Saturday, March 29, 2014

Officially, Prospectively, Invisibly Pregnant

A little over a week ago, Ben and I mailed off our applications to two adoption agencies--one which will be our "placing agency" in charge of the overall adoption, and one will be our "home study agency" in charge of investigating and clearing us and our home for adoption. We have since been accepted by both agencies, and after signing and notarizing another batch of paperwork, we are now officially prospective adoptive parents!

In many of the adoption books I am reading, the authors refer to prospective adoptive parents as being "invisibly pregnant." Like a couple pregnant with a child, we are anticipating, learning and dreaming, but unlike a pregnant couple, we won't have the physical revelation of that publicly through a growing belly.

In adoption's "invisible" pregnancy, the First Trimester is all about documents, or so it may seem. The home study is a process during which a social worker establishes our readiness and ability to provide a home to a child, learns about us as individuals so as to best find and match a child who will thrive in our family, and to provide structured education and preparation for parenting an adopted child who will have physical, mental, emotional needs beyond that of a "normal" toddler. The home study process will take about 6 months. Secondly, in the First Trimester, a dossier is prepared. A dossier for adoption includes health documents, financial documents, adoption petition, government immigration forms, birth/marriage certificates, employment verification, home ownership verification, criminal background checks, finger printing, letters of reference, copies of tax returns, photographs, and any other documents needed to verify ever tiny aspect of our lives. Our whole entire dossier will then be translated and sent to the government in Georgia for review. This process takes about 10 weeks.

The Second Trimester is about waiting for be matched with our child. From the time the dossier is submitted to the time we are referred a child for the Georgia program is about one year. One whole year of wondering who our child might be. One whole year of waiting for a picture and a paragraph. Of course, some referrals take less time and some take more. The length of the Second Trimester depends on how specific the prospective adoptive parents are or how open they are to a variety of issues--age, sex, health issues, etc. The hardest part of the Second Trimester, I think, will be that we won't know how much longer it will last.

Then finally the Third Trimester. When we are referred a child, we will receive a photograph and whatever health information is available. We will have two weeks to decide whether to accept the referral. This process will include an appointment with a doctor who will help us review the child's medical issues and needs to ensure we can provide. Once we have accepted our referral, we will wait 2-5 months as final documents are prepared before we will travel to meet and bring home our child. We will likely have only a couple weeks notice for our travel date.

The process seems so straight-forward, attainable and short on paper, but I know at times it will seem to be taking forever. Luckily, in addition to all the jobs we now have as prospective adoptive parents, we have many other things to keep us busy. Things we know we won't have as much time for when we finally have a toddler running our lives!



Monday, March 17, 2014

Piles of Files

I consider myself to be a pretty organized person, but over the last couple of weeks I have discovered my organizational weaknesses: filing, better known in my life as "piling." And like any grateful child, raised by wonderful and loving parents, I blame my parents! After all, it is probably from them that I learned to pile (file?) papers in teetering files (piles?) on any available flat surface, while only a percentage of the papers make it into a folder in a drawer (my mom claims it's not her fault). And this is what my desk has looked like for most of the time Ben has known me:


Leaning towers of organization (and that's only a section of the desk)! But I can find what I need when I need it (mostly), so this weakness has not been too concerning to me. And Ben, good husband that he is, doesn't mention my mess as long as I keep it off the floor so he can vacuum. However, I have read about the paperwork process of adoption so it's probably a good time to work on this weakness. Truthfully, though, the real motivation for using the filing cabinet isn't the adoption process, but the result. I have a feeling a toddler could wreak havoc on my tabletop filing (piling?) system! So I'm busting out the files and folders with the mission to prevent tempting a toddler tornado.

Form filing is fun! Or at least educational. In the process of gathering all our financial information, work benefits, medical information, etc. needed to apply for adoption, Ben and I have developed a stronger understanding of what our family looks like on paper right now, and what we want to look like on paper 5, 10, 20 and 50 years in the future. A good pre-step to the applications process, but one that isn't stressed enough in adoption books.

So although we don't have an "after" picture yet of my attempts to file (not pile), we are ready to submit our application for adoption. This week! Really! Officially! All our information is gathered, organized, compiled and ready to be filed (hopefully not piled). So I figure I have at least a year to get the piles (files?) out of the reach of a toddler. Unless that toddler knows how to open a filing cabinet...


Monday, March 10, 2014

Why INTERNATIONAL adoption?

As mentioned previously, Ben and I have been talking about adoption for quite awhile. In the beginning, we mostly talked about whether to adopt at all and whether to wait and see how a biological family might develop. For me, I really wanted adoption to not be a "Plan B" or backup plan to a biological family. Ben understood how and why I felt this way and has joined me in this belief. We will probably share more about this at another time.

Our adoption talk then turned to discussing all the various forms adoption takes in today's society. There were three distinct choices we found we had to make: domestic versus international, closed versus open, and infant versus older child. We attempted to explore each choice separately. We attended in-person and online seminars and information sessions. I read book and blogs. We looked at websites and talked to a few people we know who have adopted or who were adopted. Of all the time spent so far discussing adoption, these three choices took by far the most time, thought and prayer. We knew that in making each choice, that we were excluding so many children and so many opportunities.

The choice that involved the most eye-opening experience, effort to rid ourselves of bias, and accept and openly consider new information was that of open versus closed. A closed adoption is one in which the birth parent and family information is sealed via the court system and the birth parent/family does not have a future role in the life of the child. Anonymous or private are words often used in relation to closed adoption. This is how adoptions have traditionally been done (due to social stigma of non-biological families or the desire for a child to believe they are a biological child) and what Ben and I expected when we first talked about adoption. However, through reading and information sessions we learned that research suggests that closed adoption is not in the best interest of the child. In open adoption, the birth parent/family and the adoptive parent/family have access to varying degrees of personal information and/or contact. Open adoption is now the most common form of adoption in the United States. The benefits include peace and closure for the birth parents, lack of fear of the unknown by adoptive parents and children, access to medical and personal/cultural history and decreased feelings of the adopted child of having been abandoned or questions about identity. The level of openness is determined during each adoption on a case-by-case basis, but most often includes letters and pictures, and less commonly includes visitation. Though we originally felt fearful and threatened by the idea of open adoption, the idea grew on us to the point where we felt comfortable with considering an open adoption (given the right boundaries of "openness" and the ability to alter the level of "openness" to meet the needs and desires of the individual child). That being said, we were not opposed to closed adoption, should contact with the birth parent/family be unsafe, unhealthy, or in the case of unknown birth parent/family, impossible.

The question of infant versus older child was a little easier to decide. For awhile we were very excited about the adoption programs for newborns. We liked the idea of raising a child from birth, of course. However, we felt guilty about taking a newborn from prospective adoptive parents who know they are unable to have biological children when we still expect to be able to have a biological child. Also, in newborn adoption, the adoption is not finalized until after birth. States have varying laws on the amount of time after birth a birth parent has to decide to finalize their decision. Though it happens infrequently, the birth parents have the right to change their mind. If this happens, not only is there feelings of loss, frustration and disappointment, but the money paid to support the birth parent during pregnancy (a major component of the cost of open infant adoption) is lost and some agency/adoption preparation fees may also have to be paid again if another adoption is pursued. For these reasons, Ben and I felt that at this time in our lives, that the newborn option was not the best fit for us. In the previous post, I discussed how we came to determine we were most interested in the toddler age, so I will not elaborate on that again here.

For a long time, we were very open to both domestic and international options. Initially we felt our first commitment should be to children in our country, and more specifically children in "our neck of the woods" be that Oregon or more locally our county. We knew the domestic options were cheaper and potentially nearly free. Training and preparation are fairly robust in our county and often there is built in opportunity to foster first (called foster-to-adopt). Often, more is known of the child's development, history, medical needs, etc. The need is most definitely there--there are so many children in need of a home. Children of all ages are available. This seemed to be the right way to go. However, we found that the wait time for younger children can be long. It can take years for a child to become legally free for adoption (severance of parental/familial rights). Children are often first placed in the home as foster children while the State searches for familial options (relatives). We learned that while a foster child would be covered on our medical insurance, neither of our employers offer parental leave until an adoption is finalized (something that became an important factor). Finally, though the needs is great, we came to realize that our country (or at least our State and County) offers solid medical care for foster children--these children receive medications, surgery, therapy when needed and not just life-saving measures, but care for acute and chronic needs to maintain or even improve health. Internationally this is often not the case. Internationally (depending on the country), children may receive a life-saving surgery if affordable and available. But in many cases they don't. Sometimes a country does not have the trained professionals needed, the proper equipment or the financial resources. Frequently, medical services for orphaned children are provided by volunteers from other countries, financial support from other countries. And there are many more children who will not receive the medical treatment needed until they are adopted internationally. This was by far the biggest motivator in choosing international adoption. However, in making this choice, we also commit ourselves to a child who has this need. We are currently in the process of learning about the common medical needs of children available in order to determine what resources and capability we can realistically offer a child.

We hope that in reading this post, you will come to understand and support the decisions we made for our family. We have had to make many over-generalizations in making these decisions because it is not possible to consider children from all of the above categories during one adoption application. The adoption process does not allow us look at thousands of children and then make these decisions. We must make these decisions and then consider individual children. So we have made them, for better or for worse, for our child and our family.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Choosing an agency and country

We had hoped to find an agency that would allow us to consider children for many countries as we believe the child is more important than the country. But after a lot of online research we realized that this isn't how the international adoption process works. Each country that participates in international adoption with the United States has a list of criteria for parents, from age to income level to years married.

So, over the last several months I have been researching, making tables with requirements, process details and pros and cons of programs. This process has really involved an open mind and some deep discussions. We've had to consider the reasons children are orphaned in various countries, from poverty to stigma to medical conditions. We've talked about age of children, mostly what age is too old. The question of age involved both frightening ourselves--we don't feel ready to be parents of a pre-school or school aged child! we aren't that old or wise yet!--and learning about the development of children raised in an orphanage. We talked about race--what would it be like to not have a blond, blue-eyed child most likely to result from our genetics. We've talked about culture, religion, language. We've learned about countries we didn't even know existed! And we talked about the process mandated by different countries--travel, visas, medical clearance, language, culture, financial aspects.

From these conversations, we decided we were most interested in the Eastern European options. We have traveled both individually and jointly in Europe, find the history and culture interesting and approachable, and we meet the parent requirements of many of the countries. There was nothing like this process so far in making us realize how many children around the world need homes. Agencies say the "greatest need" is from wherever you are most likely to actually go through with an adoption, and I think this finally made sense. However, it is also humbling and disheartening to know that we can't help all the children in the world.

The next step was then to research agencies that work with Eastern European countries. We found many, but settled on starting with Children's House International (CHI). CHI is based in Washington state, so we felt a closeness to the agency geographically. They also work with a half dozen Eastern European countries. They have a good website and we were able to really research and compare the different programs. Though they won't do our home study process (more on this another time), they have good communication, flexibility and experience in cooperating with another agency.

Today I talked with a case manager from CHI and we got loads of information. When it comes to things like this, I'm one to jump in head first and figure I'll sink or swim. Ben pulls me back to earth and keeps me grounded and makes sure we both check the water depth, for obstacles and challenges and realities, makes sure we either know how to swim and where we're swimming to, or if not where the nearest life preserver is! So while I thrashed about in all the new information, Ben calmly helped us talk it all through figure out the steps and goals, to see the big picture and to remember the enormity of our decisions. I am so very grateful to him for this!

Anyway, the case manager asked a lot of questions and talked through program particulars that aren't online. In the end, it seems that the Republic of Georgia is likely the right program for us, with Bulgaria or Kyrgyzstan (new program in the next few months) as backups! More to come soon about Georgia and the next steps!

Monday, March 3, 2014

We're about to get real!

Adoption. It's a big word full of all types of meaning and feelings. There's excitement, anxiety, joy, nervousness, disbelief, awe, jitters, hope, faith, love. There's our thoughts and feelings, and within and around it all, the unknown thoughts and feelings of a child to whom we hope to someday give a home.

I've been thinking about adoption for longer than I can remember. Definitely since before Ben and I met. And since we met, I've been nudging the concept into Ben's head and heart, and being the person he is, he's supported the idea and now has the dream as well. We've been back and forth--baby or toddler, domestic or international, and mostly, now or later? But "now" is not really "now" in the adoption process, since it can take 12 months to 3+ years to adopt. So, "now" it is and "later" it has to be!

For those who know me, you can guess what I'm up to. Planning! I have a Word document that gets longer everyday. Charts comparing agencies, program options. Lists of expenses, fundraising ideas and plans, doctors to review the child's medical profile (yep, as usual, I'm ahead of myself). I'm in Seventh-Planning-Heaven! Then there are the piles of papers all over my desk--applications, checklists, forms. Copies of our medical insurance plans. Copies of taxes. Certified documents--birth certificates, marriage license, etc. We have to get everything that can be documented about our lives together before we fill out our first form.

It is almost time to apply! This is the beginning, where there is more unknown than known, more to do than has been done, and somewhere out there in the world, or maybe not even yet born, is a child who needs our home.