Starting an adoption plan isn’t easy stuff for anyone. Most prospective adoptive parents come to the process carrying a hefty amount of baggage. Whether it is from infertility treatment, or being an “older” adoptive parent, or our marital status, most of us are really scared about what a birth family may think about us and who we are. There is no doubt that the fear of rejection is daunting. It’s amazing what we do to ourselves through this process. How we compartmentalize our personalities and our features and try to “predict” what it is that might make us more appealing to a birth family or what might make us less “pickable”. It has gotten so out-of-control in some respects that I now lovingly call it the “Pickable-Factor” or the “Pickable List.”
The Pickable Factor is anything that we think might disqualify us or make us less attractive to a birth family, ultimately causing her to choose another adoptive parent(s) over us. Every one of us has our own list of “pickables” that we think will make our wait take longer. I don’t care what is on your “Pickable Factor” or your “Pickable List”. The Pickable Factor is a myth! Birth families usually don’t care as much about what’s on our Pickable List as we do.
Now before you go dismissing me altogether, please keep in mind that I have been on both sides of the fence. I am an adoptive parent twice over and I am adoption advocate and professional. And I can count the number of times on one hand that a birth mother has “rejected” an adoptive parent because of a “Pickable-Factor.” I don’t mean in any way shape or form to dismiss the fears that give rise to our list of Pickable Factors. I do want to reassure you that most, if not all of the time, what we think is going to disqualify us or make it harder to be chosen by a birth mother are not really what birth families are focusing on when trying to find a forever home for their baby.
Among those of us who may have even greater fears regarding rejection by birth parents are prospective adoptive parents who are cancer survivors or who have some physical disability. You may think that having had cancer makes you somehow less “pickable” than another adoptive parent. But in my experience, it really isn’t true. The right birth mother is not going to care about your medical history. Just like the fact that she’s probably not as likely to care about your religion, or your age or anything else on the list you’ve created. She’s going to pick you because of some inarticulable, beautiful quality in you, one that is completely separate and distinct from your medical profile. Or, maybe she chooses you because of a random baseball cap you’re wearing in one of the photographs in your dear birth mother letter or your adoptive parent profile. (And yes, it can be that random.) My point is this, what most birth families want and what we think they want, are vastly different. Your Pickable Factors are exactly that, your Pickable Factors, no matter how consequential you may think they are.
I recently gave a seminar on adoption advertising. Although the crowd was relatively small, it was a diverse group, including three women who are cancer survivors. Two of these women have children through adoption and the third was waiting to be picked by a birth family. One of the women was very open about her experience (we’ll call her “Adoptive Mom A”). Adoptive Mom A talked about how scared she was that a birth mom would reject her and all the things on her “pickable” list. Her greatest concern, however, was that the birth mom wouldn’t want to place a baby with her because of her history of cancer. She also had been afraid that her age, her physical appearance and her religion would ultimately (and always) cause a birth parent to choose another adoptive couple. Much to her surprise, however, she and her husband met their first birth mother within a few months of starting their search. And they met their second birth mother – for their second adoption – fairly quickly too. Surprising to her, neither of the birth mothers with whom she and her husband made adoption plans, cared about her history of cancer, nor her religion nor her age. The other adoptive mom who is a cancer survivor, Adoptive Mom B, also spoke about what it was like to search for a birth parent with this (as she put it) “elephant in the room.” When she and her partner finally met the birth mother who chose them to parent her baby, the birth mom didn’t ask a single question about the cancer even after Adoptive Mom B brought it up. What made these birth families look past something like a history of cancer? Adoptive Mom A said that her first birth mother chose them because she just felt more “comfortable” with Adoptive Mom A and her husband; their birth mom felt less “judged” by Adoptive Mom A and hubby than she had when she met with other prospective adoptive parents. Adoptive Mom B said that their child’s birth mother says she picked them because they looked like a fun family and that their child would live an active, fun-filled life. Cancer, apparently, wasn’t on these birth parents “Pickable List.”
What these two women shared is consistent with a recent informal survey published in Adoptive Families Magazine. The survey presented the birth parents’ perspective and what they are thinking when they choose adoptive parents (see Adoptive Families Magazine September/October 2008 issue at p.40). Among the criteria Adoptive Families presented as important to birth parents were a stable and financially secure home life for the child.
Everything we list among our Pickable Factors is legitimate, to us. But it isn’t always relevant for birth families. A dear friend (Mel from Stirrup Queens) emailed me about this issue, and I took some time to really think about it. I put myself back in “waiting mode” and I thought about things from the birth parent perspective. Ultimately, I think what brings us together with our children’s birth parents is largely out of our control and that is very hard to deal with. We can obsess about just about anything and everything as part of this process; it is so hard to live a life with so little control about how, when and where we’re going to become a mom or a dad. But the reality is that at the end of the day the obsessing and worrying is for nothing. Cancer, your religion, your marital status are all aspects of who you are, but they don’t define you. It’s what defines you as a whole – not just itemized, compartmentalized things on a list, even elephant sized things – that make a fit for a forever family. The right birth family for your situation usually is the birth family that sees the whole you and looks past elephants and minutia to see who you really are and what you have to offer a baby, even if the essence of you is somehow inarticulably summed up by the beautiful baseball cap you’re wearing in the picture you threw into your profile at the last minute.