5 More Questions to Consider When Adopting

Writing about adoption tends to be fairly difficult for me, but I’m okay with answering questions and thought I would do this again. Do you have any questions for me? Leave them in the comments and I’ll answer in a separate post.

These questions come from the Human Rights Campaign. I’m going to answer five. The complete list at the website has three additional questions.

1. Public or Private Agency?
There are pros and cons to either choice. With a private agency, you have many more options when it comes to selecting a child. You also have high costs and likely a difficult matching process. With a public agency, like the foster care system, you are very limited in “what kind of kid you want,” but there are little to no costs. With either option, you need to be ready for difficulties in the selection process.

2. What child is right for me/us?
When you adopt, you have to spell out exactly what you will and won’t accept in a child. It can be difficult. To me, it always felt wrong when I clicked the “no” box. Here is the thing – I knew that if a biological child was born with one of these difficulties, I would love them without a second thought. It felt like I was a bad person trying to hand-pick my child. It is just reality though. It is different than bringing a newborn into the home. With the foster care system, we had to specify gender, age range, sibling group, and medical/mental challenges. Things can be even more complicated with a private adoption. Will you be upset if your child doesn’t look a thing like you? Yeah, adoption probably isn’t the right choice.

3. Do you have the patience to wait for your child to show you love?
Oh, this one is a good one. If you start digging very deep into the articles and stories about adoption on the internet, you will see so many people talk about a struggle to develop a bond with their adoptive child. And yet, this wasn’t even really mentioned when we went through our process. Babies and toddlers are one thing, but older kids aren’t going to just come into your home and instantly feel like a part of the family. There is a growing period. You have to get used to each other and build trust. And remember if you are adopting an older child, he has likely been through some pretty bad stuff. Also, even the younger children can have socialization issues – especially if they have been living in an overcrowded orphanage where workers weren’t able to give them any one-on-one attention. Attachment is not automatic. In extreme cases, it may never happen.

4. Are you ready to be 100% honest and transparent with the agency worker?
The worker is going to ask your all sorts of personal questions. You have to be ready and willing to share with them. Hobbies, jobs, household chores, discipline systems, outside family bonds, friends, relationship issues, etc. When my husband and I went through the separate interview process, they asked us about our sex life. You are going to have to tell them. They will interview everyone in the household. Everyone. You might not think some of the questions they ask are important, but it all about making sure you are a stable family that will be matched with a child who will fit in to your environment. You need to be able to deal with the questions if you are going to make it through the process. No lying – you want to get the best match possible.

5. Have you had a major life event in the past 12 months?
Did you just get married? Move to a new place? Lose your job? Did someone die? Okay, wait a bit to adopt. Seriously. Bringing a new child into the home is disruptive. Bringing an adoptive child into the home has another whole set of issues on top. You want to be stable and set into your routine before doing this. We moved in the middle of our process and decided to slow down our paperwork and classes as we both adjusted to a new home, two new jobs, and a new school for the girl. We were still trying to find doctors for ourselves; it wasn’t the time to try to get a new child settled too.

10 Questions to Consider When Thinking About Adoption

Recently I came across a list of ten questions to ask yourself if considering adoption on How Stuff Works. I thought I would go through the questions here, tell you what I think about them, and explain how these questions played into our decision to adopt.

1. Why do I want to adopt?
I think this is a great question to ask, but also a pretty hard one to answer. For us, the decision to adopt just felt right and was something we had discussed for many years. I can’t say I ever felt a “calling” to adopt, but somehow we just knew this was the best way to grow our family.

2. Can I handle the commitments that go along with adoption and parenthood?
This wasn’t much of a consideration for us. We already had our daughter, so we knew the kind of commitments involved with childrearing. We considered the impact of a second child, of course – especially the financial impact – but overall this aspect didn’t require any extra thought than it would if we were trying to have a second biological child.

3. Can I handle not being biologically related to my child?
An interesting question and one I think is very important to be honest about. Honest with yourself, I mean. No one wants to think they might think less of an adopted child, but we all know people out there who do. Hopefully, you would figure this out early and not make it far into the adoption process.

4. What kind of adoption do I want?
This question did not apply in our situation. Adoptions through the foster care system are closed. No options.

5. What age child do I want?
This one is a biggie. We didn’t enter the process wanting a baby – and because of that we were far more likely to be connect with a child quickly. Everyone wants babies. In the foster care system especially, there are so many older children waiting for families. In our case, we wanted a child under the age of five. This would make him younger than our daughter and allow us to avoid transferring and adjusting to a new school situation.

6. Do I want a child of a certain race or culture? Do I want a special needs child?
It is absolutely ridiculous that these two questions were lumped into one, as they are so incredibly different. I’m going to answer them separately.

6a. Do I want a child of a certain race of culture?
Our answer to this was no. From the beginning we were open to transracial adoption. I realize this can be a controversial subject in the adoption world, but we knew that in our area young Caucasian children were easy to place. We were open to welcoming any child into out home.

6b. Do I want a special needs child?
My husband and I discussed this question at length and our final answer was no. We didn’t feel like we were prepared to take on the massive challenges of raising a special needs child. For this reason, we asked for a child older than 1 1/2 or 2, so many of the early issues would have already appeared. DHS doesn’t really listen to what you request though and when our worker showed us a photo of a four-month-old baby born with cocaine in his system . . . well, it was just right.

7. How will I talk about adoption with my friends and family?
It is just a fact that some people are not supportive of adoption. Some people are supportive of adoption, but just not in their family. Other people are supportive of adoption, but couldn’t imagine a child of another race. You need to be honest with yourself about this. Regardless of whether you agree with the naysayers or not, if they are a big part of your support system you need to be prepared for the fallout. Or accept that you cannot handle the fallout. Interestingly, the issue I run into most with friends and family is not a lack of support, but the tendency to raise us up on a self-sacrificing pedestal. I’m constantly fighting the image.

8. How will I talk to my child about his or her adoption?
We always intended to tell our adopted child about his past and what we know of his biological family. Once we accepted an African-American child placement, it was 100% clear that we could never hide it if we wanted too.

9. How would I feel if my child wanted to learn about his or her background?
I think I am prepared for this and, overall, I am very much against hiding their background from an adoptive child. Now, I understand this is a delicate situation. In the little man’s case, his biological mother is . . . not a good influence. I will not tell him the details I know until I feel he is ready to hear them. I do not know if the little man will ever be able to comprehend the concept of adoption, so much of this is still up in the air for us.

10. What support network do I have in place for problems that may arise?
Support, support, support. I cannot stress the importance of a good support network for a parent – any parent at all. Raising children is hard. Raising special needs children is hard. Adoption is hard.

The Adoption Class Saga

First, a little reminder: My husband and I adopted our son through the foster-care system. This process is quite a bit different than adoption through other agencies and didn’t go smoothly for us. You can read about our adoption story here, here, and here. Or click on the “Our Adoption Story” tab at the top of the page.

Today I want to talk about adoption parenting classes. As part of the process, we were required to take nine weeks of classes and – as I’ve told everyone who would listen – found them to be completely pointless.

Logistics: Our classes were every Monday night for nine weeks. We could have chosen a Saturday option that had less weeks, but longer sessions. We decided against it however, because we were taking the classes in the summer months and didn’t want to risk missing a class and having to deal with making it up. We had to get a sitter for our daughter – not an easy task for nine weeks straight. Inconveniently, the classes were twenty minutes from our house, not counting rush-hour traffic. Every Monday turned into a massive race against the clock. Naturally, I turned into a massive stress-ball in response. By the second class, we had realized that this was just another cog in the wheel. We dutifully kept our heads down and powered through.

Students: The class was composed of a wide range of people. There was us and one other couple only interested in adoption, as well as two families already serving as emergency provisional foster homes for relatives. The majority of the class was on the path to becoming a traditional foster home [amazing people!]. These families were from all over the county, so I soon stopped complaining about my rushed trip to the other side of town. Nobody seemed to have anything in common with anything else – it was like you randomly picked people up off the street and tried to make them converse [I actually think this is a good thing, but it made for odd classes]. This introvert was out of her element in awkward breaks and forced conversations. Well, I guess we did all have one thing in common – everyone’s ultimate goal was to finish the classes and get on with this never-ending process.

Classes: We participated in the PRIDE program – Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education – often called the Foster/Adopt PRIDE or something similar. When the classes started, we were given a giant binder outlining all of the sessions including readings and exercises to prepare for each session. The first thing I noticed in the binder was a mostly-blank page that read, “Insert letters of welcome from your local and/or state foster parent association and adoptive parent support group.” I guess they didn’t have those things, but who knows why they didn’t just leave the page out. Attention to detail is part of my job; these kinds of things just annoy me to no end.

The first session was fairly self-explanatory – an introduction to the program and to the foster/adopt system. I don’t actually remember what went on in class that evening, but looking back at our giant binder, I see another page that is supposed to have information added by the agency. Again, blank.

Session two had an awful title, “Teamwork toward Permanence,” but the information in the binder was good. It dealt with understanding the importance of providing a sense of permanency for the children. The class work didn’t really relate though and, again, blank pages in the binder not added by the agency. Seriously? This is the point where we really realized that things weren’t quite coordinating with the binder. Each section had a list of objectives and competencies, but very few were actually fulfilled (unless you could learn them from the printed material in the binder). I wish I had concrete examples from the assignments we completed, but it has just been too long for me to recall specifics.

I could keep going session by session, but I think you get the point: Readings that were good, but didn’t relate to class; Blank pages where the agency was supposed to add information; Class that was largely useless or confusing – like the one session where we learned all about how a social worker would make a case plan for a family and spent our time creating an example plan . . . but had no explanation of how this would play into our situation; Excellent objectives and competencies, but no follow though; etc.

Verdict: A missed opportunity. The classes I thought I was going to be headed to every Monday night were going to teach me about navigating the system, about the resources available and who to contact, about the challenges of bringing home a child with possible mental and physical challenges. Unfortunately, they just . . . didn’t. The classes were just another silly hurdle; another well-intentioned concept bogged down by an inefficient and overworked system. I left my nine weeks with absolutely nothing, except the business card of a DHHS contact – any of you who have dealt with the system know the helpfulness of a direct contact.

Adoption without infertility

*Warning: This is a pretty short post, but I am about to write about a very touchy and sometimes triggering subject. I’m also going to make some sweeping generalizations that in no way apply to everyone. Don’t panic.

We have a biological daughter and an adopted son. We did not struggle with infertility. We did not decide to adopt because we felt a calling to help children in need. We wanted another child. We wanted to adopt. I wasn’t thrilled about being pregnant again. So everything fell into place and we adopted through our local foster care system. It was a transracial adoption. Our son has cerebral palsy – but despite the noble sacrifice label many want to put on us, we did not know about his disability when we added him to our family.

This isn’t usually the type of situation that dominates the adoption scene.

Sometimes I find myself on the outside of adoption conversations because they connect so closely with parents’ struggles with infertility. Sometimes I can see the pain in a mother’s eyes when she discovers that I had it so easy with my first child. [No one would verbalize this, but you can see it there.] I leave out the fact that our first child was unplanned; I don’t want to make it any worse. Other times I find myself trying to talk down an acquaintance that wants to praise me for welcoming a disabled child into my home. I’m not a saint. I’m a mother. I’m no different than any parent finding themselves in the same situation.

Does the world think I adopted for purely selfish reasons? Is that bad? I’m not sure how to answer the questions or how to find my appropriate “label” in the adoption world.

This is why labels suck. Most people just don’t fit into a neat little category – I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at the age of eighteen. I married my daughter’s father prior to her birth and we have enjoyed nearly eleven years of wedded bliss. I chose to adopt my second child simply because we wanted to. We adopted an African-American disabled boy. Where do I fit in?

The Little Man’s Adoption, Part III: The Shock

Two weeks after the little man arrived at our door, we were still figuring out how to live with a baby in the house again. Diapers, bottles, pacifiers, etc. – our daughter was seven, so it had been a while since we needed any of these supplies. I stood in the diaper aisle for a while trying to remember which kind I liked best (turns out. . . Pamper swaddlers for the first few months, Luvs after that).

Then the phone rang. I could tell by the look on my husband’s face that the news was not good.

The little man’s grandmother wanted to take custody of him. This is not the way this is supposed to happen – DHS is supposed to exhaust all possible family placements before making a child available for adoption. Family comes first. We don’t know what went wrong in our case, but we knew what this call meant. Our worker didn’t have to explain it – it was time to pack his things and get ready to send him to a new home. We cried. I can’t explain the devastation we felt. DHS messed up again and had absolutely nothing to say.

Still crying, I called a coworker and tried to explain the situation. I was due to return to the work the next day and needed someone to run interference. Most of our family and friends were wonderful, but we did notice that several people didn’t really understand what the big deal was. There was the expectation that since we had only had the little man for two weeks, it was upsetting, but not really a big deal. We didn’t enter this arrangement as foster parents; we were not prepared for this loss. I still do not understand their lack of sympathy. [Similarly, my husband’s work always hosts a small baby shower when people in the office were expecting. They did not do this for us.]

We then had to do the most painful thing – we had to sit down with our daughter and explain that the baby she already called her brother was leaving our home. We tried to be as gentle as possible; explaining that he had a grandmother who wanted him and that meant he would get to be with this family. I even called her teacher to give her a heads-up in case she had any issues at school.

Soon after the phone call, I gathered together some of the little man’s things. I was determined to send him to his new home with as much as possible. I guess this was my way of dealing with the situation – plan, plan plan!

Then the very long court process started. Naturally, we didn’t attend, but we were periodically updated. The little man had his own representative in court separate from DHS (his ad litem). I got the impression that the first proceeding was a bit dramatic. Then suddenly things started to change. The state and the little man’s ad litem no longer recognized the grandmother as a viable option. I don’t know what influenced this decision, but I can promise it had nothing to do with us (this was not an us vs. her situation). [I could go into more details, but it was too difficult for me to write about.]

It suddenly looked like we were going to get to keep the little man in our family. We were ecstatic, but again, found ourselves in a weird position. Once again, we were the bad guys. Our friends and family were quick to point out that the little man has what they believe to be a much better life with us, but it just isn’t that black and white. I don’t know why he was not placed with his grandmother and I know it must have been an extreme reason, but how will I explain this to him in the future? How can I help him understand that he could have been with his biological family and isn’t? Family comes first in my life and he will have to eventually face the reality that he started out life by losing his.

Because of his disability, I do not know if the little man will be able to understand his adoption in the future. Technically, in the eyes of the court his former life no longer exists. On our official paperwork we adopted [the little man] not [the little man’s birth name]. He will show up on the 2010 census under his birth name though. A fun tidbit for this historian; I hope it thoroughly confuses a genealogist someday.

Although probably not sanctioned by DHS, I’m prepared to share all of these details with him in the future. I will tell him everything I know. He should know.

The LIttle Man’s Adoption, Part II: The Arrival

This is where the story starts to be difficult for me to share, especially in such a public forum. I feel slightly uncomfortable revealing our interactions with DHS. Most of the people in our life don’t know how difficult this process ended up being, but I feel like it is time to open up about it. Hopefully it will be received with understanding.

When we decided to add the little man to our family, it was just before the holidays. DHS picked a date just after the first of the year for us to take custody and we waited. I was a little nervous because technically his mother’s parental rights had not been terminated, but we were assured that she had no desire to keep her child and it just needed time to go through the courts.

Then things took a dramatic turn.

When the little man’s foster mother was informed of his placement, she panicked. Apparently, she thought she was going to be able to adopt him. [We later learned that DHS never intended to place him with her – naturally, we weren’t privy to their reasoning – but neglected to tell her.] Our social workers backed off, canceled our original placement date and rescheduled to give her a few days to process the situation. This was stressful for us, but I completely understood.

Then she started to lash out, desperate to keep him. Again, I understood. And I felt for her – the system had failed her and I would likely have done the same thing in her situation. This left us in an odd place though. Even though this was completely DHS’s decision, we felt like the bad guys; taking a child we had never even seen away from someone who loved him.

Our date to take custody was canceled two additional times before we had to speak up for ourselves and let them know this was unacceptable. It all felt so backwards – they had made a mistake and were trying to make up for it by drawing the process out. This wasn’t helping – it wasn’t good for us or for his foster family. They agreed and scheduled one more placement date, promising it would be the final date.

A few days before our final scheduled date, the little man had an appointment with his doctor and our social worker attended (common practice). At some point during that meeting, she decided that this complicated situation needed to end and [gently, I hope] convinced his foster mother. They went to the foster family’s home to collect his things and she took him back to the DHS office.

This was in the morning. She did not call us.

Around 5pm, we were picking our daughter up from daycare and had just called some friends to tell them we were running late to dinner. Almost as soon as I hung up the phone, I got a call from our worker. She said, “Guess who I’ve got!?” and let us know that she was only minutes away from our home. We quickly called our friends, canceled dinner, and rushed to meet her. She beat us there.

My husband brought the baby inside while our worker started bringing in his things. This is when we realized that he was here to stay. She had surprised us with a baby. I still don’t know why she decided to do this – at any time during the day she could have called. This was not an emergency foster home situation where you make a late night call and bring a child by within minutes.

The little man arrived with very few things: a car seat, two outfits, a couple of pairs of socks, an extra pair of pants and extra onesie, a pacifier, half a bottle of shampoo, and bottles/wipes/diapers the social worker had purchased that morning. He was severely constipated and weighed only 8 ½ pounds (at 4 ½ months old). We quickly made numerous phone calls and prepared to settle in with our new family member.

A week later we took the little man for a checkup with the doctor he had seen the morning he joined our family. He had been on a new diet that week and had remarkably gained 5 pounds. Apparently, his entire demeanor had changed from the previous appointment – thank goodness for GI docs!

We were thrilled with his progress and were excited that the drama was over and we could start our new life together.

Unfortunately, we were very wrong. We were about to be punched in the gut with a devastating turn of events. Part III: The Shock will detail what happened next.

The Little Man’s Adoption, Part I: The Process

Ah, gotcha day*. The adoption equivalent of a birth story. The day the little man showed up on our doorstep was a very interesting one. Since I wasn’t blogging at the time, I’ve never really shared the story until now. I’ll leave out some of the details to respect our (and others) privacy. But here it goes. . .

Our adoption process was difficult. We worked through our local DHS office to adopt a child from the foster care system. I’m happy we decided to do this, but I’m not sure if I would ever have the strength to go through that chaotic process again. The whole process took two years from beginning to end for us – we hit some hiccups along with way when we moved counties, had to re-do our paperwork, but still ended up trapped in the old county system until the error was discovered 15 minutes before our scheduled home study. That was apparently the first time our worker looked at our address. [She would have been late to our appointment even if we still lived in her county.]

The adoption process is invasive – it wasn’t a shock however, they are very clear about the process in the informational meetings. Paperwork, doctor’s appointments, classes, interviews, etc. We had to talk to strangers about our sex life.

We were required to complete nine weeks of classes. I found them to be utterly useless. There was some basic parenting information, but a lot of the class focused on trying to understand the process from your social worker’s point of view. This was not helpful.

If it were up to me, those classes would be restructured to help the foster/adopt families understand our side of the process. We would focus on where to call to get answers, how to plan visits, why things take so long. Then we would spend a huge portion talking about how to navigate the system when you have the child in your house (for a family adopting in Arkansas, the child remains in state custody for six months – most other states have a similar arrangement). Finally, we would finish up with practical information about dealing with many of the common issues these kids face and where to find help in the future. Foster and adoption families spend so much time in this process, they should be over-prepared when a child enters their household. Instead, most of us spend a huge amount of time learning to navigate the system on the backend. Unfortunately, I’m not in charge [and wouldn’t want to be! I know they are dealing with very difficult situations!], so the classes end up being more of a nuisance.

Early in the process we had a worker do a quick walk-through of or house. I don’t remember the official names for these meetings, but it was basically just to make sure we didn’t have any big problems that would prohibit a child from being placed with us – only one exit from the home, not enough space for the child in a room, non-working plumbing, etc. The full walkthrough came later in the processes and was very different than what the classes prepared us for. The little time we spend on how to prepare our house was very rigid and rule-centric. The actually experience with our social worker was much more fluid and flexible. For example, we were required to post a fire escape plan a couple of places in the house. This made no sense for us, as we were adopting a young baby, so our social worker didn’t spend a lot of time checking to make sure our plans met the strict guidelines.

Eventually, photographs and files of children start arriving in your email. In our case, what she sent us rarely matched up with our “requests.” It didn’t really matter in the end. We decided to add a 4 ½ month old son to our home – he totally went against all of the “rules” we set for ourselves in the beginning. He was still a baby. He was born with drugs in his system. It didn’t matter. He was our son. Sometimes you just know.

Next time = Part II: The Arrival

*Yes, I realize there is some controversy around the term “gotcha.” We don’t celebrate the day, so I’ve never really considered what to call it before.

The Little Man

My three year old son has cerebral palsy. We adopted him when he was only 4 1/2 months old and – even though he is a very joyful addition to the household – everyday is an adventure. We know little about the future of his disability and take things day-by-day. Like many people in our situation, we get very excited about the little things.

Recently, we had a very big little thing: He asked a question.

As my husband put his coat on, the little man said “Ba” for bye. After confirming that he was leaving, my husband continued to put his coat on. The little man followed up by asking “Ma Ba.” “Ma” is his sound for me/my (not for mom . . . although it is sometimes hard to convince people of this, I know the difference between when he wants me and when he wants everything else he can see).

The little man was loaded up in the car to go for a ride. How could you not?

March 25th was Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. I’m only slightly late with this posting. All of March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, so it still counts.