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The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

Writing for a Baby: Becoming “Paper Pregnant”

Morgan Hanson

Table of Contents

Keywords: pregnancy loss; adoption

Categories: Navigating Loss and Grief; Parenting as (Im)possibility in Impossible Circumstances; Visual, Sonic, Tactile, Interactive Texts as Self- and Collective Care

Content warning: pregnancy loss

Unlike most parents, I haven’t been over inundated with carework during the pandemic, but that’s because I don’t have any living children. For the past six years, my husband and I have dealt with the frustration and heartbreak of infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss (I’ve had four miscarriages). In short, I don’t get or stay pregnant very easily. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I experienced two miscarriages, one at the very beginning of lockdown in March 2020 and another right before Christmas 2020 (unfortunately, that was not my first holiday miscarriage). My early-pandemic carework was largely filled with navigating grief and silence in a large home that we had hoped to fill with children.

At the beginning of the pandemic, right after my third miscarriage, I found that my grief was compounded by the numerous tweets from academic parents who noted how little work they were able to accomplish because of childcare. I wept reading those tweets. I would have loved to be in their position, struggling to manage my work while experiencing the great joy of raising children. But there I was, empty in so many ways, feeling resented because I was a childless-not-by-choice academic. In a sense, I was very much like my colleagues who have living children: I was unable to write because of a child. However, I struggled writing not because I faced the daily demands of diapers, dinners, and other diversions, but because I was grieving the loss of yet another child, another future. I desired to navigate my future with (or perhaps without) children rather than addressing my future in academia.

After our fourth miscarriage at the end of 2020, we decided it was time to finally pursue adoption, something that we had talked about even before we got married over twelve years ago. My husband and I had always wanted to adopt, but we truly did not anticipate that adoption would be the only way we’d have children. We had to do some grieving together, but at the beginning of 2021, we decided to research adoption consultant firms, and we officially began the adoption process in February 2021, a process that requires a near-endless amount of paperwork. Writing replaced grief as my pandemic carework.


COVID and Adoption Writing 

Figure 1. An infographic that describes the adoption home study process and some of the writing involved.

COVID proved to be a double-edged sword when it came to the timing of our adoption endeavor. One of the very few “perks” to the pandemic was my teaching schedule. Because I was able to teach online, asynchronous courses during the spring 2021 semester, I had more flexibility to compile documents and respond to questionnaires during normal business hours. I could schedule FBI fingerprinting, drug tests, in-person background checks, agency interviews, and doctor’s appointments for practically any day or time within the work week. The greatest downside, however, to completing an adoption home study during a pandemic was that the already intense emotional and mental labor associated with adoption home studies was exaggerated by the isolation and stress of trying to survive in a pandemic. The isolation of COVID amplified the inherent isolation of infertility.

One aspect about the adoption home study that I didn’t anticipate was the amount of writing involved. From initial applications to in-depth questionnaires to mini-essays on transracial adoption, writing, rather than biology, is the way to have a baby as an adoptive parent. In adoption circles, a family is called “paper pregnant” when they have an official home study in hand because it means that they have been deemed as acceptable parents by the state and so a child could come to them at any time. What I didn’t know before becoming “paper pregnant” is that my new trying-to-conceive phase as a hopeful adoptive parent would be filled with enduring tedious amounts of government paperwork and experimenting with new genres. I created infographics, fig. 1 (above) and fig. 2 (below), to demonstrate the amount of writing, time, and money involved in a typical domestic infant adoption. The physical and mental demands of adoption paperwork is already daunting, but adoption is accompanied by great emotional labor. In my situation, I simultaneously grieved my infertility while attempting to become excited about a future with children, which made for conflicting emotions. Once I had begun the home study process, these conflicting emotions gave way to anxiety in the face of the great scrutiny involved as the state determines if the hopeful adoptive parent can be cleared to adopt. Writing solely became carework; it was not an escape, nor was it a method to advance my career.


Writing for a Baby

Figure 2. An infographic that describes the number of agencies, departments, and documents involved in the author's domestic infant adoption home study process.

I have to admit. As a writing professor, I have been rather tickled by the profound irony that my ability to have children now hinges almost entirely on my writing. Aside from background checks and other government forms, a successful home study comes down to communication skills, largely in the form of written communication. Several audiences, documents, and genres are involved in the home study (see fig. 2). Some texts were digital, while others were print only. Adoption agency applications involve filling out forms about our backgrounds (e.g., our physical information, our employment history, our former addresses), providing budgets (fortunately, most applications created fill-in budgets for this task), and short- and long-answer sections about our parenting strategies, faith backgrounds, and approaches to transracial adoption. Government documents, surprisingly, were the most straightforward texts we encountered. The most grueling documents for us were the parent questionnaires provided by our home study agency (we had to provide in-depth responses about our childhoods, our future goals as parents, and responses to difficult adoption scenarios) and the adoption profile, the book that expectant parents peruse while they are in the process of selecting their child’s adoptive parents. For the profile, we crafted autobiographical statements about our marriage, our home, our community, and our plans for our future child. By the end of our home study, we had composed over 10,000 words, a tally that does not include many of the government forms we filled out. 

Seven pictures of the author that include an appearance on Jeopardy, posing with a robot, boating on a lake, eating pastry, holding a kitty, doing yoga, and graduating from PhD studies. At the bottom it says

Because of the multiple agencies and genres present throughout an adoption home study, my husband and I found it difficult to know exactly how to approach the many rhetorical situations we experienced. Mainly, we were never sure how formal or informal our writing should be, and moreover, because of the high-stakes nature of our ultimate writing task -- receiving an approved home study so that we could adopt -- we were unsure of the questions we could ask along the way. Would our lack of knowledge somehow deem us as imcompetent, and thus unapproved, parents? How many questions would become a nuisance to our home study social worker? Was the paperwork a test in and of itself? Were there particular key words, terms, or phrases that we needed to use to prove that we should be able to adopt? Were we good enough?


Writing as Carework

Writing for a baby consumed much of my spring 2021 semester. All of the courses I taught that semester were courses that I had taught online (or mostly online) before. I had to do little teaching preparation, and because I use contract grading, the feedback took less time and was more fulfilling. In between emails, feedback sessions, and committee and department meetings, I spent most of my remaining time composing documents, communicating with our social worker (who, I should note, abandoned us for a month and a half with no warning, thus extending our home study process), and preparing our home for our social worker’s required home visit and the lifestyle photo shoot that we would need to do for our adoption profile book. The sheer magnitude of my writing carework made it difficult to write anything else, particularly research.

Beyond the physical and mental demands of my writing carework, I encountered intense emotional labor that further hindered my academic performance. Adoption is filled with scrutiny. Every aspect of our lives was closely inspected by several different agencies as we moved through our home study. We faced several criminal background checks from national, state, and local government departments, including the FBI, the Department of Children’s Services, and our local police department. Because we had lived in two states within the past five years, we had double the state departments and documents to complete. The home study agency further investigated our fitness as parents through acquiring our tax documents, insurance cards, and even our health records (we had to have special physicals by our primary-care physicians to prove that we were “healthy” enough to be parents.) We also faced internal scrutiny as we crafted our adoption profile. We constantly worried that we wouldn’t appear “good enough” for a birth mother, that no one would select us because of our photo choices or because of how we described ourselves and our lives. We were under constant surveillance, either by one or more agencies or ourselves.

Accompanying the emotional labor of the scrutiny involved with adoption was the heavy baggage of infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss, which intensified the emotional labor of my writing carework. We’d been let down so many times by my body’s inability to get pregnant and stay pregnant that we were worried that we’d experience failed adoption after failed adoption. Adoption is a risky business, and like anything else in the world, it has the potential for failure, but with a history of loss after loss, I had trouble conceiving the idea that perhaps we’d be successful in finally having a baby. Fear accompanied me as I wrote every word for every document.

The pandemic and the lockdown(s) associated with it further amplified my anxiety. My mental health was at its lowest during our home study process because I was locked away from any external escapes. While I have no doubt that my past with infertility and miscarriage would have negatively affected my emotional outlook for our adoption in some capacity no matter the external circumstances, I know that quarantining for almost a year in a quiet, childless home with just my husband made for an even darker home study experience. I was alone with my thoughts, constantly fearing I would not be good enough, that I couldn’t even get “paper pregnant” with years of writing knowledge and experience.

When writing became my carework, I abandoned all other writing projects, including journaling and academic writing. I became so consumed with the anxiety of scrutiny and the fear of failure that the only tasks I could complete were basic hygiene (both for myself and my house) and the home study. I began to question my desire to have children. In fact, I nearly abandoned our home study several times. I pushed through only because I had spent six years of my life trying to have a baby, and I didn’t want that time or emotional and physical labor to go to waste simply because I couldn’t fill out form after form after form. Moreover, we had spent quite a bit of money on the home study (much of the money is spent on the front end), and so I didn’t want thousands of dollars to go to waste. Writing was no longer enjoyable, and it was no longer an outlet to process my thoughts and feelings. I struggled with the ability to perform self-care when writing became my carework rather than a creative outlet.

For six years my carework was invisible to everyone except my husband. No one knew that we were dealing with infertility and miscarriages unless we told them. When writing became my carework, I finally became visible as a parent, or at least some Schrödinger’s version of a parent; I both am and am not a parent, an identity that I even embrace. One requirement for the home study is that we demonstrate proof of employment. Our supervisors must sign a letter that describes our job and includes our salary at the time of the letter. While there’s nothing inherently wrong about requiring this documentation, one issue that stems from it is that your supervisor knows you’re trying to have a baby, something most parents never have to reveal. At first I was frustrated that my chair would learn about my personal life (I think this is the most personal thing I could share), but I soon found that this act made me a visible parent. The work I was doing to adopt was finally noticed and acknowledged. My chair then knew that I was struggling like she was to take care of children during a pandemic. I officially joined the ranks of parents at home, caring for children during a pandemic. 

A playful photot of the author and spouse. Familial affidavits read,

Concluding Thoughts

We officially became “paper pregnant” with an approved home study on June 14, 2021, and we began sharing our profiles with expectant mothers/families at the beginning of July. In the interim between receiving our home study and going active, we learned that we would have to continue to write for a baby. One new development in the adoption world is a Letter to Expectant Parents. Many profiles include a letter like this at the beginning of the profile, but now, adoption agencies expect a cover letter to accompany the profiles. These cover letters are fairly repetitive since all of the information is included in the profile, but it’s a way for expectant mothers and families to quickly review their options before having to read profile after profile.

So far we have written 15 letters, and we have been rejected every time. We write at least a letter a week, but most weeks, we’re writing three or more letters. We’re not giving up hope, though; surely someone will want a couple that so delightfully embodies Weird Al’s “white and nerdy.” For the first time, we have hope that we will be parents, and we are finally enjoying being pregnant, even though it’s only “paper pregnant.” We’ll write our way to the baby we’ve waited to hold for so long.



I wrote this essay in September 2021. Three months later, at the beginning of December 2021, we found out all of our writing had paid off – an expectant mother chose us to be the adoptive parents of her baby, just a couple of days before her induction! Within 60 hours, we went from not being parents to holding our son in our arms. I’m writing this afterword one year later in September 2022 as I watch my baby disaster nap on the monitor, waking up a mere 30 minutes after putting him down for his morning nap. So it’s time to run! I’m so blessed to be able to spend my days caring for a baby instead of writing and hoping (and even stressing) for this great privilege I now have.



Morgan Hanson is a stay-at-home mom and an adjunct instructor of English at the University of Southern Indiana. Her research focuses on threshold concepts of writing studies, faculty professional development, writing program administration, and infertility. 

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