The Honor of Being a Social Worker

I have had the privilege and the honor of serving as an adoption social worker for nine years, seven with Nightlight. I have been able to walk with some families through their most joyous of seasons and have climbed with some families over their highest of hurdles. As a social worker, I often joke with families at the beginning of their process that I will become a member of their family through their whole process of adoption. I often sit with families through their home study process and know all of the nitty-gritty details of their lives. As a social worker, I regularly have the honor to talk with families while they are waiting in the hospital when their profile has been chosen by an expectant parent and they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a baby. I have sat beside a family when their adoption situation did not pan out in the way we all had hoped for. As a social worker, I have had the privilege of sitting with families when they review their  referral of a precious child that will be joining their family. When a family arrives home with their child, I have the incredible blessing to sit down with families and discuss how their family can best meet the needs of the child entering their home.

 

One of my greatest joys as a social worker is seeing adoptive families come together and creating relationships of their own. I am a firm believer in helping prospective adoptive families build their community. Families need other families to walk through the adoption process with. When families have an established adoption-centered community, it helps their children to grow stronger bonds with their parents and to have a firmer understanding and development of their own identity. I have the privilege to teach a class called, “Life Long Issues in Adoption” for our local office. One of the sections we cover is ‘identity.’ In the class, we do an activity that creates a visual of the prospective adoptive family’s community. I encourage the class members to look around the room and see if anyone else’s community looks like theirs. From this class and other in-person classes, we get to see families creating friendships with one another, taking steps to further build their adoption community. In our California office, we also host a Nurture Group for families with children ages five and under. Imagine a room full young children, tons of sensory play items, and lots of snacks. This is one of my favorite days of the month! The group is child-centered, but often a safe place for adoptive families from all of our programs to continue to share their adoption stories in a safe place and gain support. As a social worker, I not only get to walk families through their home study process, but I have the privilege, honor, and blessing to watch their family grow, bond, attach, and develop year after year.

 

written by Amanda Schaffert, MSW | Adoption Social Worker

It’s 2020: Why Are We Still Afraid of Adoption Telling?

 

This blog was originally published on LavenderLuz.com.

How do I tell my child he’s adopted? And when?

Rant: I’m frustrated that these questions still come up (and surprised because my readers are adoption-savvy, so I start thinking everyone is). Who is preparing adoptive parents for adoption telling? And who should be preparing them? What can we do for the current and next generation of adoptees to help them own their story from their very beginning?

The move toward openness in adoption started in the 1980s, which means for more than 40 years we have been morphing from shame, secrecy, and walls of closed adoption => to => truth, disclosure, and doors of open adoption.

But time alone doesn’t mean all adoptive parents and hopeful adoptive parents have gotten the message of dealing in truth and openness. The adoption professionals who are launching these moms and dads into the world of adoptive parenting are not, as a group, doing a good enough job preparing their paying clients to parent with openness and disclosure (there are definitely some exceptions).

adoption telling from a wall to a door

Prospective parents, though, may bear the ultimate responsibility for learning about current best practices in adoptive parenting. But how can they know what they don’t know? A blind spot is, by definition, a thing you can’t see is there.

Recurring Evidence That Parents Don’t Know When & How to Disclose

A few times a month, someone will ask in a social media adoption group WHEN is the best time to tell their child they were adopted. And WHEN to disclose information about that child’s birth family. We’re not talking about an advanced course in “open adoption” — facilitating actual contact — but merely the basic disclosure that the child’s origin story has an extra element in it: adoption. That the child has first parents.

And that we can talk about it all.

Why Can’t Parents Talk About Adoption?

Time and time again, I hear this from well-meaning parents: We’re waiting until our child is ready to hear.

What I hear behind the words, though, is this: We’re waiting until we’re ready to tell.

But becoming ready doesn’t necessarily happen automatically, which creates a big problem for the whole family, not least of all the adoptive parents.

Sorites: A Paradox

Relevant here is the concept of sorites, a term I learned a few years ago from a New York Times‘ Ethicist column headlined “Should a Sibling Be Told She’s Adopted?”

‘Sorites’ (saw- RAHY-teez)’ — from the Greek for ‘‘heap’’ — is the name of a philosophical paradox. A grain of sand isn’t a heap, and adding one more grain can’t make it a heap, and as you add grains of sand, you reason that another grain can’t turn your pile into a heap. Yet at some point, a heap is what you have. In the temporal realm, there’s an analogous problem. Very often, it won’t do any harm to wait one more day to do something. So you put the deed off until, at some point, you’ve waited too long.

Sorites sins can creep up on well-intentioned people. Maybe your wife meant to tell you, when you first started dating, that she once had a fling with your brother, but the time never seemed right. There was no particular moment when she crossed the line from permissible deferral to culpable silence. A decade later, though, a spiny eel wriggles in her stomach whenever she thinks about it. She prays you never find out.

Sorites sins can rock relationships.

— Kwame Anthony Appiah, NYT Ethicist columnist in 2016

The Effect of Not Telling

Never mind the causes of why some parents can’t (or won’t) talk about adoption. They are numerous, individualized, and because they are in the past, they can’t be changed.

But the effects can be known and mitigated. And this leads to a deeper point than merely figuring out when and how to tell:

Whatever is keeping adoptive parents from telling is probably hindering their ability to parent effectively in other ways.

Because when parents are not disclosing something so big and integral to a child, they are not able to build a fully trusting relationship with him/her. Lies of commission and omission are likely to be devastating to the person they care about, once they realize that parents knew and did not/could not tell.

Not being able/willing to tell can also mean parents are having a difficult time dealing in What Is, in accepting the whole story of how the child came into the family, of the existence and validity of another set of parents — all in an effort to keep their own fears and insecurities at bay. If there is denial going on in one place, there may be denial going on in others (see the 1956 study listed in Resources, below). This compromises the ability to be truthful, which hinders the ability to build trust.

Adoption Telling is in the Best Interest of Parents!

When children sense they cannot trust their parents, they are more susceptible to looking for connections elsewhere. This can manifest in so many nightmarish ways, and as you can imagine can lead to lots of problems for the child and parents.

As I’ve said before, as the tween/teen years approach, parents are going to want to have a clear and trusting channel of communication between them and their adolescent. There really is no other true power in parenting during this stage. Grounding and withholding things can only go so far. Trust and connection are vital for making it through the turbulent tween/teen years in a trusting and connected way (adoptive parents: if you’re not already in this Facebook group, consider joining).

As one wise and experienced parent said in an online group, disclosing early and fully is “so much EASIER. No big reveal, no nervousness, no confusion, no sense of betrayal, no lies. Just the truth.”

What do you think? How should adopting parents find out best practices, and who should be tasked to make sure they do? With a focus on a solution (and not just on placing blame), please offer your ideas for progress for better adoption telling in the comments.

Relevant Resources

Thanks to TAO for those last two.

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.

Easing the Home Study Jitters: What the Home Study Really Involves

 

My husband and I were asked to share about our experience with the home study process. It’s definitely a big part of adoption and can cause anxiety looking at it from afar. We were happy to provide our first-hand experience and hope it encourages you, wherever you are in your adoption journey.

Jay and I had gone to some foster-to-adopt classes before moving forward with domestic adoption, so we had heard about the dreaded home study and how intense it is. Going into our home study with Nightlight we expected it to be similar to what we had heard from the state. We thought our house and our lives would be picked apart and dissected for flaws. Thankfully we were completely wrong.

We had Katherine as our home study coordinator, she is so kind and made the process as comfortable as it could be. I don’t want to sugar coat it, there is quite a bit involved in a home study with paperwork and taking classes but as far as the part where you are interviewed and your house is “studied” it was nothing like we expected. We actually looked forward to having Katherine over and “chatting” because that’s what it felt like, a conversation. It was fun to talk about the future, how we would parent, our goals and aspirations for ourselves and our family. We never felt judged by any of the questions asked, it was clear that they were meant to make you dig deeper and really think about what is involved in parenting a child. Our favorite question to answer was, “What do you think will make your spouse a great dad/mom?” This was asked during our one-on-one interviews and later that day Jay and I talked about what our answers were, it got us even more excited and confident in our choice to pursue adoption.

We also expected our house to need a lot of adjustments based on the requirements of the state for foster care. With Nightlight it was just about making sure there was no glaring safety hazards, we didn’t have to show a lockbox for medication or have every inch of the house baby-proofed. They make it clear that they trust you to have your house ready for a little one when the time comes.

The process definitely takes dedication but if you’re pursuing adoption you already have the dedication you need. Nightlight will be there to support you from beginning to end and afterwards you’ll even be a bit sad that it’s over, except that you’re one BIG step closer to bringing your baby home!

 

Submitted by Katherine Calvin, MA | Home Study Coordinator

Written by the ‘K’ Family | NCA Adopting Family

Adoptive Family to Adoption Social Worker: My Story

I grew up in a family where my mom, dad, and stepmom were all social workers. They worked with children and families and it was their job to provide better lives to others. Throughout my entire life, my family had instilled basic values of compassion, empathy, and benevolence. When I was in middle school, my dad and stepmom decided to enroll in a program of fostering to adopt. We took newborn babies into our home and cared for them as our own. Unfortunately, none of those placements ended in a permanent adoption that my parents were hoping for. They knew our family was not complete yet, so they made the joyful decision to adopt internationally from the Philippines

 

I remember being fourteen years old and taking part in the home study process. I answered the social worker’s questions to the best of my ability, and enjoyed talking to her about my family. I remember the social worker inspecting our house, my room, and our yard, all while asking my parents about the adoption process. I remember the deep conversations with my dad and stepmom about getting a new brother or sister and I was ecstatic for our family’s newest addition. Time continued to pass and weeks turned into months as my family anxiously awaited the paperwork to be completed. Sometimes, the wait seemed like it would last forever, and that a placement would never happen. Whenever I felt anxious about it, they encouraged me that the time would come, and that we just had to be patient. Then out of the blue when we were least expecting it, my parents got “the call”. I had a new baby brother! They booked plane tickets to the Philippines that night and left as soon as they could.

 

A couple of weeks later, I met my brother Joshua. He was a year and a half old, and as precious as I could imagine. However, because he grew up in an orphanage overseas, he was not used to the environment and new stimuli in my home of Hawaii. There was a period of adjustment for him as he got used to my family and this new place that he had never been. Joshua had never really been outside before, so he was not used to grass, trees, and nature. He was frightened during bath times since he had only received those on rare occasions. Although there were some challenges to overcome, Joshua loved the attention and love that my parents gave him, and seemed to bond quickly with them. He had never experienced such care and consideration before since he often had to compete with the other children in the orphanage. My family’s consistent love, recognition, and affection helped baby Joshua to thrive, as he grew from shy, uncommunicative, and resistant to boisterous, giggly, and friendly. With the help of a speech therapist, play therapy, and support groups for my parents; my family was able to conquer that hurdle of transition and adjustment to this new life. It wasn’t always easy—that’s for sure, but it was definitely worth it. This process and journey of adoption led me to grow a deep passion for the field. I knew that this was what I wanted to do in my future as well.

 

Fast forward to now, and I am currently getting my Master’s degree in Social Work while interning at Nightlight Christian Adoptions. I am so unbelievably blessed and grateful to be able to learn what adoption looks like on this side of things. Getting to serve birth mothers, adoptive families, and adopted children has been incredible as I get to give back to others. When families may be having a difficult time during the waiting period, I can relate with them and help them process their thoughts and emotions through it all since I have been in their shoes. If a family is having a difficult post-placement period while trying to transition and adjust to their newest addition, I can help walk them through those challenges since I have been there before as well. Sharing the same experience of adopting a child internationally has truly helped me to empathize with my clients better, and be able to see things from multiple perspectives. My family had a wonderful experience and great caseworkers through our adoption journey, and I am honored to have a chance to share the same with Nightlight clients as well.

 

If you are an adoptive family, whether international or domestic, and are in the “waiting period”- don’t hesitate to reach out to your caseworker and utilize your agency for additional support, as this period can be a trying and difficult time for your family.

written by Lindsey Nishimiya

Lindsey was our agency’s MSW intern fall 2018-spring 2019. She graduated with her masters in social work and is now an LMSW working in Waxahachie, Texas as a Child and Family Specialist for Presbyterian Children’s Homes & Services

Abounding Opportunities for Children with Down Syndrome

 

In case you didn’t know, October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As a mother to a child with Down Syndrome it’s one of my favorite months as it gives me a good excuse to talk about my child to anyone who will listen! But every year at least one person asks me why we need an awareness month because, “Everyone knows about Down Syndrome” they claim. The truth is, while people know DS exists, most of the perceptions about people with DS and their lives are largely outdated and inaccurate. This is partially because the educational and social opportunities available for children like my son are growing and increasing every year in communities all across the world. These new opportunities help people with DS reach their full potential and bring a new sense of community among special needs families.

If you have a new child with Down Syndrome or are considering adopting a child with Down Syndrome you probably want to take advantage of these types of opportunities, but you may not know where to look for them. While every community is different and I can’t tell you exactly what’s in your area, there are some things that should be available no matter where you live and other programs that are common in most cities.

Therapies and special education are a HUGE part of life when you have a child with DS, and every child with DS is provided certain things through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Depending on your child’s age they will be provided services such as therapies (sometimes in-home or at school), play groups, pre-school, early intervention services, service coordinators, and employment services (for teens and adults). A good early interventionist or service coordinator can be extremely helpful in getting you connected to other services available in your state such as respite care funding, diaper programs (for older children), community support waivers, free medical equipment programs, and information about Medicaid eligibility. For more information about the IDEA, you can visit their official website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/

Community is vitally important to everyone but especially for families and individuals with special needs. When you are not part of a community, it’s easy to feel so alone, like no one understands your life or your child. But when you get connected… It’s hard to describe the kind of instant connection you can have with someone when you realize that you both have a child with DS. Thankfully, most communities have some type of special needs family support, and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) has over 375 local affiliates all over the US. These organizations can provide emotional support, advice, and socialization for the whole family! Our local Down Syndrome Association is very active and has multiple events every month. With opportunities like mothers’ night out, private events at the local children’s museum, summer camps, and the annual Buddy Walk… there really is something for everyone! Your child’s service coordinator or early interventionist can help get you connected to one of these associations, or you can check the NDSS website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/ . Another great community can be found in online groups. I’m a member of a special mom’s support group on Facebook which has been very helpful for me. Besides just the emotional support and information on local events, the ladies in the group offer amazing advice on everything from potty training kids with special needs, to toys, to which movie theaters are the most “sensory friendly”.

Before I had a child with Down Syndrome I had NO IDEA about all the local events and opportunities available to people with special needs. There are so many that it would take me weeks to compile an accurate list of events in just the upstate of SC, but here’s my quick list of popular other opportunities to check for in your area:

– County Rec camps and swim lessons for special needs individuals
– Special Needs day or Sensory Friendly day at your local children’s museum or zoo
– Sensory friendly events at your county library
– Date night or respite night at your local church
– Kid’s gyms or playgrounds with inclusive equipment for kids with all abilities
– Sensory friendly movie times at the movie theater

– “Wings for All” program at your local airport to help older child practice before they travel
– Sports teams, dance groups, and horseback riding programs that are inclusive
– Holiday events like egg hunts, parades, or Santa encounters that have special needs areas or times

The point is, opportunities abound if you know where to look for them. And if something doesn’t exist yet, maybe you can help start it! Almost every event or opportunity for our kids exists because of a parent and a community. A parent who said “my kid needs this” and a community who helped make it happen!

If you have a child with special needs, tell me what’s your favorite event or opportunity in your community? I love hearing new ideas and discovering new programs!

 

written by Jennifer P | Adoptive Momma

Understanding Birthmother Grief

In my career as a licensed clinical social worker, I have been honored to counsel women walking through the process of grief after placing a baby for adoption.  One such woman, Mary (name and information used with permission) captured her journey in a heartfelt essay entitled “The Beautiful Side of Grief,” which she wrote shortly after the adoption of her daughter:

 

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

 

“Grief. Mourning. Bereavement. There are countless different words to try and describe something that is utterly indescribable, and none of them really pinpoint exactly what grief is. Grief is not the movies. Grief is not Hollywood, where you hold a black umbrella and shed a few tears in the rain at a funeral. It’s not walking around donned head to toe in dark colors. It is not a simple psychological process of five clean-cut stages.

 

“Grief is waking up every single morning and asking yourself if you’re in a dream. Grief is hearing people talk, but you find yourself not really listening anymore. It’s walking into a grocery store completely fine, and leaving barely holding your tears in. Grief is the constant stream of “would haves,” “should haves,” and “could haves” playing through your thoughts. It’s getting to the end of the day and realizing that you’re not really living, you’re just going through the motions. Grief is that ever-present indefinable ache in the bottom of your heart. It is the constant feeling of exhaustion that no amount of sleep can alleviate. Grief is the time when tears take the place of words.

 

“But grief, in a sense, is beautiful.

 

“There is beauty in the process of grief. It comes after the shock, after the initial sting to your heart. It might take months, it might take years, but the beauty will reveal itself. The beautiful side of grief is found in the reassurance and understanding in the words you can now lend to those who are walking the path you once walked. The comfort of, “I know how you feel,” or “I understand what you’re going through,” now replace the blind guesses of, “I’m sure this is hard,” and “I can’t imagine how heartbreaking this is.” The beautiful side of grief is found in the supportive friendships that have risen from the ashes of tragedy. The beautiful side of grief is seen in the ability of those who have traveled an unbearable path to hold the hands of those who are being forced down the same lonely road.

 

“When you are faced with a heartbreak so unbearable it brings you to your knees, you are also faced with two choices: to let that heartbreak consume your every thought and action until it kills you, or to act in the same love that you had for that person and use your experience to be the guiding lamp for those now embarking on that dark journey.

 

“If you have ever grieved over the loss of someone, consider yourself lucky. Yes, read that line again. Consider yourself lucky. You are lucky to have had something so precious, so special, a type of love so genuine, that you have a reason to grieve. Without that kind of raw love, there would be no grief.

 

“In my eyes, the best way to pay that type of love forward is to show it to those who need it the most, and coming from firsthand experience, those who are grieving need understanding and genuine acts of love more than anyone else. Those acts of warmth and affection from those who have mourned the same loss as you, who have carried the same burden as you, are the very stepping stones that lead you from the suffocating depths of grief into the joyful light of remembrance. If you have the rare chance to pave these stepping stones for someone, why wouldn’t you?

 

“I was once told that grief is like treading water in the ocean. Sometimes you’re doing just fine, and you can handle the waves that come at you. It takes effort, but you’re getting by. Then other times, a wave will come out of nowhere, catch you off guard, and you’re pulled under into the dark and cold depths once again. What is so important is that we keep treading, we keep fighting, and we come back to the surface no matter how hard or exhausting it might be. What is important is that we don’t give up on our own life in remembrance of someone else’s. All we can do is to take grief one wave at a time, and, if given the opportunity, help others stay afloat along the way.”

 

Mary put her experience and the words she wrote into action by counseling and mentoring birthmothers who were considering adoption, including Taylor, the birthmother in the Nightlight video entitled “Journey’s Story.”  Mary states she was propelled to help others because of the love she had for her daughter and the experience she gained in processing her adoption decision. As Mary faced her pain and reached out to others, she emerged stronger.  Like many brave birthmothers, she has journeyed to the beautiful side of grief.

 

If you know a woman considering adoption or struggling with the inevitable grief that comes when we say goodbye to someone we love, please consider referring her to one of the talented counselors and social workers at Nightlight. Processing emotions, negative thoughts, and unhealthy or ineffective behaviors can be extremely helpful within the therapeutic process. Nightlight can also connect birthmothers with others, like Mary, who have walked this path before them. Research has demonstrated that having a support system is crucial for grief work and emotional health. Nightlight is committed to the care of the brave women and men who are choosing adoption for their child.

 

written by Megan White, MSW, LCSW | Executive Director, Florida

Older Child and Sibling Adoption: A Good Fit For Your Family?

 

 

I have had the blessing along with my husband to have adopted 6 school aged children over the past 24 years. We knew we wanted children and as we had an active life style and both worked, we decided sibling, school-aged children made sense for our family. We enjoyed spending time with our friends who had children and as they were all school-aged, it made sense for us to adopt children in the same age range as our friends. That would ensure our children would have ‘readymade’ friends and our social group would remain the same. We also knew we wanted more than one child, so it made sense for us to pursue siblings.

We found life was much easier with siblings as they helped to entertain one another. Our children were attached and protective of one another, and because they were adopted altogether this helped them to focus on attaching to us, as their parents.

Another consideration when thinking of adopting an older child is that there are many siblings that are available for adoption. Adoption Agencies and child welfare organizations try to keep sibling children together.

We found there were many benefits of adopting siblings.

One of the most important benefits is that the children already have a bond with one another. Knowing that they have an attachment already makes it more likely that they will be able to form other attachments.

When entering the family, they will always have a buddy, someone to play with, someone who talks the same language and has shared similar experiences. If you are interested in more than one child, it truly makes sense to adopt siblings. Siblings often have a very close relationship with one another that can help them as they make the adjustment into your family. Typically one of the siblings adjusts or takes a leadership role and helps the other sibling or siblings along with their adjustment to the family.

It is less expensive to adopt siblings at the same time rather than at separate times. We adopted two sets of siblings. Our children all developed a close relationship with one another. However their relationships differ according to personality, mutual interests and distance from one another. They became siblings to one another through adoption as well as genetics.

My youngest daughter who is in her late twenties, shared with me that she was glad to have been adopted with her sister as there was someone who shared her same genetics and they would always have one another, particularly if there were any sort of medical issue. It does not take away from the relationship she has with her other siblings, it is just something special shared just between them

Interestingly, most people express the concern that an older child might struggle more with attachment, however, older children CAN attach. I’ve had people tell me an older child, “can’t attach!” That has always puzzled me, as that comment often comes from an individual who is happily married. Certainly that couple met at an ‘older’ age and then fell in love, forming a lasting attachment called marriage. Why is it so hard to consider adopting an older child?

Although attachment takes work at any age, our eldest daughter, at age 16, was absolutely the quickest of all our children to attach, as she truly wanted parents and believed that we would be able to give her what she wanted, a family who would love and care about her. I’m sure she did not account for the fact that with parents, come rules, but she accepted them. I felt at the time and still believe that rules were part of the process that let her know that we cared about her. We explained that we had rules in place, so that there were no surprises. We had our expectations and she knew what we expected from her. More importantly, we gave her unconditional love and acceptance. We acknowledged that she had a life prior to coming into our family and that was in part, what made her so special to us.

We went into our adoptions knowing a bit more about our children. All of our children came with very special gifts, unique to them. Their personalities were evident. I knew our eldest was very smart and wanted to study science and math. I knew our son was not a great student, but loved building things and was very creative. Two of our children were very athletic and enjoyed playing soccer. It helped us to build a relationship fairly quickly as we had a good idea of each child’ likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We were able to go into their adoptions already having a bond through our shared interests.

We found there were many more benefits of beginning parenting with older children. Our children were toilet trained, slept through the night and could eat the same food we ate. They were able to go to the beach, go hiking or sailing without much planning. We took a lot of road trips and they were good about packing up their clothes and toys, and enjoyed listening to classical books on tape, playing road games and exploring the country. We never could have gone on our many family adventures if we had adopted babies. As my husband and I both worked, it was also helpful that our children were in school. We were able to adjust our schedules around school hours and holidays. However, had we adopted a baby, it would have been far more challenging.

Our sons joined our family after they visited our family through one of the nightlight summer hosting programs. We had the experience of having them in our home for several weeks, realizing during that time, that we also enjoyed parenting boys (after having successfully parented four girls). Hosting gave us the opportunity to see what it was like to have a boy in our home. Hosting is a fantastic way to have an older child in your home for a period of two to six weeks, allowing both you to experience what it might be like to add that child to your family. It also gives the child an idea about what it might be like to join your family or a similar family. As a single children without biological siblings, our sons both appreciated coming into a family where they would have several siblings.

I certainly would encourage any parents who might be open to adopting an older child or siblings to consider the many amazing older children and siblings who are waiting eagerly for a family to call their own. In our family we refer to our adoptions as part of our family adventures. Could you be that family willing to take that exciting adventure of adopting an older child or sibling children?

 

–by Rhonda Jarema

An International Embryo Adoption

I got all choked up as I watched the little pin-pricks of light on the monitor in the doctor’s office. The way they appeared was a miraculous sight I will never forget. Not for Emily, though. All she could focus on was how much she needed to go to the bathroom! But that is what this journey through embryo adoption has been like every step of the way. Sometimes miraculous, sometimes hilariously human.

Our infertility story begins just like any other, racking up doctor’s office visits like you are filling up a punch card at Starbucks. Each time they wanted to try something progressively more invasive. Our work requires us to live overseas, which complicated the situation further. Expats like us squeeze as much medical care as we can into each trip home, but it was becoming increasingly clear that natural conception just wasn’t in the cards for us. We looked into traditional adoption, but the small African country where we live doesn’t have a domestic program for non-citizens, forcing us to look to international adoption in a neighboring country. This meant a long wait and a slim chance of adopting a baby. In the end, we decided we were open to adopting an older child who needed a forever family, while we mourned the loss of never getting to care for our children as infants.

That is when we heard about embryo adoption from a colleague and it answered all our prayers. It was a child in need of a family, it was the opportunity to know our child as a roly-poly baby, and it was a gift for my wife to experience all the messy beauty of carrying and giving birth. We raised money, we prayed a lot, we bought plane tickets, we got discouraged and crash-landed a few times into pints of cookies-and-cream and old reruns of the West Wing, but eventually we made it.

We adopted five wonderful embryos from the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program and transferred two of them. Later that day, we sat in a little taco joint where I forbade Emily from moving an inch and brought her all manner of salsa options. She teased me, as if her walking to the drink-dispenser would cause irreparable damage. It was obvious this whole experience hadn’t just been about our son, but it brought us together as well. It made us the kind of parents our little Noah needs and he made us the family we had dreamed of being all along.

 

–Embryo Adoptive Family

Lessons Learned as an Adoptive Mom

 

When my husband and I prayerfully decided we would like to adopt, I was one of those people who read all the blogs, and did my best to “master” this journey in advance. We ultimately narrowed things down to foster adoption as the best fit for our family.

Fast forward through a home study, lots of education, certification, and waiting in matching for about 6 months for the right placement to come along, I suddenly became a mom to 4-year-old twins.

I say suddenly, because the wait feels agonizing, things just HAPPEN, all at once.

So “suddenly” I was meeting the twins first foster family in an Ikea parking lot, loading up all of their belongings, and driving them through a couple hours of traffic to our home, where my husband was nervously waiting. This was a little over a year ago, and we have finalized our adoption with the twins since that time. I am still on this journey of learning as an adoptive mom, but I have picked up some lessons along the way.

You will love them, in your own time, in the way that you love: Moment of honesty here, I don’t bond quickly with anyone. I signed up for adoption knowing that I would not be that person who saw a picture of a child and immediately feel “this is my child”. I hoped for it, none the less. All of the adoption stories I read or listened to had that moment. That time where an adopter walked into a room, or saw a picture, and felt to their core that everything they had done up to that point lead them to their child. I have so much appreciation for people who are able to have that moment. Also my heart hurts for the individuals that don’t, and think there is something… wrong.

Our twins came into our home, and it mainly felt like babysitting, which was not helped by the fact that I needed to record the exact minute of which I gave them a gummy vitamin, each day. Going through all of these mothering steps felt so off, because there was a mother out there grieving the loss of her children, and they were grieving the loss of her. I was grieving for both of their losses. I was in an incredibly tricky state of mind.

I didn’t feel like a parent when they came home, or even many months afterwards. This was not a failure on behalf of anyone; myself, my agency, the kids. There wasn’t something wrong with me. People just bond differently, and some more obviously and quickly than others.

This could be true for yourself, your spouse, or the child(ren) you bring into your home, and it is not a disaster when it happens. When it comes down to it, I made a choice to love these strangers as my children. I acted out what I knew love to look like, and I told myself (sometimes daily) my feelings will come. Not the feelings someone else experienced in their adoption story, but the ones that are true to me. This ended up serving me well, when things got hard, it did not change the fact that I was still simply acting out what I know love to look like. It kept my feet planted.

To keep it simple, don’t compare. Pray daily to love the children in your home just a little bit more than you loved them the day before, regardless of where you started. The feelings come, they continue to grow, sometimes they ebb and flow. Just like the ending of a story book, “happily ever after” in marriage is much more complicated than we once believed as kids. The same is true for adoption.

Love for kids is spelled “TIME” I feel like most parents probably know this. However, I was really surprised at the results that come from playing with my children individually for just 5 minutes a day. Play that involved letting them lead, and either complimenting, celebrating, or repeating back what they were doing during those 5 minutes. This is not naturally my personality, but I learned, and it worked. Not simply time next to them, but concentrated time loving on who they are at exactly that moment. Not who you want them to be some day, just letting them be them, in all their messy imperfect glory.

Also, that TIME can mean taking time to work on yourself. Parenting really puts you under the microscope and brings out some things that you may have never realized were there. Things like a child that reminds you of someone that caused emotional damage towards you in the past. Maybe it’s opposing personalities that you don’t know how to navigate, or a button that they really learned how to push. Let me be brutally honest with you when I say that taking time to work on your own stuff is one of the most effective ways to love your child.

Do not be afraid to get counseling, it’s worth the financial cost. Your house doesn’t need to be figuratively “on fire” for you to drag yourself to an office for therapy. I tell my kids that a therapist is simply a doctor for their emotions. If it’s normal to do a checkup with your physician, why not an emotional check up too?

Be intentional about relationships, they are key to success I’m not talking about with the kids, but your personal relationships, as they are the ones that will help hold your head up when things get HARD.

Adoption, especially fostering or international adoption, will be isolating. Not everyone will understand trauma, even when you try to educate them. They won’t understand cocooning, or therapeutic parenting strategies. If you are like me, and adoption is the way you first became a parent, people will assume you have no earthly clue what you are doing. To be honest, I didn’t! More specifically, I hadn’t mastered a lot of really basic things that parents normally learn through years of trial and error. We got judged harshly on our little mistakes, and that opened the door for strangers to make a lot of assumptions about our parenting in general. I’m not into oversharing my kids personal story for the benefit of a stranger, so taking criticism or ‘tips’ silently is often what makes adopters feel so isolated.

This may make you want to back away from relationships altogether, but in fact it is the reason they are so important. I found that the people who DID understand, listen, and learn with us, were my rocks in the hardest moments. They let me vent when some well-meaning ‘advice’ made me feel extra insecure. I also realized very quickly how vital it is to get to know other adopting families, and pursue relationships with them intentionally. We had none of those relationships to start, and had to start pursuing them when our lives were busy, crazy, and imperfect. The beauty was, those adoptive families were not fazed by imperfection. Life-giving relationships were so key to our journey, that I would recommend pursuing them with the same passion in which you may currently be pursuing an adopted child.

While this is not everything you could possibly need for your adoptive journey, I have found that being aware of each of these has provided the fuel we needed to get through our harder moments, and ultimately lead our family to overcome some tough times. They also made life a lot more fun in the good times.

–Deb Uber | Snowflakes Adopter Inquiry Specialist

Autism Advocacy: Fight the Good Fight for Them!

 

In March 2017 my husband, daughter and I welcomed our son/brother into our family through international adoption. Anthony and I were beyond grateful for Nightlight Christian Adoptions, our home study agency and our adoption agency, MLJ Adoptions International Inc. requiring so much education prior to traveling that gave us the tools to begin the attachment process and to help Jonathan journey down the path of healing and connection. As we settled in at home, we knew to best help Jonathan we needed further education and took a TBRI Caregiver course that gave us invaluable information and went in depth on explaining trauma and how it affects connection. We did several in home sessions with Amie Cooper, the Flourishing Families TBRI Practitioner, which took all that we had learned and really tailored it to Jonathan and our family. We saw improvements with each session.

After a year of sifting through behaviors and recognizing some that were outside of the trauma realms, we decided to have Jonathan evaluated by a psychologist. His behaviors did in fact fall on the autism spectrum. For us nothing changed by having this diagnosis but for Jonathan this meant that the world would have a better understanding on how to help him. Doors opened for Jonathan for therapies that he so desperately needed. The public school system was able to meet Jonathan where he was and give him assistance he needed.

God has truly put a dream team together that supports him in every aspect, they genuinely care for him as a whole person and us. Now don’t get me wrong, it did take some time to find the right people but you are your child’s greatest advocate in every area! Fight the good fight for them. The best advice I could give a parent would be, don’t settle and trust your instincts because this can be portrayed as an invisible disability.

Because Jonathan sees the world differently, he has taught me to slow down, to look at the details. And I have learned more about dinosaurs and the human body than I ever knew! He really likes dinosaurs and learning how things work. When I look in his eyes, I see a child that is smart, brave and strong. I am so proud of Jonathan and all that he has accomplished. With his schedule full of therapies, he works harder than most kids his age. The first time I saw him draw a flower it brought tears to my eyes, to me it wasn’t just a flower, I saw all the hours his resource teacher, OT and so many more has poured onto him helping him. How do you say thank you to those people? The people that are helping our son manage his world around him, to learn skills that for most take for granted.

We truly believe being able to have the strong foundation established at the beginning through TBRI practices along with the help of Flourishing Families, we were able to enter into the second year advocating for Jonathan successfully as we continued to connect and grow as a family. Jonathan has already touched so many people in his life I know God has big plans for him and am humbled to be able to be his mom and to see God work in his life.

If you are a foster or adoptive family in the State of South Carolina, be sure to check out Flourishing Families and the services they provide at https://www.flourishingfamiliessc.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~Anthony and Jennifer G.