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Not Your Average Fairy Tale

The Accidental Adoption

By Melissa Doak



Okay, you’re probably thinking there’s no such thing as an accidental adoption.

After all, in order to adopt you must do a variety of things that you can hardly do without meaning to. Things like showing caseworkers your home. Leaving your fingerprints at the local police station for posterity. Clearing out the bedroom you’ve been using since 1995 as a place to dump everything you can’t quite get rid of but will never need again. Sometimes you even have to spend substantial sums of money for birth mother health care or to collect a variety of documents with mysterious functions.

And there’s always stuff to buy, like the newest baby monitor and the sliding rocking chair that you fall out of while holding your baby within the first two weeks of bringing her home. Or your best friend does. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

All true. But mine was as close to accidental as you can get. I practically had sex without a condom. Heterosexual sex that is.

It’s not that I didn’t want a child—I did. I’d been trying to birth a child myself for what seemed like forever. My ex and I had visited countless infertility doctors and I had gone through every infertility treatment you can imagine—from the commonplace hormone shots in the bum to the ultramodern scopes being poked through my navel and purple dye being squirted through my fallopian tubes.



But then came the “ex” part of that relationship. It’s not that I didn’t deserve to be left. I did. But now I was stuck with an old house, a new mortgage, and a paycheck that never went far enough. There was no way my checkbook could endure more medical procedures or I could begin to pursue any of the expensive options for infant adoption. After a few months of sleeping until noon and eating way too many double-chocolate fudge brownies I ended up driving to a foster care class with the same spirit with which I had gone to the doctor’s office each month. I didn’t believe anything would come of it.

I should have known foster care wasn’t for me. I absolutely could not work with abusive parents. Nor could I be patient with the red tape the bureaucracy seemed to crank out by the mile. But the thought of actually adopting a child old enough to talk to me made me break out in a cold sweat.

Still, I had already had eight weeks of parenting classes under my belt. I had unpacked enough boxes in the spare room so that they wouldn’t fall over and crush the caseworker on her way through. I had found places for my old Barry Manilow records and college term papers rescuing notable queers from the anonymity of history. And I had done some serious reflection on my previous experience in a sliding rocking chair and decided against buying one. I might as well ask. At the next to last class I approached the head caseworker, a stern looking woman with steel gray hair and sensible shoes. “If I wanted to adopt, instead of foster, would there be much more to do to be approved?” I asked.

The caseworker looked me up and down. I shifted my weight from foot to foot, feeling like I had asked a stupid question in elementary school. “Oh, much more, Melissa,” she said. “Adoption is forever, you know.”

Well, duh. If feeling like a kid being called before the school principal wasn’t enough to dissuade me, the next week an adoptive parent of three children visited our class and totally convinced me to run far, far away. The youngest of her children had been adopted at three years old. Getting a child from the public system at age three was almost unheard of, and everyone wanted to hear more. They barraged her with questions: “How were you able to adopt a three year old? Isn’t that unusually young?” and “Did you feel getting him so much younger than the other two meant that you bonded more strongly with him?”

I sensed something wrong here. The woman couldn’t look into our eyes. But the others kept up their questioning. Hope and longing were throbbing as they hung in the air. The woman must have felt like she was surrounded by a pack of hungry dogs.

Finally, she gave in. “When I adopted him, I made a commitment to be his parent, no matter what. I hoped I would grow to love him. I didn’t, but I’m still committed to being his mother.”

What? Not love your own child? That was it. There was no way I was giving up sleeping until noon for a kid I didn’t love. I had conjured up idyllic visions of what motherhood would be like during all those months of trying to have a baby--and this wasn’t it.

I never signed the foster parent papers. I never requested the additional adoption paperwork. I went merrily on my way and put those classes behind me. I got a roommate, so the house wasn’t dark nearly so often. I fell into a hot and heavy love affair. I kept right on sleeping till noon.

I was only a little surprised when my caseworker called several months later. I figured she was just calling to get me to sign the foster parent papers. They had been ready ages ago, I knew. Everyone had told me about the desperate need for decent foster homes. But it wouldn’t be my home.

Still, the caseworker called again and again. I called her back after about a week of messages piled up. Her persistence made me curious.

“We wondered if you were still interested in adopting,” she said to me. “Because if you are, I think we’ve got a little girl for you.”

What? Her voice flattened me. I couldn’t see anything but the number for the home-finding unit scratched in the margins of a yellow pizza delivery menu stuck under the telephone.

They actually wanted me to be someone’s mother?

They did. So there you have it folks. It’s your call—accidental? Or no?

Melissa Doak lives with her partner and their two children along with a few too many small animals in upstate New York. A refugee from academe, she writes mainly educational materials full-time from her home office, making her rather unfortunately always available to wash baseball uniforms, whip up cookies for a bake sale, and make sure dinner is taken care of.

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