X is for The eXtraordinary #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter XA couple of days ago, I wrote about all the unexpected things that happen as you navigate through an adoption.  They are countless and continuous.  Among them, though, are truly extraordinary details that regularly confirm that you are on the right path.  We had many of those along the way…too many to remember, but here are some of the biggies:

  • Being asked (entreated) to join the Domestic Adoption program:  There weren’t enough potential adoptive families to present to birth parents.  How is that even possible?  We had already decided to pursue adoption through the foster system, but we had not signed any contracts, and the phone call came.  How do you say no?  You don’t.  We didn’t.  In my heart of hearts, I wanted a baby.  From the beginning, I wanted a baby.  I was, however, cowed by outside concerns…concerns that if we didn’t make limitations on some issues, we would encounter problems along the way.  We set the limits.  In reality, I set the limits, and I was never comfortable with them, so when we started over after our move, I removed them.  And here we are.  I came to the conclusion long ago that God was working on me, bending & molding me, usa domesticforcing me to trust him completely, and when I finally did, he gave me exactly what I wanted.  A baby.
  • pca crossHaving a Christian social worker involved in our case:  She wasn’t ours, but she impacted us tremendously throughout.  She serves God faithfully and without reservation, and it shows all the time.  Her boldness and sincerity encouraged us and inspired us.  Her knack for mothering those who are in need made our birth mom feel safe and loved.  We were (ARE) all better for knowing her.
  • A volunteer doctor at Crisis Pregnancy:  I don’t know if this doctor is a Christian or not, but I do know that he is compassionate, and he believes in life.  When he saw our birth mom at Crisis Pregnancy, he offered to treat her himself at his private practice, and he followed through on that.  He is a good doctor, cautious and thorough, and he provided excellent care.  He treated our birth mom kindly and with respect, as he did all of us.  Org-AZ-Phoenix-Crisis-Pregnancy-CentersHe never withheld information, or acted as though anyone of us was an imposition on his time.  He is the type of doctor every pregnant woman should have, but especially those who are tempted to choose another alternative.  We were blessed to be under his care.
  • hippocrates symbolStellar hospital care for both our birth mom and our baby:  Without a doubt, our birth mom and our baby received top of the line care in the hospital.  The NICU, where our son spent four days while his blood sugar stabilized, was as good as they get.  The nurses were (are) phonomenal.  Further, they treated everyone involved with great respect. With two exceptions (attitude problems), our birth mom experienced the same stellar care.  The nursing staff in the maternity ward could not have provided better care, and they were kind and respectful to all of us.  The nurse manager personally cared for our birth mom one day, and I believe her lovely outlook sets the tone on the ward, and all of us benefited from her positive influence.
  • adoption symbolRooming in with our birth mom:  When you adopt, the maternity ward tries to provide a room (if one is available) to adoptive families, so they can stay in the hospital with their baby.  Such was not the case for us…the maternity ward was full.  Our birth mom, though, asked that I stay with her.  I was reluctant, because I didn’t want to be a constant (sad) reminder of what she was giving up, but she insisted that she wanted me to stay, so I did.  I will never regret doing that.  It enabled me to be there with our son much more than if I had been in a hotel, and it gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with our birth mom before we all (finally) went home.  Things were easy and comfortable, as they had always been.  I made sure to give her space, and I spent a lot of time with our son.  My husband was able to come every day to see us, and I was there when our birth mom discharged, and was able to say goodbye to her.  Those are memories I would not have had I not spent those days with her, and I cherish them.
  • The angel working in our county adoption division:  This paralegal secured an expedited hearing so we could finalize before our home study expired.  She pushed through paperwork at CPS when no one else – our agency included – would not make an effort, and she saved us a continuance (and probably some money as well).  She was kind, and she went the extra mile Jeremiah-29-11to make sure our hearing took place quickly and without problems.   At a time when I have lost faith in virtually anything to do with government, she proved that there are still good people working there, people who genuinely seek to help the public.

There were many other moments like this, but these are the ones I remember the most.  Even if they were the only ones, they would be enough.  God is extraordinary.  He loves in extraordinary measure, and he moves in profound and extraordinary ways to show us.

L is for Love #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter LAdoption is, ultimately, an act of sacrificial love.  Sacrifice on the part of the birth parents, who choose to surrender their children to parents who can provide what they can not.  Sacrifice on the part of adoptive parents who are willing to jump through the hoops and come up with thousands of dollars, to bring children who are very much wanted – and loved – into their homes.  The thing is, from the adoptive parent perspective, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all.  It really just feels like we did what was necessary to expand our family…just as we did with our biological child.  Was it harder?  Maybe…maybe not.

adoption is loveWe have always felt that we were called to adopt.  Not because we didn’t want biological children (we did, and we have one), but because we felt keenly for these children in need of stable homes…homes that are not possible without adoption.  In so many cases, I wanted us to be the right family for them, wanted to scoop them up and bring them home.  My heart has been full to the point of breaking so many times for the needs of these kids.  We have hoped and prayed for them, and that it would be clear to us when we were the family that was needed.

It was clear, in myriad ways, and most surprisingly, in ways we could not have predicted.  I am so grateful for that, and for knowing that God was guiding us toward the birth parents whose needs were needs that we could meet, and who committed themselves, without being believers themselves, to make a sacrifice for the sake of their child that would radically glorify God.

adoption_is_another_word_for_love_ornament_roundI have mentioned more than once that I don’t know how people go through adoption without God.  It takes a fortitude and strength, and I don’t have it without God.  Still, there are many non-believers who undertake both sides of this journey, and they may not ever know the powerful witness they are for God, just in doing this one thing.  Why?  Because they are modeling the sacrificial love that God shows us daily…love that is steadfast, love that they (we) choose to take on, love that may or may not be returned, love that is unconditional, love that does not measure what can be gotten in return. God uses us…all of us…to show the depth and breadth of His own love.

He used our birth parents, and he used us, and I am so grateful for it. 1cor13

H is for Home Study #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter HIt is exactly what it sounds like…a study of your home (not just the bricks and mortar) to ensure that it (you) are suitable candidates for parenthood.  Amazing that when we have biological children, the assumption is that we are suitable, but when we seek to adopt, we start at zero and must pass inspection of nearly every detail of our lives.

It is what it is, and if you’re committed to adopting, as we were, it’s part of the price you pay (no pun intended, right?).

We underwent two home studies, and in both cases we had a case worker with whom we forged a really great relationship right from the start.  That is important.  If you don’t connect, I would strongly urge you to find someone else do to it.  This is the person who, for all practical purposes, holds your adoptive future in his/her hands, and you want someone who advocates for you, which means you want someone who likes you…a lot.  It doesn’t hurt at all if the feeling is mutual.

The nitty gritty of the home study looks like this:

  • homestudyApplication…fill it out fully.  Rest assured you are being checked six ways from Sunday, so do not lie.  If there are things that need to be disclosed, disclose them.  Better to deal with them now – especially if they are deal breakers – than after you have spent a lot of time and a good deal of money.
  • Health History…physical and mental health, so get your physicals.  Your doctor will have to fill out a form from your application packet that confirms your fitness to parent.  It’s not about perfection, just about reasonable mental & physical health…and “reasonable” is a very elastic term.  Don’t let this worry you.
  • Criminal Background…the rule of thumb is no felonies, but obviously each state has standards specific to the state.  This requires fingerprints, and it takes several weeks, so get your digits inked early.  In our state, I learned it is a misdemeanor to fail to license your dog.  Now I think this is a huge overreach of government intrusion into my business, but it’s small potatoes when you want to adopt, and the home study will require it.
  • Financial Background…your credit history will be checked, so if there are issues, address them and fix what you can.  Your income will be verified.  Every state has a minimum amount a family must make to be considered for adoption, with a set amount more for each additional adoptee (if you want more than one child).  We were considering that, so we had to verify we could, in fact, financially care for multiple children.  You will need at least one, and probably 2-3 years of signed tax returns to provide, so find them and keep them accessible…and you will have to update them for every home study renewal, and for your final adoption hearing.  Fair warning…
  • magnifying glassHome Inspection…clean your house, lock up your firearms and ammunition separately, have a plan to keep your cleaning supplies & medications out of the reach of children, pick up your clutter, lock up hazardous materials in the garage, etc.  It will all be checked.  On this point, I think it goes easier for families who have kids already (we did), because the health and well being of your child(ren) is an indicator that you are, in fact, successful parents already.  I’m not sure this is fair, but it is reality, so if you’re seeking to adopt your first child, jump high & clean through the hoops.
  • Interviews…the only residents of your home who will not be interviewed are pets and young kids.  In our son’s interview (he was only interviewed in the second home study, and was seven at the time), we were allowed to be present, but he had to answer the questions.  We were interviewed jointly and separately.  In our individual interviews, we were questioned about many of the personal issues that were addressed in our applications.  Be truthful and honest.  Don’t gloss over struggles and weaknesses, because it looks and sounds bogus.  Address them head on, and be honest about how you manage them.  We both did that.  interviewCase workers understand that no one is perfect, and why would you want that anyway?  We are human, and fallible…what the case workers (if they are doing their job right) need to see is that you are functional, that your marriage is stable, and that you have the necessary qualities to make a good parent.
  • Documentation…make sure you have certified copies of birth certificates (for everyone living in the home), marriage license(s), divorce decrees and custody arrangements (if applicable), legal residency and/or citizenship (if you were not born in the US), dog licenses (I’m serious!), and any other that is required.  Keep it accessible, because you will need it more than once (thank you CPS, or whatever that agency is called in your state).
  • Money…yes, the home study costs money, and it is not usually included in the cost of the adoption.  This varies by agency, so check the stipulations of the agency you select.

One very important point regarding your interview:  talk ahead of time about how you want to discuss your discipline strategies, because you will be asked.  Spanking these days is controversial, so if you do spank, make sure you are prepared to answer that question.  Also know that you will likely be required to sign an agreement that you will not spank your adoptive child, particularly if you are adopting from foster care.  This is crucial to understand, because when you adopt foster kids, there are almost always issues with neglect and abuse (physical, psychological, sexual, verbal, emotional).  Spanking is counter productive, because it reinforces abuse in the mind of the child.  You must be willing and prepared to use other behavior modification strategies, and you need to make sure that you can administer them consistently and with love.

OK, soapbox done.  Just be informed, so you can be good parents to whatever child(ren) God places in your family.

home study approved

This is boring, tedious stuff.  A lot of it is, in my opinion, overkill to satisfy the state’s requirements, but it not optional.  My husband and I talked about adopting before we ever married, and we both felt (and feel) strongly that God called us to it.  None of the hoops that we have jumped through to get to the end were lofty, but they were necessary, and in the end, our second child is now home.  It was all worth it for him…even licensing the dog.

G is for God #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter GI don’t know how anyone goes through the adoptive process – as adoptive parents OR birth parents – without God.  I know that adoption is not limited to believers, but I honestly don’t know how those who don’t find their strength in God are able to do it.  Adoption is hard.  Really hard.  Yes, the blessings do far outweigh the difficulties, and it really is worth it, but it is not for the faint of heart.

When we started five plus years ago (with a Christian agency that had a great reputation), I was excited and nervous…and scared.  I had heard the horror stories of changed minds and children being ripped from adoptive parents’ arms months or years after the fact.  But I also knew that there were red flags present in those situations, and that making sure we chose a good agency, one that made sure all the details were done right, and was a believing agency to boot, would protect us.

great is thy faithfulness musicWhat I didn’t foresee at that time, and couldn’t articulate until much later, was that just having the Christian tag on the agency doesn’t make it the right agency for us.  I was confident when we went through our first home study, with a wonderful case worker with whom we connected instantly, that we had chosen the right agency.  A few months into our initial year, I began to have doubts.  Our profile was not being presented often…in fact, perhaps 3-4 times over the course of a year.  Our social worker was also the director of the agency, and as I had more interactions with her, I became more and more in doubt of her enthusiasm for our family.  I began to feel we did not have an advocate, and I began to doubt our suitability to be adoptive parents.  I wondered what was wrong with us.  With me.  What was making us a family that no one wanted?

lamentations 3 22In retrospect, I see now that it was not that no one wanted us, but it was that few birth parents saw us.  The reasons given were that we didn’t fit the profile desired by the birth families.  I was really, really discouraged.  What’s more, I didn’t have the words (ironic as that is) to articulate that to my husband…not until we moved away.

I am so grateful that we had (have) friends who are vigilant prayer warriors.  I know that there were many, many prayers spoken on our behalf, and I know that were it not for that, I would have felt completely alone, and completely marginalized by our agency.  I also see now that God was present throughout that entire, discouraging year, and rather than barring us from having our hearts’ desire, he was working diligently on my heart.

After our cross-country move, it took me over a year to gear up and be ready to try again.  We were starting again from scratch.  This time, when we underwent our home study, my heart was (finally) where it should have been all along.  I finally prayed, without reservation:  “Lord, I will take and love whatever child you have chosen for me.  Period.”  My heart was not there before.  True, our (Christian) agency didn’t care for us in the way I would have liked.  The director didn’t have the enthusiasm for us (or in my opinion, for her job in general) that I thought she should.  She did disappoint me desperately, and I came to believe that if she had lost her enthusiasm and joy for this job, perhaps it was no longer the job for her.

strength for today

But, my heart wasn’t prepared in the way it should have been, and God used that year to show me that.  As soon as I let go of my fears and doubts about WHO I could parent, God opened up the door that brought our beautiful son into our home.

We had decided to pursue adoption through foster care.  We had not made any limitations with regard to race or ethnicity, we were flexible in what special needs we would consider, and we were open to more than one child, of any age up to our biological son’s age.

all I have neededWe got a call from our agency, requesting us…appealing to us…to consider joining the domestic adoption program.  They had more birth moms than they had adoptive families to present.  They desperately needed more adoptive families in the program.  I saw God all over that.  How could we say no?  We couldn’t. and in that moment we set the wheels in motion that brought our son home to us.

If I wasn’t convinced in God’s providence before (I was), I have seen it firsthand now.  God wants to give us the desires of our hearts, but He also wants us to trust Him completely, and trust that He loves us and has our very best interests at heart.  I had to trust Him completely, and stop trying to engineer the outcome I wanted, and as soon as I did that, he gave me the best possible outcome, one that I could neither have engineered nor foreseen.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

 

Doing It Right This Time

An Adoption Manifesto

This is the second time in the past four years that we have been at the end of a home study and ready to add a child (or two) to our little family.  Our first attempt, undertaken in Tennessee, went smoothly through every step of the process, but the months ticked by as we waited for a match and I began to get discouraged.  We watched other families, who started their adoptive journey at the same time, bring their babies home.  I can’t imagine feeling any happier for them than I did (and do), because I intimately understood where they had been and how the struggles to expand your family can discourage even the most hopeful.  As we approached the anniversary of our approval, with no obvious progress, I found myself wondering what was wrong with us, what was wrong with me, what did birth parents not see in us that they saw in others.

Amazing, then, as we were contemplating having to renew all of our paperwork for another year, to have a job offer fall into my husband’s lap that we just could not refuse.  This was not out of thin air.  We had been open to relocation for quite some time, and my husband had even submitted his name for consideration on a four year international assignment in Santiago, Chile…one that ultimately fell through.  So my husband accepted this job offer, and we picked up and moved cross country so he could be a member of the start up team for a new office.  Our adoption file was placed on hold.  We settled in to life in the desert, sold our Tennessee home, and except for some truly precious friends we left behind, severed our ties to the Tennessee Valley.

It took me almost two years before I was able to tackle a home study again.  It is an arduous process, packed with lots of paperwork, interviews, and extremely personal questions.  It has to be that way…it should be that way…but it can feel really invasive.  After having been through it once, after having second guessed virtually every answer, every disclosure, every decision as we filled out the application, I was momentarily paralyzed at having to do it again.

My husband told me that the first time around, he felt like he was the one running point, pushing me to get everything completed and submitted, and though he knew I wanted to do it, he felt a little like he was dragging me along, and he wasn’t going to do that again.  If we were really going to do this, I had to run point this time.  I had to take the lead in getting the paperwork finished, scheduling the interviews, prepping our 7yo son for his interview, getting our house prepared, and basically moving the process along.  I think he wanted to make absolutely certain that I was in this 100%, and he was right to put the responsibility on me.  I needed that to get me moving, and here we are now, having completed the process once again…waiting for a child (or two) to add to our family.

And this time, we are doing it right.

My husband and I have had a lot of conversations about our experience in Tennessee.  He didn’t realize at the time how discouraged I was, in large part because I felt like the agency was not taking good care of us once our home study was complete.  I had sensed that our social worker (also the head of the agency) did not seem to have an aura of joy about her job.  She didn’t exhibit excitement about what she was doing.  She didn’t seem energetic or filled with an eagerness to find a match for us.  She didn’t seem excited to present us, and over the course of a year with them, our profile was viewed twice.  After all the hours spent making it as good as we possibly could, making sure it accurately represented our family, making sure it was well put together and error free, it seemed to languish on the shelf most of the year.  This is devastating to a family who has such high hopes that this (very expensive) process will culminate with a beautiful child to call our own.

He also didn’t realize that I had been feeling profound regret about some of the choices we made regarding the type of child we wished to have.  I made these decisions against my personal convictions, and I knew when I did so that I would regret them.  I hated myself for compromising what I believed was the right thing to do in the name of avoiding some really difficult conversations.  I’m no stranger to conflict.  I’ve dealt with it all of my life, but I have capitulated many times when I wished I had not (even though it was to keep – or make – peace), and here was yet another example of doing just that .  Again.

Not this time.

There were many, many conversations with friends and family over the course of our first home study.  We were grateful beyond words at the outpouring of support & love, at the willingness of those closest to us to provide references, and at their unabashed happiness for us as we pursued what was in our hearts.  So I was completely taken aback when I was cautioned:

  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a black child
  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a mixed race child if one of the birth parents was black
  • that adopting a black or mixed race child would be fraught with problems throughout our lives
  • that black people value their culture highly, and that would be cause for conflict and frustration in our family
  • that only white people adopt trans-racially and trans-culturally, because we don’t put as high a value on our own culture and traditions
  • that adopting a black or mixed race child would cause the child to have problems being accepted in both the black & white communities
  • that a black or mixed race child would have identity issues being raised in a white family
  • that a black or mixed race child may not be accepted by their own families
  • that people would talk about us having a black or mixed race child

AND:

  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a child with any special needs
  • that we would not know what we were getting into
  • that we would likely encounter more difficulty than we anticipated
  • that we needed to be very, very sure we wanted to take on those burdens

I was utterly unprepared with any answer to these cautions, especially the reservations voiced about race.  It NEVER OCCURRED to me until that moment to exclude certain racial or ethnic backgrounds when indicating the children for whom we wanted to be considered.  My husband and I had talked at length about what special needs and/or health problems we felt competent to handle, but the truth is, you never know how special needs and health issues will manifest themselves…until they do.  Adoption is no different from biology in that regard, and the only difference is that in an adoption, you can withdraw.  But if you have discussed it, and prayed about, and know that God has your back in all things…well…

We had also discussed all of the racial issues, and we had no racial concerns or exclusions…until some reservations were verbalized to us.  And I did what I have done some many times throughout my life…I made the decision that would not ruffle feathers, and I nearly choked on it.

Not this time.

If you attended church when you were a child, or have attended regularly with your own children, you are probably familiar with this little song:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red or yellow, black or white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I was reminded of that song as we started our current home study, because “red or yellow, black or white,” all are precious in MY sight, too.  I do not care what color my child is, what race my child is, what ethnicity my child is, or what culture my child is.  I want my family to reflect the body of Christ, and that means actively seeking not to exclude certain of those whom God may entrust us to raise, but rather to be willing and open to whomever God brings into our family.  I can’t do it any other way.  I am compelled as we go on this journey to make decisions I believe are right in the eyes of God.  I believe that includes making practical decisions regarding the health and safety of our biological son.  I also believe it means cleaving to our convictions, and if it ruffles feathers…well, we are prepared for that.

I’ll leave you with one final thought.  We had a discussion with our son a few months ago about what kind of child he might want for a brother or sister.  After telling us he wanted a big brother, a little brother, a big sister, and a little sister, we had the following exchange:

Mom:  What color brother or sister would you like?  (I was teasing, because he’s as likely to say green or orange as any other color)
Dad:  What about green?
Son:  No Daddy!
Mom:  So what color would you like?
Son:  Like us.  You know, human color.
Mom:  Well, what if we get a brother or sister that is the color of D____? (a black/Hispanic kid at school).
Son:  Mommy, D_____ is not a color, he’s a boy!!

What a perfect response from a child who sees people, not colors.  May God continue to keep his heart that pure and unencumbered with prejudice.

Thank you for reading my heart.  Please, pray for us as we pursue adoption once again.  Your prayers are a life raft for us during this journey.