LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Journalist, author and once-and-future NPR host Farai Chideya wanted to become a mom. In her quest to adopt a child, she endured three failed adoptions. But in a recent essay, she wrote not about her own pain but the pain of a troubled adoption system.
FARAI CHIDEYA: This idea that people say, I will just adopt, is a complete myth. I think adoption is beautiful. I think the industry has a very ugly side, though.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She started her path to adoption within the foster care system, which varies from state to state. But she was told she was at risk of a child being taken away from her at any moment.
CHIDEYA: And I was like, oh, I can't deal with that. My heart can't deal with raising a child and then having them be taken away, and it does happen. So I thought, well, the private adoption system is the way for me to get a child who will never be taken from me. But as I say in my article, the universe has jokes because I had one child taken from me, who I had taken out of the hospital. I had another woman who changed her mind on the day of birth. And then there was a third baby, who - I spent time sleeping in his hospital room. And on the day before the revocation period where I would have become his mother, the woman who was his mother changed her mind.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's go back to that first family - the first failed adoption. You felt like something wasn't quite right - correct?
CHIDEYA: It was definitely not right. And it's one of these things where it was an open adoption-based agency, so you meet the family. And I met the pregnant woman, her boyfriend, the pregnant woman's mother and grandmother at a restaurant in their state. And at the time, the boyfriend was grumpy. But then later, when his girlfriend went into labor - and I was there in the hospital. He came to me and my mother and directly said, I don't want this child adopted out, but I don't have the money to raise this child on my own. So I'm relinquishing my rights. And we went to the agency. And we said, this is crazy. And they were like, oh, no. No. No. It's fine. Now...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That must have been excruciating.
CHIDEYA: It was excruciating. And we were panicky. I feel like I had legal consent to take this baby with me, which I did for a little while. But I did not have moral consent.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what happened in the end? How did the child not stay with you?
CHIDEYA: Well, he was a beautiful little boy. I named him Oliver for my grandfather. And then we get a call saying that the family has changed their mind, which is absolutely their right. I'd had the baby for six days. And so two social workers show up. I have all these outfits. People had bought gifts for the baby. And I was crying like a banshee. And I handed him over to the agents. And my mother was weeping. And I was utterly gutted. And I was very much then in my own pain, but I do believe that this is a family that was meant to raise this child.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you write about it in your essay. You wrote, in some ways, I was their doula for their decision to keep their child, which is...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Such a striking idea.
CHIDEYA: Yeah. And it took me a while to spiritually process that my role in this had some good. There was some good that I did to the world by making this family reckon with how much they wanted this baby. Of course, it was cold comfort to me at the time. But now, as I look back, I can be grateful that I made that contribution.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's talk about the larger context, which you get at. You really shed light on how wild and unregulated the adoption system is. And you make a really good comparison about buyers and sellers in the private adoption market. But the sellers really get nothing. And to even think of them that way is sort of morally repugnant.
CHIDEYA: Absolutely. You know, in the end, I paid over $50,000 over the course of these three-plus years that I was involved with these agencies. And the women got very little. And the women are not the sellers. The adoption agencies are the sellers and, sometimes, quite literally. But this agency had some serious ethical issues, and there needs to be transparency in contracting for agencies. There needs to be a national database of failure rates. And also, all of this boils down to the fact that, in Canada, a woman gets 15 weeks of paid maternity leave. This is the only developed country in the world that does not have federally mandated leave policies, which means that women like me who are career women delay childbearing because we're like, OK. It's not a good time - reality - it's never a good time - and that younger women who are lower income are incredibly vulnerable. It's not just about adoption. It's about this country disrespecting what it takes to raise families.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote, I hope there's still time for joy for me and for the families I will forever be connected to through this experience. Are you still in touch with the families of these children that came into your life?
CHIDEYA: I did email the father in the first family because I had his email. I never heard back from him. This was some time ago. But I pray for these families. And I pray for these children because I think that they are part of my family. And they'll - sorry. They'll always be spiritually connected to me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote that you hope to find a child possibly through more informal means, in relationships.
CHIDEYA: I have a friend who told me a story about a woman who was in a department-store dressing room trying something on. And next door were two girls. Teenagers - one of them said, oh, I'm pregnant. I don't know what to do. And she ended up adopting the kid of the pregnant teenager. The universe moves in all sorts of ways, so I can't say what will happen. I'm willing to go back to a formal adoption system or foster care. But I'm also hoping the universe may provide, and we'll see.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Farai Chideya, journalist and author you've heard many times on our programs - thank you very much.
CHIDEYA: Thank you, Lulu.
(SOUNDBITE OF WOLFERT BRODERODE TRO'S "BEMANI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.