Friday, August 28, 2015

The last of our home study paperwork is handed in and a cool spiritual connection!

Big Home Study Update
We have been diligently working through our home study paperwork since we received the stack of forms and instructions back in mid-June. Today we're happy to report that we took the very last set of forms to our agency and handed them in!

All in all, everything came together beautifully.

We didn't take a picture at the agency - after all, the scene itself is not that exciting (us, a file folder, in an office) but we did take a few at the Mexican restaurant we went to afterwards to celebrate:

Watermelon margarita - YUM

Tamales and a guava-rita almost finished - also YUM
After dinner, we had a fun relaxing time at the nearby Barnes & Nobles. Not going to lie: it's been a bit stressful getting together all the forms, waiting for state & federal clearances, making sure we're on top of things, all while working and doing all the normal life stuff. It is absolutely worth it, but we were so happy to have this done and get to relax! It feels like a huge burden lifted to have all the forms in. And we're so grateful for everyone's support along the way.

What Happens Next
In addition to handing in our paperwork, we also gave the agency a hefty check ($3,000) to start the next and final stage of the home study. After the agency staff reviews our paperwork to make sure nothing is missing (a possibility with 50+ forms and over 200 pages of documents!) we will be assigned a social worker. He or she will contact us to set up four interviews:

1. Together, in the agency office
2. Dan alone
3. Bethany alone - these are to ensure that neither of us is feeling pressured to adopt, which we can assure them is not the case!
4. Together, in our home - the "home visit" that's kind of the capstone to the whole home study process

Our social worker will also meet with our in-person reference, as one more check that we're sane and stable and would be decently good parents. After those interviews are done, the social worker will write up the actual "home study" which is an official document - a report about us - that states our readiness to adopt, and can be shared with other agencies, adoption attorneys, etc. as acceptable proof that we've been verified and vetted. This report usually takes the social worker 4 to 6 weeks to complete.

As far as a timeline, because of some work travel coming up for Bethany later in the Fall, we are very much hoping to complete the interviews in September and have the home study report written by November. Here's hoping!

Significance of the Day
On a side but not unrelated note: today's feast is a meaningful one for us - Saint Augustine. Here's a bio if you don't know much about him. Both of us have studied his writings, particularly his famous Confessions and De Trinitate (On the Trinity), in college and grad school, and have been moved by his journey to faith and ardent preaching of the Gospel. But here's the personal connection that's really neat for today: we spent our honeymoon in Rome, and one of the many churches we visited was Sant'Agostino:

Like so many churches in Rome, there were a few surprises inside. One was that St. Monica (Augustine's mother, who prayed for his conversion for years) is buried here. (!!) Another was that there was a little alcove in the back dedicated to Mary as Our Lady of Childbirth:

The medals, and blue and pink pillows on the right hand side are tokens of gratitude brought by parents after a son or daughter was born. This is a popular place to pray for the gift of a child, and for safe delivery of that child.

You are probably getting the connection...! At the time we were in Rome, just a few days / weeks married, we were of course blissfully unaware that children don't always come when you want them to. We prayed at this altar for the gift of children, yes, without realizing at all how many years it would take (may still take) until, God willing, we too could go into Sant'Agostino and leave a token of our gratitude, something we would absolutely love to do someday. We often think of that shrine and say a prayer to Our Lady for her intercession.

Needless to say - it was pretty neat to have an important day in our adoption pilgrimage coincide with a feast day that is personally significant for us because of its connection with our prayers for a child. Well played, God. Well played :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The adoption process is enlarging our hearts

by Dan

"The worst form of a prison is a closed heart" - Saint John Paul II

I have often pondered these words and what it means to have an 'open heart' of love toward others. It is definitely not easy in a lot of cases and I am still learning. But one thing is for sure: the process of adoption opens hearts. I'd like to call it training in sanctity.

When Bethany and I began this process, we expected to have our hearts opened from the child we would welcome. And in many ways, our hearts have been already opened more than once toward this child yet to be placed in our home. Our hearts are open to him or her in our daily prayers, in the paperwork we do, in the studying up of parenting skills, in fund-raising and saving money, and in the sacrifices we make to prepare to love the child. But what we did not expect was that our hearts would be opened from contemplating and learning about welcoming the birth mother (and in very rare cases the birth father - and so for the purposes of this post we will just refer to the birth mother) as part of the process. Yet this is exactly what is occurring and let me explain a little bit.

One of the responses we get when we tell other people that we are pursuing open adoption, where there is the potential for ongoing contact with the birth mother, is worry for us and the child. People ask aloud, "What if the birth mother interferes with your parenting in a bad way?" or "What if she will not be able to let go and to move on with her life?" Well, those are good questions that have been addressed in our parent training and ones that we have pondered a lot. But I think the questions must be proceeded by another question. The first question we should be asking is, "How can we not involve and love the birth mother (unless she does not want involvement)?" The birth mother is the child's biological parent. We can never be that and there will be a special connection with the birth parent in a way the child won't be connected to us. Does that lessen our role as the child's mother and father and our unique connection as his or her parents? Absolutely not, but we need to respect that beautiful and profound reality of biological parenthood and the tremendous gift of the child that this mother is placing in our hands. What better way to honor these realities than to continue to have her involved in some way in the child's life?

Really, at the end of the day, adoption is not just about embracing the child, but also welcoming his or her biological parents into our family (if it is possible and they desire it). We do this to honor the child's biological connections, but more importantly we do it because as a Christian we are called to love all people because all are worthy of God's love as His beloved. This is radical, this is challenging, but this is the path to happiness when we have the courage to follow it.

This enlargement of our hearts to prepare a place for the birth parents was not expected when we started this journey and who knows how it will shake out in the concrete situation that awaits us, but open adoption is beautiful, "enlarging," and very Christian. It is about enlarging our hearts and this is a very good thing for us and for preparing to love the child.While open adoption may involve difficulties, we are called to open our hearts to it even if our hearts may be bruised. Just like one goes through "growing pains" as one matures and develops, so too are we willing to endure possible pain in order to grow our hearts. It is certainly a pilgrimage. Please pray for us that we may have a living, beating, LARGE heart for all involved as we welcome them into our home!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Home Study Update #2 and Fundraising Update #3: Closer All the Time

We continue to plod away at our home study paperwork and let us tell you - it's actually exciting and dramatic at times as you will see below (who would have thought that about paperwork?) ! And we continue to be blessed by people's generous donations to our adoption fund. Here are some updates from the past few weeks, mainly successes, one (short-lived) setback, a thrilling fire inspection, and as always a whole lot of fun (because we are doing this all for baby!).

More Paperwork Done

We got our fingerprints taken, which was interesting because there was no ink involved - it was all digital. And we completed all of the medical forms that needed to be done: a self-reported medical history that had to be signed by our doctor, a visit with our doctor for her to fill out a current health form, and lab work to test for HIV, tuberculosis, and a whole host of other things. It turned out that we had to spend a total of six hours at the doctor's office or lab over a few days. We forgot to fast the morning of our appointment (oops) so we had to go in for lab work the next morning. And after we got the TB test (a shot in the arm), we had to go back two days later to have it checked, and to pick up our lab work and the signed forms. So that made for a busy week, but thankfully it's all done and we are disease-free!

Bethany finished her autobiography, which was both fun to write and pretty challenging (and she will be signing copies of it soon! j/j). It was difficult to know what to say and not say in a four page, single-spaced history of one's life! The point of the autobiography is to introduce ourselves to the social worker so she can then ask us more in-depth questions at our interviews. Dan's is still in progress.

Forms Lost in the Mail
Bethany mailed a packet of forms from work, and kept checking...and checking...and checking to see if they'd arrived at the agency, and they didn't. It was pretty stressful. Several of the forms had to be originals, so if they were lost, we'd have to redo them from scratch, pay extra money etc. Not to mention that the forms had sensitive information like our social security numbers that we didn't like being "out there." Yikes!!!

Forms Found
Ten business days after mailing the forms, a few prayers to Saint Anthony (patron of lost items) and getting close to the point where we were going to give up, contact the post-office, and re-do the forms, they showed up at our house with a sticker that said "Unable To Deliver." What?! On one hand, we were thankful to God and St. Anthony. On the other hand, we couldn't figure out at all why they never arrived at our agency nine miles away! The envelope had the right address and exact postage. Whatever the reason, we were so relieved that they were found, and we have resolved to hand-deliver them going forward - it's just not worth the headache, even if it is certified mail. We take that this was a test of our resolve. Rest assured, we are more than committed!!!

Fire Inspection Passed
On August 3rd, a fire inspector from Prince George's County visited our house and declared it passable for purposes of adoption! This was very exciting because as we shared on our adoption timeline, the main reason that we moved to our current house was because our previous apartment (a basement apartment) didn't have windows in the bedroom and so most likely would not have been approved for an adoption. So it was very gratifying to complete this step of the process - and we're very happy we don't need to move again! Oh here is one funny moment from the inspection:

Fire Inspector: "Where is you CO detector? You need one near every furnace area."

Dan: "It's around here somewhere plugged in."

Dan then proceeds to look everywhere. Five minutes passed. He can't find it. Definitely not plugged in.

Fire Inspector: "You need a CO detector to pass."

Dan, getting frantic, proceeds to look all around to no avail. Another five long minutes pass. Fire inspector's patience getting tested and then speaks.

Fire Inspector: Leans an elbow on a table and says "Well, I don't think . . ." "Wait a second, what's this?"

Lo and behold, the fire inspector found our new CO detector . . . buried beneath some papers on a table! Thank you, fire inspector and how did that little guy get there?!

Dan: "Oh, there it is!" He sheepishly then plugs the CO detector into wall and vows never to move the CO detector again. Proceeds to say silently one Glory Be in thankfulness. The fire inspector is pleased and ready to move on.

House is now ready for baby from a fire safety perspective! Hoo - ya! 

All Reference Letters Received
Our agency told us that one of the main reasons home studies get delayed is because reference letters don't get sent in. We're happy to report that all four of our wonderful references sent in their letters, so we don't have anything to worry about there! And we assume they said good things about us, too :)
Thank you references (you know who you are)!

Fundraising Total So Far
Since our last update, we've been given another $1,395.46 from our generous friends and family. We are grateful! This brings our fundraising total to $7,709.46. Combined with our adoption savings, we are now at $11,327 - almost half of our goal! The list of names to add to our quilt keeps growing :)

Baby Stuff Bought
It's yard sale a lot of baby stuff is really cheap. In a leap of hope, we (okay - Bethany) have started buying up some basics that will come in handy for our little one, whenever he/she arrives: a little tub, a bouncy chair (which was tried out by a friend's baby, who seemed to enjoy it), some infant clothes and hats, two cloth diapers (in case we go that route), and some books and toys. This all feels quite surreal. Baby stuff has felt "off limits" for so long that we still can't wrap our minds around that this stuff will be for our baby some day. So we bought it, and it's in the closet, ready to go. So, here's hoping!