no guarantees.
My rational self knows that we may never get matched through adoption, yet I think about our baby all the time. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone how consumed I am with the thought of my baby. This child—our child—may or may not ever exist and already I love this little person. And is that strange, to love something that may only ever be a figment of my imagination? Do I not understand love? I wonder incessantly what my baby’s birth parents are doing right now and when I will get to meet them, and it feels difficult that this unknown, amorphous little person—who feels so much a part of my heart—could be so physically separate from me. It seems impossible that this child isn’t napping in the next room right now, having fallen asleep to a favourite Sandra Boynton story.
I walk by my neighbourhood coffee shop and I can see me and my child sharing a muffin, cuddled together in a big wooden cabin chair on the patio. I walk the dog around the park and I can see us all playing there, barefoot in the grass. And yet, amid these warm and comforting thoughts, there are questions I can’t ignore: Am I enough? What will become of me if I never get to share my life with a child?
Our lovely adoption worker will be writing a home study report about our house, our neighbourhood, our lives, our families and our relationship as a couple. We have answered questions in person and on forms about our childhoods, about the way we were parented and the way we intend to parent. As I circle multiple-choice answers, I hope they tell the story of us as a couple, how when I see my husband cuddled up on the couch with our cat and dog, I feel my heart shake with the sheer force of loving him. One of the questions asks us to rate our sexual compatibility. Is “extremely compatible” a good thing or does it make us sound like we are just doing it all the time and would be too preoccupied to parent? We settle on “very compatible” and hope this conveys that we are a nice, normal, down-to-earth couple who love each other very much and express that love in an appropriate way for an average amount of time. Is that right?
As I picture people sitting down to read about us—to read about me—my fear of my shortcomings bubbles and fizzes about my mind like a painful static. I am a worrier. I am not a particularly good baker. My inbox is seldom empty. I never mailed the thank-you card to my father’s cousin who bought us the loveliest salad tongs from Camden Market for our wedding.
I start tallying my faults in earnest before our first visit with the adoption worker. I count them off to myself as I scrub the house, wanting so much to make a good impression. Standing around our clean home with nothing left to do, I total all the faults in our home, too. Does it not look welcoming enough? I notice that the front door doesn’t have a wreath: Who is going to give a child to a wreathless home? I rush to HomeSense to buy one, turning it over and over in my hands as I wait to pay. When the cashier rings it through, it turns out to be more than the price tag indicated and is really too much for a small wreath. The cashier wonders if I still want it.
“My front door urgently needs a wreath,” I say, handing over my credit card.
“Are you selling your house?” she asks.
“No,” I say, “I am trying to adopt.”
I swallow hard. I have talked openly with friends and family about our hopes of adopting, but this is the first time I have said it out loud to someone I don’t know. The woman puts down my purchase and takes my hands in hers. She looks me straight in the eyes and somehow she understands. She understands how hard it has been for me to become a mother. She understands how much I want to love a child. She understands why I’m here, buying a wreath with shaking hands and tears in my eyes.
“You are a wonderful person,” she says, squeezing my hands. “I can just tell. And you are going to make a wonderful mother.”
She wraps the wreath carefully, with its fake plastic leaves, in brownish pink paper.
I think of her words every time I see it hanging on my front door and they muffle my fears. I hope my child’s birth mother, wherever she is, is finding comfort, too. I hope there is someone who really sees her, who takes her hands in theirs and tells her she is brave and strong and wonderful.