When I turned thirty, I felt as if I were at a crossroad in my life. I had completed my graduate work in education, worked as a teacher, school director, a family day care licensing agent, and a nanny. I was involved in volunteer work that allowed me to give back some of what I received from life. I had a social network and calendar that anyone would envy, including a close-knit group of friends. I had many short lived relationships, but none with any future. Career-wise, I knew I was at a point where I needed to jump into a higher-powered position in education or be satisfied where I was. I considered my life, what I wanted from it. I found only one critical ingredient missing.
I was tired of taking care of other people’s children. I wanted my own child. I considered all the possible ways people become parents. The most traditional was simply not going to happen, now or ever in my estimation. I felt in my heart marriage was simply not something I was cut out for. I was just too selfish and independent to share my life with another adult.
Two men in my life I loved with all my heart. Mark and I had gone to undergraduate school together, and I fell in love with him the moment I laid eyes on him; only problem was he was gay. Not only was he gay, but he headed the gay rights organization on campus. He was my best friend, my mentor, and closest confidant throughout college and although we completely lost touch when we graduated – we ended up living ten blocks apart in New York City three years later. We picked up our relationship exactly where it had left off, and the missed years were forgotten.
The other man was Jim, Mark’s lover. We called ourselves the ‘Three Musketeers’ and were family to each other. Every aspect of our lives overlapped. I helped Mark with his computer programming as a naive computer user, and was Jim’s most frequent and adoring fan when he sang at an Upper West Side piano bar.
I discussed my desire to be a mom with them both. Mark was incredulous, but Jim was supportive. Possibilities we discussed included one or both of them becoming a sperm donor, We eliminated this rather quickly as neither wanted to make a long-term commitment to being a parent. I considered various adoption options. I decided I did not want to adopt a child from another country, as too many children needed homes in the United States.
At the time there were 26 adoption agencies in the Manhattan area. I contacted all of them. Three adoption agencies expressed an interest in a single woman adopting through their agency. I interviewed with each and discovered one would only arrange a foreign adoption, another only a very expensive adoption and the third was hesitant, but willing to consider it. I stayed firm to my commitment to a domestic adoption, and it made no sense to me to spend exorbitant money on an adoption.
The third agency agreed to do a home study, but offered no promise that I would be approved. It was an arduous process. I considered giving up repeatedly over the six months. I think that was their intent: wear me down, and I would go away. But, I did not go away.
The agency was concerned that I was not fully cognizant of the changes that would occur in my life as a single parent (and I wasn’t nor were they.). They offered me the option of being a foster parent for a year, and if I still wanted to adopt, they would arrange it.
One of my first tasks as an approved potential foster parent was to fill out a lengthy questionnaire that detailed what type of child I would accept as a foster child. I considered all the possibilities and found only one child I would reject. If I accepted a child with physical disabilities it would require that I move, and I was not prepared to move. I also stated that I wanted to foster only girls.
Within days of signing an agreement to become a foster parent I received a call giving me details of a baby needing care. I was told it was a Black baby boy, four months old, with a heart defect and Down syndrome. I was stunned. I asked could I call them back in a half hour with a decision. I called the sister of the Sam’s mom, he being one on my preschool students, who I knew who had a child with Down syndrome and asked her for as much information as she could give me to help me make a decision (Emily Perl Kingsley who would 5 years later write “Welcome to Holland” .) Nothing she said dissuaded me. In my heart I also believed that when mothers give birth to children they have no choice about whom they get, so why should I?
I called the agency back, and they said they would make immediate arrangements to have him delivered the next day, a Friday. I ran about in a panic buying the essentials I thought necessary for a four-month old baby. I returned home to a phone message telling me his delivery was delayed until Monday. I called the agency and was told that he could not be released from the hospital until Monday morning.
I would not learn the full details of my soon-to-be foster child’s life before he joined mine until many months later. I met a nurse who worked in the nursery where he had lived since birth. He had lived his life to date in an incubator with a feeding tube and a catheter. A note was taped to his incubator that stated he should only be picked up when medically necessary. His mother was only allowed supervised visitation, as he had been born with cocaine in his system. Later his mother would tell me she had only realized she was pregnant a month before he was born. The baby was theoretically in foster care only until his mother understood what having a baby with Down syndrome meant and could provide him the necessary care. With his four-month anniversary of life looming, and his death from failure to thrive a real possibility, it was decided the baby should be released into foster care.