Adoption Adventures

Follow Cory and Rebecca on their quest to adopt!

The Big Update Part II

And now for the thrilling Part II of our adoption tale!

When we left off, Katherine’s birth mom-to-be was in labor, and the plan was for Cory, me, and the adoption coordinator to visit her in the hospital once the baby was born. I got a call while we were having lunch from the adoption coordinator. She said that Katherine’s birth mom was requesting that I be in the delivery room with her and her mother. This was definitely a change of plans since for the weeks we had been communicating, she stated that she really just wanted her mom with her. And who could blame her? But she said that she thought it was important that I be with Katherine from the very beginning, so of course I accepted the invitation. I told the adoption coordinator that I would be honored to be there, and that I would also be completely open to leaving if Katherine’s birth mom wanted to kick me out at any point. Although we were part of the adoption plan she created, first and foremost this was a young woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and facing a situation that was both emotionally and physically difficult. Anything she wanted me to do was fine with me.

A scenic view from our trip (rather than photos of needles)

A scenic view from our trip (rather than photos of needles)

Now, those who know me understand that I don’t do so well with needles, blood, thinking about the fact that there are skeletons within all of us, etc. When completing our adoption home study and updates, I drove all around the county and ended up getting our mandatory HIV tests at methadone clinics because they were the only places that offered the cheek swab test rather than one that requires a blood draw. (That was actually pretty great because I got to spend half an hour each time talking with nurses so passionate about their jobs helping folks through addiction.) And now I had just a few hours to prepare for being in a real, live delivery room. The up-side about this particular type of medical situation is that I’ve worked for several reproductive health and rights organizations, so I was much better prepared for witnessing childbirth than, say, open heart surgery. I texted a former labor and delivery nurse friend for tips on not vomiting or passing out and was told “don’t lock your knees.”

We headed to the hospital around 4pm and got to spend time with Katherine’s birth mom-to-be, her mother, and her grandmother. Cory stayed with us until the contractions got strong and nurses began checking on Katherine’s birth mom more frequently. I won’t go into all the details, but will say that Katherine’s birth mom was AMAZING as she went through the tough process of giving birth to a surprisingly large baby. I got to be part of her support team and was right in the middle of things–not just standing on the sidelines. It wasn’t until she was pushing that we all found out she had only seen people give birth on TV, where an actress pushes once or twice and then her doctor holds up a magically clean and alert baby. Things got even more dramatic once the doctor could see that Katherine was larger than expected and NICU nurses were called in just in case the baby sustained any injuries (like a dislocated shoulder) while making her way into the world. Katherine’s birth mom powered through the pain and Katherine was born–shoulders intact–just before 10:00 that night. I managed not to lock my knees (thanks, Sarah!) and the only time I thought I might pass out was when the doctor asked who was cutting the cord and I heard Katherine’s birth mom say, “Rebecca is!” And then the doctor handed me blood-covered scissors, and then this vegetarian was cutting through an umbilical cord. (It seems odd that that particular medical procedure is an “honor” given to the untrained.)

Things moved pretty quickly after that point. Nurses whisked Katherine away to check her vital signs. They called me over to the baby warmer and handed Katherine to me. Aside from the medical staff, I was the first person to hold her. The adoption coordinator called Cory in soon after Katherine was born and he got to hold her, as well. Although I’d like to say it was the most beautiful, tear-filled moment of my life, the truth is there was so much going on that it was hard to get too emotional at that point. Our concern for Katherine’s birth mother was equal to our love for this new baby. How could we shift our focus so quickly to Katherine when the doctor and nurses were still working on her birth mom across the room? It was surreal to her, as well. Soon after the doctor left, Katherine’s birth mom was already saying, “Did all of that really happen???” Additionally, at this point Cory and I were legally nothing more than family friends to Katherine. The earliest her birth mom could sign relinquishment paperwork was 48 hours after her birth, or once she got a discharge order from her doctor. All births are emotional, but these circumstances added a few more layers. Cory and I stayed with Katherine and her birth mom for another hour or so, then stumbled out to the parking garage and headed back to our rental home.

Day 2 of air breathing

Day 2 of air breathing

We headed back to the hospital the next day. After a few hours’ sleep, we were all in a better position to enjoy spending time together and learn more about this new baby! The highlight of that day was when Cory and I got to spend time with just Katherine and her birth mom. Katherine’s birth grandmother had to work that evening, so it was just the four of us. While Katherine slept, the “grownups” talked about favorite books, movies, holidays, and just generally got to know one another better. Katherine’s birth mom told us more about how she came to make an adoption plan. She approached it with such maturity and selflessness. She looked into all of her options and found that adoption was the best choice for her and for her baby-to-be. Seriously, people with ten and twenty years more life experience than this young woman don’t possess the same amount of self-awareness and goal-setting abilities for themselves as she does. Katherine is so lucky to have the birth mom and adoption story that she does, and we’re so looking forward to telling her about the conversations we all had that evening.

The following day, Katherine’s birth mom signed all the necessary paperwork to move her from a “mom” to a “birth mom” and Katherine came into the care of the adoption agency. Later that day, Cory and I went to the adoption agency office and signed our own paperwork to have her placed with us. In the coming months the Florida courts will formally terminate the rights of Katherine’s birth parents, and then finalize our adoption. Until then, we operate pretty much as any other parents do. We had to stay an extra couple of weeks in Florida while FL and NC okayed Katherine’s placement with us, then were free to come home near the end of July.

We’re so grateful for open adoption because it alleviates much of the fear that parents in closed adoptions may feel during this legal waiting period. We’re in ongoing contact with Katherine’s birth mom and can continually assure her–through photos and answering questions about the baby–that she made a great choice. We also get to hear how she is doing (currently excited that she can once again fit into her “skinny jeans” and looking forward to starting back at a new school!). We’re so honored that she chose us for Katherine, and thrilled that our relationship with her gets to continue into the future.

First family selfie

First family selfie

So that’s the short version, folks! We’re back home, our family and friends have been so excited to welcome Katherine with open arms, and even the cats seem happy to have her. (Until she gets to the tail-pulling phase, at least.)

 

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The Big Update Part I (Because no one wants to read this much at once)

After years of talking with social workers and agency folks, taking all the steps to complete and then annually update our home study, marketing ourselves online (or at least attempting to), and just generally waiting around hoping for a call that would lead us to our child, everything about our adoption happened very quickly and not in the way we anticipated.

Spoiler alert!

Spoiler alert! Cory and baby Katherine

In February, we had been “on the books” with our adoption agency for a year. (We had been hoping to adopt for several years prior, first through foster care, then through private adoption.) As we moved through month after month with no contacts from potential birth parents, we looked for other ways to increase our chances of being noticed by people making adoption plans. We asked friends to share our adoption Facebook page and family profile, we made sure coworkers knew we were hoping to expand our family through adoption (in case they met someone hoping to place a child), Cory mentioned our adoption journey in music label interviews, I talked about our desire to adopt with the county social workers I met through volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem for kids in foster care, and we updated our family profile with new photos and a more eye-catching design. Still no bites. We asked our agency for suggestions and most of their ideas that we weren’t already implementing involved what felt like the same type of online exposure we were already getting–but with a higher price tag. Then I remembered a women whom I had gotten to know years earlier, while working together on local adolescent pregnancy prevention efforts. She started her own adoption referral service several years ago. After making sure it was ok with our adoption agency, we signed on with her service in early February of this year.

A referral service serves as something of a middleman between agencies and waiting families. The woman at the referral service is in contact with around 12 adoption agencies across the country. When one of those agencies has a potential birth mom who wants a different type of family than the agency has “in house,” the agency contacts the referral service, which then puts a brief description of the birth mom and situation (including agency fees) out in an email to the waiting families on her list. Families can then opt to have their profile shown to the potential birth mom/family. Once she chooses a family, everyone can agree to be matched together and the waiting family connects with the agency that the birth mom has chosen.

We got several emails while on the referral list, but none of them really spoke to us until one that came in May. There was a young woman in Florida seeking a family for her baby to be born in late June. She was a petite cheerleader, which stuck out to me because that’s how my own birth mother was described. This  young woman’s own mom had also become pregnant as a teen and made an adoption plan for her baby, so her family understood adoption and at least had to have a positive enough view of it for her to also make an adoption plan. Her profile described her as quiet and a book lover. She loved her siblings and didn’t like math class. She wished her mom didn’t have to work so much so that they could spend more time together. She had plans for her future that included starting high school–not taking care of a child so soon. There were still lots of unknowns about the baby-to-be, but we felt connected to the potential birth mom just through reading her profile. I had a really good feeling about it.

This was in a fortune cookie we got the weekend that Katherine's birth mom was making her final decision on adoptive parents

This was in a fortune cookie we got the weekend that Katherine’s birth mom was making her final decision on adoptive parents

We asked the woman at the referral service to submit our family profile for the potential birth mom to consider, then waited. We found out just over a week later that she had narrowed her choice of families down from six to three, and we were  one of those three families. A week later, we learned that she had narrowed her choices down to two families, and we were not in the top two. We were disappointed, but honestly elated to have even been in someone’s top three choices. That’s the closest we had ever gotten to being chosen and it felt great to know that someone liked us enough to consider us! Two days later, we got another email saying that there had been some miscommunication about us being ruled out and the potential birth mom hoped we were still interested. She had several more questions for us to answer. That was on a Friday, and we got the word the following Monday that she had chosen us!

We drove down to Florida the second weekend of June to meet the potential birth mom, her mother, and the adoption coordinator with the agency she chose. We were all nervous! Despite the butterflies, it was evident that this young woman had been exceptionally thoughtful in making her child’s adoption plan and choosing the family she thought would be best. It was also clear that she made this decision, herself, and was getting strong and positive support from her mother and her adoption agency. That was a huge relief! As we drove home, Cory and I tried to figure out what all we needed to do to prepare for a baby in just a few weeks’ time. We wanted to tell everyone what was going on, but told only the bare minimum of family, coworkers, and other “need-to-know” folks. If this fell through, we didn’t want to have to explain it to everyone and their brother for months to come.

IMG_8427

After trying out several colors, we went with Benjamin Moore’s Williamsburg Wythe Blue for the nursery

Once home, we brought all the boxed-up furniture, baby clothes, and other goods up from the basement and started putting the nursery together. A neighbor painted the nursery for us and we started a list of all the many “little things” we would need day-to-day to take care of a baby. Luckily, the adoption wait had given us time to poll parent friends about their favorite baby items and to check Consumer Reports for the safest ones. I installed the car seat base in my car, but kept it covered with a towel to avoid any questions people may have had about it. Although we were excited, we tried to stay cautiously optimistic about the adoption. We have friends who had gotten to the point of the hospital before learning that “their” potential birth mom had decided to parent. We wanted to stay realistic and allow the idea that this young woman may change her mind. She had the right to make whatever choice she felt was best up until signing relinquishment paperwork and we didn’t want to put any pressure on her.

James Turrell's Joseph's Coat at the Ringling Museum of Art

James Turrell’s Joseph’s Coat at the Ringling Museum of Art

We kept in touch through her adoption agency over the next several weeks. There were three different estimates for her due date, over a range of three weeks. Each date passed with seemingly no movement on the baby’s part, and an induction date was set for mid-July. Rather than wait for that date, Cory and I opted to drive down to Florida a few days beforehand. There’s so much that adoptive parents-to-be have no control over whatsoever, so it was nice to be able to make that choice for ourselves. We rented a cottage and visited local museums and an aquarium while we waited. There was a James Turrell skyscape at one of the museums, which was probably the highlight of our sightseeing.

It was such a peaceful place to sit and think that we went back to the Turrell part of the museum the Monday morning that Katherine’s birth mom was scheduled to be induced. It was while sitting there that we got the call from the adoption coordinator that Katherine’s birth mom had gone into labor naturally a couple of hours prior to her scheduled induction. We let her know that we were already in Sarasota and she called back several times throughout the day to give us updates. All the discussions we had about the birth up until that point involved Katherine’s birth mom and her mother going to the hospital for her delivery, and Cory and I visiting with the adoption coordinator later that day or the next. But a few hours later, we learned that the plan had changed.

 

 

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Not our parents’ adoptions

I was talking with Mary, a fellow adoptee friend of mine, this afternoon when she asked how our adoption progress is going. I said what I always do, “we’re waiting.”

"Baby here. I'm ready for pickup!"

“Baby here. I’m ready for pickup!”

Our parents waited as well, but they were on a true waiting list. Back in the olden days (ha ha), infant adoption was something of a first-come, first-served situation for adoptive parents. Potential adoptive parents would go through background checks, have a home study done, and register with their adoption agency, who would put them on a list. A birth mother would place her newborn with an adoption agency, then the baby would often live with a foster family or at an orphanage-type home until after any waiting period was over. Adoptive parents were then called to pick up their child.  Mary’s parents got the call while they were visiting relatives out of state, when she was three months old. My parents’ agency called them to come pick me up when I was two months old.

These days, potential birth parents are more likely to want to be (and are allowed to be)

Are we number 3, or 300? Who knows!

Are we number 3, or 300? Who knows!

part of the process of choosing adoptive parents for their child. Through open adoption agencies like ours, potential birth mothers are presented with a stack of family profiles based on their preferences (such as geographic location, race, whether or not there are other children in the family, etc.). Often, the potential birth mother already has a family in mind–whether they be friends-of-friends, coworkers, or folks they’ve found through social media or an adoption agency website. From there, she can choose to contact families of interest to her and plan a meeting. If she narrows her choice down to a family and everyone involved thinks it’s a good idea, they can elect to be “matched” together. All of this is usually done while she is still pregnant, so a match can last a few weeks or several months, depending on how far along she is in the pregnancy. She may or may not want the potential adoptive parent(s) to be there when she gives birth, and her adoption plan may include spending lots of time with her new baby, none at all, or something in between. Legally, the potential adoptive parents have no connection to the baby until the birth parents sign paperwork voluntarily terminating their parental rights. This means it’s  possible for a potential adoptive family to be matched with a potential birth mother for months, witness the birth, and even take the baby home, and a member of the birth family change their minds and bring the baby back–as long as that happens either before the birth parents have signed the paperwork, or after signing if they’re still within a state-determined window of time when they can change their minds (often 30 or fewer days after the birth). More frequently, if the match has lasted through the birth of the child, the rest goes according to the birth mother’s adoption plan the baby’s legal custody goes to the adoption agency. The baby goes home from the hospital with their adoptive parents-to-be, and the adoption is finalized within several months.

Also in contrast to my adoption and Mary’s, now open adoption with continued communication between the adoptive family and birth family is common. That can mean that the adoptive family sends updates like school photos and letters to the birth family, or everyone gets together several times a year. Lots of families use social media and texting to keep in contact now. There are also birth families who don’t want as close a connection, or they do only up until a certain point in the child’s life. With open adoption, the birth parents get to set those parameters in their adoption plan (although such agreements aren’t legally binding in all states, so being able to trust that the adoptive family will follow through with the plan is very important).

Modern-day infant adoption is complicated, but studies show that it works best for everyone involved. The risk is definitely scary for potential adoptive parents. I’m still hoping we’ll get a last-minute call from a woman who put the finishing touches on her child’s adoption plan after giving birth, so our relationship with her and the baby can grow from there. But we’ll ride this out whichever way it happens, knowing the “front of the line” doesn’t exist until we get there.

 

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It’s never too early!

Cory and I have learned so much about adoption over the past few years, but perhaps the biggest lesson that we’d share with

You may not be able to see the future, but you can learn enough now to be prepared for it.

others is this: Start Early.  Even if you’re absolutely sure you aren’t ready to be a parent for several years, there’s plenty that you can be learning and planning for in the meantime.

Choosing an adoption agency can take a while, depending on your family and your values. Some agencies won’t work with single people, same-sex couples, non-Christian folks, or people who aren’t infertile. (Don’t get me started.) Agencies vary in the services that they offer, and the cost of those services. It’s possible that the best agency for you isn’t in your city or even your state. Check out your options sooner rather than later.

Most adoption agencies have open houses or programs that you can attend to learn more about the adoption process. Attend a few! This is a great way to learn not just about the nuts and bolts of adoption in your state, but also about individual agencies. I guarantee you: no one is going to make you take a kid home with you from one of these sessions.

Adopting from foster care typically requires you to take special classes through an adoption agency or county. Many states and agencies require families adopting from foster care to also be licensed foster families, which means everything from taking CPR and other extra classes to ensuring that your home can meet certain requirements.

International adoption is its own can of worms. Just as every state has its own set of rules for adopting families, each country may have its own regulations. Some countries have a more streamlined process for international adoption than others, and some don’t do international adoptions at all. Anything you research now may have changed by the time you’re ready to adopt, but it’s good to look into the various rules and regulations so you’ll at least have an understanding of the process and common requirements for those seeking to adopt.

You may have support for adoption that you didn’t even realize! Larger companies may offer adoption benefits to employees. For example, Wells Fargo provides up to $5,000 in reimbursements for adoption-related expenses, The Home Depot offers counseling and reimbursements, and Jockey offers employees $10,000 in reimbursements per child per year. If you’re job-hunting, you may want to give companies that support employees who adopt a second look. If your workplace doesn’t currently offer adoption benefits, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has resources to help you make your company more adoption-friendly.

You may have noticed that those workplace benefits are reimbursements. There’s also a generous adoption tax credit offered by the IRS. However, families often still have to pay money upfront for adoption costs, which is something else to plan for.

Some other things to consider if you would like to adopt someday:

  • Are you moving into a new house in the next few years? Check out foster care licensing requirements for your state and have them in mind when you’re house-hunting.
  • Buying new furniture for your guest room? Consider “flexible” options, like two twin beds that you can group together as a king size bed for now, and separate later.
  • Does your family hunt and own firearms? Ask for a gun safe for an upcoming birthday or holiday. (Actually, that’s a good idea if you plan to ever have any kids in your home. It’s a requirement if you want to adopt or even mentor through many agencies.)
  • Are you in college? Think of using an elective to take a course on child development, counseling, or social work.
  • Do you know anyone in your area who has fostered or adopted? Ask them about their experiences, and what advice they have to offer.
  • Do you like the idea of adopting from foster care, but have heard spotty things about “foster children”? Volunteer through an agency or as a GAL/CASA. You’ll get to help children in foster care directly and get a better feel for what they endure.

…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All of this may sound daunting, but that’s more of a reason to plan ahead so you can tackle it a little at a time. Just remember that the more legwork and research you do now, the more time you’ll have to focus on actually becoming a parent when you’re ready.
Our Adoption Agency

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We’re live! But what does that mean?

Our adoption website with our agency is finally up and viewable!

It’s been a long road to get here, and we’ve still got miles to go. Since we’ve gotten lots of questions about where we are in the adoption process, here’s a handy timeline to give folks an idea of where we’ve been and what’s likely to be ahead of us.* (Click the timeline to enlarge it.)

AdoptionTimelineMarch2014

In short, we’re at the point now where potential birth parents (and anyone else) can read about us on our website. They can send us messages through the site, call us on our 800 number, or specifically talk about us when communicating with the adoption agency.

Coinciding with the website launch is our agency’s ability to send information about us out to potential birth families. If a potential birthmother calls the agency and says she’s seeking placement for her future child with a certain type of family, our agency can send her a print copy of our brochure (aka our Dear Birthmother Letter) if we fit the bill. For example, if she’s looking for a same-sex couple living in Oregon who is fluent in French, the agency would not send her our brochure. But if she’s seeking a heterosexual couple in the South, our brochure would go with those of other couples into a packet mailed out to her.

The average wait time for families like ours with our agency is around 15 months. However, it’s up to the potential birth parent to choose a family**, so we could get a call tomorrow, or we may not hear from anyone for years.

For now, we’re closer than we’ve ever been–even if we have no idea what that means!

*If you’re interested in pursuing domestic infant adoption, yourself, don’t be concerned about our multi-year timeline. You could jump right in at our March 2013 point and be just fine.

**Potential birthmothers and potential adoptive families have to both agree in order for the adoption to occur. So while she will be the one choosing the family for her child, the family can decline if they don’t believe it’s a good fit. Relationships count for a lot in open adoption, so it’s important for everyone to be on the same page.

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Bring it on, Potential Birthmoms!

nancy-drew-mystery-at-the-lilac-inn

It’s a mystery!

As we’re inching ever-closer to going “live” on our adoption agency’s website (after updating our home study, background checks, and taking some other steps that sound small but actually take a while), I’ve begun thinking more about this whole adoption thing actually becoming a reality. As with most parents-to-be, my emotions range from excited to somewhat freaked out. The complete uncertainty in adoption timing definitely feeds the latter feeling. Although the average wait time for couples like us is around 15 months, technically a woman could pull up our website on her phone while she’s in labor and we could have a baby faster than we could put together a crib! And what if she’s having triplets?!? Or we could go for years without anyone expressing interest in us at all. Who knows? One thing I am definitely getting excited about is the opportunity to talk with potential birthmothers.

A couple of years ago, I was really worried about having conversations with potential birthmothers. Cory and I were still trying to adopt through foster care and in a moment of frustration with the process, I called up a friend who works at the agency we’re with now to talk through private adoption options. I confessed that I thought I’d be horrible at “marketing” us to potential birthmothers because I’m such a prochoice resource referral nerd.

Options are awesome!

Options are awesome!

What if every woman I talked with ended up going with another option because rather than sticking with talking points about what great parents Cory and I would be, I would be helping the woman brainstorm local resources that could help her parent if that’s her preference? Or referring her to a clinic if it turns out that what she truly wants is not to be pregnant at all? After I dumped all of that on my friend, she said something to the effect of, “Actually, that’s exactly what would make you really good at this. You’re not just trying to get a baby–you care about women and want them to be confident that they’ve made the best possible decisions.” She assured me that the agency does options counseling with everyone who contacts them, as well.

I now see talking with potential birthmothers as getting the chance to do some of my favorite things. I love helping people make solid decisions and life plans that make them feel good about themselves. I love helping people realize that they have options and opportunities. And I’m especially sensitive to the pressures and expectations that our society puts on women who are dealing with unplanned pregnancies. It will be fun to share the hopes we have for our future children and maybe we’ll even find enough common ground that it will lead to a solid adoption down the road!

Those calls are still a little while off, though. We’ll put up a post when we’re on the agency’s site and open for business. At that point, we can truly say:

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Spooked by “Open Adoption”?

People can get pretty freaked out about the concept of open adoption. Ask around and you may be surprised at what you hear. Some are concerned that a child can’t understand who their “real” parents are if they have any contact with their birth parents. Others believe that birth parents are just waiting in the wings to swoop in and take a child back. And then there are those who still believe that all adopted kids are destined to become troubled adults. I’m not going to spend time here debunking these common myths, because others already have. Additionally, as an adoptee, I know these concerns are unfounded. Although I was born at a time when closed adoption was common, I know from having been raised aware that I’m adopted ensured that I was never confused about who my family is. It’s not a stretch to understand that adoptees who have contact with their birth families aren’t confused about who Mom and Dad are.

OpenSignMy own concerns about open adoption have dealt more with the possible problems of knowing a would-be birth mother or birth parents before a baby is born and before their final decisions are made. As I’ve said previously, it seems like things could get mighty problematic when a couple with the resources to adopt an infant and whom an official agency has deemed to be “fit parents” is brought into a situation where an often young woman with less access to resources is trying to make a life-altering decision about an unplanned pregnancy. Years of advocating for women’s reproductive rights have taught me: a woman’s personal choices about her pregnancy are up to her and her medical provider. As soon as you start factoring other people into that equation, you could be asking for trouble in the form of coercion. I was worried that open adoption could go against my personal beliefs, as well as put Cory and I in a difficult position if the birth mother should change her mind after giving birth. I remember hearing a colleague years ago talk about an adoption that didn’t work out for her and her husband, and she spoke so negatively about the mother for changing her mind. I understood the woman’s pain (that situation would be amazingly difficult for anyone to go through), but her anger at a woman for making the completely valid choice to parent the child she birthed… It was stomach-turning. Just as I was afraid of coercing a woman into an adoption she didn’t 100% want, I was afraid of becoming that woman.

All of this is why it pays to choose a good adoption agency that shares your values! Through working with ours, I’ve found that they do comprehensive options counseling with every potential birth mother who calls them. Birth mothers and families typically aren’t matched until her sixth month of pregnancy–beyond a time when she would be considering abortion. The birth mother chooses the adoptive family for her child and the adoption plan is a joint effort between the two parties. If a birth mother (or adoptive parent) feels like the relationship isn’t working out, she can “unmatch” from them at any time.

Learning more about the process has shown me that it actually dovetails perfectly with my belief system. If a birth mother chooses us, we’ll be helping her fulfill her own plan for her pregnancy and her child’s adoption. What’s scary about that?

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GAL-ling Around

Who doesn’t love a terrible pun? Many people, it turns out. That’s why I’m having to restrain myself from making GAL puns these days.GALBlog

GAL stands for Guardian ad Litem, which is what our state calls volunteers who are trained and appointed by judges to be advocates for children who were abused or neglected, and are now in foster care. In some states, Guardians ad Litem are called CASAs, or Court Appointed Special Advocates. You can read all about what GAL and CASA volunteers do on the national CASA website.

As the regular readers of this blog know, our attempts at foster care adoption opened our eyes to the many challenges that children in care face and the need for more advocates of all types both inside and outside of the foster care system.  A representative from the GAL office came in to talk with our MAPP class last year and I remember thinking to myself, “These GAL folks are totally the badasses of foster care.” In a system where so much emphasis is put on the rights of biological family and there’s such a large amount of red tape to get through to make change happen, the GAL is able to advocate solely for the child in care. And, as a volunteer, a GAL isn’t beholden to the same people as a social worker or foster parent. The goal of every GAL is permanence for “their” child, whether that be reunification with the child’s birth family or adoption outside of the child’s biological family. Studies have shown that children with GAL/CASA advocates are substantially less likely to be in long-term foster care, they have a higher chance at adoption, and they get more support services while in foster care.

Seeing as a large part of our interest in adopting a child from foster care was to give a child a safe, loving, and permanent home, becoming a GAL was right up my alley! So I signed up, was interviewed, completed the training offered through our local GAL office (it’s a challenging course, but doable), and was sworn in last week, and got my first cases yesterday. If the stats on the CASA website ring true for me, I’ll be able to help get far more children in permanent homes as a GAL than if we had simply adopted. As with so many things, it’s all about figuring out where you can do the most good, then getting in and doing it!

Quick update: I got the opportunity to talk with a local reporter about being a Guardian ad Litem in hopes of bringing more volunteers to the program.

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Orienting Ourselves

We attended an orientation with our new adoption agency several weeks ago, and our experience there versus those through the foster care program couldn’t have been more different. Even though domestic infant adoption and foster care adoption are similar legally, they’re certainly not in other ways. First off, the other orientation attendees were closer to our age than those in our foster care class. They typically didn’t have children already and seemed much newer to the idea than folks we’ve met in the past. I think the most striking difference was in how our potential for adopting was presented. Throughout our foster adoption journey, it seemed like when adoption (rather than just temporary foster care) was spoken about at all, it was phrased as something that may happen despite all of the enormous challenges of the foster care system. During the recent orientation, the agency representative presented adoption as something that will happen–although it may take a while.

One of the more unsettling "online dating" photos I could find online

One of the more unsettling “online dating” photos I could find online

The reasons for the differences are pretty clear. One is a private agency in the business of marketing would-be parents to would-be birthmothers and providing services to make sure those connections go smoothly. The other is a government agency with the overarching goal of reuniting children with their birth families, and–in the rare circumstances that reunification isn’t possible–they try to find suitable adoptive homes for kids. The foster care system has so many regulations and so little staff and funding that it can’t afford to be nimble or make the kinds of changes that smaller, private agencies can in order to succeed. I talked with someone working within the system recently who wondered why the type of technology used in online dating can’t also be used to match up kids in foster care who are available for adoption with suitable families. Maybe there’s potential for a renegade, family-creating match.com?

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Here We Go Again

For the third time in as many years, we’re filling out our paperwork for an adoption agency. This time it’s different, though. After trying to adopt from foster care for almost two years, we’re switching gears and signing on with an agency that specializes in infant adoption. After talking with countless social workers, reading hundreds of profiles of children in foster care, and meeting with various people connected to foster care, we’ve come to the realization that we don’t have what it takes right now to successfully parent a child or children who have spent years living with uncertainty in the foster care system. We have gained a monumental amount of respect for foster parents and those who push through the system to successfully adopt, and the social workers who try as hard as they can to make new families a reality. But we want to adopt and, at this point, it seems that infant adoption is a more realistic option for us.

baby-cellophane

This is how adopted babies are delivered, right?

 

Many experiences led to our decision, but the two most important ones happened in the past few months. One of our major hesitations about infant adoption is that these days, the vast majority of them are open adoptions. Birth families choose their child’s adoptive parents, and most often the parties meet prior to the baby’s birth. As a pro-choice person, this concept has been difficult for me since I wouldn’t want to influence a birth mother’s choice in any way. If she should give birth and change her mind about adoption, that is totally valid and she shouldn’t have unhappy would-be adoptive parents to deal with. It just seemed like—regardless of the amount of contact between the birth and adoptive families after the adoption is finalized, which we’re completely supportive of—it would be cleaner somehow if a birth mother was able to make her final decisions without an adoptive family waiting in the wings. And we had been unsure of our abilities to get to know a potential birth family and “sell ourselves” as good parents, while not attempting to sway them in any way.

 

However, in October, we met with family members of two children who were about to be placed for foster care adoption. Although we had no idea if we would be matched with the children, their family seemed very comforted to meet us even just as an example of the kind of parents the kids could end up having. And although we were nervous going into the meeting and didn’t know what to expect, we actually got through it very well. Cory tapped into his skills from his estate planning days, and I instinctively went into my old “women’s services director” mode. We had never talked about it, but both of us have had a good amount of experience helping people in difficult and often sad situations that require them to make tough choices.  That made us realize that we actually do have the ability to be unbiased and helpful when meeting birth parents.

 

Then, between the end of December and mid-January, both of our mothers got serious medical news that required immediate surgeries. We’ve tried to be there for our parents as much as possible through it all and at some point in the middle of it, I realized that there would be no way we could be as available for them if we adopted a child or children with high levels of emotional needs and behavioral challenges like those we have considered in foster care. Not that adopting a baby would give us unlimited free time (feel free to laugh, parents of little ones), but the probability of a young child needing the amount of appointments and types of intensive family therapy that were suggested for the older children we considered seems relatively low. Additionally, a family member or friend could babysit an adopted newborn if we had to make a sudden trip to the hospital, while a child in foster care can only be looked after by someone who has gone through legal screenings through DSS. Simply put, this is not the right time for foster adoption for us.

 

So now we’re moving forward and getting excited about another opportunity for growing our family. It’s not how we first pictured it, and obviously there are no sure things in adoption or any part of life, but we’re feeling good about our next steps.

Oh wait--I was wrong. THIS is how they're delivered. Who could forget the stork?

Oh wait–I was wrong. THIS is how they’re delivered. Who could forget the stork?

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