The Facts on the Ground

- 20% of all children will die before the age of five.
- 98% of all people are malnourished.
- Life expectancy is 48.4 years.

This is what life looks like in the Democratic Republic of Congo. DR Congo is my adopted country because that is where my adoption is supposed to happen. On an average day I know more about politics in this country than my own. But as I’ve written in the past, the program has been a disaster almost from the beginning. The government there is so broken and, quite frankly, corrupt that it’s nearly impossible to accomplish what adoption requires: determining the legal status of a child, establishing a transfer of guardianship, issuing an exit visa. So I contemplate changing to another program, another agency, another country.

- A 2011 U.N. study finds that of 187 countries surveyed, DR Congo ranks 187th in conditions adequate for sustaining life.  This means that it has the fewest people with access to cleaning drinking water, shelter, nutrition, education and personal security. It is by every measure the poorest country in the world. 

I look at other adoption programs. I think about getting pregnant. And I don’t move forward. One more month, I think. Maybe things will change. Maybe somehow someone in the government there will realize that they have a chance to change these kids’ lives. To save these kids’ lives.

- 15% of all children are orphans. That’s about 3 million kids.
- UNICEF reports that between 15,000 to 25,000 children live on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital. Children are often required to “pay” police in a percentage of stolen goods for the right to sleep in abandoned buildings and on sidewalks.

But there are tanks on the streets of Kinshasa as President Kabila tries to hang onto power. Violence and coup attempts have all but shut down the city over the last few weeks. And so we wait. And these kids wait. For things to get better. For a new start. A family. A miracle.

If you feel moved to, would you please say a prayer for these children and for all children who do not have families? As we create light in our houses this holiday season, let us hope for a better year for everyone from here to DR Congo.

Not Yet

A few weeks ago I was scheduled to meet two boys who, if all went well, would become my sons. The boys are currently in foster care but are available for adoption.

I thought I was one short step away from creating my family.

My adoption agency which works with Child Protective Services started talking to me about the boys about 2 months ago. The Adoption Coordinator and the social worker in charge of their case told me only that they are brothers, 1 ½ and 2 ½ years old, full African American and healthy. That’s what they said. In four separate conversations, that’s what they said. Every time I asked a question, that’s all they said.

Two Fridays ago, I called the Foster Mother before Shabbat so I could arrange to meet them. She started the conversation by saying that in 10 years of fostering, these children are the most challenging kids she has ever cared for. Both have severe special needs: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Attachment Disorder. The boys have already been through two disrupted adoptions. In both cases, the perspective adoptive parents were not informed of children’s medical conditions until they were actually living in their homes and, in both cases, the parents relinquished the boys back into foster care.

The Foster Mother did not want to see this happen again so was brutally honest with me. By the time I hung up the phone I was stunned and angry and so sad – for the boys and for myself. I decided that their needs were completely beyond what I could provide. The following Monday, I turned down the referral and severed my relationship with the agency.

I do not know where I am going from here.

There are three options open to me:
1. Continue to pursue adoption. After two failed adoptions, one international and one domestic, I’m not sure I have the emotional wherewithal to attempt a third.
2. Artificial insemination, In-Vitro Fertilization, Donor Embryo. These are my biological options. I’ve reviewed the responsa (rabbinic decisions) for each option and believe they are all permissible, the logic being that these procedures can result in a new Jewish life and are therefore consistent with Jewish values.
3. Accept that I will be childless. Or child-free, as some would say. After almost two years of trying to make a family, I wonder when, for the sake of my emotional wellbeing, I just need to walk away. I’m not sure what such a life would even look like.  Who am I if I’m never a mother?

For now I will only say that I am not ready to give up. At least not yet.

The Call

According to the Talmud, when the Israelites lived in the wilderness the miracle of manna (bread) was given every morning at dawn and every morning a dew rose and encased the manna, protecting it until it could be harvested. Without this protection the Israelites would have starved.

I always assumed that miracles were large, cinematic and powerful – creation, falling Pharaohs, splitting seas and the like. But the thought that miracles must be nurtured immediately resonated with me. It reminded me of adoption.

Adoption is all about nurturing hope, protecting it even when it seems entirely unreasonable. Sometimes adoption feels like waiting in a train station where occasionally there is a shout “all aboard the baby train, platform 3!” Gathering my heart and a stomach full of butterflies (the best and only appropriate luggage for this type of journey), I run to meet my destiny but every time, thus far, only emptiness waits at the top of the stairs when I arrive. 

In my last blog post I said I had just finished my home study which is true but not accurate. This is my second home study. The first adoption, an international program, is “on-hold” as the adoption agency would term it – I call it closed because I don’t believe it will ever bring me a child. After a year, I accepted the inevitable, cried my tears, and moved on. 

So I started over with a domestic adoption program and today….they called me. I was between meetings at the time and so had to speak in hushed tones in a hallway but it was THE CALL. I will soon meet two boys, brothers, available for adoption. Maybe as soon as this week-end.

Talking to the amazingly calm social worker (I was anything but calm!), I realized how much has gone into protecting the miracle of this moment: all the ordinary days, making yet another call to the agency, reading one more book on adoption, buying a crib, storing sippy cups in a drawer and just continuing to imagine a child calling me “Mommy.” But today… at least for today… I can see the miracle

J-Nesting

My home study is now complete!

A home study is required for all adoptions. Last week, the social worker did the final walk through of my apartment (mind you, this is after a 4 hour interview) to make sure I had enough room for a child (check), indoor plumbing (check) and there are no obvious safety hazards in my home like a wood-chipper in the living room (check). Then the social worker said something incredible: “go forth and buy furniture.”

Until now the baby room has stood completely empty. I thought it would be easier to look at all that open space instead of an empty crib every day. I’m overjoyed to be this close to having a child in my home but….how exactly do I create a Jewish nursery? As someone who chose Judaism as an adult, I’ve never seen one.

I do have a few ideas:

- a framed picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walking with Dr. Martin Luthuer King, Jr.  - it’s never too early to start teaching about tzedukah (justice)

- the aleph betthe sooner he/she starts learning those squiggly letters the better

- lots of Jewish books – obviously

- a large Barney with a kippah (skullcap) – what…no?

Clearly, I need some help so I’m turning to you. (Yes, you who are reading this right now.) What belongs in a Jewish nursery? What should a Jewish child see every morning upon opening her/his eyes?

Please give (comment) generously. All advice accepted and appreciated!

Furniture and Other Attachments

“You don’t need one. It becomes useless very quickly,” my friend tells me. But I still want one.

We’re debating the utility of that nearly ubiquitous piece of baby room equipment called the changing table. No more than a couple of pieces of balsa wood with a flat surface on top for re-diapering a baby and a shelf below, I’ll admit it doesn’t have much to offer in the way of aesthetics. And yet, months after our conversation, paging through an Ikea catalogue, I stop dead at the sight of one and with a whispered reverence say to myself, “ahhh, it’s a changing table.” My eyes linger over it for a long moment and I nearly choke up.

I’m aware that there’s something deeply psychological about my attachment to this particular item of furniture. I suspect it’s the name – “changing” table. The arrival of my child has been so long anticipated that it’s painful to even think of it at times. First, I waited to get married. Second, I waited because I didn’t think I could raise a child on my own. Then I waited some more, overwhelmed by the choices in adoption (private, foster, international?). And now, I wait for “referral,” that lodestone of adoption-speak, meaning finally, finally, I have been matched with a baby.

And I wait for all the surfaces in my life to become “changing” tables – spaces transformed by the presence of a child –the dining table to become the family dinner table, floors to become play areas, and my ordinary rocking chair to become the point of departure for “Goodnight, Moon” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Like most perspective adoptive parents, I’m working on my Master’s degree in waiting… waiting for change.

This blog is about a single Jewish woman hoping for motherhood. The journey so far has been unpredictable, filled with both promise and tears. I hope you’ll climb up onto the changing table with me as I wait for the simcha [joy] of a new son or daughter.