I have been a parent for two years today. This is the day we met Nat.
Sometimes, it seems strange that her birthday comes before the day we met her. I think a lot about her three days in the hospital nursery without a parent, and I've become certain she wouldn't have been released if she or Rose had had medical insurance. It's probably just as well that I didn't know it at the time, but Nat's weight was borderline for low birth weight (some books say it is, some say an ounce less is the line, but she was well below both by three days old). And judging by her first year of development, I think she was closer to five weeks than three weeks early as the doctors speculated. I think if she were my birth child, she'd have been watched a bit until her weight came up some.
But I didn't know anything about newborns except apgars then, and Nat didn't have any apgars, because she was born en route to the hospital.
Nat was born precipitously 20 minute's after Rose's water broke. She was born as Rose crossed her front porch to get to the car of a friend waiting outside at 3 am. So Nat went from 99-degree water to Chicago February with nothing but a pair of sweatpants between her and the icy blast of winter. Later that week, when she'd be asleep in my arms, clearly having tiny nightmares--squishing up her face and shaking her fists and murmuring discontentedly--Cole asked "what could she possibly be having nightmares about? And I said "getting born!"
Nat's first night home, she didn't sleep well. She didn't like the crib (we quickly obtained the Amby hammock and she was fine ever after) and I was up rocking her after her 3 am feeding--her birth hour--and I said, "you are four days old now. You seem to want me to hold you all night while you sleep. That's okay. When you're four days old, you can have anything you want" and I rocked her all night.
The next day someone asked if I thought I'd regret not giving birth myself. I looked at Nat and said "I dont' know how my body could possibly do a better job than that!" and it was true. I haven't given pregnancy or birth a thought since Nat arrived, though a mere week before, I'd turned 35 and heard a biological clock make the teeniest "tick" for the first time in my life. I had scrounged up a possible sperm donor just in case I changed my mind or somehow adoption didn't work out, but as it did, potential sperm donor became godfather and unlike a child born to me would have had, Nat has just his dark skin and dark eyes, as fate would have it.
Mama Rose has not been in our lives to the extent we had hoped. So far we're still waiting to hear from her. We haven't given up hope though--we've heard from all kinds of people who ought to know, that sometimes, first mothers take some time before leaping into regular contact. So we honor her photo, hanging over Nat's bed, we keep her in the bedtime prayers, write the updates we promised and save them for her.
I still get agitated when I read certain things about adoption and how it could be better for first mothers. I think I am starting to put my finger on it, having just finished the book I told you about the other day. it's a book about China adoption. But the analysis is about larger political concerns. And it helped me realize that it isn't that I'm against most of the adoption reforms I read about--longer revocation periods, legally binding openness agreements, first mother hospital rights/respect--it's that these all seem so individual and private when the issues that haunt (in Dorow's terms) our adoption are so much more systemic. Mama Rose didn't need a longer revocation period (in her particular crisis, she needed to be able to place her baby with a permanent family as soon as possible), Mama Rose didn't need a nicer hospital birth experience. She needed health insurance that would have given her access to the care that would have prevented a pregnancy she didn't want in the first place (much as she loves Nat--she told us so). Mama Rose personally doesn't need a legally binding openness agreement--we're willing to go well beyond the openness we agreed to extralegally. She needs to have heard of open adoption before she walked into the agency. She needed to have been able to tell her family that adoption didn't have to mean losing their sibling, grandchild, niece, that we could still be family.
Again, I'm completely in favor of all those reforms. I'd vote to make them global tomorrow if I could. but as with questions of adopters' culpability in the injustices that make some children commodities and their mothers expendable labor, I think the problems predate and go beyond adoption so far that these little reforms would just be a tiny drop in the sea of need for change. These reforms would help some of the more privileged first mothers out there have a better chance at making a choice they could live with. But so many mothers have no choices of any kind from beginning to end. So many women have no choice about whether to become mothers or under what circumstances. Many others have no choice to parent the children born to them, though with some support, they could do it. I told a friend yesterday, "we don't need 'adoption reform,' we need to take to the streets with pitchforks!"
The question is, how did I end up in a position to adopt and how did Rose and so many women like her, end up in a position not to be able to keep their babies (or to be able to prevent having them in the first place if they choose)? I do think that in a considerably more "perfect world" there might very well still sometimes be women who become pregnant and yet just simply don't want to be parents. There might be orphans whose parents have died. There might be women who want to parent with people not genetically kin to their children. So sure, there would be adoption in that world. But there would not be such disparity of privilege--race, class, cultural and national privilege--that render some women adopters and some women first mothers automatically, almost as if stamped on their heads at birth.
So although I'd vote for adoption reform, and I'll keep talking about that to people who ask us questions on the playground (etc.), I also need to feel that I am doing something to spit against the hurricane of political forces that keep moving us further and further in the direction of injustice, as the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. grows, as race not only doesn't become less of a problem but looks about the same rhetorically here in 2007 as it looked in 1850. And to be honest, I don't feel I am doing much in that department. I'll keep working on it though.