Domestic Infant Adoption

OPTIONS ABOUND for those who wish to adopt – the only limits are time and money. With a biological child, you get what you get and they only come one way – very young.

So let me tell you about our options and what we decided.

First decision: international or domestic? We could go to a different country or stay in the States. We were not keen on international paperwork, so we decided on domestic.

Second decision: public or private? We could adopt through the public (e.g. “state”) system or through an agency/attorney. The difference is mainly in who is relinquishing the child to us – for public it’s the government and for private it’s first parents. We were not keen on the government being heavily involved in the process for this go-round, so we decided on private.

Most private adoptions are infant adoptions. So we’re doing what is generally known as domestic infant adoption.

Some of the work still goes through the state government. Our home study has to be submitted and approved by a licensed state social worker, for example. And the actual placement and finalization paperwork is managed by government entities. The majority of what we’ll be doing, though, will happen with private agencies or attorneys.

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We’re Adopting

Yup, big changes here in our neck of the woods. I’m hesitant to announce “we’re adopting” on my social media channels until we get through the first round of paperwork and have some real, solid (legal) stuff going. But we’re spending money, so it’s official enough for a blog post.

If you’ve been around for a while you’ll recall we went through an attempt at the foster care system. It did not go well. In fact, it was miserable for both of us. We walked away from that experience seriously reevaluating our decision to become parents, especially through the state system.

I’m going to pause here and agree with everyone who thinks this is a huge shame, and an awful state of affairs, and you-would-think-they-would-etc-etc-etc. Yes to all of that. The world is a crappy place sometimes, and we hit on a crappy version of it in our Parenthood Quest. Neither of us are well-suited for dealing with the State of Texas, nor for depending upon it for our first child.

Thankfully, we are in a different place now, geographically, mentally, and financially. So we did some soul-searching, lots of talking, a bit of crying, and we have a new game plan. It involves – IN THEORY – private domestic adoption, a consultancy, lots of money, and a relatively quick placement. We’ll see how that all plays out in practice.

Right now we are at the super-very-extreme front end of a real honest-to-goodness adoption journey. It’s the very start, we have a lot in front of us. And we are indescribably excited and relieved and a ton of other feelings about shifting gears from “talking about it” to “doing it.” We’re finally in first gear; the car is moving.

Woo!

Choose Joy 2015 – First Thoughts

This has been a tremendous weekend. It’s strange because it’s been one of those times where no ONE thing happened that was earth shattering, but instead it was kind of a three day process of Things Happening.

I won a trip to a faith-based infertility and adoption conference in California. It wasn’t just the registration fee that I won – I also won airfare, hotel, transportation. Zero reason to keep me from going. And even so, I was nervous and hesitant. Because I wouldn’t use the word “faith-based” to describe my lifestyle. At all. And, in fact, that didn’t really change this weekend.

However, I’ve been following this event for several years, and it has always looked like a strange and wonderful microcosmic bubble of support and understanding and sharing. I wanted that. And holy smokes, I got it.

Part of what makes infertility so terrible is the way it isolates. It’s a loss that is completely unseen. It’s a loss that doesn’t usually include an event or any kind of mourning period.

With most other kinds of grief there are social and mental boundaries sort of built in – it only happens once, it’s a huge deal, other people understand, Hallmark makes cards for it. They do 5Ks for it. You know? There are ways to remember positively, and ways to share the loss, and ways to feel not-alone. And the whole “it’s been XX years since XX grief” allows you to not only mark your grief in a very real way, but also allows you to get some mental distance from it.

None of this is a thing with infertility. It is an ongoing grief because it is an ongoing loss (a death-magnitude loss) throughout the entirety of childbearing years. It is a specific kind of grief – one that only a limited number of people share. And it is unseen. There are no photos of now-gone loved ones to remind others (or us) of a life well-lived. There are few anniversaries. No 5Ks and very few support groups to create any kind of community or safe space to work through it.

Infertility is a lonely grief.

Sharing it online has been helpful because it allows me to connect with others who are dealing with similar stories. It also allows me to share what I’m dealing with in a way that is emotionally safe – posting online and moderating feedback means I’m not exposed to weird comments or judgement the same way I would be if I was sharing “in real life.” People say some awful stuff but it’s not because they’re mean or unfeeling. It’s because people don’t know this grief. It’s not familiar, and so they (even the really good ones) say dumb things.

So sharing in real life is rare.

One of the intense and incredible things about this weekend at the Choose Joy 2015 conference was being in a huge group where everyone feels the same way as me. They are dealing with the same kind of grief. They have similar stories and similar triggers, and struggle with moving on in the same ways as I do. In the eight years we have been trying to have kids, I’ve never once experienced that. Ever. There is no camaraderie in infertility. It is a thing that a woman (or family) experiences alone. And that is so different from how we, as humans, are wired.

The “not-alone” feeling was driven home for me right near the end of the weekend, when I happened to be next to two women who had the good fortune of having been able to birth some kids. They forgot themselves and spent a few moments co-lamenting the misery of summer pregnancies. It was such a little thing for them that they didn’t even realize how painful it was for those around them.

In that moment, though, instead of being upset, I was kind of fascinated. I realized that I have heard this kind of thing millions of times in my adult life. I have many, many friends with kids, and having kids comes with a host of trials and tribulations that are miserably real. I expect this kind of commiserating. It’s how we operate; It doesn’t bother me (anymore) because I know that sharing struggle, commiserating, is so integral to being a human and being a woman – you build a community around common experiences, and usually around common hardships.

I haven’t had that. It’s pretty much been eight years of suffocated suffering (that’s weird to type) but I got it this weekend. I got to share, to commiserate, to say “holy smokes I KNOW how you feel” and get that response in return.

I didn’t even realize how much I craved that simple human connection.

So many people came out of the woodwork when we started having miscarriages – miscarriage is a 1 in 3 event (meaning most couples have had at least one). Infertility has a 1 in 8 occurrence rate. And yet, except for very brief glimpses into that pain (and only six years ago, when we were regularly losing pregnancies), we don’t talk about those things. We don’t commune over those things. There is no common ground between us an those around us in relation to infertility. We don’t lessen the pain by sharing with those who can empathize – we really can’t. And we suffer for it.

But this weekend I got to do that. I got a community. I got to share. I got to listen as a fellow, as someone who could empathize. And just that simple thing of being able to commiserate, to give and take, with people who deeply understood because they’d been through the same stuff… it was insane.

I so needed it. I so needed the experience of feeling that others are dealing with this, and that I’m not alone, and that even if it might be forever it won’t always feel like it does now.

I’m not alone.

How incredible.

Course Correction

I have been using “I” for a lot of posts recently, mostly because it’s easier to write, even when what I really mean is “we.” In contrast, today is definitely a “we” post, even though it gets tricky to write.

The foster-to-adopt process started for us back in early November of last year when we attended an orientation meeting hosted by Child Protective Services (CPS) in the nearest major city – about two hours away. We drove to the city on a Saturday morning and spent the day listening to workers talking about the basics of the foster and foster-to-adopt process. It was a lot of information we already knew but it was a worthwhile trip to get some faces and some personal accounts of how things play out.

Since then, Hubs and I have been on our own, filling out lots and lots of paperwork and trying to anticipate what the needs will be so we are at least somewhat prepared. Our previous experience with government processes (plus a lot of reading about foster/adopt through the state CPS system) means we are aware that there will be “emergencies” where someone somewhere dropped the ball or forgot about us and we will have to scramble to make up the deficit.

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Our human contact since that orientation meeting has been abysmal. Combined with the mountains of deeply personal paperwork that just keeps on growing, the whole experience thus far has been discouraging on the best days, but mostly deeply troubling.

Hubs and I have had multiple conversations about this, especially as the holidays approached and sailed by. Neither of us feels any kind of peace about the process; most days we feel increasing anxiety and unrest. There’s a growing thought that we are working hard to become part of a system that will certainly ignore us throughout the whole process (years) and will probably be a malign presence in our life.

This isn’t a good option for us. With the information we have right now, this has become a situation where we need to take a step back and look for better, healthier options for us and for any kids who might come into our lives.

Of course, gloriously, this means more waiting on our part. Whatever our next step is will cost a LOT more money, so we need to adjust our approach and squirrel some cash away. (When I say “some” I mean “a lot of.”) Until then, we will keep on keeping on, and continue to hope for some kind of miracle that will wipe out all this agonizing and planning and being responsible.

Until then. BLERG.

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Learn With Me: Foster Care and Public Adoption in the US

Yesterday I posted about the three options readily available to potential adopters in the US (click here to open that post in a new window). My current journey is with public adoption, or adoption through the state system. This post is a more detailed account of the basics on how that system works in general, and what it means for me.

NOTE: I use “I” and “me” pronouns almost exclusively when talking about family stuff. In reality, these pronouns are often more “us” and “we” type stories. I use the first-person pronoun simply for ease of writing (and reading).

Public adoption is the adoption of orphans who are citizens of the US. In the US, children are only orphaned after all family connections are severed – usually via unfit parenting/guardianship. To be a ward of the state (that’s the politically accurate term for orphan in the US) a child goes through years of disruption. In the US, the goal of the state system is to keep a child as close as possible to their first parent(s) so it takes many years for first parents’ rights to be completely terminated.

First, children are removed from parents for a probationary period (Child Protective Services generally tries to find extended family to take kids in) while parents work on getting themselves together. This can mean taking anger management classes, getting off drugs, becoming educated on neglect and malnourishment, etc… If a parent gets themselves together, their children are returned to them. Only when no extended family is available is a child placed in foster care. Eighteen months is the absolute minimum amount of time parents have to get right. So nothing beyond temporary foster care even begins to happen until after a child has been in temporary care for well over a year.

As a child’s state-decided “plan” moves from temporary (foster) care to permanent placement (adoption), a lot of things have to happen. First, there has to be clear, legally compelling proof that first parents can’t ever be parents to that child. There has to be a lot of investigation, many court dates, and usually depends on zero effort (over an extended period of time) from first parents. The vast majority of what I’ve read, from both state organizations and from personal accounts, indicates that if a first parent is trying the state will continue to hold a child in temporary (foster) care. The state really wants kids to end up with their first parents.

So for parental rights to be terminated (the first legal step in adoption from the state system) the first parents have to be done. If that’s the case, state systems then move on to recruiting immediate and extended family of first parents to take over as permanent guardians. This is how aunts and uncles, older siblings, and grandparents end up becoming legal guardians of kids. This is called kinship care/adoption and it’s relatively common in state systems. Again, the goal is for children to end up with first parents; if that’s not an option the state wants those kids as close as possible.

If no extended family members are available, the process of legally separating the child from their first parents begins. This separation takes months to years. After that process is complete, the child is then a ward of the state and available for adoption. The process of adopting a child then takes (again) months to years. The average age for a kid in the state system who is able to be adopted is around eight years old.

Two ways to participate in the system, as parents. First is foster care only, where the home is open to house kids who are in temporary conditions or who are legally free but have not been adopted. The second, the one I’m working on, is foster-to-adopt, where foster parents are approved to adopt kids who are legally free for adoption. In Texas, every parent goes through foster certification. The ones who also want to adopt have additional requirements to be allowed to adopt.

Like yesterday, there’s so much more I could say about this. Trying to distill the information I’ve been gathering for a year into a few hundred words has been an effort, and has generated some deep conversations at my house. I suspect there will be more about how I feel (personally) about this adoption option in future posts.

Please drop a note of encouragement or feel free to ask questions. This is hard. It’s hard in unexpected ways and right now it feels like it will always be hard.

Thanks for reading!


FROM ADOPTUSKIDS.ORG: For children in foster care available for adoption, and for whom no adoptive family has been identified, the AdoptUSKids national photolisting website serves as a tool for connecting their caseworkers with prospective adoptive families. Over the last decade, 20,000 children previously photolisted on AdoptUSKids have been placed with adoptive families. AdoptUSKids is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administration for Children and Families. See the full-size infographic

Infographic for AdoptUSKids Celebrating 20,000 Children Placed With Adoptive Families

Learn With Me: Adoption Options

I read a sentence last night that stuck with me; it went something like this: “It sometimes occurs to me that those around me aren’t doing the feverish reading and research we are in preparation for adoption. It’s a good reminder that I should be sharing what I know with family and friends rather than just assume they have the same knowledge base.”

I haven’t been communicative about what I’ve been learning. This is a personality thing with me – when things are tough or challenging I tend to hunker down. So I figured I’d share some of the things I am learning about and working through. Hopefully this is interesting information for those who know me personally, and perhaps also interesting to readers from Other Places.

I’m making the choice to use “I” and “me” pronouns because it’s easier when I’m writing. Note that Hubs is part of all this learning and decision making – many of the “I” and “me” pronouns are actually “us” and “we.”

Today, a brief overview of the three basic options available for adoption – international, private-domestic, and public. This includes my thoughts on each and why foster-to-adopt is where I’m at right now.

International Adoption

learn with me: adoption options | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com
from http://www.cafdn.org/adopt

INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION is any adoption outside the US. It can be as close as Canada or Mexico, and as far as Russia or China.

This option was wildly popular in the 70s and 80s, at the height of the “closed adoption” movement, and is still going strong today. Specific characteristics of this option include a closed adoption – meaning there’s zero contact with first parents – and children who are (usually) ethnically different from their adopted parents.

One of the major “pluses” of this option from an adopter’s point of view is the finality of this type of adoption. Once a child is on US soil and paperwork is rolling on the States side, it is almost unheard of that a child is removed from their adopted home.

One of the major “minuses” of this option from an adopter’s point of view is that this option is heavy with bureaucracy and expensive. It’s usually the most paperwork-y and expensive of all three major adoption options. Adopters are dealing with termination of parental rights and citizenship issues in TWO countries. This often means waiting years, and jumping through a lot of weird international hoops.

Why it’s not for me:

1 | It’s expensive. Plain and simple, the money for it doesn’t exist in my life right now. After the IVF cycle in Feb-Mar 2014 there was a conscious decision to avoid all major debt for several years. Gotta’ get that bottom line out of red and into black. A $40,000 price tag is not feasible.

2 | I’ve read countless articles and blogs that talk about adoption, especially international adoption, as a “ministry” to the “poor” and “disenfranchised.” Personally, I’m trying to avoid the mindset that I’m rescuing anybody. (I feel like this is a subject big enough for a whole post of its own.) Basically, I’m not comfortable with the “feed the hungry” approach to adoption and that’s a common approach for international adoptions from the US.

3 | I’m not interested in waiting years to be a parent. Been there, done that. Done waiting.

Private Domestic Adoption

learn with me: adoption options | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com
from http://msw.usc.edu/ – view the complete infographic here: http://msw.usc.edu/mswusc-blog/adoption-infographic/

PRIVATE DOMESTIC ADOPTION is commonly referred to as domestic adoption or private adoption. This is adoption within the United States through any avenue other than state-sponsored systems. Usually, this is adoption through a domestic agency that matches pregnant mothers with adoptive parents. On rare occasions, a domestic adoption will be an adoption that doesn’t involve an agency as the intermediary (usually someone who is pregnant already knows someone they want to adopt their child) – this is sometimes called an “independent” adoption.

The major “plus” of private domestic adoption, and the reason it is so popular, is because it allows adopters to parent from infancy (sometimes from a newborn’s first moments). I could go into detail about all the reasons this is a positive for parents, but I think you can probably figure it out. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be touching on it in future posts.

Used to be that domestic adoptions were closed, meaning once children were adopted they and all parents were completely cut off from each other. The US did some extreme things to keep adoptions closed, including sealing all records (sometimes in perpetuity) and creating “new” birth certificates for adopted infants. There’s been a move toward open adoption in the last two decades which seems better for everyone involved.

I like open adoption. It seems like a good idea. Tough, but good.

Why private-domestic adoption is not for me: A few reasons. Kind of a few and a half.

1/2 | I’d be 100% gung-ho to do an independent adoption. I’d get three jobs to fund it. The thing is that there’s no one out there (that I know of) who is with child, doesn’t want to parent, and wants me to parent instead. And, you know, I don’t think I’m really going to find that. Ever. Most women who are pregnant want to parent. The vast majority of those who don’t want to (or can’t) parent get an abortion. The few who do go to term have a family member take over parenting. A very small number go through an agency. Of that very small number, I know none personally. And I probably won’t. So it’s not really a real option.

But if you know someone who is pregnant, doesn’t want to parent, and hasn’t already hooked up with an agency, let me know because I’m all over that.

1 | Though not quite as expensive as international adoption, domestic adoption is still prohibitively expensive. It includes legal fees, medical fees, “finder’s” fees for agencies, and a host of ancillary expenses. We’re talking $20-$30,000 here. I don’t have that and I’m not gonna’ have it anytime soon.

2 | The intermediary role of agencies troubles me. I have some extended family members who chose adoption and I picked up on some less-than-positive impressions of agencies. So when I first started investigating adoption options for myself I made a point to click over to the “are you pregnant?!” areas of adoption agency sites. Many of those sites have one thing in common – the rhetoric for expectant mothers has a clear agenda; it’s designed to be highly persuasive.

That kind of got the hairs on my neck raised. I then actively searched first-hand accounts of first mothers and adoptees. Negative accounts from first mothers usually involve the perception of coercionFor me the mere possibility that a mother might want to parent and be coerced not to is a deal-breaker. I’m still too close to that desperate desire to be a mother and being unable to. That I might possibly be the cause of that for some other woman is too much to process.

I realize that coercion is not a universal first-mother experience by any stretch, but I can’t handle even the remote possibility. Not right now.

3 | First parents change their minds. They can seriously consider multiple potential adopting families and will eventually choose only one family, essentially rejecting other adoptive parents. Even after first parents have chosen their adopting family and surrendered their child, the overwhelming joy of a newly adopted child can swiftly change to deep loss. Most states have a “waiting period” for private adoptions – this is a time for first parents to consider their decision and allows them to change their minds. In short, an adoptive family can lose their child after placement.

I’ve been through multiple miscarriages; I’m not emotionally able to deal with the possibility of losing another child. Not right now.

Public Adoption

PUBLIC ADOPTION is also a type of domestic adoption, technically, but it is through state systems. In the first draft of this post I started explaining the whole process of public adoption but it was really long. So check in tomorrow; I’ll post a bunch of details on public adoption.

Why public adoption is for me:

1 | State subsidized system, meaning the state absorbs (almost) all associated costs.

2 | Children who want parents as much (or more) than I want to be a parent.

3 | First parents have ample opportunity to remain parents – in fact the state system is heavily skewed in favor of first parents keeping their kids (ie: no coercion).

4 | It’s a relatively open system. Even after we adopt we can still maintain contact with first families.

5 | Immediate placement.

Right now it’s the best option. I’ve been through more than enough to convince me that I shouldn’t depend on public adoption being the best option forever. But for today, for now, for where I am, I’ve chosen this direction.

Thanks for reading. More tomorrow. Please feel free to ask questions or drop a word of encouragement.

First Impressions: Social Worker – Trainer

I mentioned, in yesterday’s post, that we are waiting to hear about dates for January training. I’ll post in detail about our placement requirements in the near future, but know that this “January training” is a big one. We can’t miss it and because we’re going to be traveling 2 hours each way to get to the training sessions, we really needed the dates and times so we could start planning for it.

After wrapping up the post from yesterday I realized I was going to have to step up the effort on my end and start pinging everyone and anyone I could think of to get an answer. Which I did. This resulted in a call late yesterday afternoon.

Side note:

During our orientation meeting we were urged to give a lot of careful thought, discussion, and consideration to all our answers on the foster/adopt application – and to be honest with what we felt we could and couldn’t handle, including age ranges and ethnicity. “This will help us place a child in the best possible situation.”

VERY long story short, the call (yay!) was from the training social worker assigned to us. I didn’t get dates, though. The trainer started by asking about our preferred age range, and we went around in circles for a while, me becoming increasingly frustrated and confused. (You don’t even understand how short I am making this story.)

I was eventually told, flat out, that if we didn’t majorly alter our age range that our application would be rejected before training even started.

I had an “oh, duh!” moment.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to get any dates or times until I agreed to their terms. And that all the conversational frustration was because the guy hadn’t started out honestly about the terms. The whole “be upfront about what you can handle” thing wasn’t the reality of the situation.

Once I realized this I immediately said we’d do whatever they wanted and I immediately got dates and times for the next training. Magical.

dr horrible evil laugh from giphy.com

I feel like I would feel bummed about this exchange except I’ve been down this road before. (Not the adoption road but the government-is-a-huge-slow-moving-dinosaur-and-there’s-no-way-you’re-going-to-course-correct-you-just-have-to-go-along-for-the-ride road.) At the end of the day, I got the information I wanted. That’s a win.

I was also assured of a few valuable points that will be helpful for me to keep in mind as we continue this journey.

1) Social workers don’t give a crap about us. In the ginormous equation that is Child Protective Services (CPS) placements, foster families are the least important people. I say this without bitterness – if the goal of CPS is to get kids back with their first parents, foster parents are pretty much just necessary annoyances. I don’t think that approach (by CPS) is grounded in much reality, but I have known very few government policies or procedures that are grounded in reality. We can rage (ineffectively) about it or we can just deal with it and move on.

2) Squeaky wheel gets the cheese. This one is hard for me to do without going overboard and being a jerk but I’m going to try. I tend to vacillate between increasing frustration that no one is responding to my one email from three weeks ago and extreme, rage-filled email blasts to anyone associated with what I want. In truth, a constant low squeak is the most effective. Just keep pinging. Eventually someone will get back to me.

3) Foster/adopt from a state agency is like the DMV on steroids. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is notorious among ineffective government agencies that provide an important service to the general public. The kicker is that, if you want a driver’s license, they are the gatekeepers. You can protest their nonsense all you want but if you do you’re walking out of there without a license. This foster/adopt thing is shaping up to be a similar experience.

4) All the cliches are real. It’s nice to know that we’re not alone. This whole process has been endured so many times that it’s been refined to a series of short observational comments. With that in mind, I’m counting on the most-used cliche of the whole bunch:

In the end, it’s all worth it.