November 26, 2014

3rd Agency Visit



It is 18 hours later and I still feel a little tongue tied over our phone interview with the Agency in City B. I was never 100% on board with them based on the literature they provide and their website, but everywhere I looked I saw glowing reviews for them. So I added them to our short list of agencies to interview.

This was an...interesting experience. If I had not done so much research and soul searching ahead of time, and if we hadn't already interviewed 2 other agencies, our reactions might have been different. But as it was, there was red flag after red flag and M cut the call short with a slashing gesture across his throat. When M voices an opinion, you know its important.

First off, I asked about expectant mother counseling. The woman, let's call her Marge, went on a brief soapbox about how no agency should be telling us that they "counsel the birth mother" because an adoption agency has a vested interest in getting the woman to place her baby. I'm thinking "Okaaaay, on one hand I see what you are saying and on the other hand No, a good agency with good social workers will still counsel a woman about *all* her options, including parenting, even though they have a 'vested interest'". Then she went on to make the blanket statement that "Birth mothers don't want counseling, they come to us for the support services we can offer." Okay, Marge, tell me about the support services you offer - none of which includes advising her of the services available should she choose to parent.

Then I asked about their adoption education classes. I had already read on the website that their education is just internet courses, but I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing some in-person aspect of it. Nope, Marge informed me that they "used to sporadically host in-person classes" but its just a bunch of online resources now. You send in your paperwork, do the home-study - the online courses make the whole process so much faster. Yeah....because faster is important...not, say, thorough education...

The final straw for both M and I was when I asked about Birth Mother expenses. In our state it is legal for a birth mother to request up to $3K in living expenses once she is matched with a family. I had read a lot about this on the internet and how some people feel it creates an ethical and moral gray area: Does this money compel the mothers to place out of a sense of debt or guilt? Is it made perfectly clear that this money is not some twisted *payment* for their baby? You can see how things might get dicey. The other two agencies made us feel much more at ease about the birth mother expenses because it is not immediately dispensed as one lump sum to a woman whether she brings up a need or not. The agency handles the money and if a birth mother mentions expenses she needs help covering (generally food, rent, cell phone, etc.) then the agency will use the money to provide her gift cards or they will direct pay bills for her. Almost never do they just hand cash over to a woman - again, because of the moral/ethical grey area. And they might not need the full $3K, they only use what is asked for. Well, Marge informs us that it is written in their info brochure that you provide $1000 to the birth mother up front when matched and that the remaining $2K is provided to her after placement...So, you know, she can feel free to walk away thinking that we just fucking *bought* her *baby*! Talk about incentivising placement! Yikes!

I was alarmed at the way Marge glossed over the needs of the birth mother. More alarming was the fact she said they are in need of adoptive families - that they currently have 2 expectant mothers for every 1 waiting family. Como what? Is it because the process is quick for them too? No need to soul search about what is the best decision for your baby; just come to us and in the end you get $3000 cash for your trouble? Is it because, without counseling, they fail to weed out the expectant mothers who are more likely to parent - thus leaving a match to fall through only once the baby is born? O_O

Obviously, there are many people (adoptive parents) who are perfectly happy with the way this agency runs. It gets straight to the point - fill out your paperwork, do homestudy, pay money, get baby - quickly. But a *faster* adoption process doesn't make it a *better* adoption process. Had we not educated ourselves ahead of time, this agency might have sounded really good, because how can you turn down an easier, faster adoption? I am so thankful that we already knew what we wanted out of an agency and an adoption, that we were clear on what was important to us.

So, oddly enough, a decision that I thought would be gut-wrenchingly difficult to make became quite easy. We felt the most comfortable with the Agency in City A and we feel confident about moving forward with them. I am printing the initial paperwork from their website today for M and I to go over on the holiday weekend.

Holy shit.

We're going to adopt!!

November 25, 2014

The Healing Power of Hope

Hope was my enemy for so long while I struggled with infertility. Hope made me excited each new cycle, even at the end when I knew in my soul it wasn't working. Hope made me sob buckets, enough for a river, with each BFN. Hope was indestructible, no matter how hard I tried to squash it down in a tiny box, hidden at the back of mind to protect myself from the hurt it caused. There were days I wished for nothing more than to have no hope, so that I could give up and have some peace. Hope was the boogie man under my bed that terrorized me for 4 painful years.

Imagine my surprise when I experienced a new lightness of being by talking about our someday adopted child with M. I am becoming more comfortable speaking in definitives - instead of "if we ever turn the craft room into a nursery" I can say "when we probably turn the craft room into a nursery". And it doesn't hurt! I don't feel soul crushing agony when I consider how our daily routines will be altered by the presence of a child. Hope, it appears, can heal as much as hurt. And maybe, *hopefully* (get it?), I have turned a corner where hope and I can be friends instead of enemies; where I can feel safe thinking about the eventuality of our growing family without cursing myself in the same moment.

And I never knew how restorative and *wonderful* that could feel.

November 24, 2014

Losses Yet to be Mourned

I have worked hard to educate myself and M about the unique experiences we will have with adoption, the losses we are and will experience. I don't want to be blindsided by some unexplored grief when I should be busy encouraging attachment with my new little one. Here is a list of a few losses I've thought of that may cause us pain even in our joy of adoption:

A child who looks like M and I - Since we started trying to get pregnant almost 4 years ago, I have asked myself how I would feel raising a child that bore no resemblance to us. Did I want a child so I could see M's eyes and my hair? Was that my main motivation for having a baby? I have spent a lot of time over the past year doing soul searching and making sure I am comfortable with our child looking nothing like us, but I know in my heart of hearts that I can't truly mourn that loss until it is made manifest in whatever child we end up adopting. I hope, though, that I have prepared myself as much as possible.

Breastfeeding - I feel very conflicted about this topic. On one hand, I would be very sad to not be able to breastfeed my child because I do feel it is best for them and is an opportunity for so much comfort and attachment. On the other hand, it is possible to breastfeed your adopted child- but I don't know if I could go through the artificial stimulation and then the social reaction to me breastfeeding my trans-racially adopted child (if that ended up being our situation). Am I allowed to be sad about something that I did sort of have a choice over and chose not to pursue?

Naming rights - "Alice Clara Belle". I have never told a soul that name. That is the name that I chose for our now never-to-be biological daughter. I had that name picked out for about 2 years, back when I was so sure we could still have a baby. It is a first name of Germanic origin (both M and I have German heritage, among others) and a middle name from my maternal grandmother's first name. I never told my grandma that I had wanted to use her name - I was afraid to raise her hopes when we might not get pregnant. Now she has died and I can never tell her, though I guess it hardly matters since I won't ever have a biological daughter. I thought briefly about hanging onto this name for an adopted daughter, but it feels wrong somehow. This was a name specially chosen for a child that would share our heritage. With an adopted child, we will have so many new considerations: the wishes of the birth family, the heritage of the birth family, and just the way a name can "fit" a child. And I feel wrong about saddling a trans-racially adopted child with such a "white" name, if that makes any sense at all. Still, I'm sad over the loss of this choice. The loss of heritage. The loss of carrying on a family name. I mourn these things now and I will continue to grieve when a baby is placed in my arms.

A purely joyful beginning of life - I will write on this more in another post, but there is sadness and loss in the very first days of an adopted person's life. Loss of their biological connection. Loss of the only familiar person. Our child's homecoming will be bittersweet and there is nothing I can do but accept it and grieve with them. This is something no biological family need do, but is critical for an adopted family. The loss is real, even for a tiny infant. *I* am a stranger and "mother" is the woman they are not with. With time, that will change, but it is still something I will have to grieve right along side my baby.

Adoption is such an emotional journey - one that lasts for the lifetime of the adopted person. I am trying to learn and adjust, and to stretch my heart to make room for all the feelings, good and bad, which are to come. I pray that by doing this, I can see with clear eyes and do what is right by my child, and not just what I think is best for myself and M.

November 20, 2014

Agency Visit 2

The more actions that M and I take towards really starting our adoption journey, the more real it begins to feel. Like it is slowly materializing into something solid and tangible after being a ghost of a dream for so long.

Yesterday was the trip to City C for our in-person, one-on-one interview with my favorite agency so far. It was a really good visit, however the distance from our home is a little concerning. Almost 1 hr 45 minutes one way :-\ 

Honestly, I'm a little surprised I didn't walk away from that meeting beaming with certainty that we had found "The One". They take a very hands-off approach to the birth parent/adoptive parent relationship. They don't even send a social worker to attend the very first meeting of expectant mom and prospective adoptive parents. Kind of a throw you into the deep end and you either sink or swim philosophy. Which, I understand their reasoning, but that doesn't mean I think it is the right philosophy for M and I. If this were our second adoption or something, I think I would feel a lot more comfortable being left to our own devices to forge a relationship with the birth parents.

Apart from that aspect, though, I really like everything else about the agency: the way their education and homestudy process works, the fee schedule, the size of the agency and their connections and reputation in the community. Clearly they are doing something right. But there was something about the presentation by the agency in City A that made me feel more comfortable and confident about their commitment to openness and encouraging continued contact with birth parents. ::shrug:: maybe its just a difference of where the birth moms are coming from.

Another thing which can be seen as a positive or a negative is that with City C agency, we need to have our application submitted by early the week after Thanksgiving because their next education series starts in early December. If we miss that one we have to wait until March, I believe. So, we could get started on this process rather quickly, which is nice. But, are we ready to make that decision and jump right in? Around the holidays?

To account for this potential accelerated schedule, we'll be calling the agency in City B tomorrow evening or Monday evening. At the moment, I think the agency in City A has pulled slightly in the lead, but it is very narrow. Their education series is a little more spread out though, and only in the evenings; whereas City C agency has 2 full day courses and then you are done. Scheduling for that is easier than lots of evenings. No pressure or anything, right? Just one of the most important decisions we will ever make.

Does anyone have thoughts on meeting an expectant mother for the first time with no social worker present? Because I think that is my only hang-up that is keeping City C agency in second place.

November 17, 2014

Funding Adoption

M and I are funding our adoption solely by ourselves. We haven't asked our parents or anyone else for assistance. That's not to say our family and friends won't help out in other ways eventually. We may not have a traditional, pre-birth baby shower, but I'm sure there will be gifts and hand-me-downs nonetheless. This isn't the case for everyone, though.

There's a girl I went to high school with and, even though we were acquaintances at best, we somehow have remained friends for years. Around the same time M and I started to seriously research adoption, this girl got married and immediately knew she and her husband would adopt (undisclosed health issues making fertility an impossibility). So I have followed her journey in a vague sense of solidarity. For some reason, they have decided that it is supremely important they adopt while incurring zero debt. In fact, they paid off all their debt except their mortgage before they started saving for adoption. Okay, more power to them, except that "zero debt" to them apparently translates to "Almost entirely fund-raised".

I haven't exactly been "active" in the adoption community for long, but I have already learned that fundraising to pay for adoption is an extremely divisive topic. I don't know that I have a hard opinion either way, but reading about my high school friend's adoption process definitely causes me to grimace. I'm not condemning her, I have a very "to each their own" feeling about a lot of infertility and adoption topics, but I can't help feeling that they are creating their own hardship and trying to thrust it onto friends and family to resolve. On their site, their donation goal is listed as $25,000 - that is essentially how much it costs to adopt domestically in our state, which is their stated preference. Wow, hoping to fund-raise the full cost of adoption? You might think that is just their pie-in-the-sky goal, but realistically they don't expect to raise more than a few K. I'm not so sure...she posts every month or two on soliciting donations. She has updated and blogged about how no one seems able to help financially and she feels like they'll never be ready to move on to the actual process. They've got a few thousand raised now and she thinks they "almost" have enough to apply to an agency and do the Homestudy. Not sure what agency she wants to go with, but at any I've looked into, she has more than enough to do those things.

Of course, I understand adoption is expensive - boy do I understand it. And I get that can be a barrier to some people. But I think the whole "adoption without debt" part is what's giving me pause with her situation. She is putting extra constraints on herself and saying, "Alright people of the world, come help me do this because I refuse to take out a loan". I just feel like it is a little unrealistic to know how expensive this process is, to know the limitations of your own finances, and then to say "we will do this debt free". It is basically the cost of a new car! Not many people purchase a new car without taking a loan.

I do wonder though, if I am speaking from a more privileged point of view. Would I feel differently if we were struggling financially? We are incredibly blessed that M's grandmother set up a trust fund for him to attend college, that I work for a university which provides tuition at 20% for dependents, that M got a good paying job out of college, that we live in an area of the country with low cost-of-living. Most of these things we had no hand in, we were just very blessed to have them happen to us in the way they did, so its not like we can say we were 100% the architects of our current financial standing. But even with all of that, we have been conscientiously saving for this and we will *still* take out a loan against M's 401K (honestly the best option for us because of low interest and we can use our adoption benefits from work to pay ourselves back). So, it isn't as though we never needed to consider fundraising. I thought about it briefly and knew it was not for us; I would rather suffer through the saving and the debt.

I think my opinion coalesces around the idea that *some* fund-raising is okay, but ultimately it is our (the prospective adoptive parents') responsibility to take on the burden of the cost for this experience because it is a choice. Like it or not, it is a choice. I feel very fluid about that though and maybe along the way to my own adoption, I will change my opinion. What do you all think?

November 14, 2014

One Info Session down

Apart from the logistics being a total pain in the ass, the info meeting at the agency in City A was pretty good. We had to leave immediately when I got home from work (I ate microwaved leftovers in the car while M drove) and barely made it on time. Plus, we didn't get home until bedtime so we let the dog out for a few minutes and headed upstairs. And I felt super guilty for being a bad dog-mom - poor animal spent all day, then most of the evening, and all night in his pen. This is why I prefer to have control over the schedule.

About 45 minutes of it was kind of a waste of time for me because it was all stuff I already knew about the agency/the adoption process, but it was good for M, I think. And I was impressed there were only 2 questions along the lines of “But what if a birth parent comes back and tries to steal ma bahbah?!” And I loved the answer from the social worker because, in as nice a way possible, she said “Well, A.) they have no legal rights after surrender, but more importantly B.) they’re not monsters out to ruin your happiness, they’re human beings. 99.9% of birth parents will do no such thing.”

M and I agree they seem like a good place that is genuinely concerned with helping expectant mothers in whatever way they can, even if they don't end up following through with an adoption plan. And the social worker who presented was very honest about the realities of adoption. She said there are plenty of women who decide they can't relinquish the baby once it is born. And that's something you have to accept. You can be upset about it, but don't be mad at a woman for wanting to keep her child with her.

Next week we will visit the agency that is the farthest away. I feel much more relaxed about it because we are taking the day off, we get to meet one-on-one with someone, and we're meeting friends for an early dinner afterwards before heading home. Much less stressful on me from a planning perspective.

Another step I am taking in this adoption adventure is that I am going to talk to my supervisor briefly next week and fill her in on my family building plans. I still feel very...uncomfortable telling new people and talking to...most people about adoption. IF was just so hard and so painful and personal - I still very much feel the need to insulate and protect myself against the world and the thoughtless ways it can hurt me. I'm *trying* to be brave and have faith and not be a pessimist, but as anyone who has nothing but failed IF cycles behind them knows, it is incredibly hard. I want to let my supervisor know, though, because I know I will have emotional days, or increased days off, or get overwhelmed easily, and I need her to know I'm not a crazy person, I'm just a person who is putting their very damaged heart out into the world and praying *this* time it doesn't get crushed.

November 12, 2014

Agency Visits

I enjoyed the traumatic experience of calling adoption agencies on my lunch break last Friday. All I wanted to do was schedule a sit-down with someone at 3 different agencies to go over some questions I need answered before we can choose an agency to work with. Nope, sorry, doesn't work like that. At City A's agency we *have* to attend a structured orientation session with a bunch of other couples in the evening. At City B's agency, they do everything over the phone because "isn't that so much more convenient than taking a half or whole day off to come down for an appointment?". City C's agency, fortunately, was all “of course we can do that! Would you like to leave a voicemail and she’ll call you back or you can schedule it all through email.” Really? I can have my private, face-to-face appointment? You aren't going to force me into a situation I don’t want to be in and certainly isn't the best way for us to ask/process information? That is so novel…

I have already had to grieve the loss of control over almost every facet of family building, just let me ask my damn questions the way I want to! In person, in private! This is *such* a big decision, possibly the biggest of our lives. I want to meet these people in person, get a feel for their personality etc., if we are going to be working with them and trusting them to help us over the next 2 years - I need to know if I can feel at ease with them. I want to meet them in private because this is so personal. My IF doctor didn't have me come to a group class to learn about IVF and I feel this should be treated the same way. I have very particular questions I want answered. I have already educated myself *A LOT* about adoption and these 3 agencies, I just need to check off a few very specific questions and I can make my decision. I don't want to sit through "Adoption for Dummies" for an hour on a week night after driving 45 minutes home from work and then 30 more minutes to the agency (in rush hour traffic no less :-P) . Plus, even though I know I am in a pretty good place of having dealt with my IF grief, I also know there are some things that can still bring me to tears - particularly in a high stress environment (another reason I wanted control over when the appointment was, so I could be as much at ease as possible). I prefer my privacy to deal with my emotions rather than being in a big group setting.

The group info session in City A is tonight. I'm not really looking forward to it simply because of the logistics to get there on time making me anxious. I would have much preferred scheduling something during the day and taking time off from work to eliminate outside stressors. I would love to be proven wrong about how unhelpful this will be. I would love to be blown away and so happy with their presentation - Mmmm, crow!

We have decided to interview 1 agency a week, so next week we will visit the agency in City C - the one that didn't act like I was crazy for wanting to sit down one on one with someone. Right now, they are my favorite agency based on their website and info packet. Unfortunately, they are also the farthest away. The other 2 agencies are between 30 and 45 minutes from our house. City C is at least an hour if not more :-/ But you know what, if they make us feel the most comfortable and their methods match our concerns, then I will happily burn those miles.

::deep breath:: Here we go...