KidsTheseDays.org is pleased to present a new, weekly serial from writer, Shirley Kurth Schneider. Shirley and her husband moved to Alaska in 1962 and in 1965 they broke ground on a rustic two-story cabin, located off the grid just outside Fairbanks. It was the same year that they decided to adopt a baby. Adoption: Alaska-style is Shirley's story about becoming a mother in rural 1960's Alaska, excerpted from her memoir-in-progress and presented here in five parts.
I knew how adoptions were handled in the lower forty-eight because when my husband and I lived in Illinois a Sunday church bulletin had included an informational pamphlet. Hopeful parents faced a long, scrutinizing process, including the provision that children be provided with their own bedroom.
As an Alaskan resident, I became aware of how our state initiated adoptions during a dinner, at the invitation of the Laiders, a couple my husband and I had known for years, to introduce us to the latest member of their family, an adopted baby girl named Carol.
As expected, the conversation that evening centered on adoption, Alaska style. According to Mary and Jim, the process was pretty cut and dried.
“There’s no long waiting period, no lengthy interviews, and they don’t care how old you are or whether you own a home,” Mary said.
I gazed around their rented apartment. They lived in the heart of downtown Fairbanks, in the tallest apartment complex, situated over commercial shops known as the Ice Castle because, during the winter, the building was surrounded by the ice fog that lay heavy over the city. Since our last visit, their apartment had become a suite after Mary convinced the building’s super to remove a wall separating the empty apartment next door. The remodel had doubled their space, providing room for a generous-sized nursery for little Carol as well as a private bedroom, with bath, for their teenage daughter, Debra. All rooms were tastefully furnished.
We were renting a furnished two-bedroom house in a family-oriented subdivision. The house was indistinguishable from the others with the exception of our backyard holding a doghouse rather than a swing set. A pair of sheer, bright white Priscilla curtains crisscrossing the bay window in the living area helped soften the room’s dark paneling, dull brown carpeting, and bland furnishings.
“It’s easy, amazingly easy,” Mary said. She and Jim chortled as they fidgeted and cooed over the drowsy infant in Mary’s arms. “You simply must do it.”
I had endured three miscarriages by this time. But, even though they were physically painful, I wasn’t especially baby-hungry, and as such, they disheartened my husband more than me. For Larry, fatherhood validated his manhood. For me, motherhood held a different significance. I had experienced the humbling pleasure of a child’s trust under my care, the touch of a child’s slumbering breath kissing the nape of my neck. I simply wanted to feel that with my own child.
We placed the order. My only request was that the infant be healthy. Sex, race, and family characteristics were a non-issue.
As we waited for the phone call announcing our baby’s birth, I spent my days working as office manager for a grocery wholesaler. My desire to complete my teaching certification had been put on hold because Larry, who wanted a stay-at-home wife, viewed my present job as temporary, a way to boost our savings account, which had taken quite a hit because of our move to Alaska.
During the weekends, I toured the infant departments of local shops. In most cases, it was the first time I’d entered these shops, and my frequent presence there was the only tangible proof of our decision to adopt. As I sorted through the tiny garments on the racks and tables, I chuckled, wondering, How would this clerk respond if I were to announce my impending motherhood? Would she ask, as one of my coworkers had, where I was hiding it?
Evenings, I washed and folded diapers and baby apparel. I hand-sewed a skirt for the bassinette. The house didn’t feel as dull and empty now that the spare bedroom was being shaped into a nursery. In the meantime, Larry was doing a bit of touring himself, examining available home sites for sale in the borough...