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Of Checklists and God

December 10, 2011

This little face stared out at me from my Agency’s Waiting Child list in the late summer on 2007. For six weeks I ignored it because the description said the baby was a girl and for six months we’d been seeking a toddler boy.

One day agency rep. asked if we’d consider her referral: a former 27 week, 1 lb. 2 oz. preemie with possible MRI findings for brain damage.

She was such a wee little thing. At four months of age, when she went into the care of her wonderful foster family and these photos were taken, she weighed just six pounds.

“But she’s a tiny, young baby girl,” I protested. “I’m sure other families would be interested in seeing her file.” Infant girls are the easiest of Korea’s orphans to place. At that time, few families were seeking toddler boys. By that point we’d considered several older waiting boys and had just about decided to keep waiting.

“Nobody has asked for her file,”the agency rep. said. “She fits your checklist.”

The checklist.  Not all adoption programs use medical checklists to help identify potential referrals. But our agency’s Korea program did. The checklist was a two-column page of medical conditions and other risk factors. Prospective adoptive parents, at that time, were asked to check whether they were open to a mild, moderate, or severe degree of/ risk for, each condition.

Completing the checklist is disconcerting to say the least.

It is a tragedy that it is now common in the U.S. that parents experiencing pregnancy use prenatal testing to control for potentially disabling conditions in their family; babies who do not meet the parent’s expectations, their vision of their family’s future, are aborted. In other countries of the world, babies born with disabling conditions into families without the resources to care for them are abandoned (in some countries left to die; in others the birth family simply refuses to take any responsibility). Or they are placed for International Adoption.

Adoption checklists, it seems to the uninitiated, allow prospective adoptive families to do the same thing: selectively create their family the way they envision their future will be. Boy or girl? Four limbs or two? Background risks or “free of hereditary disease”?

Adoption professionals tell us that best interests of orphans necessitate a screening tool like this, that the intent is to identify families who are prepared to help children with particular special needs. That seems true and it is necessary. I can think of several kids and families who are struggling right now because their child’s actual needs turned out to be very different from what they understood when they accepted the child’s referral.

At the same time, the checklist seems to place prospective adoptive parents in God’s place: they create the illusion that by selecting some conditions in some degrees and deselecting others altogether we can hedge our bets when it comes to the child’s future development –and therefore control the course of our family’s life.

Passionate about home schooling? Deselect special needs that may benefit from special education. An introvert? Deselect needs requiring a revolving door of in-home help. A peacemaker? Deselect for behavioral issues. Love to travel? Might be challenging with a wheelchair. Tight budget? Maybe we can’t afford Medical Assistance…. and  so it goes.

Parents don’t have evil intentions when they’re completing a checklist. They like to think that they are appraising their family’s unique strengths and weaknesses and are being honest and self-aware.

The checklist may help place children in more appropriate families. But the gruelling process reinforces the fallacy that our choice-making is effectual. Couple that with the unspoken sense of entitlement that underlies many adoptions (after our horrendous struggle with infertility, after this invasive expensive home study we deserve….) and families naturally believe that the winnowing process of checking-this-and-that actually means  something.

As if any child’s future development can be projected from a few photos, some paragraphs of self-report from birth family members, and a couple of medical reports. As if the glowing homestudy actually has some relationship to the ability of parents to later hit a curve ball in parenting.

I think that’s why other families, including many of my friends, have a completely different philosophy about referrals. I’ll risk reducing it to: if my phone rings, the child is meant for us, no questions asked.

Strikes those of us who consider multiple referrals and pay for International Adoption Clinic evaluations as reckless and daring, doesn’t it?

I’ll leave this installment of Joy’s story right there: her referral on its way to the University of Minnesota IAC for review three years ago.

But if you guess that in the end, regardless of checklists and consultations and prayerful human deliberation, we had the same control over our future as our friends –who answered the phone, said yes, then hung up and weren’t sure if their new child was a girl or a boy –you’d be right.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2011 2:17 pm

    We are at a place in our family journey right now where this post touched me deeply. Thanks for putting these thoughts out there.

  2. Mary permalink
    December 10, 2011 7:30 pm

    Amen, Carrie. We filled out a similar checklist for foster care. We said yes to the first call, second call and third call. The third call came to be our foster baby for two months. Then we had a trip planned and had to say no to six calls. But the seventh call came the day after we returned from our trip. And that precious boy is two months away from permanently joining our family. I loved your last paragraph. A man determines his course, but God directs his steps!

  3. December 11, 2011 7:33 am

    Those checklists…eight times I have read through them and laughed hysterically. I can relate to not knowing a babies gender, race, medical conditions or legal situation at the point we accept a referal. Remember Lil’s story? We didn’t even know we were adopting her – until GA and MN realized that neither had remembered to call us…they were just plowing ahead with placment details until MN left a message on our phone saying ‘looks like a go – placement in about ten days.’ then I had to call and ask….’what’s a go?’ Oh my…remembering that season is better than coffee this am. thanks 🙂

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