You do a lot of waiting when you pursue adoption. A LOT. There is nothing fast about the process, and even if it feels comparatively as though you’ve been moving along at a pretty good clip (and we did), it still takes months and months…sometimes years and years.
From the beginning of our first attempt to the end of our second, five years passed. While we were waiting, we got older…and fatter, we moved across the country (and started over), family members got married and started families of their own, we bought and sold houses, our biological child started school, we lost some old friends and made some new ones, and all throughout we were waiting.
- What if I don’t have the right look?
- What if I didn’t say the right things?
- Did I advertise us properly (as if there is a “right” way to do such a thing)?
- Did I include pictures that will make us likable?
- Did we seem braggadocious?
- Does the fact that we already have a child make us less likely to be chosen?
- Does the fact that we are Christians put birth parents off?
- We have pets…will that make birth parents more cautious about selecting us?
- Will the fact that our families live on the other side of the country affect our chances?
- Does the fact that it we have been waiting a while already give birth parents pause?
- Does the fact that we have been waiting a while make birth parents question why no one has chosen us?
- What IS wrong with us, by the way?
- Why aren’t we being selected?
- Could I have made our profile more appealing?
- Does our social worker like us?
- Is our social worker presenting our profile?
- Why were we not selected when we were presented?
- What made us unsuitable?
- Why (with our first agency) are we not being presented to birth parents?
The questions go on and on, and they are not productive. I was utterly unprepared for the onslaught of self-doubt, even though I doubt myself – and my self worth – all the time. Worse, I didn’t say those things to my husband, which I should have…not because I needed someone to refute some of my more ridiculous worries (and I did need that), but because he would have helped shoulder the burden of uncertainty that is a natural part of this process. He would have eased my anxiety, and perhaps even suggested that we ask the questions out loud to our agency, so I would have a more definitive answer, and so I would not needlessly worry. I honestly did not know how to articulate my worries, because half of the time they were just half-formed questions skittering around in my head.
The waiting…waiting…waiting took a toll on me. On us. So if I could give any advice to those who are waiting now, it would be this: Speak your questions and worries out loud. Tell your spouse…make sure you’re not trying to shoulder the burdens alone. Ask your agency. Get answers. Most importantly, tell God. Tell him your fears, and ask him to shoulder them for you. He will. He has offered, and He will. I wish I had done that more, because I really could have used the peace that only He provides.
We had a great ending to that chapter in our lives. The best ending…and the best beginning to the next chapter. It is worth every worry and every doubt I had about myself to be where we are now. Still, I made it harder than it needed to be. I see that clearly now, just as I see clearly how present God has been throughout, and I am grateful that when I doubted, He didn’t.
For as many things as you anticipate, going through adoption, there are that many and more that you don’t. There’s simply no way to fully prepare for everything you will encounter. In fact, there’s no way to even predict what you will and will not encounter…it’s both the beauty and the curse of the process. So here are some of the unexpected things that happened to us:
- A start at Planned Parenthood:
Considering the bulk of Planned Parenthood’s business, and the percentage of adoption referrals (1 adoption referral per 149 abortions in 2013 per CNS News), it is an undeniable miracle that our birth mom found her way to Crisis Pregnancy Centers.
- Three matches…one baby:
We never anticipated that it would take three matches to get us to our baby. We expected a long wait, and the possibility that we would have to renew our home study, but we (and truly, maybe it was just me) never expected to have three birth moms select us…
- Two disruptions:
Equally as unexpected as having three birth moms select us was to have two fall through. And it wasn’t the fact that the first birth mom changed her mind that was the bigger surprised, but the second whose mental illness (undisclosed) got the best of her and rendered her not competent to make sound decisions for her baby.
- Our first match pregnant again, and requesting (begging for) us:
Yes, this happened. Yes, we were stunned, for several reasons. She was pregnant again within two months of the birth of a daughter with medical complications. She was begging to be matched with us again (and we were matched by this time to our birth mom), after changing her mind and costing us thousands of dollars. We had to decline – our son would not have been six months before her baby was born – and as it turns out she was no more dependable the second time around, and the agency ended up letting her go until she made up her mind what she wanted to do.
- Both birth parents involved:
When we were matched with our birth mom, the birth dad was not in the picture. A few weeks later, he was…until toward the end, when he ended up in jail (again) and missed our baby’s birth. Back in the picture after he got out of jail, and they both requested to see our son at 3 months, but then they fell apart again, and he didn’t show up. So where we didn’t expect him to be involved at all, at least he was…somewhat…was on board with the adoption, and gave his written consent.
- Both birth families involved:
We truly didn’t expect to have the birth families involved, especially as much as they were involved. Both families have a lot of dysfunction, but they pulled together to meet us, and to support the decision of our birth parents. We were surprised and thankful that this was the case…both because our birth parents needed whatever support their families could provide, and because it allowed our birth parents to feel confident in their decision.
- Having more than a little in common with our birth mom:
I was really surprised at what I had in common with our birth mom…height, shoe size, blue eyes, fair complexion. Add to that a penchant for crazy hair colors (pink!), flip flops, tattoos, loaded Subway sandwiches and Law & Order marathons (the original show, early episodes being our favorites). There are a lot of other little details where we found we were similar, and it was a great connection point for us.
- Getting attitude from our agency at the end:
This was so totally unexpected (shocking, actually) that, had I been inclined to recommend our agency to other potential adoptive couples, I am no longer. I did not appreciate the head of the agency getting short with me on the phone when we were trying to push the final paperwork through…and it happen twice. “Big mistake. Huge!” (to quote Pretty Woman) I wanted so much to have a warm relationship with them to the end, and have that be a part of our story, but that was not the case. We are so very grateful for our son, and we know that God directed every step of our journey, but that hiccup at the end soured what was, until that point, a warm working relationship.
Stay tuned for more…the eXtraordinary surprises, because in the end, every detail was worked out perfectly, and God was glorified in everything.
Adoption 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.
We 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.
I 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.
Both of our birth parents spent time in jail during her pregnancy. Her stint was the result of some really bad decisions that cost her a fairly good job, and resulted in fraud charges. She was in jail for about five weeks. While she was there, her on-again/off-again boyfriend (and our baby’s birth father) hooked up with her sister, and her sister (we think) stole all of her clothes. It seems her sister had access to her (temporary) home while she was incarcerated, and took full advantage of it. I mentioned at the beginning of this #AtoZChallenge that dysfunction is very common in birth parent situations, and that often extends to their families as well.
If my memory serves, I believe our birth father was incarcerated twice during the pregnancy. When we met her, he was not in the picture, and I seem to recall that is because he was in jail (they had also – temporarily – broken up). About half way through, he was back in the picture again, and wanted to meet us and be involved from that point forward. He signed all the pertinent paperwork, and our social workers arranged a meeting with a counselor that included our birth parents, her mom and sister (the one who stole her clothes, and who was also pregnant), and his mom (who ultimately did not show up). The meeting went well. Questions were answered, fears were put to rest on both sides, and though it was stressful, it was very productive. I did eventually meet his mom, and several more of her relatives, the most stable of whom was her grandmother.
What continually surprised me over the months was how much her family remained involved, despite the fact that it was a constant whirlwind of drama & dysfunction. Once they met us, they were supportive of her decision and never (as far as I know) sought to change her mind. I am grateful to them for that, because they certainly created enough drama otherwise.
The birth father said several times throughout his (temporary) involvement that he wanted to be present at our son’s birth. Ironic, but not totally unexpected, that when the time came, he was in jail again. This time for drug possession with intent to distribute, though he claimed repeatedly that he had no use for drugs. Of course they had broken up (again), only to get back together after she gave birth, only to break up again. It’s a bad, and painful, pattern for her.
A sad detail that I believe (but do not know for certain) was connected to our birth father’s eventual drug incarceration: our son was born exposed to methamphetamine. I touched on this previously, but not on this angle. Our birth mom stayed clean for so long, and then when stress (and bad influences) overwhelmed her, she did what she knew would relieve it. I doubt it flitted across her mind that it would create more stress than it relieved. It did, but for those terrible moments, she was able to be numb.
Jail is not uncommon, especially when stupid decision and drug habits are involved. It is sad, but sometimes a relief as well, because at least (for the duration of the jail time), they aren’t using, and birth mom is getting regular prenatal care. In our case, our birth mom was diligent about going to the doctor, so the only impact jail had on that was that she could not see her regular doctor. I know that we had a better situation than many, and that God was a constant factor in protecting our baby. I am continually grateful for that, because I know how different (and how much worse) it could have been.
I 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.
What 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?
In 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.
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.
We 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.
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
- 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:
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.