V is for Visits #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter VSince we have an open adoption, we have a contract with our birth mom and birth dad stipulating visitation and written communication for them.  Because they are not together, we have separate contracts.  She is entitled to up to three visits per year, and four written communications per year (including pictures).  He is entitled to one visit per year and four written communications per year (including pictures).  The written communication is required, and we are sending an update approximately every three months.  The visits are not required if the birth parent does not request them.

We have had one visit so far, and it went well.  Our birth mom, from the very beginning, was not sure she wanted to have any post-placement visits, but she did request one when he was about 3 months old.  We met, of all non-neutral places, at her mother’s home.  I was nervous about the visit, but everything went fine.  Her social worker was there (a minimum requirement for me), and we had a set time to arrive and leave so it would not be an open-ended visit.  Standard visits last 1-2 hours, so that is what we arranged.

past adoption experienceI am very glad we were able to have that visit, because not only was our birth mom present, but her mother and grandmother were there as well.  I wanted them all to be able to see our son, to see that he is happy and thriving, and most importantly that he is loved.  I was even more grateful the next month that we did this when we did, because we learned that our birth mom’s mother passed away unexpectedly.  She, in particular, had some big reservations about the adoption…at least, until she met us and learned what open adoption is.  Her concerns stemmed from the fact that she surrendered one of her own daughters (she has four), and was never given the option to know the adoptive parents or see that her daughter was ok.  She never stopped grieving about it, and once she understood what our post-placement relationship would be like with our birth mom, she was completely supportive and on board.

adoption is love circleI don’t know if we will have any more visits.  None have been requested so far, and our birth mom told us when we saw her four months ago that she probably wouldn’t want another visit.  You do have to take those comments with a grain of salt, because even though she has access, there is still a grieving process.  And even though she is still certain she did the right thing, she still needs the reassurance that he is ok.  He is more than ok…he is wonderful, and happy, and growing like a weed…all things I make sure are evident in the pictures we send her.

worthy of gods loveMy hope and prayer for her is that she is buoyed by our letters and pictures.  I hope that she doesn’t ever feel we want to prevent her from seeing him and knowing he is doing well.  I hope she requests a visit if she needs it, and doesn’t deny herself what is her contractual right, especially if it will calm her heart.  I hope that she sees God’s presence in all that we have been through together, in the clear connection that we have with our son, and in our continued affection for her and gratefulness to her.  Most of all, I hope she sees God’s incredible, empowering, and steadfast love.

S is for Social Workers #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter SI am behind.  This has been a very stressful week, and I am behind as a result.  I doubt I will finish on time, but I will finish.

Our social worker the second time around was great.  After our first disappointing experience that included a social worker that didn’t seem to really be in our corner, I was fairly skittish about the second go round, so you can imagine my relief when we met our social worker, and she appeared happy to meet us, enthusiastic about representing us, and desirous of supporting us through everything.  She was our advocate, and she did not disappoint us.  Even when she had to make the phone call to tell us of our disruption, she was sympathetic and kind, and she encouraged us to stay the course.  Those are not easy phone calls to make, and she handled it well.

When the second match went south, she was quick to point out that this was not a situation we wanted.  Not only would it have been very difficult dealing with a mentally ill birth mom, but the potential for a hereditary illness was there as well, and bipolar disorder is not something to take lightly.  Judging from the birth mom’s psychotic break, it was a potential disaster that we were grateful had been avoided.

amazingadvocates2And finally, when the right match happened, she was so happy for us.  She made sure we knew to call her anytime we had questions or concerns.  She kept up (and kept us up) with our paperwork, and she educated us well on what to expect at the hospital, including that she would be our voice and advocate at the hospital for anything to do with insurance or the legal issues surrounding our adoption.  We were grateful for that, because hospital insurance representatives and social workers are working for the hospital, and that is almost never going to align with the best interests of the adoptive parents.

We were extraordinarily blessed during our adoption, though, because we had two advocates in our corner…quite unexpectedly.

social workers change futuresWe met our birth mom’s social worker at our second match, and we connected instantly.  She liked us immediately, and the feeling was mutual.  We spoke briefly afterwards, and she told us she liked what we had to say.  When the match fell through so quickly, it never occurred to us that we would have an advocate in her, but we did…in spades.

She is an extraordinary woman with not only a passion, but a gift for her job.  She cares for these birth moms with a mother’s love, she treats them with respect, she is kind, and she is tough when she needs to be.  Above all, she exemplifies the love of Christ to them.  Her birth moms thrive under her care.  Our birth mom thrived.  I thrived.  And I still thrive, because we are still connected, and she is as much a part of our story as our birth mom.

Adoption-HeartWhen I say that God has been present in every single detail of our adoption, this was no exception.  She wanted a match as much for us as for the birth mom she represented, and she obviously felt that we would be a good match for our birth mom, because she encouraged our birth mom to choose us.  I can’t thank her enough for that, because she was right.  We connected with our birth mom immediately, and I felt confident from the beginning that it was right.  God was at work there, not only connecting us to this wonderful social worker, through whom we were connected to our birth mom, but also smoothing the way ahead of us and allowing our relationship with our birth mom to feel natural and easy.  We saw each other every week, and every week I was reminded of the extraordinary things God does.

This lovely woman, with her heart for these troubled young women, is the best thing our agency has going for them.  I hope they know it, because she is worth her weight in gold.  God called her to the job she does, she does it extraordinarily well, and she touches the hearts of everyone with whom she works.  I am so very grateful for her, for all she did for our birth mom, and for how she blessed us in the process.


N to the O to the P…Catching Up #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter NI’m behind this week on the challenge.  A sick kiddo home from school for three days, a hubby out of town for two days, and a Mount Everest sized pile of laundry to fold will do that to you in no time flat.  Oh, add to that overnight guests on Saturday night, which means extra cleaning (and yes, I’ve enlisted my husband to help).  As it turns out, N is for No #AtoZChallenge Post, so I’m playing catch up today.

A to Z Letter OO is for Open Adoption…

…which is what we have.  Over the five(ish) years since we started, we have had consistent counsel and read consistently that an open adoption is the best and most healthy choice for everyone involved.  Generally speaking, of course.  There are certain situations where a closed adoption is advisable…severe mental mental health issues, violence, or a birth mom who not only doesn’t want the baby, but doesn’t care what happens to him/her.  Believe it or not, there are birth moms like that, and we were presented with two or three.

I can’t imagine having to deal with any of those issues, and thankfully we don’t.  We have enough dysfunction to deal with already, and we have a very easy, congenial relationship with our birth mom.  She is unstable – no job, no home, on-again/off-again drug habit, on-again/off-again boyfriend, dysfunctional family – but she doesn’t have mental health problems, and she is a sweet girl who has shown that she loves our baby. We could not ask for anything better, and both social workers involved with our case have confirmed this.  We have it good.

open adoptionIn our case, open adoption means that we have met both birth parents, and have a continuing relationship with them that consists of four written communications per year (with pictures included), and up to three visits per year, at a neutral location, and at the request of the birth parent.  We are obligated to the written communication per a written agreement with our birth mom, and she is entitled to (but not obligated to) the visits.  This is not how all open adoptions work, but it is how ours does.  The most important component of it is that we know each other, and that we have access to each other.

open_adoption_3The visitation stops at age three, and that is written into the contract.  This is for our child’s protection.  Our social worker explained that studies have indicated that between ages 3 and 12, visitation with the birth parents can be counter-productive to the parent/child relationship within the adoptive family, and they can create a lot of confusion.  One of the biggest issues we all want to ensure is that our child feels secure and loved, and that he understands that his birth parents did not give him up because they didn’t want him, but because they loved him and wanted a better life for him than they could provide.  This is the truth, and it will always be a regular part of our discussion of his adoption.

After age 12, if he desires contact with his birth parents, we can request visits.  They have both indicated they are open to it.  We will facilitate that as needed, and always with his well-being and best interests at heart.

With that we move on to…

A to Z Letter P P is for Paperwork

As you have probably gathered from my previous posts, there are reams and reams of paperwork.  Everything, and I mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g is documented…sometimes in duplicate or triplicate.  You have to stay on top of it, or it will consume you.

And if you’ve reached this point in the adoptions posts, you know that the paperwork doesn’t end when the adoption is final, especially if you have an open adoption.

Gavel_paperworkWhat we have facing us for the next 18 years is four letters per year, with accompanying pictures, because though the visits stop at age three, the letters do not.  Our birth parents wanted to have a continuing written record of our son’s development, and I totally understand that, and desire that for them.  I am grateful that they want it, because it demonstrates that they do love him, and explaining that they surrendered him out of love is much easier than trying to explain why they didn’t love him.

letterThat being said, all of our written communication goes through our agency, and they forward it on to their respective addresses.  Unfortunately, that is not always easy, as they do not always stay put or stay in touch.  Such is the case with our birth mom right now…we (the agency, our social worker, and the two of us) do not know where she is, or how to contact her other than by phone (which may or may not be functioning).  We are fortunate that the agency has an address for her grandmother, who (sadly) is the only person in her family with a stable address.  So that is where our letters are sent, and we hope that she gets them.

UPDATE!!  I just got word yesterday (Good Friday) that our birth mom is living with her grandmother, and she has a job.  She contacted her social worker to ask about pictures of our baby, which are en route already.  I am thrilled to hear this…to know that she is ok, and that she has found some stability.  I am praying that she stays the course, and praising God for his infinite care and mercy.  It was a Good Friday indeed!

As far as the legal paperwork goes, it is complete.  His birth certificate is now available in Vital Records for our county, and all we need to do is go pick it up.  Next week…so here’s praying that baby and mommy don’t come down with the crud that kept big brother home from school.

D is for Disruption #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter DWe had two disruptions.  But let me start from the beginning…

We were officially certified to adopt on September 13, 2012.  The initial home study is good for 18 months in our state, and from that vantage point it seemed like a long time.

Our first match seemed to come very quickly.  She was about 3 months pregnant, so we still had a long time to go, but that was fine.  We met her, and she seemed satisfied with the match, so we felt satisfied as well.  One of her priorities was to find a Christian family for this child, and we fit that criteria.

From that point forward, though, things were awkward.  She wanted me to meet her for doctor appointments, but it always seemed a little strained.  She missed appointments here and there, though she did make the ultrasound that showed us she was having a girl.  That made things more real, but then she blew off the sugar test for diabetes.  More than once.  There were times she simply refused to answer her phone.  All throughout I felt hopeful that this match would stick, but in the back of my mind I half expected it to fall through.

broken heartWe got the call the day before her 38-week appointment, telling us she had the baby early and decided to keep her.  I was not surprised,  Disappointed, but not surprised.  We talked it over and decide we would hang in there until our home study expired, and decide at that point whether or not to continue further.

Part of the driving force for that decision was loss of money.  We lost half of what we had paid already, per the contract we signed, when this disruption happened.  The balance would not be refunded – again, per our contract – but applied toward our next match.  These terms are not unusual in domestic adoption contracts, but they are expensive.  We knew the risks when we entered into the contract…it is the nature of any adoption contract that potential adoptive parents have all of the money and none of the power.  You have to accept that going in…and we did.

Match number two happened within a few weeks.  We were thrilled about it, and perhaps I was especially so, since the disruption had caused me to start wondering what was wrong with us that she didn’t follow through.  This is not the first time I struggled with those questions – the waiting can beat you down – but more on that in another post.

We met this birth mom on a Friday.  She was visibly pregnant – close to seven months we learned – and she had CPS problems that prevented her from parenting this child and the two other children she had not surrendered for adoption.  They were with family members.  She wanted to decide where this child went, rather than having him (yes, it was a boy) become a ward of the state when he was born.  She was positive, upbeat, friendly, and excited about us.  We felt the same way.  Everything seemed great.

psalm91-4On Monday morning we got the call.  She had suffered a psychotic break over the weekend, and had to be involuntarily committed.  It was then that we learned she suffered from bi-polar disorder – apparently severe bi-polar disorder – and she was not only institutionalized, but she was not deemed competent to make decisions regarding the baby.

“Run, don’t walk, run from this match.  You do not want this.”  That was the advice from our social worker, and she was right.  We were thankful that this happened right away, that no contract had been signed, that no additional money had been paid.  I believe that God was protecting us here from a situation that could have been very difficult, and very costly, for our family.  Costly in more ways than financial.

But then, through both of these disruptions, I saw that God was protecting us.  The little girl from the first match?  She had a heart problem that required open heart surgery and a feeding tube.  We would have taken her anyway, but I wondered if the birth mom was afraid we wouldn’t.

The other (more sinister) hunch I had about the first match, though, was that this woman scammed everyone.  She was a single mom of three already, all with different fathers, pregnant with her fourth, with no way to provide for any of them except through the state.  I wondered if she decided to “give this one up because she couldn’t care for her” (her words) in order to get support until the baby was born.  I don’t know this, but I half suspected it.  Whatever her reasons, I didn’t trust her completely, and I see now that God was protecting me from myself.  I wasn’t highly emotionally invested in her…something held me back…and in the end, I was not devastated by the disruption.  I thank God for that, because it enabled me to be open when the right match came, and I was able to connect with and care for our birth mom in a way I could not have otherwise.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
    let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may exult in you.
Psalm 5:11

C is for Child Protective Services (CPS) #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter CI have very mixed feelings about CPS.  Very.

Official CPS approval is a very big part of having a complete (and successful) home study.  And it is after the (licensed) agency has done a thorough and extensive background check, documenting residency history, job history, financial background, criminal background, health history (including mental health), our children, our pets, and some of our friends.  I’m sure I am leaving a few things out.  Not only did we have to provide legal and/or certified documentation for numerous details, we had to answer a lengthy application questionnaire, and all of us (yes, even our son, who was 7 at the time) had to be interviewed.

cpsBut even after all of that is done, we still had to get CPS approval, after which it was presented to a judge for final certification that we were, in fact, eligible to adopt a child.

That is not the end of CPS involvement.  30 days after baby came home, at our first post-placement visit, we were told that we could at that point contact the court and request the application to finalize our adoption.  We did, and submitted it, which triggered the court to start requesting our information from the agency.  At this point, our agency sent us a sheaf of paperwork to fill out, including another application on which we were to note any changes (there were none).  We had to update financial paperwork.  We had to submit (again) a certified copy of our marriage license and birth certificates.  And then…our entire file had to be submitted to CPS again for approval, without which we couldn’t go to court and finalize our adoption.

Why this had to be done twice within an 18–month period baffles me.  What on earth do they believe will change within 18 months that will change us from suitable to unsuitable parents?  It’s not as if we were not in regular contact with our agency.  We were.  It’s not as if we hadn’t been regularly signing and submitting paperwork as required.  We had.  It’s not as if we weren’t making regular payments.  We were.  It’s not as if our social worker had not been talking with us regularly.  She had, and the post placement visit had been done as well.  What on earth are we going to do, deliberately or otherwise, to disqualify ourselves after we have gone to this much trouble and this much expense?

Well, CPS had to make sure…twice.  And here’s the thing…it was a rubber stamp on a file they saw 18 months before that had not changed, but it could have taken weeks.  It usually does, our agency said, so don’t really count on it being done in time. It could have derailed our court date and forced a continuance, if not for the ANGEL of a paralegal in the adoption department of our local court, who rattled cages at CPS to make sure the approval got moved to the top of the pile and pushed through in time.

There is no alternative.  A licensed adoption agency is not “official” in the eyes of the government, even though it does the heavy lifting.  CPS is the official representative of the government, and in order to even be considered, they must approve us.  At least this is an area where, if the adoption agency has done its job (ours did), then CPS can’t really do any harm…unless being slow as molasses in January qualifies as harm (not really).

NO_cpsBut these were not our only dealings with CPS…and what follows could have derailed the entire adoption, and made us start from scratch, but this time adopting from the state.  All because our beautiful, perfect son was born exposed to methamphetamine.  Not addicted, but exposed.

Any time a child is born exposed to drugs or alcohol, it triggers a call from the hospital to CPS…which triggers a visit and an “official” report.  The agent came, and (thankfully) spoke to me first.  She then spoke to the birth mom, and apparently flexed enough muscle that our birth mom stopped talking to her, and would only talk to her agency social worker.  Thank God for that.  CPS did not need to even come to the hospital in this case.  What they needed to do was verify that an adoption plan was securely in place, and that would have negated any need for further contact.  They did not…they chose instead to rear their head, because they could.  They chose to give our birth mom a hard time, because they could.

This is the point I became all too aware, once again, that CPS does not really exist to do what is in the best interest of the child.  If they did, then they would have consulted the reams of paperwork on our birth mom and us before they decided to get involved.  They might have made some discreet phone calls to the social workers attached to our case before coming to the hospital.  They might have even been kinder to our birth mom, because they already knew that she had made an adoption plan, and that she was not seeking to parent this child.  There was no need to treat her like a second class citizen because of the meth use, especially since she was not keeping this baby, but they did.  I believe here, just as with every other part of this adoption, that God was continually intervening on behalf of our precious child.

StilI, I have mixed feelings.  Very mixed, because though I understand the necessity of having an agency that protects children, the colossal inefficiency, and utter failure in some cases, of CPS to actually protect children, gives me no confidence that they can do what they exist to do.

B is for Birth Mom #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter BDay 2 of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2014.  I’m hoping to get a chunk of time to write several posts at once, but since I only (finally) decided to jump in again yesterday morning, I haven’t planned ahead.  So…I’m racing to complete this before the 45 minutes I expect the darling son to sleep expires.

Perhaps the main reason adoption is ever an option is the BIRTH MOM…and in our case, BIRTH PARENTS.  So often the birth father is not in the picture, either by his own choice or because he is not known.  We were fortunate to have two birth parents who agreed that adoption was the best option for their baby.  We would not have our second child if not for that choice, and it very nearly did not happen.

In almost every case, birth parents who are choosing to surrender a child are doing so out of love, and out of a deep desire to give the child a chance at a better life…one that they can’t provide.  Their lives are almost always severely dysfunctional…drug abuse, alcohol abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, prostitution, disease, homelessness, joblessness, anger problems, deadbeat partners.  Our birth mom has dysfunction around her in spades, and yet, she is an intelligent, sweet girl who (almost) managed for (almost) nine months to care for our baby.  More on the “almost” later.  She was diligent about making her doctor appointments, she did what the doctor asked of her, and she stayed in touch with her wonderful, amazing, irreplaceable social worker and, by extension, with me.  It makes the fact that she started out at Planned Parenthood, seeking to abort this precious boy, startling at first…and after that sharp intake of shocked breath, I realized then (and am so grateful for now) that God intervened.

Her on-again, off-again boyfriend wanted her to abort, but he couldn’t come up with the money.  She didn’t have the money, so it didn’t happen.  She wound up at our local Crisis Pregnancy Center, where the doctor who became her OB/GYN for this pregnancy volunteered his time…and who invited her to come to his practice, where he would personally see her through.  They put her in touch with the adoption agency, and more importantly, with her social worker, a Christian woman with a passion for, and a mother’s heart for, these devastated women.  And she selected us.

The boyfriend?  He was initially resistant…initially preferring to kill this baby over giving him a better home than he (they) could provide.  But God worked in his heart too, and he (along with both of their families) agreed that this was the best choice for our baby.  He is all of ours…theirs and ours…and God’s…and without all of us, he wouldn’t be here.  Our baby was given life, and a devastating choice was averted, because God intervened.