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“Too many children out there reaching out to us …”

Continuing chapter 1, Too White To Adopt

Pretty soon everything we did seemed to lead to the question of  having a family and how we should do it. Watching documentaries about disaster or famine, seeing the faces of children who were starving or homeless or orphaned by war, was a cue for me to put forward my views.
“There are just so many children out there reaching out to us. You are right,” he would say.
“And?” I’d say, hoping for some definitive answer.
“Sometimes I want to take them all home with me. But we’re still not going to solve the world’s problems by adopting one of them, or even two or three.”
“Look, I am sorry. I hope this hasn’t become an obsession. I agree with you. It’s just a very small way of giving something back.
But then, as Gandhi would say, you have to be the change you want to see in the world, right? And I think we can be that change.”
“We can’t jump to such a decision. It’s just not that simple. Perhaps we should do both.”
“What? Adopt and have a baby? One has to come first.”
The reality was that the experience of pregnancy and natural birth did appeal to me too. But the need to adopt was overtaking my biological desires. I can’t explain it any other way than to say it felt like the right thing for me to do.
One night, early in January of 2008, Rick asked me to take the next morning off work.
“I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”
“Oh, sure. Tell me you have a surprise late at night and expect me to sleep. Come on, out with it.”
I’d seen him hiding away in his study and being quite secretive.This just wasn’t his way. I worried. I thought maybe he was ill, and was working out how to tell me. We got into bed, but every time he looked like he was about to fall asleep, I’d wake him up and beg him to tell me what was going on. Finally he sat up.
“You always ruin surprises, don’t you?”
“Sorry, it’s just that I need to know. I can’t sleep with this tension. I am worried about you.”

I sat up too.
“Well… we have an appointment with the council to discuss adoption. I figured that way we’ll both know more about it, and we can get closer to deciding what to do. Call it my New Year resolution.”
“Wow. Oh, Rick… I didn’t think you were listening!”
“Ah, well, you don’t know me as well as you think. The appointment is at nine o’clock, so you have four hours to get some sleep.”
He drew me towards him, gently turned me so we were like perfect spoons, and wrapped his arms around me. I lay there most of the night with my eyes open. In the morning, I was frantic.
“God, I can never get it right!” I yelled.
“What are you talking about?” he said, coming into the bathroom. I showed him my smudged and smeared fingernails. It was my third shot at painting them, and probably only the fifth time in my life I’d bothered doing it.
“You look great. You don’t need nail varnish, and anyway it’s not you. Let’s get going, or we’ll be late.”

He strode out and down the stairs. I quickly removed the offending polish and ran after him. It was an icy winter morning in London, which meant we were late to our appointment.
At the council office, we were met by a woman with a no-nonsense short haircut and just a trace of a smile. She was, however, wearing a pair of funky red spectacles. I wondered if this was a good sign. They were just the kind of glasses I would buy for myself.
“Good morning. I’m Anne, the adoption team leader. Please take a seat.”
She wasted no time giving us our first reality check.
“You can’t adopt in the UK, I am afraid. You are too white,” she said.
I didn’t know whether to laugh at such a ridiculous statement, or cry at its implications.
“Too white? What is that supposed to mean?” asked Rick, before I could.
Anne answered in the jaded tone of someone who’d done this many times before.
“Well, there is a cap on the number of white couples who can adopt in this area of the country, because most of the children for adoption are black. That’s the way it works in our local council.”
I was shocked.
“Surely it should be up to us to choose,” I said.
“No, it isn’t. Not much in this process is up to you, I’m afraid,” she said, peering over her spectacles. “You could think about registering for international adoption.”
“You enroll in an introductory training course to learn about the mechanics of the process, so you can make an informed decision. At the same time it allows us to establish if you’re suitable candidates for a Home Study. The next available spaces for training are not until April, I’m afraid. This is the number you need to ring to book yourselves in. The centre will contact you directly if you have been successful, so you don’t need to contact me any more.”
Then she checked her watch. “Look, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I have another matter to deal with right now. I wish you the best of luck with it all.”
Seven minutes. Done. Now run along and take your hopefulness with you.
“Wow, that was quick and nasty,” I said as we got to the car.
“And look at this! We have a parking fine, too!”
Rick grabbed a yellow plastic envelope from the windscreen and dangled it.
“By the way, did you realise you were wearing your recycled shoes? I couldn’t stop looking at them.”
I looked down. I was indeed wearing my prized recycled black trainers, made from car tire waste. I must’ve picked them up in the rush—they were pretty much a habit these days, and I was rarely without them.
“Oh, no. How embarrassing. Did they look really stupid with my dress?”
“Yep.” Rick ran around to the back of the car and pretended to hide.
That seven minutes had drained us, but had also provided a lot to think about. And call it luck or fate, but a vacancy for the initial adoption training suddenly became available at the end of January.

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