“The biggest reason a birth mom wouldn’t select you as parents is—” said Amy, our caseworker from the adoption agency, “—you don’t have all your paperwork in. I still need your personal statement. I can’t show your profile to anyone until your dossier is complete.”
“Almost ready. Just a few more tweaks and it will be perfect,” I said.
“Babies don’t wait for perfect,” Amy said. “They don’t need perfect. Babies need parents.”
This, I knew. Logically, intellectually I knew that perfection is the enemy of complete. So what was I waiting for?
I had spent months rounding up original documents, obtaining references, and jumping through the array of bureaucratic hoops that comprise any given adoption process. I had encouraged my husband as he wrote his portion, suggesting he make our house sound cleaner. We had succumbed to background checks, physical exams, social histories, and a home study. The only thing missing from our profile was my part—four paragraphs detailing my plans as an adoptive mother—and we would be eligible parental candidates.
“Just tell them how you feel,” my husband said. “Nothing to it.”
But I was paralyzed. What if I couldn’t convey the burn in my heart for a child, or accurately portray my devotion to family? What if my enthusiasm translated into desperation on the page? There is a fine line between presenting healthy mothering instincts and looking like I frantically wanted someone else’s baby. I constantly questioned and second-guessed my own motives: am I noble, selfish, altruistic, normal? Examining the roots of longings so basal isn’t a process most birthmothers follow; pregnancy can’t afford such hypercritical self-reflection .
Articulating my feelings about motherhood was like trying to photograph a thunderstorm; everything I wrote seemed insufficient and flat. How was I to collapse this profound, lifelong longing into the allotted 200 words? Once written and turned in to Amy, our profile would be printed on earth-toned cardstock and shown, upon request, to birthmothers. I asked my husband, “What if, after pouring out the very soul from my body, nobody picks us?”
Adoption is an alternative means to the most blessed end but is wrought with risk. High emotional stakes and uncertainty mark every step of the way. No amount of prior rejection can prepare you for the disappointment of not being selected as parents—sometimes without explanation, sometimes with reasons beyond your control. You turn your life inside out and offer it up onto a judgmental chopping block: Worthy of a child? Or not? As long as I held onto the final piece of our dossier, we hadn’t yet surrendered our fate. We would not be chosen, true, but we also would not be denied. Fundamentally, this stalemate is the core of most procrastination.
I was wedged at an impasse between fear and action for months. Then, watching a movie with my young niece, I got a swift shove. It was from Mary Poppins, the iconic maternal stand-in, and she un-pinned me from the boulder weight of my insecurities. “Well begun is half done,” she’d told the Banks children. Simple. No promises, no expectations of perfection, just start moving forward. So I began, I took a leap of faith. Just tell them how you feel. Topic sentence: I want to be a mother…
As I wrote, my thoughts shifted like the wind bringing change, the very wind that brought Mary Poppins in to help the Banks. I turned 180˚ away from my self-centered fear and considered the selfless act of these unknown women, the birthmothers. I had the easy part; why hadn’t I realized this? Once I moved out of my own way, I was able to see the truly brave risk of loving a child—from the beginning.
Upon sending Amy our completed profile—a tangible plea for parenthood—I exhaled months of stale, worried air. Relinquishing control after such a struggle was an enormous, but necessary, adjustment. I became tolerant of my anxiety, disciplined with my what if thoughts, and a purveyor of patience. I resisted the urge to become superstitious or attach significance to minutia. Waiting, I grew.
Nine months (no lie) after we turned in the most challenging and daunting assignment ever given, my husband and I got a phone call from Amy that turned one life into a family. On March 11th, 2006, we became the parents of a four-day-old baby girl.
Perfect in every way.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Hello, Darling print magazine.
Michelle Riddell lives with her family in rural mid-Michigan, where she happily braves her husband’s penchant for DIY projects and her daughter’s mission of wildlife-as-indoor-pets. Her essays have appeared in MomSense and Hello, Darling print magazines, and on Hello, Dearest, Mamalode, and The Mid. She is the reviewing editor at Mothers Always Write and a substitute teacher—a nice one—at her daughter’s elementary school.
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