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"What if I don't love the new baby as much as I love Sara?" he asked me.
"You mean because she's not going to be your biological sister? Or just because you don't know if you can ever love another sister as much as Sara?"
TJ looked down. "The first thing. But I feel really bad about it."
"Honey," I said. "Remember when I was pregnant with Sara? Well, I was worried I wouldn't love her as much as I already loved you. But when she was born, my heart just grew bigger."
"Yeah," TJ said. "But this is still different."
"Well, that's true. It is very different."
"And Gordon said something really awful about the baby. It's so mean, I don't even know if I should tell you!"Gordon was a waiter at one of our favorite restaurants.
"I don't want you to get upset!" TJ exclaimed.TJ was pacing back and forth, something he always does when he's angry or frustrated. He inherited this trait from Tom. I, on the other hand, prefer to snuggle into a cozy spot with a pillow.
"Come on, sit down with me." I patted the couch.TJ stopped pacing but he didn't sit. He explained what had happened at lunch:
"Dad told Gordon about the adoption, and at first he seemed real nice about it. But then, when Dad went to the bathroom, Gordon said that adopting the baby would be like buying a kid at Babies R' Us! And that it was good because at least if we didn't like the baby--we could always return her!"I wanted to punch Gordon.
"And there's more!" TJ continued. "This old lady was there, at the table right next to me, and she heard it too. Even she yelled at Gordon that he was nasty!" TJ finally collapsed onto the sofa. I patted his back. "And now I'm worried that we won't love the baby. All because of that stupid Gordon!"
"That was a terrible thing to say to you. And cowardly too," I added. "He probably wouldn't say that in front of me or your dad, but I'm sure he realized you'd come and tell us."Gordon's assault violated the humanity of everyone impacted by this adoption. I thought of the baby and her already tragic beginning. Of Kendra and her two little boys. Of my two children who were trying to navigate the unexpected arrival of a little sister who would not share their genetic make-up. Of my best friend, Crystal, who was adopted at the age of five after living in multiple foster homes, including an institutional setting.
But although Gordon had made a terrible comment, it did give TJ an opportunity to bring up a taboo subject--would love for an adopted member of the family be the same as for a biological member? I bet most people do wonder about it, even if it's not the politically correct thing to discuss openly.
TJ had other worries too:
"And the other day, someone asked me what we're going to do if the mom wants the baby back? What if we fall in love with the baby and then we have to give her back? Then what?"
"That is something that I warned you about," I admitted. "It's a possibility because the birth father hasn't signed off on the paperwork."
"So, he might take the baby away?" TJ asked.
"No, honey," I said. "If the biological dad contests the adoption, then Kendra is going to take the baby back. But she is adamant that the dad wants nothing to do with the baby."
"But what if Kendra decides that she wants her baby back? Jim said she can't get the baby back after she leaves the hospital. That the law in our state is really protective of adoptive families."
"TJ," I explained. "Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right. If we take the baby home, and then Kendra changes her mind the next day, we will definitely give her the baby back."
"But what if she changes her mind a month later?"
"I think we would return the baby and hope to be included in their lives in the future."
"But what if she wants the baby back in a year from now? Two years from now?"
"I think that would be different," I said.
"So, at what point in time do we know that it's okay to keep the baby, even if Kendra wants her back?"
"I don't know, honey." And I really didn't.TJ posed an excellent, if challenging, question. There's always debate around contemporary moral issues and where to draw the line. I was stumped. But only on a philosophical level because I strongly believed that Kendra would be keeping this baby.
"It's really hard for me," TJ said again. "Because how am I supposed to let myself get attached to her if I don't know if I am going to lose her?"Another good question.
"And I feel like I'm not as important in the process either. Like with Sara, I came to the ultrasounds and stuff. But now, you and dad are talking about Kendra, and I haven't even met her."
"You're right, TJ, you are," I admitted. "I want you to meet Kendra. But I also don't want to intrude on Kendra's privacy. I don't even know if she ever wants to talk to me again," I said. "I'll ask the social worker about this tomorrow. I'm sorry, honey, but that's the best I can give you right now. I have a lot to think about too."TJ seemed okay after our talk, at least for that evening. I was definitely worried about him and Sara. About what kind of impact this adoption would have on them. During our home study, I had brought it up with Paula, the social worker. What if we took a baby home, and then had to return her? Was it fair to the two kids we already had to take such a risk?
The social worker had been super encouraging:
"Your kids are at the two perfect ages for this. Sara is only two--she's not going to understand or remember any of this if the adoption doesn't work out. And what an amazing opportunity this is going to be for your teenager! Whatever happens, he is going to witness his parents doing a wonderful thing for a baby. And for a birth mother in a very bad situation. He's old enough to handle this and your little one is young enough."Paula seemed to know what she was talking about. She never even hesitated when I posed tough questions. Adoption was her area of expertise. And even though adoption was not my clinical specialty, I used to practice psychotherapy as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. We had the same degree in common. Talking with Paula was like finding another American when lost in some foreign land. The attorney was horrible, but Paula seemed to speak my language. So, I trusted her. Simple as that.