By Jody Keisner
As an adult adoptee, I’ve been impressed by the thoughtfulness with which NBC’s drama This Is Us has treated its characters’ adoption storylines. The emotional moments explored have felt accurate and often deeply relatable.
Yet there’s something crucial This Is Us hasn’t yet shown: the behind-the-scenes, long adoption process itself. Recently, in the premiere episode of season 5, Kate and Toby are matched with an expectant mother, seemingly within weeks or days after they’ve submitted their adoption profile video, before Kate has time to “sit with her feelings”— before the couple has time to worry they might not be chosen. This isn’t the reality for many people. It wasn’t for us.
Jon and I were already the parents of a young daughter, but after two years of failed attempts at a second pregnancy, the desire for another child haunted us. I’d been adopted in a closed adoption and understood its limitations. After researching our options, we took the first step, attending an “information sharing event” with the adoption agency we’d selected, where in a room filled with at least 20 other couples, we learned about the agency’s philosophy towards the triad of open adoption: birth parents and adoptive parents all in agreement when it comes to openness, contact, and togetherness.
Next came an intake interview in the office of a soft-spoken, quirky grandmotherly-type, who reminded Jon of Phyllis from The Office. “What brought you here today to discuss adoption?” she asked. “We have so much love to give,” I said immediately. It sounded like a
platitude stitched on a throw pillow, but it was true. Just sitting on her couch felt like a giant orb of possibility and light had been ripped open in the seam of a thunderous gray sky.
Jon, who is more cautious than me with Big Life Decisions, answered: “We’re curious. We don’t know how open adoption works.”
Her questions continued, poking at any sore spots in our marriage. Have you grieved your infertility? Have you ever sought out marital counseling? How do you settle disagreements? Have you ever struggled financially? What worries you about taking part in an adoption? Is there anything that you feel might make it difficult for someone to choose you as an adoptive parent?
This was just the beginning. We were assigned a caseworker, herself a bubbly mother of four, who acted as our counselor and guide. We paid for fingerprint cards and background checks. We had physicals. We frequently visited with our caseworker over several months, at her office and at our home for “home studies.” We read books like The Hospitious Adoption. We filled out a questionnaire which required intense self-reflection: What kind of child are we prepared to parent? One with a disability? If so, what kind or how severe? A child of a different race? Or one whose mother had used drugs and alcohol during the pregnancy? Would we be comfortable with a birth family who had a birth father in jail?
Finally, we could create our adoption profile letter, which was the only initial communication we would have with the expectant mothers, like a “Pick me!” in middle school gym class, the fear of the sinking, sick realization of being picked last, of not being picked at all.
“What do we write?” I asked our caseworker. “Just tell her about your family,” she said, “and it will work out as it’s supposed to.”
How did we tell the expectant mother that we were The Ones? After several evenings spent fretting over the right words, our letter was done. We sent our good vibes and prayers out into the inky black universe. It had taken one full year to get us here.
Inevitably we grew older as we kept waiting, both of us nearing our mid-40s. In the meantime, and in the party rooms of chain restaurants, we attended meetings that were one-part continued adoption education and one-part support groups for waiting couples. The party rooms were distressingly well-populated: around 30 percent of us would be chosen during any given year.
Some of us, never. I get it. The agonizing wait doesn’t make for scintillating TV, although it often characterizes the adoption experience.
So, again, we waited: for our turn in grocery check-out lines, for the traffic jam on the expressway to free itself, for our daughter to steady herself on her bike without using training wheels, for the sun to break through a gloomy winter, for the woodpeckers to find the suet on our maple tree, for a sign to tell us to hold on, just a little bit longer, for all of the lights all over the world to turn green.
Another six months came and went. And one day while I was at work, expecting nothing at all and everything all at once, the call came. We'd been chosen.
What 'This Is Us' Hasn’t Yet Shown You About Adoption
A woman shares her own personal journey to adopt.
By Jody Keisner