Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adoption Blogger Interview 2012

Allow me to introduce you to an amazing person I met online recently. 

Her name is Natalie.  On her blog, Adopting the Spectrum, she writes about her experiences both as an adoptive momma to six year old Hannah, her open adoption relationship with both of Hannah's birthparents, in addition to being a foster momma to as many as four children at a time in the past year.

What makes Natalie so amazing you ask?  Her heart.  That's what.  Her incredible heart for loving kids, parenting in tough situations like foster parenting and disruptive behavior disorders, and handling it all with grace and compassion.  I was moved reading what Natalie has encountered in her mothering years, not to mention the infertility and health challenges she experienced prior to adopting Hannah.  Natalie and her husband Kyle have such a great life story that continues to unfold and I have appreciated the opportunity to learn more about their family through Natalie's blogging.

Natalie answered some questions for me:

1)  The journey to adoption is a wide path that people get on for a variety of reasons.Can you tell me about what led up to you and your husband choosing adoption?  

The short answer is that I am infertile and I really wanted to be a mom.  The long answer is that Kyle and I tried for 4 years to become pregnant with no success.  I have severe endometriosis and my body refused to ovulate.  I also have an autoimmune disease that was complicating things.  Through medical intervention (drugs and a surgery to remove the worst of the endometriosis) we forced my body to ovulate and I conceived several times, but I was never able to carry a baby to term.  I always miscarried around 10-14 weeks along.  After so long trying and my inability to keep those precious babies growing inside of me we decided to try adoption instead of taking more drastic medical measures.  For me, adoption was for selfish reasons. We didn't go into it to "save" a child or give a home to the homeless.  We wanted to be parents, plain and simple. Being a mom has always been important to me and after marrying Kyle I just couldn't picutre him NOT being a dad.  It didn't matter to either of us if our child carried our genes or not so adoption seemed the logical choice.  Deciding to adopt was easy.  Deciding what type of adoption we would choose was the hard part as you now know!

2)  How did you choose the agency you did?  

Once we settled on a domestic infant adoption, we(mostly me) researched all the sub types of that kind of adoption: open/closed, agency/private.  We quickly decided that we felt an agency adoption would be safer for both us and any prospective birthparents we might meet.  Most often when you hear about the adoption horror stories they have been through a private lawyer and some steps that agencies take were skipped and things went badly.  We knew all along we wanted an open adoption (one of the reasons we opted against international and foster care in the beginning) so we began looking at agencies that did and encouraged open adoptions.  Luckily for us, the state we lived in at the time (IN) hosted an office for the very first agency to do open adoptions.  Open adoptions are all they do.  They had a good reputation.  They were a not for profit organization (very important for us since we believe strongly that babies are not a commodity to be bought and sold to make someone rich) and their fees were on a sliding scale depending on your income.  Some agencies we looked at gave "discounts" to couples who adopted any baby that wasn't white.  I found this abhorent.  It was like they were saying these babies weren't worth as much as healthy white infants that so many people covet.  I just couldn't work with an agency that worked like that.  We went with the agency in our state that only did open adoptions (IAC-Independent Adoption Center).  This agency allowed birthparents and adoptive parents to pick each other.  I liked that.  I liked that birthmom's weren't just given a few people to choose from.  I liked that they could give the agency their criteria for parents for their child and then see EVERYONE who met those criteria whose critera also matched her (adoptive parents were also given the opportunity to say what types of situations they were open to as well).

3)  Would you consider adopting again from the agency you used with Hannah?

If we were to ever do a domestic infant adoption again I would love to use our same agency.  We had a good experience with them and so did Tiffany. Unfortunately they aren't licensed in Nebraska so that would end up costing us extra money.  However, I think we are done with agency adoptions in general (I don't have that strong desire to mother an infant like I did before) and our next child will most likely come through the foster-adopt route.  That being said, if either of Hannah's birthparents were to approach us about adopting a future biological sibling of Hannah, I would have a hard time saying no to them.  I don't think I could deny Hannah the opportunity to live with at least one person who shares her biological traits.  Also, we have such a wonderful and easy relationship with both of Hannah's birthparents that it wouldn't be as scary as starting all over again like it was the first time.  The one thing we always worried about when we thought about adopting another infant is the potential differences in the relationships both children might have with their birthfamily and how that might affect them.  It would break my heart to see one of my children having a close relationship with their birthfamily and another of my children who barely had any contact at all, but wished they had the same kind of relationship as the other child.  For example, this summer Hannah went to visit my family in Indiana for two weeks because she needed a break from our foster children.  While she was there she spent the night with Tiffany (her birthmother) and got to hang out with her siblings Chase and Kayla.  She had a blast and it really strengthened their relationship as siblings.  How heartbreaking would it be for another child to watch that and wonder why THEY can't go spend the  night with their birthmom? 

4)  What would you say to somebody at the beginning stages of pursuing adoption?

My best advice would be to research, research, research.  Decide what is important to you (child looks like you, open/closed, cost, amount and type of counseling, how much an agency/lawyer might be involved and how much you have to do yourself, if you are on a "wait list"/birthmother's choice, etc)  Pick the things that matter most for you and then evaluate each particular agency/option on each of these criteria.  Troll adoption forums and mention an agency you are thinking about going with and see what kind of remarks you get (you'll always get positive remarks from the references the agency gives you, but in the forums you'll hear everything!) because you will hear the positives and the negatives there.  Check out your finances and see what kind of funding help might be available to you.  Set up your adoption "budget" and then confine your search to only agencies that can work with that budget.  Also, remember that all the steps relating to adoption follow the hurry up and wait model.  There will be lots and lots of waiting.  Your privacy will be thoroughly violated.  It's stressful and you'll cry a lot, but it's all worth it in the end.  

5)  What do you wish every birthmother/birthparent knew about adoptive parents?  

We are just as scared as you are!  We think you won't like us and we worry about how to act and what to say.  We think we need to be perfect in order to be "worthy" of parenting your child.  At the same time, we worry about acting too perfect for fear that you will think we look down on you.  Every single parenting mistake we make makes us wonder if you will think you made the wrong decision choosing us to be your baby's parents.  That fear never goes away.  We worry someday that we will lose contact with you.  The thought of that (no matter how fabulous our current relationship is) keeps us up at night regularly because it's something that we have no control over about our child's life and we don't like not being in control of big things like that that are so important to our kiddos. 

6)  How did you decide to pursue foster parenting? 

When we first decided to pursue adoption we thought we wanted to adopt through the foster system.  We thought, "why not give a home to a kid who needs one while also making our dream come true as well?" There was also the cost factor. It is MUCH cheaper to adopt through the state than to do an agency or international adoption.  However, once we decided we wanted an open adoption, we found out that at the time (it has thankfully changed quite a bit now) the state we lived in (Indiana) actively discouraged any contact with birthparents after TPR (termination of parental rights) or reliquishments are signed.  We also learned that young children were hard to come by and we lacked faith in our ability to jump right into caring for an older child with significant behavioral and emotional issues having never even parented a typical child yet.  Little did we know that God would laugh in our faces at that last reason/excuse and that Hannah would give us more of a run for our money parenting her than any of our foster children have thus far!  After adopting Hannah and somewhat successfully parenting her until she was 4 we decided to jump back into the foster care arena.  At that time we were living in RI.  We started the paperwork for foster care, but then while we were in the waiting stage to be accepted for training we found out we were moving to Nebraska (where we live now) so foster care got put on hold.  As soon as most of the boxes were unpacked I started the process of gathering information on the Nebraska foster care requirements.  God had blessed us with an amazing house (larger than our house in Indiana and our house in Rhode Island combined!) that was far larger than our 3 person family needed.  I took this as a signal that we needed to get busy filling it up with kiddos that needed a place to stay.  We got our initial paperwork and training done quickly. I think we started filling stuff out at the end of May and were done with our training classes by the middle of July.  Then the waiting began.  Oh how I hated the waiting process during our adoption of Hannah and I hated this just as much.  Once all the paperwork was turned over to the state, they were in no hurry to process everything and get us officially licensed.  This seemed crazy to me since I was watching story after story on the news about the extreme shortage of foster parents in the state and about how kids were being placed in group homes and sleeping in CPS waiting rooms because there were no foster homes for them to go to, but yet I had 5 empty beds ready and waiting!  Our background clearances took forever because they had to be processed in 3 different states.  Eventually, at the beginning of January, almost 8 months after we started the whole process in Nebraska, we were officially licensed and able to take placements.  We found out about our first placement before we were even licensed.  I think the fact that he was earmarked to come to our house lit a bit of a fire under the agency's behind to get our paperwork finalized and ready to go.  Who knows how much longer we would have waited had there not been a specific child waiting for us.  

7)  How have you and your husband stayed connected and on the same page during your foster parenting experience this year?  The stress of it, I would imagine, could strain even a rock-solid marriage.  What do you wish you and Kyle had done differently, if anything, regarding your relationship this year?

Foster care definitely puts a strain on your marriage.  Truly, raising children regardless of whether or not they are foster children puts a strain on a relationship.  I always luaghed at the rediculousness of people having a child to try to save a marriage since I knew from both experience and observation that there is no better way to deteriorate a marriage than to add kids to the mix!  I would say the biggest thing we did to keep our marriage strong was to have firm bedtimes.  Everyone goes to bed at 7pm period.  You can read if you aren't tired, but you are in your room and calm at 7pm (now that took considerable training for each kid, but it was doable in every case eventually).  The rest of the evening is for the adults.  Kyle and I would clean up the house and debrief on the day.  We would watch a TV show together while I filled out the insane amount of daily and monthly doccumentation required for each foster child in our home.  In general we just spent the hours between 7pm and whenever we fell into bed together.  What I wish we would have done better about was finding ways to go out alone together.  Dates are important for keeping a marriage strong.  When you do foster care you can't just call up the teenager down the street to babysit for you.  In Nebraska the person watching the kids has to be at least 18 and have passed a background check with the state and be on your approved list of caregivers for that particular child.  So, that basically means your babysitting options are other foster parents and any of your friends or family members willing to submit to a background check.  We don't have any family in Nebraska so that was out.  I had two sets of friends who agreed to get background checked to be emergency care for us, but I tried to only use them for actual emergencies because watching 5 kids (plus any you have of your own) is hard.  Add to that 5 kids who all have behavioral issues and it's seriously crazy if you aren't used to it.  I didn't want to strain any of my friendships by leaning too heavily on them for childcare.  When we had our van full of kiddos were were the only foster parents in the town we lived in.  The next closest foster familly was 35 minutes away.  That made it difficult to use them for a spontaneous date.  So, since dates were more of a  hassel to plan than they were worth in our opinion, we just didn't take any.  I know now that that was a mistake and we'll definitely do a better job about using our respite care hours the next time around.  

8)  Prior to your fostering experiences, how did adopting Hannah challenge or strengthen you and Kyle's relationship?

Adopting Hannah definitely strengthened our marriage.  It was amazing for us both to see the love we each had for this tiny human being and to watch our spouse pour out that love and sacrifice for someone who couldn't really return the favor yet.  You get to see a whole new side to your spouse as you watch their relationship with your new child grow.  I loved watching Hannah and Kyle interact and she quickly became a Daddy's girl that's for sure!  Having a baby made us less selfish  and lazy in general.  There was no longer time to be lazy.  The dishwasher HAD to be loaded and run or there wouldn't be clean bottles for the 2am feeding.  You were tired all the time so being tired was no longer a good excuse for not spending quality time together.  When we realized how lazy and selfish we both had been before Hannah that changed our relationship a lot.  I learned a lot about serving others after serving a demanding little one 24/7!  The most challenging part about Hannah's adoption was the emotional strain of the wait.  It had been so heartbreaking while we were trying to concieve seeing that negative pregnancy test month after month or seeing that positive test only to start miscarrying several weeks later that we were pretty emotionally spent before we even entered the adoption process.  Not knowing when, or if you will ever be chosen to be a parent is HARD.  Every time the phone rang I jumped and my heart raced wondering if it was a birthmother calling.  Every month I would check our stats to see how many times we had even been considered and cry because it was so few times.  I was a wreck and I took it out on Kyle.  Once Hannah finally came along the biggest challenge was how to deal with her odd behaviors.  We knew fairly early on that Hannah wasn't quite like other kids.  Other infants slept all day.  People told me to sleep when the baby sleeps, but the problem was that MY baby didn't sleep!  She was terrified of other children and that socially isolated me as a new mom.  Her tantrums started really early and the advice in the parenting books and from well meaning vetran moms just wasn't working.  I began to get a complex about my parenting ability and I'm sure Kyle did too.  Often times Hannah would behave much better for him than for me and he would think I was exaggerating her behavior.  It was hard to hear my partner in this parenting gig not supporting me.  It wasn't until we started to seek help outside of the parenting books and other parents that we finally got some answers and we were better able to work as a team. 

9)  Are there any particular thoughts on adoption, or fostering, that you'd like to share with my readers?

Adoption and foster care has changed my life for the better.  It's taught me more about how God wants me to love others than I think any other experience could have.  It teaches you humility and grace that I think it's impossible to learn any other way.  It's not for everyone, but it's important that if you can't directly foster or adopt that you at least support those who do by at the very least understanding that their parenting experiences are drastically different than yours and you need to give them the benefit of the doubt and maybe not judge as much as you might normally do.  

To read Natalie's interview of me, check out her blog!  Adopting the Spectrum

This is my second year participating in a great online collaboration of adoption bloggers put together by Heather Schade of Production, Not Reproduction.   Please head on over to her blog to check out more interviews by all sides of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees).  Adoption Blogger Interview Project 2012  

1 comment:

Mama said...

You speak so kindly of me! Thanks!