Thursday, July 23, 2015

What We Learned at our Parent Training: Part Two

Since our pre-adoptive parent training class was over a month ago, we think it's time to wrap this up! Haha (not like we've been doing anything in the meantime....!) For those who are interested, and for our own recollection, here's a list of other things that we learned at our parent training (which was excellent, and super helpful).

Naming an adopted child
This is something we both were interested in. It's one of those questions that seem obvious until you start thinking about it and realize that unlike a non-adopted child, a child placed for adoption has both biological parents and adoptive parents, each of whom may have a different name in mind. Our parent class affirmed that adoptive parents are able to name their child. What actually happens is that the birthparents choose the name that goes on the child's birth certificate. Then when the adoption is finalized about six months later, a new birth certificate is issued with the name chosen by the adoptive parents (if it's different). Sometimes adoptive parents try to honor the child's birthparents either by using the name they chose, or using a combination, for example choosing the first name and using the birthparent's preference as a middle name. And sometimes (depending on a lot of different things) the birthparents and adoptive parents discuss beforehand and agree on the child's name.

This was an topic that really brought out the uniqueness of adoption: the child has two sets of parents that are interested in his/her well-being, love him/her, and have a name in mind that expresses their hopes for the child or connections with their family, or whatever - all the reasons parents choose a particular name for their son or daughter.

We personally have some names in mind - still very much in the works, though!

On a related note: this is a beautiful video about adoption....definitely a tear-jerker! And all about a name...

Creating a Lifebook
A lifebook is basically a scrapbook that tells the story of your child's life, as well as your family's story pre-child. A lot of adoptive parents do this, and put in pictures of themselves, baby pictures of the child, maybe ticket stubs or receipts that relate to the travel for adoption, whatever. One reason this is good to do is that you can look through it with your child and talk about them being adopted as part of their life story. As the presenters said, if it's about the child, they'll love it :)

One example from the Internet, for an international - can't WAIT to start this!!!!

Challenges in Domestic Infant Adoption
Sobering....but good to know! They went over various challenges that we could face adopting domestically.
  • Uncertain wait time: you really don't know whether you'll get "the call" in one week, one year, or two years plus - this makes it difficult to plan for, not to mention the emotional, spiritual challenges associated with waiting (something we are relatively familiar with by now....)
  • The possibility of the birthparents changing their minds - meaning after the birth but before they relinquish their parental rights (it is very rare for an adoption to be contested after that point, and the birthparents would have to prove fraud or abuse to get the baby back)
  • Every state has different adoption regulations - there is very little consistency, which makes for a crazy patchwork of laws when adopting from a different state
  • Possible lack of the child's social or medical history, or it's inaccurate
  • Legal concerns re: missing birthfather (in case he shows up at the last minute and contests the adoption) - also just the sadness of not being able to tell your child anything about their birthfather
(We still think it's worth it :))

Hospital Time is the Birthmother's Time
This was a great point. Basically, the child belongs to his/her mother (biological mother) until the point that she (and maybe the birthfather, depending on the situation) signs papers relinquishing her parental rights. That means that in the hospital, it's her baby, and her time. The birthmother that spoke to us emphasized how much it meant to her to be able to create her own birth plan, choose who would be with her, choose when she would see the baby, etc.

I can only imagine that the time right before and after the baby's birth is high-tension, high-emotion for everyone! The birthmother still has the right to change her mind, and the potential adopting parents need to be respectful of that. It's not their baby yet. Also, there are a lot of emotions the birthmom experiences - other than the emotions of just giving birth, she has to face saying goodbye to the baby and often wants to spend a good chunk of uninterrupted time with him/her. That doesn't mean that she's going to change her mind - in fact, it's good for healing if she does stick with the adoption plan.

Transracial/Transcultural Adoption
This is when parents adopt a child from a different race or culture - especially a child who looks different from them. Part of adoption is learning about your child's birth culture and finding ways to keep that alive for him/her. Another part is making sure he/she feels at home in your culture too (which now belongs to them). Adopting transracially means becoming a "conspicuous family" - everywhere you go, people will notice you, maybe do a second-look. As parents, we need to help our child learn how to handle that. 

Adopting transracially is definitely something we are open to. We have that in our family already (Dan's nephew) and realize that while there are unique challenges with this, there are also unique blessings, like showing in a very concrete way that love transcends race or skin color, and also living as a family the universality of our faith family. (Not to mention our child will be adorable no matter what his/her skin color is :) :)) Anyway, we'll see what happens with that!

Attachment in Adoption
Babies that are adopted go through some extra transitions in their first few days. Not only do they have to leave the womb and adjust to the outside world, but they also have to leave the mother that they've been used to for the last nine months, and be held and nurtured by a different mother. They may have to be with a foster family for a few days or more, depending on the situation and risk. That's a lot of changes for a little one!

On our book list

Adopted children, then, need extra attachment-promoting care, meaning a few things:
  • Limiting caregivers and new faces for the first few weeks so the baby attaches strongly to mom and dad (this doesn't mean no one can visit - we're sure we'll need the help! But we as parents should be doing the lion's share to make sure our little one knows we are there for them. And for friends and family who generously want to help post-bringing-baby-home, I'm sure we can find plenty of things for you to do!)
  • Simplify the environment
  • Stable, consistent schedule
  • Eye contact and play
  • Avoid big parties (goes with the first idea - most likely the only "big" event those first few weeks would be the baptism)
  • Find what soothes the baby and do it - there is no worry at all in "spoiling" the baby
All of these things are good for any baby, for sure. But as said above, adopted babies arguably need extra care and attention because of the extra transitions they had to navigate in the first few weeks of their life.

Open Adoption
This means adoptions where there is some level of contact between the birthparents (and/or birth family) and adoptive parents. It could be as minimal as letters and pictures once a year, or visits every month, or anything in between. Like any relationship, this one needs good communication. Most importantly, it's about the child. It's become pretty clear that children benefit from having information about, and perhaps a relationship with, their birth origins. That can't always happen, but it's generally a good thing if it can. Our responsibility as adopting parents is to discern what level of openness we're open to. The worst thing we could do is promise more than we're comfortable with, and then scale back after the adoption - that can be heartbreaking for a birthmother.

The nice thing is that Barker helps you decide your comfort level with openness and contact, and is there every step of the way as the child grows, relationships change, maybe difficulties emerge, etc. Adoption is a lifelong thing - so is the relationship with the birthparents. Even if contact ceases (which happens not infrequently), our child's biological mother and father still remain a part of them, always.

Testimonies are Wonderful!
We had three "guest speakers" who shared their experiences with us: a birthmother (wow, was that moving), a young adult who was adopted, and a family who had adopted twice from Korea. All of them were amazing, and really put some flesh to the ideas we discussed throughout the day. All of them were unique - there's not really a "one size fits all" in adoption, although there are trends. And all of them helped us see the intricacies, complexities, and really the beauty and potential of adoption. Yes, there are definitely hard parts, for everyone involved. But there are also a lot of possibilities for healing, for strong family relationships, and for happy endings.

Any Questions?
We know we have some still! This really only glided over the things we discussed at our class. It gave us so much to reflect on and sparked some ideas we want to explore more. We welcome your questions if you have any about adoption. We will try our best to answer them, or find the answers. If you'd rather email us privately:

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fundraising Update #2 and Home Study Update

Another fundraising update - another change to express our gratitude to those who have offered their financial support and prayers!

Since our last update, we have received another $2,487! This brings our total received to $6,314, which is awesome! Combined with our own savings, we are very near to the $10K mark at $9,932. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This is something of a visual for the kind generosity we've been blessed to receive. It is a board in our living room where we display cards, photos, etc. Right now it's completely full of cards we received in the mail from friends and family supporting us in our adoption pilgrimage (with the exception of one Christmas-in-July card :))

This makes us happy each and every time we walk past it, and it's nice to open the cards and read the sweet messages again, too.

We also wanted to share this lovely card we received from three little kiddos who promised to teach our future child everything they know and share their toys :) It has a proud place on our fridge:

Again - thank you. We continue to be very touched by the donations we receive, as well as the pledges of prayers, which are so, so needed!

And, a quick home study update: we have been diligently working to get through the many forms needed for the home study. We've now sent in just about half of the forms (24 out of 50) and are working on several others. The ones we've sent in so far have been the easy ones - just sign & date, or fill in basic information like social security number, previous addresses, etc. We've had to get two forms notarized, and luckily Bethany has a notary at her work, so that wasn't too hard.

Next up: we're going to get fingerprinted for security clearances this week, and we have a doctor's appointment set up for next week (July 20) to get the medical forms filled out: our medical history, lab work, make sure we don't have contagious diseases, etc. Other pending forms include our autobiographies (which are in the works), financial forms and proof of all our assets and liabilities, the fire inspection, and the forms that our housemates are filling out plus our reference letters. Slowly but surely!

So far the experience hasn't been too difficult. It's gone relatively quickly, and our agency has been fantastic about responding to our many questions about the forms, to make sure we fill them out right the first time. It just feels great to be making progress toward a goal so dear to our hearts.

One last photo: this is command central, the box that holds all of our adoption info: our research leading up to our decision to adopt, our application, all the forms we've collected so far, folders for all the forms we have yet to get, and so on. Small but mighty! It holds a lot of hopes and dreams (yes - Bethany picked it out, Dan wanted a much more manly container like a steel enforced vault surrounded by vipers :-) )....

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What We Learned at our Parent Training: Part One

On June 20, we fulfilled an important step in the home study process by attending a pre-adoptive parent training group held at our agency. There is a LOT that we learn, which we'll space out over a few posts, both to share them with you and to reflect on them further ourselves.

[Sidenote: I - Bethany - couldn't help but think of all the times growing up when I'd ask my mom, "How did you know that?" when she amazed me with her extensive knowledge of the world, and she'd reply, "Oh, I learned it in Mom School" - which I thought was a real institution for an embarrassingly long time. Well, Mom, guess what? We've been to Mom & Dad School, and we have the certificate to prove it! :)]

The basics:
-- Six couples, including us
-- Two presenters, both social workers who work part-time for Barker doing home studies, one of whom was an adoptive mom
-- All day: 9:00 - 5:00
-- Three guest speakers: a birthmother, an adult adoptee, and an adoptive family
-- Six sessions (more or less) on various topics related to adoption
-- Lots of time for questions and discussion

1.) The first thing we learned: Everyone involved in an adoption has gains and losses.

"Everyone" here means the three main parties involved in any adoption:
1. The birthmother / birthfather / birth family placing the child for adoption
2. The adoptive parents
3. The child

All three parties experience adoption as both a gain, and a loss. The birthmother, etc. gains the security of knowing her child is going to be well taken care of; she losses the opportunity to parent her child herself. The adoptive parents gain the gift of the child, and parenthood; their loss is (usually) the inability to conceive a child from their own union (infertility) and/or the loss of not getting a chance to parent a genetically related child. The child gains a family to take care of him/her; he or she loses the chance to be raised by the same  mother and father who conceived him/her.

Describing adoption in this way made it clear that it's not just a one-time thing, like the adoption happens and then it's over. Rather, adoption continues to touch the lives of everyone involved, forever. At different points a person might feel the gains more keenly than the losses involved, or vice versa.

It was really helpful to take the time to try and see adoption from the birthmother's/birth family's perspective, and from the adopted child's perspective - not that we're able to do that completely, but it builds empathy and a sense that many people besides ourselves are affected by our adoption. It also impressed upon us that we are really welcoming not just a child, but also the birth mother in some way into our family.

Other Takeaways:
-- Adoption does not cure infertility, even though it cures childlessness. It's okay to still be sad about our infertility from time to time, even after adopting. Acknowledging and accepting our feelings, and healing as much as we can, will help us be even better parents to our child, who has also experienced a difficult loss. If we know the path of healing, then we will be that much better prepared to help our child toward healing from his or her own loss.
-- The main questions many birthmothers wonder about while deciding whether or not to place their child for adoption are, "Will my child be safe? Will my child be loved? What will the adoptive parents tell my child about me?" - we found these questions very poignant and touching.

2.) The second thing we learned: Our child's adoption story is his/hers alone.

This point came up multiple times. First, our child's adoption story is his or hers. This means that we as adoptive parents really should tell our son or daughter everything we know about the circumstances of their adoption, about their birthparents and extended birth family, etc. - even if it includes difficult elements. The presenters advised making adoption in general a normal topic of conversation in our family from early on, so it's not something mysterious or feared, but a part (one among many) of our family's life and our child's identity. And they advised sharing particular details at age-appropriate moments, especially if they involve our child learning difficult or sad things about his/her birthparents. But the whole story belongs to the child, and must be told.

Second, our child's adoption story is his or hers alone. It was stressed that we, the adoptive parents, should not share details about our child's adoption beyond very basic things concerning location, hospital, birth date, etc. This is particularly important regarding information about the birthparents - our child should hear information about them from us, and should be able to decide whether to tell others or not. This especially matters when such details are sensitive, or difficult to process - our child shouldn't hear them second-hand from someone else or think that others are discussing very personal things about his life and background.

We found these pointers very helpful!

Other Takeaways:
-- There are most likely going to be things our child wants to know about his/her birth family and their history, that we won't know. It's okay - even if hard - to say, "I don't know" and commiserate with the child that that is hard, not having all the answers about your biological heritage.
-- It's important that we help them process what it means to be adopted, and any points along the way when they learn more information, and not just say something big and then move on. A quieter child may be thinking about adoption, still, and keeping the invitation open to discuss it is important. Lots of in-depth conversations take place on car rides, or at bedtimes - the key is being available when the questions come up.
-- There are some great kids' books that can introduce the idea of adoption to a young child and make the concept familiar.

We learned a lot more! To be continued...