We got the call! I thought it would never come, I felt a little nauseous, I opened the email attachment while on the phone with our social worker and my husband, conference called in at work, and saw her – our baby! She was absolutely beautiful and I felt something I wasn’t expecting – love. I really think that’s what it was – I felt like she was a part of our family. I had visions of watching her grow – not visions of a generic child but of this baby, whose sleeping face I examined on my screen for hours. The lips: plump and poutty. The ears that stuck out slightly just like my husbands. The long, lean limbs splayed out in sleep. The beautiful hair which in it’s patchy nature belied hardships she had already survived in her first 3 months that my son would never have to know.
Not that I didn’t think I would love this child eventually. I just thought it would take time. I thought the first time I held her she might feel like a stranger. I thought I might spend the time between referral and travel living my life as I had before, instead of spending a significant portion of each waking day thinking about her, yearning to hold her, counting the days until we would travel. My response to the pictures took me by surprise.
We got the referral on a Wednesday. Thursday morning our agency called to tell us that the doctor who visits the foster care center every week had raised some concerns about our baby’s hearing and recommended that she see an audiologist. The audiologist concurred with the first doctor – she does not babble, she does not turn towards loud or sudden sounds. A third nod of agreement from the staff at the foster home – she does seem to sleep through things that wake all the other kids up, she doesn’t respond to voices or noises as the other babies her age do.
In the US we have the technology to test newborn hearing. It involves sticking a device in their ear and electrodes on their heads that measure weather sound is being conducted through the ear canal and weather that sound is being relayed properly to the brain. (I think. Don’t quote me on it). Such machines do not exist in Ethiopia. Via a friend I managed to get in touch with the medical directors for both the Peace Corps and the US Embassy who both confirmed that such technology was absent in country.
Jeremy and I had requested a healthy infant girl (I know, join the club – that is a whole different discussion about ethics and personal choices). That is exactly what we may have been referred. Or this beautiful baby may be profoundly deaf. Looking at the statistics, chances are that she has a problem conducting sound. Such problems are almost always correctable. There would however be no way to know what, if anything, was wrong with this little girls hearing until we brought her back to the US as our daughter. As soon as that reality settled into my brain I knew, in the saddest, darkest, most selfish and self interested part of my heart that I would not be able to bring this baby.
If we adopted a seemingly healthy baby who turned out, after we brought them home, to have a special need, I have no doubt that we would love and care for them to the best of our ability for as long as they needed it. I am not, however, capable of volunteering to care for a special needs child – of knowingly entering in to the agreement, even if it is only a possibility.
I know this is the right decision for the family I have right now – Jeremy, Hayden and me. I also know that our adoption agency will care for this little girl until they find a family for which she is a good fit. But more than either of those things I know that I feel like a horrid, selfish bitch. I said “no thank you” to a NINE POUND BABY – a helpless, nine pound baby who I could have helped. I have spent the majority of my working adult life with humanitarian organizations working to protect women and children from exploitation and disease – how is it that I can do that for general populations, for people I don’t know, and yet I couldn’t do it for this one baby to whom I am forever connected, who literally could have been my child?