And we said no

Exactly one month ago, I got “the call” from our adoption agency. There was a child, a three-year-old boy, that we had been matched with. Was I interested in learning more?

This was, simply put, a shock. There’s a whole process for Chinese adoptions, and we weren’t finished with a big piece of it: the dossier. Typically, the family sends off their dossier and waits for a match, and we were getting the match before the dossier. If we wanted this child, we needed to haul ass.

The dossier is the official package of stuff that a family and agency presents to the adopting government. It’s like the final term paper of international adoption. It’s got your home study, your letters of reference, your letters from the police department, affirming that you’re not felons, birth certificates, marriage certificates, financial statements, immigration approvals. I had to write a letter stating why I don’t work full time. Most of these documents need to be notarized — and God forbid the date of the letter doesn’t match the date of the notarization — and then authenticated by the issuing state’s Secretary of State. Lot of moving parts. All we had, one month ago, was our home study.

I’m going to back up for a second: In mid-June, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to adopt anymore. The move and sale of our house had turned me into a psycho, and I worried — rightly, I think — about whether I wanted to inflict myself on another child. And then, there’s the issue of my age. Everyone likes to avert their eyes and flap their hands at me when I mention this, but the fact is, I’m no kid anymore. I need my sleep. I’m not as patient as I once was. And, frankly, I want to go back to work. If I do what I did with Bini — stay home and raise him — I’ll be almost 50 when I re-enter the work force.

Steve understood. We set up a meeting with Dr. Julia Bledsoe, a UW pediatrician specializing in adoptive medicine, to talk through the list of medical correctibles that our agency was seeing. Dr. Bledsoe and her partner, Dr. Julian Davies, are experts at reviewing a child’s file, assessing the child’s needs, if any, and the impact on the family.

Dr. Bledsoe, Steve and I spent an hour going through this long list of birth defects and crossing out the ones that felt like too much for our family. It was a highly distasteful task, but she was firm: You have to choose a child that works for your family. There are people who adopt the children with cerebral palsy, the ones missing arms. You do yourself and your other child an injustice if you take on more than you can handle, just because you feel guilty. So, we came up with a list of things we could handle: Unilateral cleft lip and palate. Club foot. Strabismus. Minor heart defects. Missing or malformed digits. Mild liver damage. We emailed this list to our adoption coordinator and settled in for a six-to-seven month wait.

We got the call about this little boy a week later.

It was hard to be objective when I saw his pictures. He had such a smile, and a glint behind his eyes that reminded me of Bini. He was on the smaller side, and he had been been brought to the orphanage as an infant with “liver damage.” We sent the files off to Dr. Bledsoe and arranged an early morning call. She felt that the file was incomplete, and wrote a letter asking the Chinese orphanage for more information, particularly about his liver levels. We went back and forth for a month, and while that was happening, we worked like slaves to get our paperwork ready. We expedited our vital documents, spending hundreds of dollars to do so. We were serious about adopting this little guy, and we were hopeful that this last round of blood tests would give us the answers we needed to move forward.

On Wednesday, I was walking down Boylston Street with friends, waiting to do one of those goofy duck tours, when our adoption coordinator called with the retested liver functions, per our request. This was it.

I looked at the test results, and my heart just crashed to my feet. His elevated liver levels, which we’d hoped would come down, had not. I forwarded the file to Dr. Bledsoe and waited. We got the return e-mail while sitting at the California Pizza Kitchen at the Prudential Center. This little boy had a significant special need, one impossible to diagnose without a liver specialist. I looked at Steve and he looked at me. I ordered a margarita. He ordered a beer. And after lunch, I called our coordinator and said no.

I said no to a child. I said no to a little boy who I’d already — against my better judgment — picked out names for. I’d already pictured him in my house, cuddled up next to Bini, hearing a story about Superman, or whoever the superhero du jour might be. I had already pictured taking him to Music Together, and to the park. I was ready to teach him English and be his advocate. I was ready. But we said no, like he was a dessert choice on a menu. It makes me sick, this process.

I posted my angst on a closed Facebook page for other parents doing what we’re doing and got lots of support. “You will know when you find the child right for you,” was the upshot. But that just seems so fundamentally wrong to me. If I had birthed this child, would I have said no? Would I have passed him along to the next family? To make matters worse, this little guy’s profile went out in the adoption agency’s newsletter yesterday, a featured child. When I saw his picture, I thought: That’s my son.

“This little boy has a significant special need. It is really unusual,” is what Dr. Bledsoe wrote in her assessment. I keep thinking about that. I suppose, intellectually, we did the right thing. This need wasn’t one of the ones on our list. So, we say no. It’s very cut and dried. Except when it’s not. Except when you can’t stop thinking about a little face, an impish grin, and those eyes.