Referral Purgatory

4 02 2011

In retrospect I am sure some of my referral angst had more to do with other life events than Little Dude’s specifics.

PJ and Lincoln, September 2009

SAG was in negotiations for his new job which would require us to move half-way across the country to an unfamiliar town where we had no support system.

Our almost-16-yr-old dog, Lincoln, finally succumbed to pain and we kept our promise to honor and care for him by having him euthanized on January 18th.

It was the rainy season in Oregon.  Unless you have lived through three straight months of rain and have known that you had three more to go, it is hard to imagine how it can affect your psyche.

While my heart, soul and brain continued to wrestle with the decision, we proceeded with gathering more information and having a pediatrician look over what scant data we had.

Initially we received info that was a few months old.  I immediately contacted our agency and asked if we could have updated medical statistics. True to their make-no-promises, ultra-conservative nature, they told me that Little Dude was still in the rural care center and therefore it might take up to two weeks to get new info.  Hmmm, where do you go from there?  Can you make a kid wait in limbo for two weeks?  Of course they actually had the new data we requested back to me in less than 24 hours, but the whole situation added an additional layer of stress.

The positive side of having such a conservative agency is knowing that if there is any sign of a problem, they are likely to warn you about it.  Because everything looked good, and because Little Dude was old enough that real milestones could be evaluated, we decided to forgo sending his records to an IA specialist.

I did make a visit to our regular pediatrician.  He looked over the data and summarized the entire situation with, “Well, he looks to be healthy.  I would be remiss if I did not mention potential attachment problems.”  Of course I took that opportunity to educate him about the Ethiopian adoption system and why we felt confident we had limited exposure to that problem… (naivety and denial and luck, naivety and denial and luck, naivety and denial and luck.)

I did talk to a few select friends about my feelings, my worries and my fears.  And I once again realized how little I knew about the process I was undergoing.  “What happens if you do not accept a specific referral?” they asked.  I actually had no idea.

I did know who could answer that question for me, and she happened to be an adoptive mother herself.  Oh, and she knew me well, at least on paper.  On the other hand, she didn’t really know me at all – and I kind of thought that might give her an interesting perspective on the entire thing.  I decided to call our home-study social worker (Eileen) and talk to her.  This was a scary call to make.  I would be revealing myself to someone who knew me for less than a decade.  I would be revealing myself to someone who had the power to take the decision out of my hands.  She had the authority to yank back the referral and say, “I am sorry, but with thoughts like that you do not deserve this child.”

I try never to make decisions based in fear.  I keep a copy of “Let Us Have Faith” by Helen Keller on my computer. (Currently posted on my sidebar.)  I found myself referring to it again and again during our adoption process.

The talk with Eileen was invaluable.  What is it about Social Workers with all those active listening skills?  During our home-study I said talking to her was like talking to a cop/counselor hybrid.  You know they want you to say more, and somehow they get you to say more.  At the same time you know it would be best to SHUT-UP because they actually hold ALL the power in the relationship.  However, during this conversation Eileen felt less like a cop, and more like a really honest observer.  She asked me the right questions, but also told me the absolute truth.  And she actually understood almost every aspect of the situation better than I did, which kept me from having to explain background information and allowed us to focus on what was really happening in my head.

I also had a really cathartic workout at the gym.  With tears running down my face on the elliptical machine, in this public place, in our small town, I kept looking around thinking, “I am sure it just looks like sweat.”  I justified the occasional sob, “I am sure it just sounds like grunts of extreme effort.”

I think I got away with my performance at the gym, it was my grocery store breakdown that I actually had no hope of covering up.

As you know from this post, I am not always on my best behavior at the store.  We still hadn’t accepted the referral and PJ and I needed to shop for Super Bowl party supplies.  (I was probably also stocking up on lots of high sugar and  high salt junk food to be eaten at appropriate intervals to ensure proper emotional decision making.)

I noticed a (pink) woman with two children.  The first was also pink and probably about five, the second was brown and about 9-months-old.  The younger girl did not look Ethiopian, but I thought she might be from Uganda or West Africa someplace.  I wanted to talk to her, but I knew there was no way I could manage it without crying.  So I walked around picking up groceries while keeping an eye on her family.  When it was time to check out most of the lines were long.  And guess who was at the back of the shortest line (which I HAVE to go to because lack of efficiency is a mortal sin)?

I pulled my cart in behind them and when she looked at me I said, “Your daughters are beautiful.”  She said, “Thanks” and continued to place items on the belt.  So I said, “We just received our referral yesterday,” the last word lost in a loud, uncontrolled sob.  She looked at me and said, “This is my daughter,” pointing to the older girl.  “And, this is our friends’ daughter.  She was born here in America but they are from West Africa.”

At that point I was blubbering and apologizing.  The woman was so frightened kind and told me that she had friends that had adopted internationally and that her husband and she were considering it and that she knew what a referral was.  She wished me luck and went on her way looking over her shoulder to make sure I wasn’t following them.

It may have been this self-induced humiliation that actually brought me through to the other side.  If you can survive sobbing like a baby in the Winco check out line, you can probably teach your kids what to do when people look at them funny.

Whether it was the grocery store experience, SAG’s calm demeanor, my friends’ words of wisdom, or the catharsis of being completely honest with my social worker, by February 5 my mind finally cleared.




2 responses

4 02 2011

I can so relate to that experience of going through life, supposedly looking fairly normal, but you are so in another place in your mind. These kinds of posts are invaluable to me.

4 02 2011

Wow, I know that breath holding dam bursting rush of emotions when you just need to let it all out. It’s so stinkin scary.

And then you make the leap.

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