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August 8, 2014

In all the blue skies of my living, I have never been able to shake that hovering cloud of worry over money. Perhaps it’s the legacy of grandparents who lived through the Depression. Or my own coming-of-age in the 70s and 80s when my pipefitter father went for long stretches without work. Maybe, too, it’s those many years I spent in graduate school, barely making ends meet, racking up degrees while my peers racked up IRAs.

photoI don’t have a right to worry about money as much as I have over the years. I don’t know what true poverty is or what it’s like to be poor without a safety net.

Fortunately, I learned how to stretch a dollar from my parents, who made the most of whatever money they had, including my dad’s unemployment checks. Even when my dad wasn’t working, my parents managed to pay their bills. They didn’t accrue credit card debt. They still tithed at church. We went without wants, but we never went without needs.

Still, I was conscious of how we seemed to be skirting the edge of something much worse than the government cheese in our fridge. I began to see the world around me in price tags: what we ate, where we went, what we did. How much was it? Could we afford it? Did we really need it?

I put a price tag on my sister and me, too, peppering our parents with questions. How much did it cost to adopt us? I wanted a figure, not a guess. I wanted that figure to the tenths and hundredths and thousandths. Maybe some day, I thought, I could pay them back.

My sister and I had made a pact as young children never to ask for anything in a store. Ever. We knew our parents would never send us back if we expressed too many desires, but we didn’t want them to suffer for us, either.

It was hard for me, in this family of penny pinchers and bargain hunters, to get past the idea that my sister and I were a transaction, past my obsession with hoping that my parents got a good deal when they bought us. At times, I measured my achievements by this scale. The more achievements, the better the deal. I was never jealous of our younger brother, never jealous that our mother birthed him into this world and bartered for us—except in this one regard.

Years later, when I told my mom how consumed I was as a child by my own expense, she looked horrified. She actually cried out. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

But it was just one of those childhood anguishes that I could only whisper to my sister, who understood. I didn’t want to make my fear my mother’s burden, too.

IMG_0968_2My sister is in the process of adopting another child from Morocco. A window has opened, unexpectedly. It’s now or never, sooner rather than later, this chance to return to the orphanage where her first son once lived, an orphanage bursting with children who need checks to spring them and help care for the ones left behind.  Now or never, sooner rather than later, despite the fact that she has not had enough time to save the initial outlay of cash.

Most people don’t (need to) bank tens of thousands of dollars before deciding to have another child. Regulations have made the process more expensive than it was for my sister’s first child. Agency fees. Government fees. Medical exams. The U.S. Adoption Tax Credit is also up in the air again.

And so, I advised my sister to do what many others do when faced with seemingly insurmountable adoption costs. I told her to raise it. I told my sister to ask our friends and family to help make it possible.

I’m aware of the controversy in the adoption world over people doing just what I suggested my sister do. It doesn’t matter that we’re raising funds to help the orphanage, too. We’re not—as critics would offer—using the money to empower women to keep their children in the first place. We wish for that world, too, where no one who wants to keep a child is forced to relinquish that child or abandon it. In the mean time, the orphans are reaching.

Our birth mother said she was told if she changed her mind about giving us up for adoption, she’d be on the hook for the bill for her prenatal care and for the labor and delivery.  She’d be on the hook for that and raising the two of us.

Money is not the only what if in the complex equation that is adoption, but at the time, my parents had enough to make it happen and our birth mother was backed into a corner in part because she didn’t.  By the grace of our own hard times in the years to come, my twin and I went on to learn humility and gratitude that had nothing to do with being adopted but certainly adds some irony to the differentials in the initial transaction.

I wonder what my new nephew will think some day of these efforts to make him a part of our family. I don’t want or need or expect him to be grateful. I only hope, as he works out his own story, that he will feel the village’s love. For this is true at any cost: So many people loved him before any of us knew who he was.




One Comment leave one →
  1. August 8, 2014 3:35 pm

    My heart aches for the little girl who worried so about cost. I don’t remember the adoption fee, but, although much less than it would be today, it must have been hard for some people to raise. No matter the cost, your parents were repaid over and over in the magical joy of having you and Jackie. I am praying for success in Jackie’s fund raising, I know there is a special child there who needs her more than anything. Thank you for sharing this.

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