Recently, Susan and I have taken to watching “Weeds” on Netflix. The tale of Nancy Botwin, a widowed mother who decides the best way to raise her two sons and maintain her upper-middle class lifestyle is to become a marijuana dealer to her upper-middle class neighbors, “Weeds” is dark, hilarious, and chock full of parental techniques not to try at home. But it does bring up a point that is present in many adoptions – the quiet acceptance of drug use.
When you begin the adoption process, a million questions are thrown your way. Domestic or international? Infant or toddler or foster care? Race? Religion? Then, one day, you find yourself taking one of the prerequisite parent training courses and faced with the question, “just how much heroin are you okay with?”
The problem is, if you've already gotten this far in the adoption process, it's probably because, at least in part, you've never had to ask yourself “just how much heroin am I okay with?” But it's a question you must be able to answer because the likelihood of your birth mother being drug-free is not to be expected (thankfully, I write this as someone who's birth mother is drug-free). So there you find yourself, debating with your partner or yourself, where you stand on marijuana use in the second trimester, cocaine use before knowledge of the pregnancy, alcohol - when and how much, opiates - deal-breaker or not. (Notice the absence of tobacco, a drug whose use you simply have to accept unless you're willing to wait a very long time.) You learn the oddest facts, like the dreaded “crack baby” epidemic of the '80s never played out as feared. While it's true that most babies born addicted to cocaine are born prematurely, the drugs actually accelerated their development so they are better off than other premies. Time has proven that “crack babies” are no more likely to be drug addicts than anyone else. So maybe, you find yourself thinking, you're fine with a little bit of crack. It's not like it's meth.
Of course, at this point, the debate is all academic, a series of hypotheticals to ponder as you wait and wait and wait. Then you get word. There's a child, either recently born or soon to be, that could be yours. You could be a parent next week if.... If you're willing to accept admitted cocaine use in the first trimester. Now the debate is real.
Your first reaction is “yes, a million times yes! This could be our child, damn the drug use!” But this can be an irresponsible reaction as well. If you're not willing to accept all that comes with a baby born addicted – the withdrawal, the developmental issues – saying “yes” for its own sake is a mistake that cannot be rectified.
Which leaves you in the worst position an adoptive hopeful can be in, saying “no.” Knowing there is a child out there that needs a home and declaring that it's not meant to be your home is one of the most self-loathing things you can do. You feel arrogant, superior, and selfish, not to mention the fact that you just extended your own excruciating waiting period. I can assure you, as someone who can generally find the silver lining, having to say “no” can only be rationalized so far because, deep down, you know you're saying “not good enough.” It's not because the baby isn't good enough; the baby is perfect. It's because you're not sure if you are.
But it's what you must do if you're not certain. Being a parent means making tough decisions. And being an adoptive parents means you're going to have to make some of those decisions before you've even come up with a theme for the nursery. Might as well get used to it.