Baby Be Mine ; Surveys Show That More and More Career Women Are Putting off Having Children. Here, One Writer Who Has Left It Too Late to Have Her Own Child Tells of Her First Steps on the Long Road to Adoption
Jones, Liz, The Evening Standard (London, England)
IREMEMBER the moment I first thought about adopting a baby.
I was having a late-night conversation with my husband and he made a simple statement, words that made my heart turn to stone. "I need to be a dad, and you can't give me that, can you?"
Well, no, I couldn't give him that.
Being a career-crazed alpha female, I had blithely spent the years when I should have been reproducing wedded to my computer. I am not saying I was repressing a ravaging baby hunger, merely that having children wasn't on a to-do list in my Filofax.
Plus, I had never before been in a relationship with a man whom I could contemplate having a baby with; most of my boyfriends (all three of them) were afraid to commit to something a week on Saturday, let alone a small being that meant they would have to keep the music down, or get up early at weekends.
I once tried to steal a man's sperm when I was 32 (he wasn't ready for a relationship, despite the fact we'd been living together for three years), but thank God it didn't work.
So, when I finally got married and had not only some stability but a life outside work, I discovered I had left it too bloody late. In retrospect, my husband's statement was a crafty way of trying to dump me, but at the time it forced me to consider my parenting options, whether we were to stay together or not.
Because I have never felt a burning desire to go through childbirth to make me feel more of a woman, or to ensure I would love my baby enough, I came up with the idea of adopting.
The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was the right thing to do - either on my own or in my marriage.
Expensive fertility treatment seemed selfish and egotistical. How much more altruistic and eco-friendly to rescue some poor, deprived, incredibly photogenic child from abject poverty; how noble. How convenient! I really didn't know the half of it.
I started to talk to other women who had gone through the whole process. I first met Lucy McCarraher, a writer (her first novel, Blood and Water, will be published by Macmillan in September), three years ago. She had two grownup sons from her first marriage, but in her forties, found she was going through early menopause. So she and her second husband, Richard, who is 11 years her junior, decided to adopt from Russia, where there are 70,000 children in orphanages.
I met Lucy and her adoptive daughter, four-year-old Victoria, at their home in Croydon. Victoria was willowy, blonde and beautiful, and incredibly shy.
Lucy told me about the moment she first saw her. "We were sent a four-minute video and in it she was naked and the nurses held her up so that we could see there were no blemishes. Then they made her hang by her little hands to see if she could hold on and she started screaming ... I must have watched that video hundreds of times."
When they finally went to collect her, aged 11 months, "she was sitting in a chair by herself, washed and dressed in the orphanage's best tracksuit, waiting patiently and I just started crying".
Talking to Lucy and other mothers, it began to dawn on me what a commitment adopting from overseas is and how littered it is with obstacles.
Lucy and Richard have another daughter, Julia, now nearly four, also adopted from Russia. She had been born 10 weeks prematurely and abandoned by her mother the same day. "They told us [Julia] was shy and nervous, but the minute she was out of the orphanage it was as if someone turned on a switch; she started running and shouting. We joked that we should return her under the Trade Descriptions Act."
My husband and I spent a year being interviewed by Marie, a lovely social worker from our local authority, Hackney. These home visits, which you have to pay for if you are adopting abroad - our bill came to Pounds 3,000 - seemed at first intrusive and unnecessary ("But I'm middle class! I have nice furniture!
I can afford private schools!"). But they were incredibly useful; they really made us think about the reality of what we were about to undertake.
We were asked questions such as, "How will you cope if your child rejects you/has health problems/ abandonment issues?" I had just assumed that a Third World baby would be so happy to be living in the West that it would gurgle with delight, but babies aren't that simple.
WE were asked whether we had been smacked as children, and how we would discipline our child. We were also asked how many hours a week we worked (I lied. My frantic race home through the rush hour for our weekly meeting was incredibly stressful; my husband would always give me a wry smile as I joined him and Marie, already on their second cup of tea.) But the interview process also gave my husband a chance to find out whether or not he was ready. I kept reminding him that most men don't have that luxury; women decide they want to get pregnant and there is very little their partners can do about it.
Because my husband is 11 years younger than me, we were both grappling with different issues. He kept saying insensitive, if honest, things, such as, "I have given up the chance of ever having my own children," as if being unable to be a birthmother was not a tragedy for me, too. But it was important that these issues - such as did I agree to adopting a baby in order to keep my husband? - were raised before we got a child, not after. We both had to work out for ourselves that adopting is never second best, and can actually be much more special.
Because my husband is a Sikh from Punjab, we decided we wanted to adopt from India, and travelled there together for the first time last summer.
Seeing the terrible poverty, particularly in Delhi, where babies sleep on pavements, under road bridges, or alongside railway lines, made me want to scoop one up and bring it home immediately. But I also saw how vast the problems are in India, and how helping just one child might not be the answer. Was I being realistic, or was I merely chickening out?
Hannah Pool, the Evening Standard columnist, was adopted from an orphanage in Eritrea at the age of about six months (she doesn't know her exact birthday) by a white couple.
Although she experienced inter-country adoption at its most commendable - her father is an expert on Eritrea, had lived there for many years and speaks the language - she says now that: "I wish I hadn't been adopted, even though I know that my life would have been very harsh.
"It is always assumed that the West offers a better life, but I didn't want to be rescued. I had a family [she was placed in an orphanage because her mother had died in childbirth], and all a baby wants is to be with its family."
She thinks a far more helpful gesture would be to donate the Pounds 20,000 to Pounds 30,000 that potential parents tend to spend on adopting to the orphanage.
Hannah has written a wonderful book who has left it too late to have her own child tells of her first steps on the long road to adoption on the subject, My Fathers' Daughter (Hamish Hamilton, Pounds 14.99), and her story highlights some of the issues that arise "when you grow up different. Don't underestimate how much a child wants to look like its family, how isolating being different can be."
I tell her I am racked with whiteliberal guilt, that I wouldn't be able to give a child all it needs.
Were there issues Hannah's adoptive parents were unable to deal with? She laughs. "I have an obsession with beauty and cosmetics now, because I didn't know what to do with my hair and my skin. My body was a different shape, and so I always thought I was fat."
It turns out that if a parent tries to educate a child about their birth country, that, too, can be counterproductive. "My dad tried to tell me about my history, but I didn't want to know about famine and poverty and war and hardship. I also felt guilty; I kept thinking, 'Why was it me who was saved?'
But when I went back to Eritrea recently I discovered it was such a beautiful place. I kept saying to myself, 'I was told I was rescued but this place is amazing.'" India is amazing, too, beautiful and cruel in equal measure, but I still have faith that if I am able to adopt one day from there, either on my own or with my husband, I will be doing the right thing, not just for me but for the child. I recently met Helen, a teacher who lives in Islington. I bumped into her in the street and had to stop and talk to her because the stateofthe-art buggy she was pushing contained the most beautiful child I had ever seen: small, brown and with a shiny black bob.
BECAUSE of a childhood illness, Helen is unable to have children, so she decided at the age of 35 to adopt from India, on her own (a practice not remotely frowned upon there). "I had an epiphany when I turned 30," she says.
"I knew I wanted to be a mum, even though I was single. I have a great support network of family and friends, lots of great role models in my life."
She embarked on a long and difficult journey, travelling to numerous orphanages in India, some in the most appalling condition.
She first saw Rada, who is now three, when she was five months old; she was malnourished and dehydrated, "but the moment I saw her I knew she was my daughter. I thought I would have to learn to love her, but it happened straight away. My best piece of advice to parents who are worried about bonding is - don't worry."
After 10 months of paperwork, Helen was able to bring her home.
Is she worried about the future; that Rada will reject her?
"I have lots of Indian friends, and we will go back there all the time, but I think it is presumptuous to assume that is what she wants. I want to equip her to make her own decisions, when she is ready."
This is a point reiterated by my husband; raised by first- generation immigrants, he speaks Punjabi but his younger sister doesn't and feels absolutely no need to; she is British and that's that. He thinks the West has a tendency to over-romanticise "culture"; a decent health service and an education are far more important.
The most important lesson I have learned from talking to other mothers is not to give up. As one mother said to me, "With fertility treatment, there is no guarantee you will get a baby. Once you have been given the all-clear by the local council, you will get a child. It might take a long time, and involve a lot of heartache and frustration, but it will happen."
Heartening words, if ever I heard them, now that I have got my all-clear.
Sometimes, I lie awake at night imagining my daughter, all straight-backed, sitting waiting patiently. I hope she isn't there too long.
Intercountry Adoption Centre (0870 516 8742, www.icacentre.org.uk).
Runs consultation days and support groups.
Central Adoption Resource Agency (www.cara.nic.in) has a list of registered agencies in India.
Asha (0870 516 8742 - the ICAC acts as its mailbox) is a group of parents who have adopted from India.
Voice for International Development and Adoption (members.aol.com/ vidaadopt/vida.html) and Cradle of Hope (www.cradlehope.org) are both private American agencies that will act on your behalf in Russia.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Baby Be Mine ; Surveys Show That More and More Career Women Are Putting off Having Children. Here, One Writer Who Has Left It Too Late to Have Her Own Child Tells of Her First Steps on the Long Road to Adoption. Contributors: Jones, Liz - Author. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: February 21, 2006. Page number: 34. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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