Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sarah Schwartz: A Perfect Match

Step 1: The Meeting

We meet with the adoption attorney. We’re just about through with the home study, having convinced the state authorities and an independently-contracted social worker that we are, indeed, fit for parenting (the latter having made that declaration even after seeing that we keep four stuffed animals in our dining room. Permanently). To our benefit, they weren’t looking for us to be perfect. We just had to be prove that we (a) aren’t criminals and (b) mostly aren’t insane.

The next step is for us to complete a family profile. It’s a lot like a scrapbook – a words-and-pictures snapshot of who we are and what kind of life we would provide for a child. The lawyer will show the profile to birth mothers, who will use it to decide which family she wants to raise her child. I’m excited. I’m terrified. I regret having given up scrapbooking.

Step 2: Research

I select a brand new notebook with a quirky cover and Uniball pen, douse myself in a vanilla/white musk perfume combination which I call “eau de play doh,” and chastise the cat for chewing with his mouth open. I feel maternal. I am ready to start. I’ve decided that I’m not just going to create an adoption profile, I am going to create the greatest profile of all time. I will evoke laughter and tears. I will show that we are firm, but nurturing. I will create a work so emotionally powerful that the Nobel committee will suggest an award for Outstanding Infertility-Related Arts just to be able to honor us. Our profile will get its own category on Jeopardy!.

I sit down at the computer and type “adoption profile” into the search engine. Wow. I sit in the same spot for 3 hours, filling my notebook with thoughts about the competition.

First and foremost, all adoptive couples are very good looking. Or maybe a better term is “well-manicured.” They are not models. But they are also not people who go to the grocery store without makeup on (and definitely not in Hello Kitty pajama bottoms). The men wear sweaters. The women match their purses to their outfits. If nothing else, they give the promise of a perfectly-accessorized child.

Second, most of the couples have at least one household member in the education or human services field, careers that usually follow more of a “contributing to society” path and less of an “I can afford to pay for all of the premium cable channels without batting an eye” path. But not these folks. They ride horses. They ski. Several of them live in lavish estate-sized homes. One family has a picture that I swear was the house from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Many of the profiles have a picture (or more precisely, what appears to be an aerial photograph) of the house, with an arrow pointing to the baby’s room. I make a note to mention that our baby will have the east wing of our house all to herself. I will neglect to mention that the east wing is separated from the west wing by 7-feet of hallway that includes a litter box, the washer and dryer, and a bathroom with a misbehaving toilet.

Third, all of the families have large social networks, including friends they’ve known since childhood. They participate in large family gatherings, where everyone laughs, smiles, and hugs. They do not, like SOME people, maintain relatively small social networks while priding themselves on the fact that they have 950 Twitter followers. I will say no more on this matter.

I’m a bit discouraged, but I remind myself that we have a lot to offer too. Then I leave my notebook on the desk and wander off to eat ice cream and take a 3-hour nap.

Day 3: Pictures

The pictures are the most important part of the profile. They can be what makes the birth mother connect with you instantly or send your profile to the bottom of the stack (do not pass go, do not collect a newborn).

According to my research, we should have up to 20 pictures of my husband and me together. This is a challenge. Our mutual friends are sci-fi people. They are fantasy film people. Some of them are the types of people who carry more devices on their belts than Batman. They are not, unfortunately, camera people. At any given social event, the likelihood of someone carrying a 20-sided die far outweighs the likelihood of someone carrying a camera.

Having polled all our friends repeatedly (and by “polled,” I mean “begged”), we come up with only two pictures of us, both of which are from weddings. I fill in the remaining “together” pictures from the only other times we are photographed as a couple – at Walt Disney World and at Christmas. It lacks variety, but, on the other hand, there’s something to be said for a couple whose schedule alternates between the most wonderful time of the year and the happiest place on earth.

The “by ourselves” section proves to be equally difficult. My husband and I go lots of places together. Amateur photography has become a hobby for us, and our pictures fall into two categories: visually interesting images from the environment and pictures of my husband doing silly things. My artistic triumph, in fact, is a series of photos of my husband standing with his fists in the air, poised to fight with an inanimate object. He has fought with a statue of a buffalo. He has fought with a banyan tree. He has fought with a small stuffed beaver. I decide on six pictures that convey the perfect dad combination of gentle, responsible, and silly. He looks like the kind of man who will fix a cabinet but stop working long enough to attend your tea party.

I scour the hard drive and find pictures of myself, our families (including the cats) and our friends. I spent the next several days editing out demon eyes, wine glasses and a few unfortunate skin outbreaks. The pictures are in place.

Part 4: The Text

The profile has two jobs. First is the “Dear Birth Mother” section, where you speak directly to the birth mother, saying how courageous she is and how you know she has a difficult choice ahead of her. While all of those things are true, it’s hard to write them without sounding greeting card-ish and insincere. I’ve had nightmares about sending the complete profile to the attorney, only to have it returned covered with red corrections and notes like “not enough sucking up.”

Second, the profile is a snapshot of your life. You hope that one of the things you say will spark a connection between you. She has always wanted a big family. You have a big family. She wants her daughter to take ballet lessons. You’re a firm believer in ballet lessons.

You also want to be detailed, but not too detailed. “We are young at heart” is a great way to let birth mothers get to know you. “One of our prized possessions is a Darth Vader cookie jar” – not so much.

I decide to keep it brief, starting with “Dear Birth Mother,” working my way through the section about us, one about our friends and family, and a part about what we like to do. I make sure to portray us as purpose-driven and responsible, but fun (“We like to go to museums, but they’re museums where you can touch stuff, not the kinds of museums where you get yelled at for getting to close to old things.”). I show that we love learning. I show that we are silly. I refrain from mentioning that I went to Harvard or that I work with underprivileged children on every single page (although I do mention both at least once). I try to show what we can offer

Part 5: The Wait

Now I’m getting ready to send the profile off to the attorney. She won’t tell us when birth mothers are reviewing it. She’ll only tell us when someone has chosen us. In the meantime, I will worry. I’ll worry that the birth mothers will judge us for our lack of fancy clothes. I’ll worry that they will think we’re too old or too average looking. I’m worried that something about us will remind them of someone who has hurt them in the past. But I’m also coming to peace with the fact that it’s just a matter of time. We are not perfect. But we’re bound to be the right type of imperfection for someone.


  1. So great, Sarah! I absolutely LOVED this piece! Laughed out loud a dozen times and it jabbed me in the heart a few times too.

  2. Oh, this was great, Sarah -- I hope we get to see more of your journey.

    [...and, let tell you, my daughter would fit RIGHT IN in your household. Actually, so would my husband. Wanna adopt him?]

  3. I enjoyed this piece. I think it would make a lovely addition to your profile, actually. And, let me tell you, some kid is going to be super-excited and very lucky to grow up with parents who have a Darth Vader cookie jar.

  4. Lord, this was fantastic. If I were a birth mom, I would choose you within an inch of your life. Yes, yes, please let us keep seeing your journey, here.

    So satisfying. OOF.

  5. For anybody who doesn't know (or hasn't been scared away by me in the pass), you can follow me on twitter @miss_sarah_s. I also have a blog. If you ply me with compliments, I will probably give you the address.

  6. I'd pick you. Based on this blog alone.
    I truly think you are miles and galaxies away from the Stepford-sounding families. And that is a good thing.
    And I still believe the child who needs you the and your husband in particular, for everything you are, will find his or her way to you. Sending lots of good vibes for The Wait.

  7. Wow! Some kid is going to be really lucky to have you and Jeff for parents. Kate Simon

  8. You are brilliant!! I love this. - Amanda

  9. Carol of Carol and AlanSeptember 15, 2010 at 10:25 PM

    Wish you guys the best of luck in your process of adoption. Very poignant, amusing and down to earth journaling. I suggest watching a few Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, & perhaps The Simpsons repeats and don't forget your Si Fi flicks (i.e "The Day the Earth Stood Still" --the orig. one that is and the orig. "War of the Worlds and "The Body Snatchers") and your favorite sci fi shows--to get your mind off the waiting period...Or if you're into yoga--deep breathing exercises is always good for relaxation and staying positive...

  10. I'm so glad you wrote this. I hope you don't mind if I share it with some friends.

    There is a woman right now wanting a family with four stuffed animals in their living room. Wanting a sweet family who is young at heart to raise this child. She'll want a simple, beautiful, education-loving, silly, delightful couple to be the absolutely perfect parents.

    And she'll prefer a Darth Vader cookie jar any day over a Bel Air House. (Because so would I!)

  11. How amazing that you shared this. I agree with everyone showed how real and awesome you are, and if I were looking for parents for my little one you would totally make the cut. Plus, all good parents know that they spend more time behind the camera than in front of it. :)

  12. Darth Vader rules. I think birth mothers would be lucky to get you. The other profiles seems like people are more interested in stuff than what's truly important...the family.

  13. That's beautiful and if I didn't have parents I would be pleading with you to adopt me :)

  14. I really enjoyed this Sarah! Good luck on your journey, I know you'd make an amazing mom!-Stephanie

  15. Sarah, the warmth of your personality and humour comes through with every word. But more than that, this is laced with the kind of love that more than assures me you will indeed be graced with a child. And that child will grow up to be perhaps the most fiercely intelligent and funny person the world has yet seen. I wish you much success, but more than that, much love.

  16. Out of all the essays so far on WWW, this one was far and away my favorite. Some lucky kid is going to have a great writer for a mom!