Bureaucrats getting their last licks in

One month ago, the woman from the national adoption registry, where we had gone in hopes of escaping the vengeance of Miss Knife-sharpener, wrote me an email: “There is a baby boy that you could be considered for. He is nine months old now. He is healthy and his family background shows no health problems. He is Romani but has lighter skin and brown hair. His parents both signed voluntary releases for adoption.” She went on to explain that we had not been matched yet. The system at the national registry is different. In order to even be considered for this baby, we would have to move our paperwork to her office for the next month, precluding any other matches and wait on a National Adoption Commission meeting scheduled for the 18th of July.

It was a terrible thing to have to decide. We knew that if we agreed to have our file frozen until the 18th, we could miss other opportunities and we would become attached to the idea of this boy without knowing much at all about him. After a few agonizing days, worrying that the opportunity would be given to someone else and we would be at the mercy of Miss Knife-sharpener once again, we said yes. I am not sure even now how much of the decision wasn’t simply a product of utter emotional exhaustion from the year of psychological torture we’ve undergone at the hands of Miss Knife-sharpener. It is a bit sad to think that that would be the basis for our adoption. I did feel an instinctual comfort about the baby as well, but it was a vague, hard-to-grasp feeling.

The next month was almost worse than what came before. I could hardly write anything or concentrate. As the time of the scheduled meeting grew closer our tempers frayed and we couldn’t concentrate on ordinary tasks. I was torn about preparing Shaye for her eventual brother, because I wasn’t sure what the odds were that we would be chosen for this baby, although we were assured that it was almost a done deal. Finally, toward the end of it, I began regularly telling her that we were going to have another baby, a baby brother for her.

We practiced the idea of “sharing Mama.” Shaye would sit on one of my knees and I would say, “Do you want a baby brother?”

She always said, “Yes.”

I would say, “You will always be my baby but, when our new baby comes, then I’ll have two babies. You will have to share Mama because Mama will have two babies. Can you share Mama?”

“Yes.”

“Where is the baby going to sit?” I had showed her once in front of company, that they would each sit on one of my knees and it had stuck with her. So, she patted my other knee and smiled.

The worst part was thinking, “If this is our baby, then he is sitting in a psychologically harmful institutional environment for an extra month, just because these bureaucrats can’t get around to making a decision. And to make matters worse, they claim that the decision is only a formality and we will certainly be chosen.” I knew that if I thought of the baby as mine, I would be utterly distraught by the thought that he was there in an institution for no good reason other than bureaucratic lassitude. So, while I played that game with Shaye, I did not myself think of him a baby of as “my baby.” I did not try to visualize him or fantasize about how he would be and how I would hold him. I was too afraid of my own reactions. I was afraid that I would go crazy and claw the faces of the bureaucrats when I had to be submissive and subservient in order to get the baby. Instead, I simply thought of our ordeal ending, wished and longed for the end of all the waiting and uncertainty and stress.

Finally, the day came and I could not concentrate on anything. I had not expected it to be so hard. I knew that the meeting was scheduled for the late afternoon and I expected that we would not hear anything until the next morning. Bureaucrats don’t work after hours, after all. But around 5:30 the woman actually did call us to say that we had been chosen. She wouldn’t give us much more information until our meeting with her in person the following morning, but she did tell us that he was in North Bohemia, only a two-hour drive away. We had feared that he might be five or six hours away, which would require a marathon car trip with Shaye.

The meeting on Tuesday morning went as planned. A psychologist in the national office read us bits of the boy’s file. We were not allowed to look the papers over ourselves. He was born in the depressed northern industrial city of Most. His birthmother had discussed having him adopted with a social worker long before the birth. She had two other children and had no stable place to live. She was constantly having to move around with her two young children and could not imagine how to do it with another tiny baby. The social worker had described her as responsible, intelligent and rational. She had only a primary school education, but for a Romani woman here, that is actually no slouch of an achievement, given that most Roma are sent to segregated remedial schools and never allowed to get a primary school certificate. She had spent a significant portion of her childhood in a children’s home herself, but the officials said she appeared to take good care of her two older children. The officials believed that she did not take drugs or drink much alcohol.

She left the baby in the hospital and shortly thereafter she left to try to find work and a new life for herself and her children in Western Europe, not realizing that the baby could not be adopted unless she personally signed release papers, not only at birth but also six weeks after the birth. As a result, the baby was eligible for a long-term foster-adopt family but not for a classic adoption, like ours. No such family was found in the first six months. Then, his birthmother returned from to the country and signed the release papers, when the situation was explained by the local social worker. The baby waited three more months and there was no family open to a Romani baby within the region, so he was moved to the national registry of waiting children, where we finally became eligible parents when he was nine months old. He was almost ten months old by the time we were allowed to hear the details about him.

One thing was a bit shocking to us. We had expected that all the children in the national registry would either come from problematic family backgrounds, including at least some drug and alcohol problems, or they would be the very dark, stereotypical-looking Romani children. And this baby was not. He looked like a Caucasian baby with dark, lustrous eyes. I had not even realized that I had sort of had a picture of our new baby deep in my mind, but when I saw the picture and felt disconcerted by it, I realized that I had. I had expected a brown baby with the clear, clean features of India still apparent. This baby looked like a Czech baby with particularly nice eyes. That was only a momentary dislocation, however, compared to our consternation that this baby had gone without a family so long. There are one hundred families waiting to adopt for every white baby under one year of age who is available for adoption in this country.

Dusan asked the psychologist how it was possible that no one had wanted this baby. She looked at us with an almost calculating look and gave us what I have begun t think of as “the lecture.” It goes about like this: “Well, most people are concerned about the Romani temperament and genetic inclinations. I know that it must seem that everything is alright with small children but I’ve seen it again and again with adoptive families. The Romani children are fine until puberty sets in and then their genetic roots come out and everything falls apart. Their attitude toward society is simply… well, inappropriate to say the least.”

As usual when dealing with officials, we listened to the lecture with polite attentive looks plastered to our faces and acted as if we accepted what the psychologist was saying. There are times, like in my living room, to fight the good fight, and there are times to get out with all your body parts and family members intact.

The other “negative” bit of information that the file contained was the observation by orphanage officials that the baby cried an awful lot and demanded attention. He wanted to be held and would not sit with the other babies on the floor amid the scattered toys. When he was two months old, he had been given sedatives for a month because of his “inconsolable” crying and demanding to be held. After reading a lot of literature about the types of psychological and mental disorders that children in orphanages develop because of the lack of attachment to a stable and attentive caregiver, I found the fact that he cried a log and was still crying a lot to be a fairly positive sign. It seemed as though he might not have given up on finding parents to attach to. Many older babies have basically given up on attachment and must be carefully coaxed back into trusting adults. In any event, we definitely had a picture of him in our minds now, a picture of a child who needed a family very badly.

When the meeting was over the bureaucrats were amazed that we were prepared to drive straight to the children’s home. The kept hinting that we should go home and think it over for a few days. We did not wish to be involved in abusing this baby further in the way that they had by senselessly delaying the process, so we had everything in the car for a trip of at least three or four days, including Shaye and my 18-year-old niece Ember, who was along to help with Shaye.

We got on the freeway and headed north toward the city of Liberec. On the way, Shaye developed what appeared to be carsickness and threw up. She was generally excited to see “baby” and in a good mood, other than that. After some debate, we stopped and got her some children’s carsickness medicine, which did stop her from throwing up but it also made her look drugged and eventually put her to sleep at a time that she normally does not sleep. We had called the orphanage and attempted to convince the officials there that we needed to see the baby immediately. They protested that they had another adoptive family visiting from Germany. They also tried to get us to “think it over” for awhile, but eventually agreed that if we could come at exactly 1:30 p.m. then we could see him for about a half an hour. That was the only way I was persuaded to give Shaye carsickness drugs without consulting some medical professional I trust. We really didn’t have the time to deal with it any other way.

To be continued…

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