By: Katherine Malmo
1. Talk to friends and friends of friends about their experiences.
2. Try not to get lost driving around foreign neighborhoods looking for a community center that will host the Journeys of the Love, Hope, Heart, Blessed-Child’s Dream of the Christ’s Open Adoption agency meeting.
3. Ask the social workers what programs/countries will let you adopt if you are single, over 40, in a same-sex relationship, and/or a cancer survivor.
4. Choose the agency that can answer your question.
5. Get fingerprinted, background-checked, dig up the value of your house, find pay stubs, photocopy bank statements, get friends to write references, find your dog’s vaccination records, have the pet store where you purchased your fish sign an affidavit of its health, make a list of every illness you’ve ever had, dig up the name of your third grade teacher who could verify that indeed your favorite color was lavender, make a list of your stuffed animals and their names and how well you took care of each and every one of them, and promise, that if they could talk, they would guarantee that, if given the opportunity, you’d be the bestest mother ever.
6. Ponder questions for your autobiography like, how do your parents feel about education? Resist the urge to say they hate education and schools and especially do-gooder teachers, but that they also hate puppies and kittens, rainbows and balloons. Do not say your parents are puppy-kicking balloon-poppers.
7. Invite a social worker into your home and show her that you keep your medicines locked away, your fire ladder in the baby-to-be’s room, and your floors shiny-clean.
11. Try not to punch the social worker who says you seem really anxious about this when you’re waiting to hear from a prospective birth mother.
12. Make a spreadsheet with everything an infant could possibly need –from diaper wipes and burp cloths to gliders and strollers –while you wait.
13. Decide you’re sick of waiting and start researching other options/agencies. Find the notes from friends of friends you talked to ages ago.
14. Resist the urge to get a tiny dog or a gerbil or any other small animal that you can carry in your purse. Resist. A Chihuahua is, in fact, not a baby.
15. Find an independent facilitator. Send her your homestudy.
16. Don’t let her pressure you into a situation that isn’t right for you.
17. When she yells at you, you may want to tell her she should be ashamed. You may stop talking to her.
18. Hand the phone to your spouse when she calls a week later. She’ll tell him your baby has been born.
19. Leave a bag of dog food on the back porch and, on the way to the airport, ask your parents to come get your dog.
20. When you meet your baby, she may be wrapped in a purple hand-knit blanket and have an orange bow stuck to her head with a dab of maple syrup.
21. Spend 3 weeks in a rented condo/bachelor pad.
22. You may dream that you can’t find your baby buried in your bedding and you may wake up pulling the sheets off your bed panicked. Totally normal.
23. Go ahead and check your three giant bags and a boxed-up pack-n-play on your way home. The airline will look the other way.
24. When you get home, open your doors to your friends and family. Let them love her. Take their pictures with her. Let them celebrate. They’ve been waiting too.
25. You may run into her room while she’s sleeping to be sure she’s still breathing. Also totally normal.
26. Dress her in tiny hand-knit socks and hats. Take pictures.
27. Put her in a swing. Take a picture. Watch her crawl. Take a picture. Put a ponytail in her hair. Take a picture. Put her in the snow. Put her in the water. Lean her against the dog. Take pictures, pictures, pictures.
28. Go to the courthouse and have your picture taken with the judge who finalizes the adoption.
29. Put all these pictures in a book. Read her story to her. When she’s two she may ask who the man is in the picture at the courthouse. You’ll tell her he’s the man who said you’d be her mommy forever and ever. She just might kiss him and say Thank you!
30. You may be exhausted and, probably, very grateful you didn’t punch anyone in the face, call your parents puppy-kicking balloon-poppers, or get a tiny dog or gerbil or other small animal that could fit in your purse.
Katherine Malmo is the Norwegian-American mother of an African-American three year old who loves Curious George, Mavis Staples and cookies; and the wife of an extremely likeable software engineer with a fondness for roadside furniture and a habit of whistling in his sleep. In 2005 Katherine was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer and spent a year in treatment. These days she is cancer-free and blogs about her family, adoption, race, health and living a low-toxin life at HystericalMommyNetwork. Her book, Who in This Room, will be available in October 2011.
By: Katherine Malmo
I was 31 the day I noticed something was wrong with my left breast. My husband and I had just returned from an 8-month round-the-world honeymoon. We were trying to start a family. I was writing an article about a national regatta for a sailing magazine and I spent the day on the race committee boat, taking notes and pictures. I did my best to stay out of the way, not just during the pre-race sequence when everyone was trying to find a clear line of sight to the starting gun, but the whole day, as if I could hide from my mounting fear.
That morning after my shower I had noticed the swelling and retracted nipple. Then I found the hard spot, and I knew it was all bad. For years I’d managed to get through life with mysterious gastro-intestinal health problems. The doctors all said I was fine. I looked fine – my teeth were straight and white and my hair was shiny. As soon as I saw my deformed breast I realized I may have been looking in the wrong place.
A week later, my husband and I met with a doctor who told us that breast cancer treatment had come a long way, and we found ourselves walking down a cherry blossom-littered sidewalk with a printout list of doctors’ appointments, and a brand new breast cancer diagnosis.
I went dark.
In the two weeks that followed I was diagnosed, more specifically, with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I cried in unfamiliar parking lots. I laid on the grass in my back yard fully clothed in the full sun. I called friends and family. I yelled at them. I Googled. I read. I researched. I called help lines and begged them to find someone with exactly what I had. (They’re all dead, aren’t they?) I met with therapists. I sipped green tea while I read an article that said I had a 10% chance of living 5 years.
When I couldn’t take one more thing, my oncologist suggested my husband and I meet with a fertility specialist. We had a weekend to decide if we would delay my treatment and pump my body full of estrogen – feeding my hormone-positive tumor – to harvest eggs. We had 48-hours to decide if my life was more or less important than the lives of our unborn children. Over a mediocre dinner of pork chops topped with something sweet and tart, like cherries, we agreed we’d adopt. Maybe. Someday. After all, what was the point of having children if I wasn’t there to help raise them?
I went darker.
I wished I were the kind of person who could trust and listen and wait for the right outcome. I’m not patient. I’m a realist, a pragmatist. When I was told there was a 90% chance this would kill me, I believed it. I decided I would face my death and come to terms with it. My road would be short but sweet.
I stayed dark through 28 weekly chemotherapy injections, months of nausea, hot flashes, hormonal swings, neuropathy, insomnia; I was obsessed with my own death. I found a new therapist who said, “Katherine, death is a landscape. You can visit but you can’t stay.” I repeated these words to myself a million times a day. I wrote them on scraps of paper and carried them in my pocket. They went through the wash then the dryer; I slept them, ate them, drank them in my morning tea. I held onto them tightly when everything else was slipping past.
I had surgery. I had radiation. I learned to weld.
Of course my story is much more involved. There were support groups, complications, painful choices. There were saints and villains, artists, dogs, soups, nurses, compliments and insults. Doctors were abandoned, and new ones were consulted. There were new friends and dinners, candles and stories. Dead friends and lost years. I can’t write it all here in this small space. I’ve written word after word, filling blog posts, stories, and chapters. I wrote a book.
Last May I passed my five-year cancerversary (anniversary of diagnosis). I am told I am cancer-free, and my gastrointestinal problems are less mysterious and more manageable. Today I’m just another overwhelmed mother of a “spirited” child, trying to hold it together in the grocery store.
But there is always the threat of recurrence. You can still see fear in my eyes. I try not to think about the landscape to which I tried to relocate. I try not to think about the tumors that could be growing on my bones or in my lungs or in the lungs of my husband, child, or friends. I try to be more kind and patient with everyone, and to bring fresh broccoli from the garden to the renter who is dying of lung cancer in the apartment above our garage.
My grandmother turned 89 last week. We went to the beach on a hot day. She was too modest and ashamed of her “sagging skin” to wear a swimming suit but she couldn’t resist the lure of the water, and with some encouragement she walked right into the lake, fully clothed, up to her neck. I know that when I am old I will miss some things more than others. I’ll miss diving into that deep black lake on a hot summer day, carrying my girl on my shoulders, the slow shift from the heel to toe edge on a newly waxed snowboard, the slide of a small sailboat as I accelerate out of a roll tack. I hold onto all this and I try to appreciate that I am one of the few people who has a clear line of sight to the committee boat. And, because light travels faster than sound, even when it’s dark I can see the spark of the starting gun before anyone else hears the shot.
Katherine Malmo www.hystericalmommynetwork.com