Parallel Lives, pg 2

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Got pregnant, just like that. Whereas the Kerns, who'd married on a hot August day in 1995, had been trying to conceive for more than a year, with no luck. They both grew up in families of four children, always wanted to raise kids, built a cozy Cape Cod house on five acres in rural Cecil County, Maryland, because it seemed like a fine place to do it. They wanted to be young parents, ready to play ball and hike and build sand castles with their children. Instead, they were starting to feel the gnawing ache of infertility.

"It got hard there for a while, just seeing a pregnant woman or a little one in a stroller," says Chanda. They went to baby showers for friends, trying to feel appropriately joyful. "When's it my turn?" she wondered. She's 28, with a broad open face and a quick laugh; Otto is 29 and boyish in a crew cut, with a slightly goofy grin and a way of saying things very directly. For example: "When you want a kid, you don't want to wait forever."

The Kerns decided not to consult a fertility specialist, not to undergo treatment that could last months or years and cost tens of thousands of dollars and might or might not result in a baby. They decided to adopt. By spring, they had already slogged through most of the piles of paperwork. Police clearances from the FBI and the state. Statements from their employers-he works for a plumbing and heating supply house; she's a senior credit analyst-and from their doctors. Bank records. Three years' tax returns. Reference letters. Their house had been inspected for fire safety and their drinking water tested for pollutants. A social worker had visited their house three times for the home study.

Then they had to figure out how to distill their lives into a black leatherette album. What would a young, pregnant woman want to see? "It's almost like you're selling yourself, you're advertising yourself," Chanda fretted. They chose a big Christmas portrait of themselves for the opening page. They unearthed childhood photos, wedding pictures, snapshots of their dogs and cats. In the accompanying letter, they wrote about their love of the outdoors, their Christmas tree-cutting ritual. "Please know if you bless us with a child, we will provide an endless supply of unconditional love and attention," they concluded plaintively. They sent the book to Silver Spring and waited.

Once, these people-the unmarried, pregnant woman and the unwillingly childless couple-were thought to have something to offer one another. Through adoption, she could find a home for a baby she felt unable to raise on her own; they could create the family they were unable to conceive. Now Nicole Bussard and the Kerns, moving separately toward parenthood, are on parallel tracks that will not intersect.

There's a confounding imbalance of supply and demand. On one side of the equation, nearly half a million American teenagers gave birth in 1998, the highest rate in the industrialized West. The great majority of those pregnancies are unplanned, the great majority of the young mothers unmarried. On the other side, perhaps 150,000 families are waiting for an American newborn. No one knows the actual number; all kinds of adoption statistics are notoriously hard to come by. But because the baby boomers have postponed marriage and childbearing until older ages, when infertility increases, and because there are so many of them (including a growing number of single adults also trying to adopt), the demand is high.

Credits: Adoptive Families Magazine

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