I Didn’t Start the Fire

Mr. Book and I have been participating in an adoption study since last May, when Cricket was tiny—so far we’ve each had two long interviews in person and one short, mail-in interview in between. The last one wasn’t long ago, and I’ve been waiting to write about it mostly because I wanted to see whether I’d feel differently about it after a couple of weeks. Not so much, it turns out.

Ruth, Nora, and Cricket also are taking part; from what Ruth tells me, I think they mostly have Cricket play specific kinds of games in their interviews. For birthparents, the interviews are a little different: we answer insulting personal questions for just over three hours at a stretch. We also take an intelligence test at the end. The questions assume some pretty unpleasant things about people who place kids for adoption, which I really should have guessed when they started each interview by handing me a printout of a couple of dozen crisis hotline numbers; gosh, researcher, now I know where to go if I ever need STD testing or rehab ASAP. Not that those have ever been concerns of mine. But really, thanks for the thought. The questions go in series something like this:

Have you ever started fires for fun or to hurt someone?

How many times have you started fires to hurt someone?

What was the last time you started a fire to hurt someone?

Have you ever been arrested for starting fires?

One a scale from one to ten, how much has your tendency to start fires interfered with: your personal life; your work life; your relationships?

—I probably shouldn’t defend myself, but I haven’t been arrested, committed any crimes, gotten addicted to anything, or otherwise shown myself to be a bad seed. But thanks for asking! For three hours. The other hard part of the interview is that if, say, I admitted to having panic attacks, the interviewer asks how many panic attacks I’ve had in my life. I have no idea, of course—she tells me to make a guess. I say “Twenty,” and then almost immediately realize that that number is way off, that I had more than twenty in a two-month period that one year in college, and how do I answer when she’s asking how many of those are due to: work-related stress; personal stress; no visible cause? Um, I guess I should try to get the proportions correct even though the total is way off! Okay, so…. And so on. The money we got for participating was enough to pay for our car insurance, so I can’t really regret doing it, but being interviewed in the morning really ruined the rest of my day. I was pretty sure that we were done after the last interview, but we got a letter in the mail a week later letting us know that our next contact would be another mailed interview in September. And we’ll each get twenty dollars for that. And we’ll do it.

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6 thoughts on “I Didn’t Start the Fire

  1. Ugh. That’s just plain awful.

    When I was in grad school, I trained under a counselor who would “frame” her questions so the client would have to go out of their way to disagree. For example, instead of saying “Did you drink alcohol while you were pregnant?” she would say, “And how many alcoholic drinks per day did you have during your pregnancy?” She thought it was an “effective” technique. I peronally thought it was more of an “insulting” technique.

    It also reminds me of when I took my son to urgent care for a bad ear infection. I look fairly young and it was a weekend, so I was dressed sort of scrubby. The doctor gave me a disgusted look and said, “He’s got an ear infection. You should go outside when you smoke.”

    “I don’t smoke,” I answered.

    “Oh, so you leave him at daycare, I suppose? Well, if that’s what you have to do to make ends meet.”

    It made me so angry. Hearing about your experience with the adoption study makes me even angrier though. I hope that (after you get your money from them!) you can tell them what you think of the whole thing. It’s completely unacceptable and I’m sorry you feel like you need to participate.

  2. I wonder if it’s the same study we’re in. There’s an interview component for the a-parents, too, although it doesn’t seem to be quite as insulting as yours. I remember answering those sorts of juvenile delinquency questions way back in the beginning. The more recent interviews are more obsessed with how stressed out we are and whether we partake of drugs and alcohol or violence to cope.

    We also get to answer lovely questions about our relationship:

    Have you ever wanted to use force or violence against your spouse or partner?
    When was last time you used force or violence against your spouse or partner?
    How many times have you considered divorce or separation in the last six months?

    This last time I had to watch videos of misbehaving kids and be recorded saying how I would discipline them. I was tempted to just start saying, “Well, at this point I would clearly need to smack the brat upside the head.”

    *eye roll*

    • It must be the same—I, too, answered those questions about whether I abuse my husband. —Did you get the ones about how many unplanned pregnancies you’ve had in the last year? While I’m sorry that you, too, are experiencing the awkward, I’m a little relieved to find out that there’s some overlap. I have wondered whether adoptive parents get questions more like “On a scale from one to ten, how awesome are you?”

      • Another a-parent in the study is convinced they’re secretly studying attachment in open adoptions. Maybe they’re trying to figure out if we’re sociopaths! Since I’m guessing sociopaths have a difficult time forming attachments.

        The stuff they actually do with the kids is very different, BTW. Just fun games. I’d quit in a second if I thought P was feeling judged or evaluated. They’ve yet to ask P how many alcoholic beverages he has per week or whether he hurts animals (although they asked me if he did!).

  3. that is so insulting. I’m also sorry you have to participate and wish you were at least getting more money for your time. I agree I would tell them afterwards how outrageous and insulting the questions are. ugh.

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