In Defense of Open Adoption – This might be part 2

When it comes to adoption I often hear: “Do you have to have contact with the birth family?” “Now is this one of those situations where you share her with the birth family?” “You’re better than me, I could never do what you do.” “You’re a saint.” Or my favorite, “I don’t know how you do it.”(Certainly that phrase is a topic for another blog post because it strikes a chord with me)  I’m no saint. I actually fail miserably at this thing called open adoption. To be quite honest, there are days when I’d like to shut my door and stop all communication with our birth families.  Not most days, but certainly some days.  But then again, who can say that family relationships are easy? Have you ever rolled your eyes at a family member, your own “flesh and blood?”  I’ve heard your stories of family drama.

I’m still learning how to do this, and make mistakes all the time. There are times when the husband and I have to give ourselves a pep talks on the way to a visit with our birth mom.  Then we decompress on the way home about the hurtful things she said or the inappropriate way she treated us or our children. But in the end, if I have to soul search I recall something I said once in a job interview.  I was asked why I wanted the job.  I went on to reply that I could see myself doing a lot of different jobs, but when it came down to it, what really mattered to me is that I do something that helps people. That’s how I see open adoption.  I could do just plain do adoption, but when it comes down to it I wouldn’t be helping my kids if I didn’t work at loving their whole family.  This job sort of came to me by accident, a collision of fight and fate in my life that led me to fall in love with a my first child’s birth family that then led me to desire an open adoption with whomever my second child’s birth family would be.  I just felt like I would be losing part of my child if I didn’t have their birth family in our lives.

The long and short of it is, open adoption isn’t easy. It’s not always warm and fuzzy (but sometimes it really is), sometimes it really hurts me. Sometimes it even hurts my kids. But more often I am blessed by open adoption if I choose to change my expectations. Sometimes that blessing comes directly like today when my daughter’s birth grandpa, with tears streaming down his face, thanked us once again for sharing photos and coming for visits even in the midst of trying to diagnose and care for some medical needs our daughter has. He went on to say that he understands what we are going through as parents.  His acknowledgment of our struggles as parents and our efforts to include them in her life validated what we are doing, or at least what we are trying to do. It made me think that sometimes we get it right. Moreover, I was struck but what he said to his daughter, our child’s birth mom, during our visit: “They love her as much as you do.”  That is a phrase I will try to remember on the flipside: Her birth mom loves her as much as we do.  If that is true, and it is, then how should we respond?

Monday: I’m getting ready to head out the door to work while my daughter is raking in Cheerios and blueberries, and my son is busying himself doing exactly the opposite of whatever I ask of him. It’s the typical morning, only it’s not. It’s my daughter’s first birthday. She’s one. Really? She’s one.  I hear the text blurp and note that my daughter’s birth grandmother is saying a package is on the way. To back up a little, I am caught off guard by this because based on a somewhat recent not-so-pleasant phone call with her I got the sense that I would never hear from her again. Without going into detail for the sake of my daughter’s privacy, it was one of those calls that left me feeling so sad and so sick to my stomach. It was a call where I had to say no to her about something, which meant doing the absolutely right thing still left me the bad guy according to her.  Long story short, she had all but told me that she no longer wished to be considered a grandparent of my child, but that she still loved us blah, blah, blah.  Hard conversations ending in a package that arrived simply signed with first names. No longer the addition of a grandparent title on the signature. This is adoption. This is the sad side. This is the side I don’t know how to explain to my children.

Tuesday night: I was just crawling into bed and my phone rang with an out of state number. “Hello?” I said. “Hi baby!” the voice on the other end exclaims.  I’m tired and I want to sleep because my daughter never does and it’s my night to get up with her, but that voice immediately makes me smile. It’s the voice of my son’s birth grandma.  She’s spunky, loud, outgoing, frank, hilarious and why quite obviously a very good combination of my son and myself!  I fell in love with her long before I ever laid eyes on my son.  She adopted me long before my son was born as her “other daughter.” For those that know me personally, having not had a living mom since I was 15, this was no small feat because I don’t let just anyone adopt me.  She notices fatigue in my voice, and says, “You sound tired.” I explain.  We chat casually for a few minutes. She catches me up on the latest news. She is calling in response to a photo I just texted her where I told her that her grandson, my son, insists upon sleeping with the blue bunny she sent in a package at Easter, and that I often have to go searching for it because he claims he cannot sleep without it.  She laughs and says to tell him she’ll send a bunny in every color she can find, and I know she means it. That’s because it’s a connection, any connection, to her grandson, and she loves him madly – just like all of her grandchildren. Except she has had to love him silently from a far for many years out of respect for my son’s birth mom who for a while didn’t want contact, and didn’t want her mom to have contact either.  To have this woman back in my life (I know I still owe you that blog post, but I just haven’t found the right way to explain it yet) is not only a miracle, it’s a gift. I see her in my son every day and know this is how he will be when he is older.  This is family. This is adoption. This is the sad side. This is the happy side. This is the easy side.

Thursday night: I have a headache, and we are scrambling to clean the house and get ready for our visit with Girlfriend’s birth family this weekend.  I get a phone call from my child’s birth mom. She’s calling about the visit, telling me about the birthday cake she ordered and all of the gifts she carefully picked out for our daughter. She’s gone overboard even though we had already agreed on a toy I suggested and another previously decided small sentimental item. She’s animated with the excitement of the visit, where I feel a small dose of anxiety surface. The truth is our visits aren’t easy.  Sometimes she wants to erase my existence because she is still mourning not being able to parent her daughter.  Most of the time, it takes a great deal of energy to enjoy our time together. It pains me to say this because it isn’t how I want to react. I won’t defend myself because I don’t have to.  You’re going to have to trust me that my feelings (again without going into detail blah, blah, blah) are in response to actual inappropriate behaviors and words that transpire during our visits. I can suck it up and pretend our time together is beautiful for the sake of my child’s birth mom and for the sake of my children.  But I struggle with finding a way to stop her from hurting my children in the meanwhile. How do you tell someone that they are hurtful when they don’t see it, when they cannot see it, when they will not ever see it? This is adoption. This is the confusing side. This is the sad side. This is the side I want to be happy.

I sit her typing while my daughter plays on the floor over an hour after her bedtime, and my husband is half asleep on the floor next to her. She’s refusing to sleep and after an hour fight we’ve given ourselves a break even though it’s against our better judgment. So here she sits playing away. It’s been a weird day, and it’s looking like it will be another long night. But when I go to bed tonight I will answer the text message from my child’s birth mom with grace that I actually feel tonight.  When she says that she had a great time etc. I will tell that we did to and that we are so glad she did.  And it will be the truth. At least for today.  And that’s all I can promise or hope for.  I don’t know how to do open adoption. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t do it sometimes. But on a day like today, when I ignored the hurtful statements and the mixed messages, I actually did have a good time, and in doing so I helped my children, their birth family and myself. If I close my door and shut them out, I will lose part of my children and in the end I will lose part of myself.

This year we will get on a plane and fly out to see my son’s grandma for this first time since he was 7 days old.  I will introduce him to his half-brother, and watch them terrorize the neighborhood together. We will cry tears of joy over this reunion.  I will easily have a good time. Grandma will joke with my husband, who she also adores.  I will get called Baby a hundred times.  We will feel fully part of this crazy, loud, strangely fun family. She will be crazy and wild, and I will not care.  My son will eat things he normally isn’t allowed to and probably stay up way too late.  I will romanticize all of this in my head whether it is true or not.  And I will dream that one day we will have a glimpse of the ease of this relationship with other members of my children’s birth families. I will remember that this could all be invisible to me if we didn’t have an open adoption.  This is adoption. This is the happy side. This is the hard side. This is the easy side. This is adoption. We will get this right, or we will die trying.


Crown Me Mama has been crowned again! – how we were chosen by a birth mom and had an unexpected twist in our adoption

My last post was April 23 just a couple of days before life changed once again. We got THE CALL on a Friday at exactly noon. I was sitting at my desk at work just as I was for our son’s match. My heart beat so fast as I almost couldn’t answer the phone because I was shaking so much when I saw my adoption agency’s number on the caller I.D. This is the call we had been waiting for. The one where we expected to be told we were chosen and then given the details of who, what, and when. It seemed like a lifetime while I waited for the adoption coordinator to get my husband on the line as well. Just like that I went from a 10 to a 1 in excitement. It felt like there had been some mistake. Our coordinator was saying we actually weren’t being automatically matched, that we actually had to let the agency know if we wanted to proceed. We just weren’t expecting this. It wasn’t actually a warm fuzzy call that we had hoped for. Instead of an automatic match we were told that a birth mom chose us, desperately wanted our family, and insisted that no one else would do for her child, but that it didn’t match our profile for 5 or so different reasons. Therefore, we would have 48 hours to decide if we wanted to accept the match with her.

There was a bit more thinking and praying involved in the situation we were presented with than we expected. Without sharing personal details (and we do this with our children to protect their stories and allow them to tell them if they want to when they are older) there are many items that you decide on prior to match that make it so you are only shown to birth moms that match your criteria. Some of those things include your budget: how much many you have to spend (or borrow), and things like where the birth mom is located: because of legal ramifications and things like that. Those were some of the things that didn’t match with us in addition to a few others. However, our agency didn’t present us to this mom, but our profile could be seen on the internet by anyone. And out of all of the families looking to adopt in the world, she wanted us, and somehow was led to our profile at our particular agency. That is both flattering and nerve-wracking all at once. You have heard me say time and time again that I am a woman of faith in God. I don’t believe that my son is my son by accident. I don’t believe in just drifting aimlessly through life. I don’t believe that we have infertility because of anything we did wrong. I believe rather that our family has infertility because there were children that could simply not come from our biology that were destined to be in our very family. (this is not the reason for all people with infertity obviously those reasons differ) So, all through this process my husband and I have prayed every night that God would help the right birth family find us. I don’t think we quite understood the depth of those prayers. We did however, keep coming back to this prayer when we were considering the situation. There just seemed like so many obstacles in our way and so many things that woudl be more complicated legally and financially if we moved forward.

How did we decide? It came down to this – We knew we would regret it the rest of our lives if we said no. We just simply couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t say yes. We needed to say yes. We had to say yes. We said yes!

As soon as we said yes, all the joy we had hoped to feel when matched poured into our lives! We had just several weeks to prepare for our daughter’s arrival (oh, yes, by the way, she was a she. We had said we were open to either gender). We spent those weeks nesting and running back and forth to visit our daughter’s birth family and start building a relationship with them. I say all this not to make our story sound negative or overwhelming, but rather just the opposite. Here it is just a few months since my last post and I have been crowned a Mama again. That’s just crazy. In a matter of months we went from still waiting to be matched, to being matched, receiving the placement and finalizing our adoption. Lickity split just like that we went from waiting and wanting to home and happy. Expect the unexpected in life. Prepare to be flexible in the adoption process, and certainly prepare to be wowed when it all falls into place in the end.
I won’t say that this family is done, even thought that is how I know we feel. It has been over a 9 year journey to build this family, and certainly we are ready to be done with the baby chase. I will instead say that I am done and if God chooses to bring another child into our family, he’d better just drop him or her off on our doorstep. I am grateful for the Mama God has made me and for the beautiful son and daughter he has given me. I might just have to pinch myself now and then to believe that all my dreams really came true.

My name is Emily, and I have infertility.

My name is Emily, and I have infertility.  Let’s stop making this something people don’t talk about!  Infertility is a disease I didn’t choose. One in eight couples struggles with infertility. What that means is if you don’t have infertility, someone you know and love does.  You might not know it, because society has made infertility something people are afraid to talk about.  I hope that changes. It is a disease like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or hypertension.  The difference is that while you may not tell everyone you have one of these other diseases, most people tell someone. It’s National Infertility Awareness Week and my challenge to those of you struggling with infertility is that you tell someone this week.  Maybe you already have, or maybe you haven’t because you are embarrassed, afraid, sad, still in shock or sick of thinking about it.  If you don’t have any one you trust in telling, I would be happy to listen and hear you out, whether I know you or not.  Know that you are not alone, and that I am holding you in my thoughts and prayers especially this week. 

Sorting Out the Adoption Process Part 4: Why why chose Domestic Adoption

We don’t all drive the same cars. We don’t all live in houses that look exactly like (I hope).  Your favorite meal may not be Chicken Lombardi.  So, it is only natural that there are different adoption options that suit different families. Adoption is not one size fits all. In fact, if I am being brutally honest, adoption is not even for everyone.  There are negative things said about both international and domestic adoption, just as there are positive things. I’ve probably heard most of it, because I work in international adoption and have adopted domestically.  So the big elephant in this blog is why did someone who works in international adoption adopt domestically? I have some tangible reasons that I will share with you, and yet when it comes down to it, it is more than just that.  The partial truth is that even though we thought we would ultimately adopt internationally, in the end we discovered it didn’t feel right.  I remember people asking me why I chose the college that I did. My main answer was that I could picture myself there.  I am a “feeler” in the Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory thingy.  My husband is a “Thinker.” Yet, we both ended up with the same conclusion: we were drawn to domestic adoption.  Let me tell you why we chose this path. I want to stress again, that your path may be different, and there is no wrong choice.

I found out with 10 days notice that I would need to go to a foreign country for my job.  I asked if my husband could come along as my assistant if we paid his way.  My bosses easily agreed and we went off on the trip of a lifetime.  When we reached the orphanage that we were working with, children were lined up on either side of the driveway to greet us.  As we walked into the orphanage my heart melted as the director handed me a precious baby girl.  I carried her around on our tour of the orphanage.  I wanted to take her home.  She was a healthy little girl matched with a family waiting for the final steps of their adoption that would allow them to travel to come and be united with her.  Oh my heart!  It was an amazing trip from start to finish.  I had the opportunity to spend time with the children, understand their needs and hear their pleas for a forever family.  I couldn’t help but feel obligated to find each and every one of them a family.  But that is where the feeling ended, it was purely professional, for lack of a better way to put it. My social worker side fell in love with these children and I certainly left a part of my heart in that orphanage as you hear so often from people visiting a children’s home.  Oddly, something didn’t feel right on the personal side.  My husband and I both came to the same conclusion that while we had a heart for these amazing children, we didn’t feel like this is was the country we should adopt from.  It just didn’t feel right. There is no explainable reason I can give, other than I know I can trust my gut feeling. 

It was a shock to discover this, and we started to search for a more tangible reason why.  So, we went back to the materials we had been requesting from domestic agencies and went over the pros and cons.  When we did a side-by-side comparison, what we realized is that domestic adoption won for us hands-down.  The most important thing to us was that we could get a newborn through domestic adoption.  While we knew we had lost the desire to ever try for a healthy pregnancy again, (see this post: we couldn’t let go of the desire to have a child from birth. Second to that desire, was that we also had the opportunity to get to know the birth family.  We felt like the more we could know about the birth family then the more we would have to share with our son or daughter some day.  There are so many teens that were adopted internationally as infants that are now searching for their birth families halfway around the world. I wanted to be able to give my child those answers if/when the questions arose. 

Here are the list of the pros of domestic adoption for us:

1) We could adopt a newborn.

2) We could likely know a lot about the birth family versus in an international adoption.

3) We would likely have lower travel costs because we wouldn’t have to travel internationally.

4) We wouldn’t need immigration approval, which we imagined we would get but realized it took many steps out of the adoption process if not working with two different country’s governments.

5) We could get a newborn!  I know I already said this, but ultimately this was really important to us, not just because of not wanting to miss anything, but because we would then have less challenges to face with attachment, bonding, and we could potentially be the only caregivers the child ever had. Even now as a Mama, I love being able to know that I was there for my son’s first breath and I didn’t miss a thing.  After all the pain of infertility, and the fears in starting the adoption process, I treasure this thought still today. I didn’t have to miss a thing. (That doesn’t always happen in adoption, which is why again, I am thankful to my little guy’s birth mom for sharing him from the very beginning with me.)

Besides these pros there were several things we were worried about and ultimately were reasons why some choose international adoption:

1) What if the birth family changed their mind about placing their child for adoption, or about placing with us? In international adoption most children available for adoption have already had their parental rights terminated or the process to search for their birth parents has already occurred prior to the time of referral.  So, families feel like this risk is much lower in international adoption.

2) What if we spent lost all of our money in the process and still had no baby?  If a birth mom changed her mind with the agency we were working with for our first adoption we would lose our legal fees and the fees paid for birth mom expenses.  We were concerned we wouldn’t be able to continue with the adoption process if this happened to us. 

3) How would we afford adoption (domestic or international this would still be a be worry)? I’ll cover this in an upcoming post that I am really excited about…in case you don’t know it, making a dollar stretch is totally my thing!  Adoption costs $25,000 to $60,000. There is no other way to slice it than to conclude that it is really expensive.  We are an average American family. How on earth would we come up with this money without placing ourselves in long-term financial hardship? Don’t worry we did it, well with absolute divine intervention, and the help of many friends and family members!

If you are considering adoption I feel it is important for me to share with you that I absolutely support international adoption as well.  In fact, it is my joy and privilege to be able to be a part of seeing children united with their forever families from all over the world.  I love my job!  Just as there are children here in the United States that need families, there are orphans and vulnerable children all over the world that need loving families. Some of you will come up with your own set of pros that all point to international adoption.  I talk with families many days who have a list of reasons like this one:

International adoptive families list of pros:

1) Many say they don’t necessarily need a baby, there are plenty of older children that need a home.

2) Families don’t want to deal with the risk of a birth mom changing her mom and feel this can be avoided in international adoption.

3) Families want to help a child that wouldn’t otherwise have access to the education, medical and vocation opportunities we have in the U.S. that they don’t have being an orphan in their birth country.

4) Some families have traveled and have done mission work in countries where they are struck with the plight of the orphan.

5) Some have fallen in love with another culture and want to blend that culture with their family.  (This of course can happen in domestic adoption as well.)

6) It just felt right for their family!

7)The domestic adoption process relies heavily on you being chosen by a birth family.  Whereas, in international adoption your case worker or the central authority of the placing country makes that match.  Some families don’t want the pressure of waiting to be picked just like we all felt when it was time to use dodge ball teams in gym class. 


Shameless tangent starts here: It sickens me to see the number of international adoptions drop over and over again as (forgive me I am sounding political, I know) when I know there are children that unfortunately do not have the opportunity to come to the many families waiting for them here with open arms.  Our governments are missing the point that children belong in families.   So, if you are a family that would like to adopt internationally you may want to check out the CHIFF legislation that is currently being proposed to our federal government.  The bottom line of CHIFF, Children in Families First, is to encourage our government to stop just trying to address the physical needs of children worldwide and to start making the need for a family a priority as well.  This means taking some of the billions of dollars were spend on children and focus it toward finding kin or families to adopt them first in their country of origin and then internationally if no family there can be found. The numbers of orphans worldwide is growing as we speak, and the numbers of adoptions, even within these countries, continues to decrease.

Very quickly, I will say that I personally feel that foster care is an option that did not feel right for us either. That could be an entry in itself so I will simply say that the goal of foster care is reunification with the biological family.  My personal goal was to adopt a baby, so until I am ready to just love and teach a child temporarily, then I should not do foster care.  We are considering doing this when our children are grown. Your answer may be different and I hope you know that is okay with.

There is one final type of adoption we seriously considered and that is embryo adoption. There are estimated to be about 500,000 frozen embryos in storage today.  Now only a small portion of those embryos have been made available for adoption at this time. This is when you would have the opportunity to have another couple’s embryo placed in  your body.  In most cases these are leftover embryos from a couple that did IVF successfully, but do not want to use remaining embryos they still have frozen. I would have had the opportunity to give birth to my adopted baby which is appealing because you don’t have to worry about prenatal exposure.  Ultimately, this didn’t seem like a good option for us simply because of my continual pregnancy losses.  Our last baby’s chromosomes were tested and showed no abnormalities. Doctors say my uterus is “perfect.” So, with no answers as to why this keeps happening to me, I am not comfortable placing more embryos in this body that just doesn’t want to stay pregnant for whatever the reason.  A growing number of couples are considering embryo adoption and so maybe you want to check it out for yourself. If it works, it would be much cheaper than traditional adoption. For those with insurance coverage for embryo transfers in my experience some of those insurance companies don’t specify that the embryo has to be yours. So, the transfer may even be covered by your insurance if you are lucky enough to have infertility coverage.

I know what has been right for my family. I can’t tell you what is right for yours. But I am happy to sort through the adoption process with you and help you come to the right decision for your family. I cannot stress enough that I strongly feel that part of the reason that I experienced infertility was to share my story and help those who are still struggling to find a way to build their family. I am not embarrassed by infertility. I am sick over the fact that our society makes it such a lonely disease.  Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now… So, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions.



Sorting Out the Adoption Process Part 3: How I fell in love with our birth mom

It’s March and I can’t help but think about my little guy’s birth mom who has a birth day this month.  Every holiday that passes I wonder how she is dealing with the adoption.  Does she miss him on his birthday?  Does her heart hurt on Mother’s Day knowing that one of her children is not celebrating with her? I am pretty sure that she doesn’t regret her decision (at least at what she has shared with us), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes.  I would like to take this hurt away from her, but there is no way to do that. All I can do is continue to love her, and keep her in my thoughts and prayers. This may seem odd to you if you have not been a part of an semi-open adoption.

I’d like to share with you how I fell in love with this amazing woman.  I’ll try not to be too personal in the interest of her privacy, but I would like to think that if by some weird coincidence she were to stumble upon my blog, it would make her smile.  My hope is that for those of you who are considering adoption, you would come to know the joy and benefits of the opportunity of getting to know your child’s birth family.  Almost all domestic adoptions today are open at some level. That can mean many different things. You might meet once in the hospital, talk on the phone with your agency mediating, or send cards and photos once a year, or you choose to have ongoing contact.  The choice is up to the comfort level of you and the birth mom. Research has shown that most adoptees have a curiosity on some level about their birth families.  There are over 300 adoption reunion search registries in the U.S. and that just goes to show you there is certainly an interest.

When we first started the adoption process we were scared of the unknown, the what-ifs of having contact.  What if the birth family changed her mind and showed up on her door step trying to take our baby away? (I laugh at myself now, it sounds so absurd!) What if she didn’t approve of the way we raised her child? What if, what if, what if?  Our agency mediated a call between the birth family and the adoptive family prior to each accepting the match. I can tell you that from our very first conversation with her it was apparent our birth mom had similar what-if fears.  Her what-ifs weren’t that different.  They were probably something like: What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t want my child and change their minds?  What if they don’t approve of my lifestyle?  What if, what if, what if?  I didn’t fall in love with her in our first conversation, but it didn’t take long until I was head-over-heels for this spunky, fun girl.  Now I see her in my son’s face from time to time and blurt out, “You know who makes that same expression? Your birth mom.”  I smile and laugh knowing that. My son says, “Huh,” because it is beyond his comprehension at this age and then I say, “Never mind, you’ll understand me someday.”  I wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t had the chance to spend some really precious time with her.  It gives me a connection to our son’s biological family, that in turn gives a chance to help our son understand his biology.

We originally agreed to letters/cards and photos after the adoption, but it didn’t really occur to us at first that we would even have the opportunity to communicate openly with our son’s birth mom before he was born.  It sort of happened by accident, and I am so glad that it did. First it was a necessity because our agency had sort of dropped out of the picture and we were still interviewing lawyers in her state.  We needed to communicate with her to get everything in order, and to let her know where we were with all that.  At the suggestion of our adoption agency, we purchased a cell phone for our birth mom to call exclusively.  It had a number that was not from the area in which we lived and it allowed us to keep our location non-specific. She knew what state we were from but our agency and attorney suggested we keep it at that.  We began to call and text each other.  I would look forward to her texts and calls and hang on every word she said.  During our phone conversations I would take notes. I didn’t want to forget anything that I could someday share with my son if he asked.  Her mom soon asked to talk to me, and I was learning all about their family and their heritage from my son’s birth grandmother. This family is caring, has a great sense of humor, is very open and honest, and just plain fun. I saw the best in them and was easily able to overlook any differences.  I don’t know a more caring, considerate selfless person than our son’s birth mom. It is indescribable how I feel about this special person who gave me her child. Think of it this way, the more you know about your child’s birth family the more you know about your child.  For me, as I waited for our son to be born, I felt close to him as I learned about his first family.

Our future son’s birth mom eventually invited us to meet her and come with her to the ultrasound (where she found out she was having a boy!).  The first meeting was super awkward even though we had been communicating every couple of days.  It’s just different when you are face to face for the first time.  We met her in the parking lot of the doctor’s office and just like that we were in there waiting for the doctor.  The doctor never made it because he was delivering a baby instead, but she welcomed us into her life, and into the life of her child from the very start.  The nurses were hesitant and she just kept saying, “They can hear anything you say about me. I don’t care about privacy.  It’s their baby, I am just carrying it for them.”  I was moved to tears many times by her kindness, and how insistent she was that we be included in every part of the pregnancy from here on out.  Prior to meeting her she called me one day at work from the doctor’s office. I was worried that something was wrong (she had told me the exact time of her appointment and of course I was thinking constantly about it). She could sense the fear in my voice and said she was just calling so I could hear the baby’s heartbeat.  What care and consideration and maturity – way beyond many people twice her age!

You might wonder what you can talk about with someone you don’t know.  It’s easier than you think. I would ask what she was craving certain days, and one time I think I even ate it with her over the phone.  She would want to know what we were having for dinner or what we were doing after work.  She would ask if we were getting the baby’s room ready and if we were going to have a baby shower, saying she wished she could be there with us. She would ask me for advice about different things she was dealing. She would tell me her feelings about the adoption and shared with me the sad truth that some of her family members just couldn’t accept her decision.  I felt very much like her older sister.  How could I not fall in with love her?  This woman was carrying a baby that she wanted to give to me, it was just so hard to fathom. It didn’t feel real.  She kept reassuring us that she was sure about her decision (as if she could read the unsaid questions and fear in our minds).  It was as if she sensed the deep sadness and doubt within me because of the babies we had already lost over and over through pregnancy.  I didn’t share those kinds of details but some things don’t have to be said, she sensed this.

 While it was a relief to hear she was so set on the adoption plan we knew that no matter how she felt now, she had a right to feel differently when the baby was born.  We kept our wits about us as much as we could but we knew if she changed her mind it would crush us. I believe it was in getting to know her over the last half of her pregnancy that she went through the process of visualizing what her child’s life would be like and finding some peace in that.  Her mom shared with us that she was against the adoption until her daughter was matched with us. After her mom met us that only made her more convinced that this was the right plan for her grandchild.  She said she told people I was her daughter living in another state if she didn’t want to get into the adoption details. As the due date grew closer, we all were looking forward to the birth for different reasons, but we remained talking these feelings out with one another and processing it. 

Nolan’s birth mom gifted me with something I never imagined I would have the opportunity to be a part of.  She asked me to be in the delivery room with her, and to stay in the hospital room with her and the baby.  Our agency and the paralegal from our attorney’s office told us to be prepared for anything and that the plan could change at any time. In the end I was there for his delivery. I heard his first cry!  I wasn’t allowed to hold him in the OR but I did rebelliously reach out and touch his leg when he was getting cleaned up.  I had no rights, and the nurses and doctors were sure to remind us of that often.  It was our son’s birth mom who was the one to constantly and assertively correct them for excluding us.  The hospital staff, with the exception of a few, just didn’t know how to deal with a birth family and adoptive family that were united and in this together. Some were rude to our son’s birth mom. Some were rude to us.  Some were rude to both.  Out of all of them I have to say that the doctor was the only one who fully embraced this unique relationship. He came to check on our birth mom many times, discharged her early at her request even though she had a c-section, and allowed us to take his picture with our son.

Those couple of days in the hospital were sacred to me.  You learn so much about someone when you are with them 24/7.  Our son’s birth mom shared with me something she absolutely didn’t have to.  In one of the most difficult times of her life, she saw beyond herself and touched my heart with her kindness over and over.  I am forever changed not just because I became a mom during that time, but because I shared many intimate precious moments with this former stranger. There is no erasing that connection, not that I would ever want to.  I changed my son’s first diaper. I gave him his second bottle (only to the one the nurse gave), she graciously passed on the chance to be the first one to hold him and told me I should. We laughed together when my son shot that lethal post birth poop out across the room when I was changing him.  She worried with me when he wouldn’t stop crying all night. I gather it was healing for her to do these things, but nevertheless she didn’t to have to.  The point in sharing all of these private details of so sacred a time is to encourage others to not be afraid to open their hearts and their lives to the possibility of open adoption if you have the opportunity.

It might shock you to hear that our son’s birth mom is no longer in contact with us and has asked us to not send updates.  People don’t always understand why that is heartbreaking to me, but in reading this I hope you can see a glimpse of our special relationship.  I know that right now his birth mom needs this to continue to heal. I respect that. I would do anything for this person who has given us so much.  There is nothing I could ever do to repay her the kindness of not just giving us her son, but sharing her life with us.  I thank God for bringing her into our lives, and hope that one day she does show up on my doorstep.  Whether or not my son chooses to seek her out someday is entirely his choice. We will support whatever decision he makes. But either way we will raise him to know where his laugh comes from, what his birth mom’s favorite food is, who he looks like, about his heritage, and all the other little details of his birth family.  I would never have the opportunity to know a fraction of this information without having had the honor to know and love his birth family.  I encourage you to open your heart and your mind to the possibility that sometimes peoples’ paths cross for a reason. I am so glad that our paths crossed and wove together with this amazingly brave girl and her family. I am a better person because of it in so many inexplicable ways.

Sorting Out the Adoption Process: Part 2 The Importance of Legal Counsel and Adoption Attorneys

Let me start by saying that you do have the option of working with an adoption agency or directly with an adoption attorney.  Because I work in social services, I value the added benefit of an adoption agency in that they are usually offer more social services to both the adoptive family and most importantly the birth mom.  There are some that say they have found an adoption attorney to be great without the use of an agency, but since that is not my experience I cannot speak to that further.  For my husband and I, when we interviewed a large adoption attorney network, we didn’t like the language they were using and felt more comfortable choosing an adoption agency.  The attorney group said, “We are pro adoptive family, ” which left us feeling like there was a risk of them talking a birth mom into placing when she didn’t want to, or that they might not treat the birth mom with the love and respect she deserves. It felt too much like a business and not enough like it was actually about the families and the children…both the birth family and the adoptive family.  This is our experience and yours may be different so don’t feel like anything I say in my blog series is the be all end all and right for everyone. Even if you work with an agency the legal side of the adoption will be handled by a lawyer and you want to make sure that lawyer is experienced.

Our saving grace in our son’s adoption was the law office we had.  They were so helpful to both us and the birth mom. She knew she could call the paralegal when she had a question or need. We in turn knew that we could depend on the staff to give us sound advice.  They handled the birth mom expenses that we paid to our son’s birth mom. They knew what was legal, and they helped us in every way.  There were some complicated details in our son’s birth family’s case and they were sure to leave no stone unturned.  This was the exact opposite result we received from our so-called agency.  If you do not have a good lawyer as part of the adoption process down the road it could make it more complicated for both the birth family and the adoptive family. You want to make sure that the law office has terminated parental rights correctly for both the birth mother and father. You want to make sure that they have filed your temporary custody paperwork, filed for an amended birth certificate for you after finalization, requested the medical records from the hospital, are respected in the courts, and familiar with the adoption process. They should also be able to accommodate the needs of your birth family and you as the adoptive family.  The final piece is that you want to make sure if you are dealing with an out of state birth mom is that they know how to work with the Interstate Compact Offices (ICPC) in your state and the birth mom’s state of childbirth. Otherwise, you could end up with a prolonged stay in the state of birth. This adds to your travel costs and prolongs your ability to get home and start real life.  In most cases an attorney can determine whether or not it is in everyone’ s best interest to finalize the adoption in the birth mom’s state of residency (or where she gave birth if different) or in your home state. You are usually able to finalize in either state. There are couple of states where you must finalize there if the baby was born in that state.

Some agencies, like the one we are working with now, have a network of lawyers that they work with so the adoptive family does not have to find one on their own.  That is ideal. If you have to choose your own attorney, compare a few.  Look to the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (AAAA) for some decent choices. Not everyone will be excellent in the Academy, but you are much better off than blindly choosing an attorney.  We interviewed 3 different adoption attorneys and asked for itemized fee schedules so we could compare.  It turned out that we chose the cheapest one who also sounded the most knowledgeable. We could not be happier with that choice!  Little did we know at the time that choosing that attorney would be the saving grace in our adoption. 

You might be wondering…

What is the agency responsible for and what is the attorney supposed to take care of?  This can vary greatly and largely depends on who is taking temporary custody of the baby until finalization of the adoption. Your family will have temporary physical custody, but until the adoption is finalized once rights of the birth family are terminated either the agency or the attorney’s office take legal custody of the baby.  You will be able to use the temporary physical custody paperwork you receive from the court to take the baby for medical appointments and show that you are legally allowed to have the child in your care. It would be helpful for you to ask your agency what they will be handling and what the attorney will do.  This may depend on where the birth mom of the baby lives.

How do I know if I need to find my own attorney or if my agency has an attorney or attorney network?

You can certainly ask this question when you are interviewing agencies. In our first adoption, we had the choice to pay a higher price for a legal package or to find our own attorney. We saved about $3,500 by finding our own attorney so we chose to find our own.  We didn’t know exactly how much we would save at the time, but knew from the advisement of an attorney we knew that we could likely get the services for less. This time around we have those services provided through our agency’s network of attorneys. We are happy not to have to interview and find our own attorney and are glad for having less work to do.  Ironically, we know more what we are doing this time around, but we also have less time because we are already parenting. We trust the expertise of the agency we chose and that is one reason we chose them: we needed one stop shopping. No headaches, they do the work for us.


Some more questions to ask the agency or attorneys you are interviewing:

1) How many placement have you made in the last three years?

2)Who will I be working with during our adoption process?

3)who are your top competitors?

4)What is your disruption rate?

5)How do you advertise? Or what forms of advertising do you use?

6)How many waiting families do you currently have? Do you have a limit?

7) How long has your longest waiting family been waiting and why do you think that is?

Sorting Out The Adoption Process: Part 1 Choosing An Agency

Let me start by saying, I don’t have all the answers; we didn’t do everything right no matter how hard we tried. When it really comes down to it focus on one thing: I believe that the right child comes into the right family at the right time.  So, know that you can try your best to get on the right path, but ultimately if you believe the previous statement as I do, then know that eventually the right child will find his or her way to you no matter what. It is just a matter of time. I know this is a hard statement to believe.  I need to remember this on a regular basis even though I know it to be true.  I have seen this happen at work too many times not to believe it in my heart of hearts to be so. I could tell you crazy stories of how children have come into families.  (I cannot share these for the sake of confidentiality.) And surely I think you know by now that I feel that very way about my little boy.  There is no doubt in my mind he was meant to be ours. 

When we started the adoption process my husband and I decided that we would have an Adoption Palooza and spent a full weekend sorting out all of the adoption information that we had received in the mail, looking at more programs on-line, and writing a pros and cons list with the goal of choosing an adoption agency by the end of the weekend. We are both the kind of people that weigh out all the options,  often times too much,  before making a decision.  What ended up happening is that we were able to narrow it down to a few agencies and then had a list of questions to ask each one at the end of the weekend.  It was overwhelming and seemed near impossible to choose.  In the end, what attracted us to the agency we choose the first time were 1) they called you back and you could speak to a live person when you called, 2) they had a credit policy that meant if a birth mom changed her mind the fees would be applied to your next adoption with the exception a few things 3) their wait times were proven shorter than most agencies we were looking into because they worked with birth moms all over the country and advertised a lot and 4)You didn’t pay any money to the agency until you were matched.

What I will tell you is that we didn’t pick the right agency the first time around.   Even with all of the research we did, there was so much we didn’t know to look into.  What is worse is that I work in international adoption so I had some notion of how adoption worked and felt that was a plus.  What our first agency did right is that they matched us quickly with a really good fit. Our family and the birth family had many things in common and we waited just 7.5 weeks on the waiting list to be matched.  We didn’t see that one coming! What went wrong is that after the match, after we paid a large sum of money to the agency, we heard hide nor hair from them throughout most of the adoption. Every time we asked about something they would say, that is not a service we do.  Hmm, they advertised themselves as a full service agency but operated very much more like a facilitator.  The worst part of the whole thing was that while we weren’t hearing from our agency, our birth mom was not getting any support either.  In  my mind that is absolutely unacceptable. 

The year following our adoption the agency we used lost their license.  They did get it back again, but many of the concerns we had were some of the reasons they lost their license.  To be sure you understand any investigations or complaints made about an agency, you can contact the state’s department of licensing (this is often Children and Youth Services) or in some states complaints are monitored by the Consumer Affairs office of the state Attorney General. If you are doing an international Hague adoption then you can also check with the Department of State and the Council on Accreditation for Hague Accredited Agencies.  I did call the Attorney General of our first agency’s state, and then I was able to ask questions of the agency based on the concerns they mentioned.  Our first agency was very good at talking about changes they had made, and seemed to be open and honest with their answers.  Should we have been more concerned? Maybe or maybe not – I have to keep in mind that in working for an adoption agency I understand that sometimes I bend over backwards for people and they still aren’t happy. So, for these reasons I think that you have to take people’s on-line reviews or complaints with a grain of salt. 

I am very fortunate to have worked in social services throughout my career. In many instances, I have worked with young moms in underprivileged situations.  I have also worked with kids as long as I can remember.  So, I ended up being my birth mom’s social worker much of the time as well. While I had most of the basic skills to do this, this was also not a role I should have been in as an adoptive mother.  I grew to fall in love with this funny, outspoken, friendly young lady but yet there were times when I had to be the one to tell her “no” we couldn’t do something because it was against the rules and things like that. It became awkward because the more I got to know her the more I deep down wanted to do anything for her.  My head and my heart had to argue with one another and eventually decide what was the right thing to do in the situation.  What we learned and want to share is this – make sure you find an agency that supports your birth mom. This is one of the most important aspects of adoption.  She is in a tough spot in life. She may not have anyone else who agrees with the choice she has made or who can help her weigh out her options.  She may feel lonely, depressed, uncertain, and even if she doesn’t it is not your place to be the social worker.  A really good agency will have a social worker for the adoptive family and another separate social worker who is working with the birth family, but this is not necessarily a must as long as someone is supporting both parties.  This way everyone’s best interest can be considered.  Additionally, I want to stress that the birth mom has the right to decide to parent her child.  (I’ll probably write another post on birth families.) That is her right and any agency, person or entity that tells you we are “pro-adoptive parents” is a red flag to me.  We had an attorney’s office tell us this.  I don’t want anyone to give up a child for adoption unless they choose that path as the best plan for them.  If a birth mom wants to keep her baby then let her keep her baby.   I have known a couple of instances where a birth mom did not want to keep her baby but a series of events led her to do so.  In both those instances that I know of, I believe those children were meant to be in their birth families.  Action step : Ask how often an agency is in contact with the birth moms? Are they available 24/7 to birth moms? Do they have a birth mom and adoptive family whom you could chat with to see how she/they was/were  treated? How long does the agency work with a birth mom before attempting to match her with a family?  Do they have a separate social worker for the birth family and the adoptive family?  What are some of the ways they support their birth families?  Try and get a feel for how they would treat a birth mom who was questioning whether or not to place their child for adoption. 

 In the interest of trying not to overwhelm you (sorry if I already did), I’ll stop here for now.  There is just so much that goes into choosing a program and an agency that I want to break it down as much as possible.  I am happy to write on any topic that may be of interest to you concerning the adoption process, so feel  free to contact me if you have specific questions.

From Infertility to Adoption, How My Heart Made the Journey

It’s the beginning of a new year, and I myself can’t help hoping that this will be the year our second baby joins our family.  We have been waiting for about 7 months now on the waiting list to be matched with a birth family.  I have to admit that I am starting to get slightly antsy.  I don’t so much mind the waiting, as I just wish to know if and when it will happen.  But, isn’t that how it always is? We want to know what the future holds.  Instead, I should be focusing on the fact that God knows what the future holds and perhaps if I did know I would make a mess of it. So, I will do my best to sit tight, and pray for patience as I wait for God to work out the details.  In thinking back to how I know this to be true, I think of my son and how he came into our lives after many years of longing to become a Mama.  If he was born at any other time, he would not be our son.  That thought breaks me.

At first I wanted so much to be pregnant, to experience our baby growing inside me.  But after 5 pregnancies that ended in heartache 3 miscarriages and 2 ectopics) , I mourned, I got over the it’s-not-fair mentality, I dug deep and started over. It wasn’t that easy, but that is the gist of it.  I pleaded with God to please take our desire to be parents away if that was not what he had in mind. I was tired of hurting, tired of making our every moment of life revolve around infertility treatments: the shots, the hormones, the 6 years of prenatal vitamins for no stinkin’ reason, not taking vacations because we had to be at the doctors and spending every spare penny on more treatment. Every conversation somehow lead to planning around the every two to three day visit to the fertility clinic for monitoring.   It is no fun to live like this for those of you that know.  I was just plain tired! 

Well, my prayers were heard in a weird way. I remember sitting in my OB’s office crying hysterically after coming from the ultrasound that showed our baby had died once again just 2 days shy of the second trimester.  We had been assured that this was it, a sure thing, finally the pregnancy that was going to work out. But, once again that was not true.  I told the OB that I never wished to be pregnant again.  She told me not to make any rash decisions, but we knew right then and there that was the honest, permanent, truth. We were just plain done. God hadn’t taken our desire to be parents away like I’d asked, but he helped us let go of wanting to give birth to our baby and oddly ironically made us feel like that was the last thing we wanted. That is how we fully embraced adoption, not as something we might do someday after having biological children, but as THE way that we would build our family.  It finally felt so right in every way. 

This adoption embracing was a strange realization, as while we were pregnant I will admit to you, and certainly will have to explain this to our children some day, that I remember saying just the opposite.  We were coming home from an adoption information meeting, and I was crying in the car. I was pregnant and hormonal and I have no problem honestly admitting that I actually said to my husband, “I don’t want to have to adopt!”  I feel like God was sitting up there laughing at the absurdity of my comment knowing that he would change my heart and make me want to adopt more than anything. I have to say that if I found out today that I was pregnant it would really throw me for a loop.  I want nothing to do with the constant crippling realistic fear of something going wrong.  I have to say that I have found such peace in knowing that medically speaking there is no reason for our infertility that cannot be overcome with modern technological medicines and techniques. I have seen 50 year old women get pregnant with their own eggs!  I have seen cancer survivors and all kinds of woman give birth to healthy babies when their fertility doctors told them that their chances were slim.  I am not angry or bitter about their success. It just further confirms for me that sometimes there is another plan for you than the plan you have for yourself.  In my case to bring my children into my family through adoption is that perfect plan for us.  I look at my son and I know that it was no mistake that his birth family became pregnant with him. Nor was it a mistake that she choose adoption and picked our family. In my mind, God created this precious boy with big blue-eyes, with his sense of humor and love for popcorn to be in our family.  I don’t know what your journey is. I don’t know where you are or where you should go, I don’t know the end of your story.  But might I suggest that perhaps it has a different ending that you originally sought out and that the new ending just might be the best thing that ever happened to you….EVER!