By Karen Felecia Nance
As a child it is difficult to imagine that you may not be able to have as many children as you would like…even if that number is 100!
In kindergarten I was able to count to 100; so why not have 100 children?
Oh, to be 5 years old again…
Growing up in the early 1960’s, I remember our first television: black and white- not color.
My favorite show was Perry Mason, a criminal attorney who won virtually every case. He was a white and I was black but without “color” I failed to see the distinction between us and my dream of becoming a lawyer became a reality years later. .
I was a “late bloomer” in when it came to starting a family.
My first child, a handsome son, was born a couple of weeks shy of my 35th birthday. I was blessed to have two step-daughters who graced our home on their weekend visits but I still longed for more children to love.
After literally years and years of failed fertility treatments, my husband and I decided to adopt. I was 42.
We initially considered adopting an African American child from the United States. With all the literature about African American children needing families, particularly boys, we assumed that we would have a bundle of joy in our arms in no time.
Did we? No.
The adoption world we entered was not “parent-friendly.”
The first hurdle we stumbled over was that as prospective adoptive parents, we would experience placement delays because we wanted to adopt a boy. The fact that we were specifying the sex of the child would result in not being readily matched with a child as many expectant birth mothers who had made the decision to place their child for adoption early in their pregnancy, did not know the sex of their child and wanted to identify a family that would adopt their child prior to delivery.
In addition, we were told that “open adoption” was becoming a popular choice for many birth mothers.* The facilitator of the first adoption seminar we attended discussed open adoptions, this was the first time we had heard that term. To familiarize the audience with the concept several examples of open adoptions were shared. We were told that the birth mother would set forth the terms of the adoption and those terms could range from something as simple as keeping the name the birth mother chose for the child to having the child spend several holidays a year with the birth mother. The agency sponsoring the seminar informed us that the majority of birth mothers using their services already had at least one other child in the home. In addition, it was highly recommended that we have professional photographs taken as this was in actuality an “interviewing” process where the birth mother was the interviewer; we were the interviewees.
My age could also be a deterrent to many birth mothers, some as young as 13, as they would view me as “too old” to raise their child as they may have grandparents-or even great-grandparents my age.
We opted out of that process and turned to African adoptions. I have had the good fortune of traveling and living in West and East Africa throughout my adult life and felt a definite connection to the Motherland.
I searched the internet for adoption agencies and my husband and I settled on one that had all the requisites of what we perceived a good agency to be. We indicated to the agency director that we wanted to bring an infant into our home, a boy.
Unbeknownst to the agency director, the batteries finally ran out on my biological clock, but the face of the clock still shined. Well, that was until she told me that at age 43, I was “too old” to adopt an infant and would only be eligible to adopt a child the age of two or above. The fact that my age “disqualified” us from adopting an infant was another conventional “wisdom” that was coaxing me to steer far away from an infant and “settle” for an older child. I had older children, I wanted an infant! But, my fear of not being “suitable” for any child, I begrudgingly accepted the restriction and was ecstatic when we were “matched” with a toddler who we love and adored. We never met in person but holding and caressing is not a prerequisite to loving-at least not in my book.
The months of waiting crept into a year and though all our documents were in order, we still had no clear indication of when our son would be coming home. Between the lack of plausible explanations for the delays and soured communications with the adoption agency, tensions peaked, and I made one of the hardest decisions of my life-we terminated our relationship with the agency and decided to go it alone-sans agency.
One of my favorite motivational speakers is Jim Rohn. In his book, Seven Strategies for Wealth and Happiness, he discusses “The Four Emotions that Can Lead to Life Change:” Disgust, Decision, Desire and Resolve. **
I was disgusted that arbitrary age restrictions stood in my way of expanding my family through adoption.
I made a decision to travel to Ethiopia to adopt an infant, on a hope, prayer, and support from those who told me my age would not be a bar.
I had a desire to return to Africa, the continent of my ancestors.
I resolved that I would stay in Ethiopia until I could return home with my son; no matter what.
My mother and I flew to Ethiopia September 2004. I kissed my husband goodbye and told him that I may not be home for Christmas.
I only had four weeks of vacation available at work.
I spent three and a half weeks in Ethiopia. My two-month-old son and I were home in plenty of time for Christmas.
He is as beautiful today as he was the first day I laid eyes on him in the orphanage though things have changed considerably in our lives.
Just shy of his 3rd birthday he was diagnosed with speech and language delays and ADHD. A short time later, I divorced and moved my youngest son then 4, and my oldest, age 15 moved to a school district that would better address the 4yr old's needs.
It was not until 2010 that he was finally diagnosed with Autism. My oldest is off to college and my little one and I work each and every day to learn and grow together.
Originally published in 2008 in Gumbo for the Soul.
*The American Association of Open Adoption Agencies (AAOAA) defines open adoption as “a form of adoption in which the birth family and the adopted child enjoy an ongoing, in-person relationship.” (www.openadoption.org)
**Seven Strategies for Wealth and Happiness by Jim Rohn