Byline: LIZ JONES
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 sterling]3,000 - seemed at first intrusive and unnecessary ("But I'm middle class! …