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.

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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 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?

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!