When we moved into our home, I told many people that I would love to foster children one day. We have so much love to give, and having fertility issues, it would likely be the only option for growing our family, even if temporarily. Becoming foster parents was something that we were going to do. I didn't know when or how but there wasn't a doubt in my mind. Over five years later, that dream became a reality. The situation was heartbreaking, and it broke me in more ways than one. But from that we have our beautiful and resilient daughter.
Adoption. The process is enlightening, maddening, difficult and heartbreaking - somehow making our hearts grow whole once again. Social workers come into our homes and inspect; they dig into our past. I remember writing my life story on five different forms in the gigantic pile of paperwork.
I never thought much about adoption before our journey with it. Since we adopted our daughter four and a half years ago, I notice it everywhere: friends, former classmates, celebrities. All walks of life are affected by adoption and it is fabulous to learn from people who, while protecting intimate details and their children's privacy, are open books and advocates. It is a topic that I would love to see more conversation about. I'd love for the hard parts and the unfair parts to be discussed, as well as all the amazing things that come from it.
Adoption is a long romanticized notion: taking a child with no family who is unwanted and loving him and raising him. It should be such a fulfilling feeling. The reality is not quite as romantic. It is confusing and contradicting and incredibly difficult.
14 The Home Study
Every adoptive family will have a home study. It is a very important step to ensure that the family is able to care for a child in all ways. We received a tote bag packed full of folders with information and paperwork. I remember filling out my life story on at least five of those forms. Kiss your privacy goodbye because in this process - there is none! You must be open and honest about everything, even the not so pretty parts of your life. You will also have to fill out financial information, have a physical and disclose any diagnoses and mental health history. An in depth background check and finger prints will be completed as well.
We basically had two months to get our home ready for our daughter - and we were in the middle of renovations. The social worker walked through our home, and in the end we had a checklist a mile and a half long of everything we had to accomplish. I am still unsure as to how we pulled it off. I am very thankful for the love and support of extended family and friends that came through for us. We had to have handles on our bedroom and bathroom doors that couldn't lock from either side, a fire extinguisher, multiple ways to escape each room in case of fire, emergency numbers clearly visible and easy to find, personal references for each parent, back up caregivers who all needed background checks, and in depth interviews with each parent and child, together and alone. By the end of the home study process, there will be no stone untouched. It is invasive and overwhelming but also necessary.
13 Education And Training
Training and education for prospective adoptive and foster families vary from state to state. In my area, training took place over two days, early morning until late evening. We sat around a table while two social workers in the adoptive and foster care field covered all sorts of topics. We heard the success stories and the horror stories.
We learned about what our new children may have experienced, especially if coming from foster care. We learned how to recognize and meet their unique needs, and how to be sensitive and informed to better advocate for our new children. We learned all sorts of new lingo. Most of all we learned how to respect the process that we were going through. It is easy to become jaded and skeptical. It is hard to understand what biological parents experience or why they've made decisions that they have. These classes are essential to our roles as adoptive parents, and provide a deeper understanding of the process and everyone's role in the new family dynamic.
12 The Outrageous Costs
The average cost of an infant adoption in the US is $30,000, but can get as high as $40,000! Of course the cost depends on which avenue you take, and believe me there are many. Private, agency, international, foster care, etc. There are legal fees, support for the birth mother, home study fees, did I mention legal fees?
The astronomical costs to adopt a baby keeps many infertile couples from becoming the parents they have always wanted to be. Other couples don't let it stand in their way. They take loans, hold fundraisers, make and sell products, sell whatever they don't need, cut costs as much as possible and/or take second jobs.
Keep in mind that there is a tax credit for adoption. If the adoptive family meets certain criteria, up to $12,000 can be refunded to you on your tax refunds the next year! This is an important aspect to keep in mind, and can really help the average American family.
11 What Do You Envision Your New Family Will Look Like?
For most couples heading into this journey, it is important for them to adopt an infant. The need to care for that newborn baby, bond, cuddle and take care of their every need. The whole coming home from the hospital, 3 AM feedings thing is an important part of the parental role they need to experience. However, there are kids of all ages who need a family, loving parents and a comfortable home.
It is important to get really clear on how you envision your family, and what your limits are before starting the adoption process. There are many routes to take that will lead you to your new child. They are all so different and vary in costs and experiences. Each route will lead you to a different child. Private or agency adoptions are best for an infant placement. Foster care or international adoptions are best for finding your new child who may be a bit older and are still really in need of a family.
10 Foster Care Adoption
Families can go into foster care with the sole intention of adoption. They can choose the age ranges they are comfortable with, if they are comfortable with sibling groups, gender, and many other factors. The process is the same, only a child will not be placed with the family until termination of their biological parents has already occurred, meaning the child is free and clear to be adopted. There is about a six month period of time in which the biological parents can appeal the court's decision to terminate their right to parent. It is during that time period that the adoptive family would be getting all the paperwork and other work done so that adoption can take place as soon as possible. Because of the nature of foster care, infants are least likely to be placed in an adoptive situation, though it is possible.
Adoption from foster care is an emotional process, but it is a very affordable option for couples wanting to grow their families and provide for a child that grew in their hearts. Certain children may be eligible for a state subsidy to help offset costs of raising them, as well as state insurance.
9 International Adoption
It is no secret that living conditions in some countries are abysmal. Disease, lack of medical treatment, hunger and war all lead to children being orphaned, abandoned, and neglected. Many families have a strong feeling to gather these little ones in their arms and love them the way they deserve to be loved. If only it were that easy!
A lot of time, effort, coordination and money goes into adopting internationally. On average it takes two to three years from the beginning of the process until the child comes home to their new forever family, and costs upwards of $30-40,000. In the meantime, the child is placed with foster families or in orphanages. Many countries require the child and adoptive parents to stay in their country for a certain period of time for paperwork to be completed, to witness the bonding process, and to help the transition.
8 Open Vs. Closed Adoptions
Open adoption is when the biological parents and adoptive parents have contact after the adoption has taken place. There are no hard and fast rules, but there is some form of communication between the two families such as letters, emails with updates and maybe even pictures or visits. Open adoption is ideal because the child will have have access to his or her own identity. They won't have to wonder who their biological parents are or wonder why they made the decisions they did. They will know how loved they are, valued and supported through their lives by people who chose them over all others. If the situation turns uncomfortable, unsafe or hurtful, the level of openness is up to the adoptive parents in all cases. It is all about what is best for the child.
Closed adoptions do have their place. It can be better for the child and both sets of parents to have that closure and permanence. Also if birth parents or families are unstable, it is most certainly better for the adoption to be closed. There is no easy answer on this subject.
7 All The Feels
I knew adoption would be emotional. I never expected the range of emotions I would experience. We started out as foster parents, so we began with a boundary. She wasn't our child and we needed to respect that. There were visitations with her biological parents, a complete lack of privacy, and every single move we made was examined. I was educated more than once on safe sleep procedures and the dangers of baby walkers. We had social workers in our home at least once a week, as well as surprise visits once a month, plus meetings and court dates. It was a lot to work through emotionally. I remember the moment when I realized that she was our daughter. It was powerful.
Not only do we feel it, but biological families are grieving loss. I grieved for their loss. I grieved losing them from our life too. I grieved for my daughter's loss. As much as we gained, they lost. I didn't expect to feel that way. As time moves on, she realizes more and more, and it breaks my heart that I have to explain it to her. Keeping the discussion of adoption in age appropriate terms isn't always easy. I just want to make sure I support her through it as much as possible.
Attachment is a crucially important part of an infant's development. Without attachment, the baby cannot learn to trust or feel safe in his environment. Bonding usually begins in pregnancy, which isn't always possible in an adoption situation. The recommended style of parenting an adopted newborn is Attachment Parenting, which includes keeping baby in close proximity, baby wearing, bed sharing, and responding to baby when he cries.
When babies and children do not form attachment at a young age it can affect their brain development, and create lifelong issues. Trauma and neglect can have the same affect. A lot of foster and adoptive families of toddlers and older children do not realize that their new kids may not be very appreciative of their new life. For example, they might not trust that they will be consistently fed, so they will hoard food. They can withhold affection or be unable to show affection, lie, be cruel to pets, have impulsivity issues and be destructive. Reactive Attachment Disorder can be extremely difficult for the new parent. Please make sure there is proper support in place and everyone is aware of how to handle difficult situations. This is only one reason why education for foster and adoptive parents is extremely important.
5 Post Adoption Depression
Adoption and parenting are romantic notions. We rarely, if ever, see or hear about the realities that result from creating a family, so it is really hard to know what to expect. A lot of time and energy goes into the adoption process. So when life with a newborn isn't as joyous as it was expected to be, it can be a disappointment. Those feelings lead to guilt and shame. And before anyone realizes it, depression has crept in.
Post adoption depression is much like post partum depression, and can be just as debilitating. Some symptoms may include: loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed, weight loss or weight gain, feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness and hopelessness, exhaustion, having a hard time making decisions and suicidal thoughts. The difficult part is recognizing it for what it is. Once the cycle is realized, treatment can be sought. In the meantime, a good support system and self-care is very important for any new parent.
4 Stupid Comments
I swear, people find out your child is adopted and they cannot keep the foolishness from spilling from their mouths. For the most part, people mean well. But sometimes these comments can be so incredibly annoying, stupid, ridiculous and insulting. I remember one comment my husband and I got was, "Oh, you took the easy route, hey?" Ummm... NO! Nothing about our foster care and adoption journey was easy. I was seething on the inside, but I just let him know, that he was very mistaken without going into details. Other comments have included, "But she look so much like you!", "Why didn't her mom want her?" and the dooziest of the doozies "She is SO LUCKY to have you!" to which I almost always respond that it is actually the other way around! We are the lucky ones because we get to be her parents. The best response when learning of someone's adoption is, "Oh congratulations! I am so happy for you!"
3 Special Needs Kiddos
"Special needs" is a blanket term and can be used to describe almost anything that isn't 100% typical. Foster care often labels children as special needs if they have ADHD or if they are a part of a sibling group. It doesn't always mean medically complex and fragile children, or major developmental delays. There certainly are kids with significant special needs who need homes as well.
Nowadays a major concern is drug use in pregnancy and the effects it will have on the baby. Some babies will grow and develop normally with no lasting affects, while others will have developmental delays, muscle tone issues, sensory processing issues, etc. Most will grow into childhood with behavioral and attention issues. Not a whole lot is known about long term effects of this horrible drug epidemic and the effect it will have on our newest generation. Understandably, it is a consideration in the adoption process.
2 What's In A Name?
Almost always birth parents will name their children, even when placing them with an adoptive family. A name is important. It is a family claim. It conveys heritage and culture. Of course, changing the child's name is completely up to the adoptive parents, because legally they can do as they wish now. But it is very important to take birth names into consideration when re-naming the child.
If it is an infant adoption, it will be a bit easier to change the baby's name. An older child may have their own very strong feelings on the matter, which should be taken seriously. A new name may signify a new start, but it will also mean leaving their old life and biological parents behind. It is also the one thing that belongs to just them. It may be the only thing they have.
1 Gotcha Day
Gotcha day! We celebrated the day of my daughter's adoption by going out to a family brunch and having cake afterwards with her grandparents. I always keep the date in mind and reflect on it with each passing year. But we don't celebrate it on a regular basis. We do celebrate her birthday because it is the day she came into this world. She was a fighter. She still is! The actual day of her adoption we needed a little celebration though. It was over! She is ours. No one can take her from us! The end of one journey and the beginning of the next phase of our lives.
However, it is important to acknowledge that Gotcha Day celebrations can exacerbate feelings of abandonment, and can trigger some memories of trauma of the past. This is especially true with non-infant adoptions. Gotcha Days and reminders that that part of their life is over doesn't erase that it happened. Honoring the beginning of their life as well as their feelings surrounding it is difficult, but so very important.