The adoption process is a funny thing--a time of massive uncertainties, a time of constantly waiting, a time to decide what you're going to do about all the many decisions that could come your way. And there are so many decisions. And so much waiting. And an inordinate amount of uncertainty.
We can try to wrangle it, to organize ourselves into a good place. We can have our super organized binder and all our resources in one convenient, page-protected place, and have a special section of a bookshelf just for adoption stuff. We can create a form for ourselves to help organize information that would be shot at us rapidfire during any profile opportunity calls (but then forget to print it for the longest time and live on the edge). We can do all these things, and none of it will matter when everything hits the fan. You can't actually wrangle uncertainty. Life, in general, is pretty much un-wrangle-able.
Something that we have decided on for our own sanity is that if we receive a profile opportunity call, we will not tell people until either it turns out we were not chosen or we are matched. We're good with sharing when we're matched, as long as people understand that there is a whole lot of information that we will not share, information that belongs to our son or daughter, that is not really our business to share. Of course we're good with sharing when we're placed, and that baby is in our arms, and everything has come to fruition.
But profile opportunities? Too tenuous. It could mean everything, or it could mean absolutely nothing. It's too roller-coaster-y to bring too many other people along for the ride.
To clarify the differences between these three phases of the adoption process, here's a mini glossary of sorts for how this works within our agency experience:
profile opportunity: A call that is received to let you know that there is an expectant parent (or if it's last minute, a birth parent) whose situation matches your Child Interest Grid (a horrifying document that's pages of varying risk factors and biographical information that you may or may not be prepared to consider, but that requires painfully honest discussions in order to fill out). Regardless of the timing, you receive either a lot or a little information about the expectant/birth mother, prenatal care, health history, family history, demographics, reason for placing, and openness preferences/requirements. The form really does a great job showing just how much info could be included. After listening to and writing down all the information, you are given time to consider the information and relay it to your spouse if applicable and then get back to the agency, sometimes later that day and sometimes the next day. If you say yes, then if it is last-minute situation you may find that you've been blind profiled, which means the birthmother/expectant mother chose you ahead of time and you are now matched. If it is a longer-term situation, you now have to wait. Your book is given to the expectant mother along with 3-9 other couples' whose grids match the situation and found it amenable. And now you wait for a different kind of call, that could come in days or weeks depending on the situation -- was I chosen, or was I passed over? If you are not chosen, you are back to waiting for another profile opportunity. But if you ARE chosen...you are now matched.
matched: When you are matched, you have been chosen by an expectant mother. You are now in a whole other realm of uncertainty, where you have the joy of having a situation that is hopefully going to result in a successful adoption. HOWEVER. Matches do not involve any legal paperwork. Nothing is truly a done deal until surrenders are signed, and in most if not all cases, surrenders cannot be signed until the baby is born. Which is a good thing, because that time surrounding birth, usually 72 hours, is a very emotional one, a difficult one, a time when decisions are truly made, because the baby isn't a somewhat hidden theoretical thing anymore but a physical being surviving outside the womb. A birth mother absolutely has the right to decide to parent her baby even after she has chosen a couple or a person to parent her child. A match, legally, means absolutely nothing. It's tough, because I know of people who had failed matches, and in both cases it happened immediately surrounding birth, and involved either family members coming out of the woodwork who wanted to help her parent her baby (who weren't supportive before), or a situation around a difficult birth where the mother decided that she did want to parent, after all. This is a birthmother's absolute right. Until legal paperwork is signed, any agreements are largely unenforceable. So, in my mind, when we are matched, I can be excited and hopeful and feel like this is actually happening, but I also have to balance that with...but maybe not. Until those surrenders are signed and the legal paperwork is signed and then you are...
placed: When you are placed with a baby, parental surrenders have been signed by the birth parents and you are now the adoptive parents. It's not finalized, which happens in court an average of 6 or so months later (sometimes more), but you are now adoptive parents. This is where there's a lot of misconceptions, because people think that you have to fear revocation most of all. In states like Ohio and Florida, surrenders are signed 72 hours after the birth, but then there is no revocation period and you are definitively the parents (you just need to finalize in court later, when they issue an amended birth certificate that lists you and your spouse if applicable as the child's parents, which I have complicated feelings about). No one can "change their mind" after that point. If you are in, say, New York, there is a 30-day revocation period (technically up to 45 days because the agency has 15 days to notify you about this situation) after surrenders are signed. This doesn't mean someone could say, "Whoops, changed my mind, I'm here for the baby," which is what most Lifet.ime movies and urban legends would have you believe. It means that the birthmother and you need to go to court and satisfy to the judge that something has changed significantly in her circumstances such that before, she signed a legal document stating that she was not able to parent, but now she is. There's no burden of proof on either side, but the judge must be satisfied as to what's in the child's best interest as far as ability to parent. It sounds incredibly ugly and complex, and like a horrific situation to be in, but it's really hard to prove that in most cases and it doesn't happen very often at all. At our agency, we were told less than 1%, and the adoption attorney who spoke at the trainings said, "Those rarely go well for birthparents." Which again left me with complicated feelings. However, failed matches are FAR more common than failed placements. Once you are placed, you can breathe much easier until finalization, when you can let out the last of that stale air you've been holding deep in your belly for months (or years) since all this complicated process began.
So, to put it into an analogy that makes sense with infertility:
Profiling = waiting to see if you are pregnant, like a two-week wait (it could actually literally be a two-week wait). The initial call is kind of like that fertilization report. What have we got in the dish? What are our possibilities? The "I choose you (or not)" call is like your "It worked! You're pregnant!" call. You can be excited, but there are hurdles to go through. And you probably don't tell a whole lot of people the moment that you know that a tiny thing is dividing tenuously in the dish or in your uterus.
Matched = Pregnancy. Which in adoption, can be several months or a day or two. It's an odd gestational period. But like any pregnancy, it ain't over 'till it's over. There are still risks all the way up through birth. You aren't guaranteed a baby at the end. You can feel really really certain, and it can all work out in the end, but there's a chance it might not and you could be left devastated, because you believed that was YOUR baby.
Placed = Post-birth parenting. Depending on the state there's a slight chance of risk, but in this case you have a newborn like anyone else who has a newborn. Except your body had nothing to do with it, you may or may not be attempting to breastfeed without the benefit of having given birth and being flooded with all those hormones, you may or may not be struggling with suddenly being a parent without much notice, you may be feeling hideously guilty that your amazing joy is at the expense of someone else's horrible loss, and that this loss will be felt by your child in some way throughout his or her life, and you will need to help him or her work through that. Joy and pain. Gain and loss. And you have a lot of other people in the mix -- the post-placement visit social worker (depending on the state, up to seven of those for an agency adoption), and figuring out birth parent visits/texts/emails/updates. So, not quite the same. But you have your baby home to snuggle, and there's fair certainty that this really is your baby.
With all this in mind, Bryce and I decided we'd tell people after profile opportunities went through their paces, for good or for sad. Bryce is much better at keeping our own secrets than I am, so we know I'll probably screw up and spill the beans at some point. I can keep other people's secrets super well, but I am TERRIBLE at holding my own close. I am an open book. (A running mouth.)
We decided this because it's like finding out if you're pregnant or not after an IVF cycle -- do you want so many people on that rollercoaster with you if there's a chance you could miscarry in those questionable first weeks of pregnancy? How many people do you want to have to tell happy news to, only to have to tell sad news to? And then there's the fact that a profile opportunity does not a match make. We have a lot of people who are very excited for us, and who may get overly excited that we have the opportunity to be chosen and then be crushed by the news that we weren't. We just don't want to add that on to our own conflicted feelings that we're sure to have during this time. We can share information later. (But not detailed history or risk factor information, that's still private.)
In our mind, if we aren't chosen, it's not our baby. Simple as that. There could be a zillion reasons why we were not chosen, or more accurately why someone else WAS. Most of those reasons are not things we have any control over. So while the idea of a profile opportunity is beyond exciting, because then you're in the game, if it doesn't work out, well then we just weren't the ones for that opportunity. It all has to be right. Which is not to say that it wouldn't be difficult to wait to see if you were chosen, and think of all the reasons why you might not be. But ultimately, if we're not right for the expectant mother, then that baby wasn't supposed to be our baby. We're okay with that.
We really are so much more well-adjusted for this process than we were for IVF. I mean, with IVF, we were all about putting our life on hold and trying to control the uncontrollable, and it just took over everything. It was just the way it was -- the cycles of hope and thinking that I could wrangle my body into doing something it, by the end, was incredibly obvious that it didn't want to (or could not) do. It was a physical as well as an emotional investment, and bad news was devastating because I thought that I could control things and I held my body personally responsible for any and all losses of whatever kind. With this process, it's highly emotional, and we are still on hold in some ways, but we can truly accept that it's totally out of our control. That we can do the best we can to accept situations where we feel we can parent the best we can, and we can put ourselves out there as accurately and honestly and appealingly within those parameters as possible...and after that? OUT OF OUR HANDS.
There was a Michael J. Fox quote that I found courtesy of the unexpected trip:
"You don't save a place in the rest of your life for it to take over. You just live your life the way you want to, and it assumes the space it naturally needs."
He was talking about his Parkinson's diagnosis, but it's so applicable to infertility and IVF or adoption. I couldn't apply that to IVF, not at all. It swallowed up all available space and left me husked and empty. But with adoption? Finagling all these various terms that mean varying degrees of certainty in a process that is difficult and joyous all at once? We have this. We might have to lie to people a little about whether or not we are being profiled, but it helps us to life our life, the way we want to, and let adoption take up what space it needs without swallowing us whole.
It only took us six and a half years to get this place...we can only hope there's not much more time left before we can delve into the more complicated pieces of the adoption process and take you along for the ride.