I completely forgot to tell you about our orientation at Amara, silly me! Amara is a non-profit family services agency that has been operating in the PacNW for almost 100 years. The agency offers counseling for pregnant women exploring their options, and serves families who are looking to adopt a child. Most of the children Amara places with adoptive families are currently in state custody as foster children, though it does place some infants who are voluntarily relinquished by their birth families. The first step toward considering adoption through Amara is attending its orientation session for adoptive families, which we did last month.
We were, of course, running late for the meeting. Geez we are always running late. We even set our clocks forward by N minutes, and try not to figure out the value of N, but it’s inevitable. We always figure it out and then just adjust our mental clocks accordingly. So of course, as we sped into the parking lot at Amara we were wondering how our lack of punctuality would reflect on our ability to be reliable foster/adoptive parents. Great first impression, huh?
We hurried into the building, which had a very different vibe than I expected. I was picturing a sort of messy, dingy space with lots of cubicles, something kind of like the office Mariah Carey’s character had in Precious. Instead, we entered a bright and airy space with skylights and clean lines. The entry way had two bulletin boards that were filled with photographs of birth parents and adoptive families, holiday cards and thank you notes. The meeting was held in a large room that was lined with large portraits of adoptive families with their children–two mom families, mom and dad families, two dad families, and single parent families of all races and ages. We took our seats in the back and I took inventory of the crowd. There were three other lesbian couples, and the rest were straight couples plus one very attractive and seemingly single man (we managed to restrain ourselves from asking him to be our donor, but it was tough…).
There was the perfunctory powerpoint presentation about foster care and foster kids, and a sweet video about two adoptive families and their children. We got a basic overview of the foster to adoption process, and had the opportunity to ask questions. The best part of the orientation was the time we spent hearing from and talking to a couple who adopted from Amara 9 years ago, when their daughter Z was 5 years old. The couple was in their mid fifties when they adopted, and they had never parented before. They talked candidly about the bonding process, which took time for both the parents and for Z. They were also very open about the challenges they faced that are unique to adoptive parents, particularly how they have handled other peoples’ curiosity about their family. The parents are white and Z is black, a fact to which Z exclaimed (at age five, with the back of her hand placed dramatically across her forehead) “Poor, poor Z, she got WHITE parents!” Z’s parents were baffled, because they thought Z would be more disappointed that she got OLD parents.
Apparently people feel entitled to understand their family structure, and want to know the details of Z’s past, which is a request the parents have had to learn to politely decline. They’ve also had to adjust their recreational activities to ensure that Z is comfortable. For example, they like to go camping and hiking, but Z noticed that she is always the only black person in sight on these excursions, and that makes her uncomfortable. So, the family has done less camping and hiking and more of the kinds of things that Z is comfortable doing.
It was nice to hear from a family that has been through the challenges and the rewards of the adoption process. I left feeling surprisingly optimistic about the possibility of adopting from foster care. We still are not ready to give up on the idea of experiencing pregnancy and child birth, and are trying to sort through our feelings about wanting this experience but feeling unsure about all the ethical implications of creating a fatherless child. It’s not something we are taking lightly. I guess I don’t take much of anything lightly, so that should be no big surprise!
We felt really welcome at Amara, and encouraged by the families and social workers we met there. While I am sure that the path to adoption would be a challenging one, I think we’d be well supported along the way.