It’s probably the most common fantasy in modern-American-kid history: Just as you’ve always suspected, you really don’t belong in this family. Those incredibly lame people who claim to be your parents — aren’t! You don’t share genetic material with your extremely embarrassing brother/sister/grandparent/uncle/aunt/cousin. You’re adopted!
For the kid whose parents’ genetic stamp is as obvious and recognizable as a Tommy Hilfiger label, the these-people-aren’t-my-real-family fantasy is just another game. But for the adopted child and his or her parents, this dream is a shadow reality, a certainty with all the potential of imagination and virtually no definition.
By adopting, parents commit not only to having a child, but also to the existence of that child’s biological family. And also to the child’s fantasies of that biological family. Likewise, adoptive parents commit to the possibility that someday, members of the child’s birth family — more than likely the mother, but also, potentially, the father, grandparents or siblings — may re-enter the child’s life, either through a birth-family member’s own choice, or through the child’s.
Parenthood is the most serious commitment a human being can make; parenthood through adoption, however, entails a whole additional layer of commitment.
But on a recent Saturday afternoon — less than a week before Asheville City Council member Holly Jones is to board a plane to Guatemala to pick up her daughter, Gabriella — Holly has the same concerns as every other expectant mother.
“I haven’t picked up diapers yet,” she says. “That’s on my to-do list today. And I need to figure out the insurance forms, too.”
She sounds a little frazzled, a little overwhelmed, and very excited.
Holly knew 15 years ago that she wanted to become a mother. “I just didn’t know how it would unfold,” she admits.
When she turned 40 last February, she knew it was time to act.
“It was a moment of life reflection,” she confides. “I knew on an emotional level, on a mental level, on a spiritual level that this was the right time, that I was ready to open my heart and my mind to a child.”
All stories of parenthood are tales of serendipity. Theoretically, a woman of childbearing age can get pregnant almost any time of the month. But in practical terms, conception is likely during only the tiniest window of time — just for a few hours during ovulation. Even then, at the height of a woman’s fertility, a man’s sperm face daunting odds: Out of approximately 200-500 million squigglers competing for the honor, exactly one can fertilize the egg. And out of those many millions, only a sparse 40 or so ever make it anywhere near their target.
Then, in an estimated one out of six cases, the just-fertilized egg spontaneously aborts, the brief pregnancy ends in a normal menstruation and the woman never even realizes she was gravid, if only for a few days.
But for the adoptive parent or parents, that serendipitous moment of conception is the moment the right adoption agency is finally located.
Finding that agency is a process of elimination — though not always by the prospective parents, as Deborah Morgenthal learned the hard way when she and her now ex-husband decided to adopt 12 years ago.