I’m not a religious person. I usually don’t believe in fate, or “signs.” You make your own luck, the chips fall where they may. Things are random.
Except when they’re not.
Almost five years ago, I was down in the Bay Area for my then sister-in-law’s baby shower. Steve and I didn’t have Bini yet, but we were at the top of “the list,” waiting for the call that would come any day.
The day before the shower, my then sister-in-law went into labor. The baby was six weeks early, so they did everything they could to stop labor, but it was no use. Little Malcolm Robert Mellone was on his way. He was born, at Kaiser Oakland, at 10:12 p.m. on March 1, 2009. I got to see him, as he was whisked into the NICU, and again the next day, before my flight left for Seattle.
We’d taken too long with our visit, and were running late to the airport. Everyone in the car — my mom, my dad and me — were pissed off at each other. It had been a tense, but joyous 24 hours. Sometimes families act stupid during tense and joyous times.
Anyway, it was pouring out and my dad was piloting the car down Howe and up Piedmont toward 580 when my phone rang. Back then, I was a reporter and got lots of calls from PR flacks. When I saw an area code — 651 — that I didn’t recognize, I thought it was one of those calls, but picked up anyway.
It was our adoption agency. They had a child for us. Was it a good time to talk?
My mom, sitting in the front seat, somehow knew from the change in my voice what was going on. She started to cry. I got the information about our soon-to-be son over the phone and after I hung up, I said, “I’m a mom,” to no one in particular. My parents were grandparents again, just 12 hours after Malcolm’s birth.
I don’t know what to call that. Coincidence? Fate? God? It sure felt like something divine was guiding that timing of events, and last week, something like that happened again.
Last Thursday, Steve and I went to the foster care orientation session at the Department of Social and Health Services in Bellevue. Even though our plan was foster-to-adopt, the orientation and subsequent training is required by the state. The place was jam-packed, and one of the first things the organizer asked us was how many were on the foster-to-adopt track. Almost everyone raised their hand.
“Well, I’m here to tell you that the state doesn’t do that,” she said firmly. The state’s mandate, which comes from the feds, is to try everything to reunite the child with its birth parent(s) or a suitable relative.
Then, she showed us a video about child abuse reporting. We saw pictures of children with burn marks on their faces, finger marks on their arms and anguish in their eyes. And I knew, without even talking to Steve, that this was not the right path for our family.
Reunification may be what the state sees as optimal, but I just don’t buy it. One social worker told us that “this isn’t about you,” and that’s fine. But I just can’t see bonding with a child, loving a child, comforting him after a nightmare and doing the hard work of parenting, only to lose him to his abusers, or to some random relative. I can’t do it. I can’t do it to Bini, who wants a sibling, a permanent sibling, so much he puts away toys and blankets for his future brother or sister.
But if foster-to-adopt wasn’t the right choice, then what? Private adoption — a.k.a. the “Juno” route — is also fraught with risk. Other international programs, including our first choice, Ethiopia, had long waits, or required lengthy in-country stays. It felt like our options were dwindling. I didn’t sleep that night.
On Friday morning, I was sitting in front of the computer in my pajamas, researching other adoption paths when I got a message from my friend Jenn. We had made plans to go skiing that day — we’d found childcare, ditched our other responsibilities — and she was on her way. I tried to get out of it, but she wasn’t hearing it. We were going.
On the way up to Alpental, Jenn talked and listened. She played devil’s advocate. She wouldn’t let me slide into the quicksand of desperation and misery that had been engulfing me. All day, on the lift and when we’d meet mid-mountain, she kept me talking. I cried in the lodge, while I ate my bratwurst.
It was mid-afternoon when we hopped on the lift for another run, and a woman asked if she could ride up with us. On the way, I mentioned something about adoption, and she asked about it. I gave her a two-sentence answer, and she told us that she was an adoptive mom too, to a little girl from China. In fact, she’d worked with our agency, and she’d gotten a child very quickly, through WACAP’s waiting child program. Waiting children have special needs, from “minor correctibles” like cleft lip or a club foot, to more serious conditions like spina bifida and blindness. Her daughter, she explained, had a small arm, but she was athletic and smart and perfectly perfect. Normal.
We skied off the lift and Jenn and I met on the ridge. “That was weird,” I said to her.
“It was,” she agreed. “But I think it could be a sign.”
I thought so too. China had been our first choice seven years ago — it has an established infrastructure, it is a well-oiled adoption machine. But China has many restrictions regarding adoption, and one of them was that if one or both prospective parents had ever been divorced, they needed to have been married to each other for at least five years. At the time, we didn’t qualify, so we moved on to Ethiopia, and of course, we’re thrilled with that.
But as I skied the rest of the day and talked it over with Steve that night and throughout the weekend, the waiting child scenario started to make so much sense — and we started to get really excited.
There are hundreds of adopted Chinese kids in the Seattle area, with tons of support and resources. Our friends have two daughters from China, and one of them they adopted through WACAP’s waiting child program. She had a cleft lip and palate, which was expertly repaired by the excellent surgeons at Children’s Hospital. David brought his daughter over to our house on Sunday, and while she and Bini played Ninja Turtles we talked about their process.
Steve and I aren’t naive — we know that a waiting child will need medical interventions that Bini never did. But the little girl in my house last night was beautiful and spunky and smart — and her scar is barely detectable. When they left last night, we knew this was the right fit for us, a path to parenthood that we were happy about, not resigned to.
So this morning, I called our agency to see if we qualify, and thankfully, we do. And because we’re open to a boy (girls under 2 are the most in demand) we could be matched to a child with a minor correctible — a crossed eye, a finger that didn’t form completely — within six months of submitting our paperwork. We could have our child home by this time next year. And all because a stranger sat on a chair lift with me one snowy Friday afternoon.
Do I believe in fate? I think I do.