Part Four: Picking an Agency for the Home Study (or The Experience That Nearly Stopped Us in Our Tracks)

17 Jan

Photo courtesy of The Tire Zoo
4 Way Stop Sign
courtesy of The Tire Zoo

Okay, we’ve dragged our feet on this long enough. It’s time to discuss what happened when we went to our third and final agency open house before choosing our home study agency. If you have not been following along, you can read the first three parts here, here and here.

Let me say that it was a good thing it was the third agency we visited or I’m not sure we would have moved forward. Even as an adopted person, actually ESPECIALLY as an adopted person, I found the visit extremely traumatic.

Also – I want to add that we know people who have had very successful and happy experiences with the agency and so I don’t think this is indicative of the services they provide generally. Therefore, we’re not naming names – either of the agency or the social worker. Remember, like everything on this blog, it’s just one couple’s experience.

Now before I begin, remember that 1. I was adopted as an infant and 2. We have not struggled with infertility. These factors are important in understanding how we felt alienated from hello with this particular experience.

The third agency we selected to learn more about hosts their open houses on weeknights and the office is about 30/40 minutes from my office in non-peak traffic so I knew that getting there was going to be a hassle. The two-hour open house was also being held at 7 p.m. so there would be no time to eat. Don stopped and picked up two grilled chicken sandwiches which we scarfed down in the lobby right before the session started forcing us to take the last two seats in the front row.

Here’s more or less how it went down; I’ve compressed a few things but the actual statements are as accurate as I can recall them:

Social Worker: Hello and welcome. Many years ago, I suffered with infertility just like you so I understand the desperation and sadness that have brought you to this point. I adopted my two children in the 1980s and a lot has changed since then.

Me (in my head): Wait. I don’t feel desperate or sad about this decision. In fact, I’m not struggling with infertility. I made a deliberate decision to adopt instead of biological child rearing. And, by the way, even if I did have fertility issues, I still would’t necessarily feel desperate or sad about this. Why are you judging us?

Don (in his head): Actually we struggle with fertility, but thanks for the unnecessary assumption.

Social Worker: The first time I attended an agency open house, we were told we were too old to adopt a domestic infant. And at 32, I was a lot younger than most of you. Today, it’s so much better. Now people are permitted to adopt well into their 40s and 50s.

Me: Oh dear. Why am I here?

Don: A lot younger? Ahem.

Social Worker (after telling us more about adopting her children internationally): That’s why I decided to go into the field of adoption. I wanted to help make this a better experience for others.

Me (in my head): Okay. We’re back on track. This is good.

Social Worker: Especially for birth mothers who suffer a great trauma when they place their children.

Me: [hearts starts to beat faster]

Social Worker: This is something they will never get over.

Me: [an involuntary tear escapes one eye]

Social Worker: They will think of their child every day for years. They will lactate on the child’s first birthday. They will cry every year on the child’s birthday.

Me: [actively crying in front row. looks out adjacent window so she won’t see me]

Social Worker: They will never get over the loss.

Me: Oh my God. Is this what my birth mother deals with every day? Does she hate herself? Does she cry for me? [still crying and looking out window]

Social Worker: So, again, I enjoy working with the birth mothers to make this an easier process for them. I have been in adoption social work for 15 years. In fact I opened this office on behalf of the agency 10 years ago. Back when I ran the office we never had one single state finding. Now things are different. You can see the state findings hanging right there on the wall. This year we had some outdated personnel records. That never would have happened in my day.

Me: [still crying. barely register this.]

Don: Are you really badmouthing your employer as part of your “you should use our agency” spiel? I don’t think this is convincing in the way you think it is.

Social Worker: But adoption is hard for everyone. My daughter, for example, refused to bond. I used to turn on the vacuum cleaner and leave it outside the nursery so I didn’t have to hear her cry.

Me: [stops  crying. whips head around to look at social worker] Did you just say you turned the vacuum cleaner on because your baby cried? Are you insane? The state authorizes you to be the person to pass judgment on whether or not I will be a good mother?

Don: I’m beginning to understand why the baby didn’t bond.

It was at this point that Don and I look at each other in shock and surprise, my lips pursed tightly shut. I didn’t think I had telepathy, but at that moment I knew very clearly that we were both asking if there was any possible way we could stand up and leave.

[Aside from Don: if you need proof that Susan does NOT have telepathy, this would be it. I'd been thinking how much I wanted to get out of this room for several minutes at this point and would have been delighted to avoid the slow-motion train wreck that was continuing.]

Social Worker: And we’ve all heard stories about bad adoptive parents.

And then she went on to list them. The mother who tried to put her kid on a plane to his native Russia with a note that said the adoption didn’t work out.  A tragic story about an abusive mother in DC with a mix of foster and adoptive kids who was responsible for the deaths of two children in her care. The story of a Fairfax man who forgot his baby was in the backseat and went into his office building on a hot day.

Now let me say that the story of the man who left the baby in the car was devastating and, like all the other cases she mentioned, I heard about it on the news. But at no time in the coverage had I heard that the child was adopted. It was a crazy and sad situation where the mom usually did the morning drop offs and the dad was tasked with it one day. Once in the car, he was on auto-pilot and drove off to work, forgetting that his child was in the back seat. As Gene Weingarten’s feature on the phenomenon discussed, it’s more prevalent than we realize and cuts across pretty much every demographic – it had NOTHING to do with the fact that he was a bad adoptive parent. He made a careless mistake that ended in the worst way possible but there is no chance a “better” home study would have spotted it ahead of time or allowed the family to prevent it.

Oh no, wait. I’m sorry. Super Social Worker has the solution.

Social Worker: Now that family’s home study was not done by our agency, but if it had been and if I had been the case worker, I would have taught the man to put one of his child’s stuff animals on the front seat so that he couldn’t forget the child was in the car.

Don (the Weingarten article fresh in his head since it had just won the Pulitzer a month prior): You have to be kidding me. You’re really going to just dismiss this horrible tragedy as something that you could have told someone how to prevent with a stuffed toy?

Susan: I really want to leave. I really want to leave. I really want to leave.

And thus it went for two hours. We got to hear all about this woman, her children, their adoptions, how she rocks as a social worker and how she is far superior to, well, her superiors … but we didn’t get a single question answered.

We beat feet as fast as we could at the end of the open house and never looked back. To re-iterate, we’ve heard nothing but good things from others about this agency and we probably could have called the office manager and arranged a one on one meeting with someone more suited to our needs… but we had already found an agency that we liked better and there didn’t seem to be much point.

It’s been well over a year and I still feel raw thinking about that meeting – especially the part about the birth families. I have heard many people say that the grief in placing a child, even when you know it’s the best decision, is real and palpable. I get that. And it’s something that everyone involved in adoptions – the biological families, the adoptive families and the case workers – all have to cope with … but I don’t think one’s first look at an agency is the place to drop that bomb and to present it as a wound that will never heal?

Has anyone else had any experiences like this during the adoption process?

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