My wife had selected Winnie the Pooh as our baby’s theme. “Classic, not Disney,” she’d often repeat to family and friends as they called to congratulate us and ask for suggestion on gifts or clothing.

Being new to all of this, I soon found out that matching and coordinating was a common expectation when it came to such things as babies and preparing a nursery. Together we had carefully selected everything from blankets, comforter and floor rug, to the Classic Pooh table lamp that would sit on the dresser.

So, at first I was a little worried about the dresser. According to the instructions I had everything I needed for assembly – Phillips screw driver, small adjustable wrench and hammer to tap the tiny black nails to the back of the unit to prevent it, as the instructions explained, from collapsing when finished.  But, until I sliced open the box and let the pieces slide out precisely stacked as they had been when they left the shop floor half a world away, I did not know that the sand color of its smooth veneer finish was in fact an exact match to the sand colored trail of the wall boarder, on which a series of Pooh-Bears continuously roamed, night into day and day into night, honey pot in hand, appropriately accompanied by bees encircling the nursery at a height level with the top walnut railing of the crib.

Three weeks ago this room was simply the guest room. Besides a twin sized futon absent any bedding that was wedged in the corner of the room between the windows, it contained mostly unopened boxes of books still stacked in three rows of four boxes each, awaiting placement on the bookcases we were always planning to buy. We had few guests, and fewer reasons to use it, when we started to see how ideally suited it was for a nursery.

Tucked safely away in a quiet corner of the house, it was shielded from both the noises of the house and of the traffic on street. Facing north and west, the room remained dark well into the morning and sunny but not too bright well into the afternoon. Mere steps down the hall from our bedroom we could reach it quickly, if we ever needed to in the middle of the night. And its windows were placed symmetrically on adjoining walls creating just the right cross breeze, a fact I needed to take advantage of as the smell of pressed particle board, freed from its packaging, began filling the room.

I had lucked out a few weeks earlier. The weekend after Thanksgiving was unusually warm.  I opened the windows wide, allowing the dry scent of fallen leaves to drift into the room. On successive days, I was able to patch the plaster’s old cracks and nail holes and hide its drab pink walls and ceiling beneath thick coats of creamy white paint.

But the weather since then had become far more seasonal and as I opened the windows ever so slightly I felt the cold December breeze slice into my hands and heard the waves of sleet riding the thin aluminum sill above the siding.

Most prospective parents have nearly nine months to prepare a nursery. We had nine weeks. We’d been warned at the first informational meeting at the adoption agency that it might happen quickly. But that warning applied to notification of placement, which we were told wasn’t going to happen until the very end of a long process that consisted of a well defined series of steps and was wholly dependent upon our ability to compile documentation, fill out required paperwork and build a portfolio – tasks we were told would take months to accomplish – and not ending until we had completed a series of three home-study visits that were required by law.

We moved diligently from task to task as outlined on the agency’s check list. We completed the family histories and medical files. We took, or tracked down from family and friends, pictures depicting home and family life to be concisely labeled in our portfolio.

By the time of our first home visit, we had in hand thoughtful essays on adoption and upbringing, and of becoming and being a parent. But reference letters attesting to I don’t know what, still needed to be gathered along with Birth, Baptismal and Marriage certificates. Various forms of various colors requesting various bank, employment, mortgage and tax information, still needed to be filled out and all of it needed to be reviewed by various people in the agency before our portfolio could be approved for sharing with prospective birth mothers, case managers and affiliated agencies in other parts of the state.

“Isn’t this exciting,” our case worker said as she slipped off her coat and introduced us to a somewhat younger assistant, who she explained was new to the agency but who’d be helping with our placement.

“I’m so happy for you both,” she sang, her brown eyes big and bright as her smile. “I can’t wait to get started.”

My wife brought two glasses of ice water from the kitchen and we waited for them to place their clip boards and pens on the coffee table and settle into the couch that we had painstakingly cleared of dog hair just hours before, before taking our places on the loveseat beside them.

They thanked her for the water, talked briefly about the weather, the adorable house we had, and how good our directions were, before getting down to business.

“You’re in our Korean program,” our case manager said in a very warm and considerate voice.  “But we were wondering.” She began, stopping between sentences as if picking up stones searching for the right words.  

“We got a call this morning… from another office,” halting once again. “They have a young African-American client. She’s looked through their portfolios but hasn’t found a match.”

The night of the informational meeting the program director had welcomed us all, a room of mostly 30-something couples, whose polite glances and curious stares barely concealed our shared journey on some worn and rugged road. Like many of them ours began simply enough by just trying, before moving along to various diets, vitamins, and herbal supplements, and then to consultations with teams of doctors and specialists, followed by a series of this or that test on this or that part, or on this or that specimen.

“We have medical histories on each of our donors,” one specialist said the day we tackled in vitro. “Think of it as adopting a sperm.”

We went to the meeting instead. And at the end of a long PowerPoint outlining the process, explaining the evolution in adoption from closed to open, and concluding with a quote by Kahlil Gibran about children, we were invited to learn more about programs, services and adoption options at designated tables around the room where my wife and I soon found ourselves alone at the one marked “Foreign, Domestic and Domestic Inter-Racial.”

“How would you feel about us sending her your portfolio?” our caseworker asked. “No guarantees, but you might be a perfect match.”


Joe Oswald was born in Franklin, Wisconsin and holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and a Masters Degree in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University. He recently retired from a career in political and labor organizing, most recently as the Government and Community Affairs Director for the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council. He lives in Madison with his wife, son and cat, Romeo. His work will appear this fall in Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing.