Archive | advice RSS feed for this section

Passing the Time

23 Oct

Photo courtesy of smellslikeupdog
courtesy of smellslikeupdog

Our video profile was posted on September 10 and it was, one one hand, a big relief. We went around and around with our agency over the video contract and then we ran into all sorts of problems actually getting it filmed.

What kinds of problems, you ask? Well, for example, I had an Avastin injection on July 2 that resulted in a big, red burst blood vessel in the white of my eye that was hardly the kind of thing I wanted immortalized on video. Then our puppy, Casey, got into the foam packing for the video camera and destroyed it. Oh puppy.

Anyway, once the video was posted, I  was relieved. For about three days.

That’s how long it took me to realize there was nothing left for us to do. We filed all our paperwork. We passed our home study. We filled out the Adoption Planning Questionnaire. We created our family profile. We filmed our video profile. All the tasks were done and all that was left was the wait. We’d been waiting for three months already by the time the video was posted, but our profile wasn’t technically complete until that video was online. Until then, I was still mentally checking things off a list.

And now I’ve come to the end of the list. Nothing from this point forward is in my control. We’re just waiting for time to pass.

It’s terrifying. As a project-oriented person, the end of a to do list leaves me feeling at odds.

I waited a month, hopping that feeling would pass. No such luck. A series of events in late September left me feeling even less in control of the world.

Our called our adoption specialist who offered this advice on passing the time: Decorate the nursery. Travel (with trip insurance). Go out to dinner and to the movies. Finish up any lingering house projects.

Oh – and start thinking about new photos we might want to put on our profile in three months or so.

Ah-ha! A project …

Choosing Profile Photos

21 Feb

Don and Susan: Walking on Boardwalk

Happy days are here. We're nearly done with the materials needed for our family profile.

We finally finished the 24 essay questions for our adoption specialist at the placement agency we’ve chosen to work with and moved on to the task of creating our family profile.

We knew we’d need photos – lots of photos – but I don’t think either of expected the exact magnitude. I thought we’d need to mark 20-25 photos that we didn’t hate. Instead we were asked to provide at least 50. Mostly of us. Photos in which we both look good and aren’t too squinty (we’re both super, super squinty folk).

Yeah. 50 very specific photos. Our agency provided guidelines for us and I think these are pretty great guidelines regardless of what agency you decide work with (or if you decide to pursue and independent / parent-placed adoption).

  • 8-10 Good, current photos of you and your spouse (and children, if applicable)
  • 8-10 Close-up photos of just you and your spouse together
  • 8-10 Holiday, vacation, fun photos
  • 2-5 Photos of your home (be sure to include outside and inside photos)
  • 2-5 Photos of a neighborhood park, pool, elementary school or other community space
  • 2-4 Photos of extended family and/or friends
  • 8-10 Photos of husband doing activities/hobbies
  • 8-10 Photos of wife doing activities/hobbies
  • 4-10 Hobby photos without people in them
  • Additional miscellaneous photos

This took a lot longer than I expected, especially since they do not want photos more than three years old. I fudged that part a little bit since the last three years we’ve been really busy planning a wedding, getting married, looking for a house, moving and renovating it so we’ve had less time and money to travel to fun places and indulge in hobbies and leisure. Though, actually, if you know us at all, you’ll know that a lot of our leisure activities (like Nice Mirror and We Love DC) aren’t all that leisurely – just a different kind of work than our employers pay us to do.

At any rate, we finally got them together. Our final submission is 58 photos showing what a fun, happy, loving life we share with each other – and many of you. Oh, you want to see some? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Have at it.

Don and Susan: Dressed Up as Colonial People

We have fun wherever we go. We found a trunk of costumes and props at this visitor's center.


Holidays, Vacations and Fun: Don and Susan in Seattle

We stopped by the Public Market while visiting friends in Seattle.


Hobbies: Craft Show Booth

A fair amount of our leisure time is spent making and selling mirrors like these at craft shows.


Don and Susan: Just Hanging Around Town
Oh this? Nothing special. Just enjoying a nice night in DC.


Hobbies: Don Juggling

Our friends' children always ask Don to juggle. It's a crowd pleaser.


Hobbies: Susan Hiking at Deadman's Trail

When we go on vacation, Susan finds hikes and nature trails for us nearly every day. This may not have been one of her better ideas.


Extended Family and Friends: Both Sides of Family

Both sides of our family at Mt. Vernon.


Extended Family and Friends: Enjoying Waterfront Dinner with Friends

Dinner on the water with friends. Two of these lovely ladies were pregnant in the picture. Since this picture was taken in July, one baby has been born in the group and another is due in 3 weeks.


Extended Family and Friends: Don and Sarah on Merry-Go-Round

Don and our friend Sarah on the Merry-Go-Around


Extended Family and Friends: Susan Playing Mini Golf with Grace
Susan playing mini-golf with our friend Grace.


This is just a fraction of the 58 photos we provided. Head over to Flickr if you want to see the rest.

Here are some other photo tips that you might helpful when choosing your own images for an adoption profile. Remember when we said it was a lot like online dating? We weren’t kidding.
Much like an online dating profile, these photos are really important. Sure, they show the birth family what you look like but, more importantly, they illustrate what your life is like. Everyone we’ve met in this process says you can’t under-estimate the importance of these photos. We know a couple whose birth mother said she picked them because she liked the hopeful dad’s sweater. Other birth moms have indicated they liked the adoptive mother’s hair, or the way the house was decorated, or their dog reminded her of a dog she had when she was kid. None of those things can come out in your written profile.
Here are some more helpful hints:
  • Take your camera with you wherever you go.  Ask people to take your picture – friends, family, even strangers. Don and I are famous for our self portaits. We love them and they are very fun for us, but they don’t make the best photos. We didn’t include a single photo like that. 
  • Make sure you can see your faces really well in MOST of the photos you include. This is tricky because you’re also trying to show the fun places you go and cool things you do.
  • Choose both portrait and landscape photos.
  • Avoid busy patterns and wear color … but not colors that are too bright (like neons)
  • Don’t go overboard on pictures of your wedding. One, maybe two.
  • Smile. Birth moms want to place into happy homes.

*I just realized we didn’t provide any photos of our wedding. Hmm. I loved our wedding and some of our pictures (like riding the old carousel in Ocean City, playing skee ball, posing in the photo booth and walking on the boardwalk) definitely show our fun and quirky sides, but I guess I felt like our every day lives were a better depiction of us.

Did you have to provide so many photos for your profile? Did Don and I miss any of your favorite photos? Should we have provided at least one wedding photo?

Shame and Shingles

5 Nov

Several days of intense pain followed by the appearance of a small rash drove me to the doctor on Thursday. The verdict? Shingles.
As I have mentioned before, I have this totally weird and rare eye condition that does better if I keep my immune system suppressed. As a result, I get a fair share of bugs – normally of the not-so-serious kind like colds and stomach viruses.

My shingles are definitely the result of a low immune system. However there’s some decent evidence to show that shingles are brought on by stress, and I have a little bit of that going on currently.

You already know we’re working on our home study process right now. You probably don’t know we’re involved in a major house renovation process as well. Major as in we tore the roof off our house and gutted the second floor. After we ripped off the roof, the DC area experienced an earthquake, a hurricane and then what is now being referred to as thousand year rains. The temporary roof (plywood and tarps) couldn’t handle the stress. The kitchen ceiling leaked, the dining room ceiling leaked. Parts of the living room ceiling ended up on the floor of the living room.

Since we gutted the 2nd floor, we had to remove everything upstairs. All that stuff – two bedrooms worth of stuff – is in our living room and dining room at the moment. It looks like hoarders live in our house. Plus we’ve been living in the first floor guest room since we moved in a year ago. I really, really miss our bed.
Want to see my shame?

This is what our dining room looks like right now. There is furniture everywhere - our mattress and box spring, two dressers, rolled up carpets - plus everything from our closets.

I mean, look at that. There’s a narrow path for walking and the rest is furniture piled on furniture. The plastic sheeting at the back is covering the place where we ripped windows out of the wall to make room for a sliding door.

The living room is not much better. Sections of wall board are missing and all of our bathroom fixtures are piled in the entry.

Our bathroom is in our living room. That's not as handy as you would think.


So, it’s crazy around here. I’m also really busy at work.

AND - our social worker is coming for the home visit in less than two weeks.

She’s assured us that she understands we’re remodeling, but we’re leaning hard on our contractor to make significant progress in order to make some of this craziness go away.

If they tile the shower stall and get the floor down in the bathroom we could at least move all those fixtures up there. She’s going to understand that the bathroom has construction materials in it, but she needs to be able to enter the house without falling over it. If they put in the sliding door, we can remove the plastic barricade. Again, she’s going to understand if the wall is missing the floorboard molding. Not having floorboard molding doesn’t make our house unsafe for children, but huge sections of plastic on which a child could suffocate might.

So, there’s some stress. On the other hand, we have heat in the house now for the first time in weeks (months really, but we didn’t need it back in September). Progress is being made. I’m so excited for our new second floor which houses our remodeled and larger master bedroom, a bathroom of my dreams and a room that (provided our social worker doesn’t run away screaming) will one day be our cheerful little nursery.

What do you think? How much progress can we make in this short period of time? What should be our priorities for preparing for the home visit?

Adoption Letters of Reference, Part Three: Asking our References

1 Nov

As I have discussed, we had a lot of questions about who to ask and how to write to our adoption letters of reference. Once we had chosen our references and basically figured out what was in them we still wanted to know how much instruction we should provide.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘George Eastman House’

I put myself in their shoes. If someone asked me to write such an important letter, I would want a couple of things:

  • Guidance on what the letters are. Sure, I can use Google but it would be nice to hear from the person asking me to do them a big favor
  • Specifics on anything required (like how to address the letters and the proper way to get them notarized)
  • An easy out. Maybe I don’t want to write this letter but now I feel pressured and I don’t want to say, “Well, I don’t think you’ll be good parents so I’m not comfortable writing this letter.” I mean, I’m going to assume you’ve picked people who won’t have that reaction, but you never know.

So, we put together a thank you letter with a couple of bullet points and when we asked our references to write the letters (two in person and one via e-mail), we gave them the letter. Here’s a copy for you to read (PDF). Like everything else on this blog, it’s not the necessarily the right way or the only way to do it, just an example of what we did.

I also googled around until I found a couple of fairly simple sample letters of reference and gave them a copy in the event they wanted confirmation about how these letters are supposed to read. Here are the two sample letters we provided our references (PDF). These were not letters I wrote about us, since it was important that the letters be genuine and we wouldn’t have wanted any duplicate language to appear. The samples I found came from a forum on (from 2003 mind you) and I especially like that they listed the exact language necessary for the notary to sign.

Now that I have reviewed our whole process for obtaining the letters of reference, I’d love to hear abut your experience. Who did you ask? How much or how little guidance did you provide? Did you need more than three (we’re looking at a couple of agencies for placement that have indicated they will need five letters!)? Did reading a copy of our request letter and the sample letters help you at all?

Letters of Reference, Part Two: More about the actual letters

31 Oct

Yesterday I wrote about how we chose the people we asked to write our letters of reference, but we still had lots of questions once we decided on our three references. 

What should the letters say?
Are you allowed to read them? Are you allowed to make suggestions? Are you allowed to answer questions? Can you provide samples?

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘mpclemens’

The rules may be different from state to state or even agency to agency, but our letters of reference had to be sent via USPS to our home address. They were to be sealed and addressed to “Social Worker”.  They also had to be notarized.

Note that the letters are to be sealed. If it’s important to you that you get to read them first, discuss it with the people you ask to submit them. Perhaps they won’t mind sharing with you. This might not honor the intent of the agency’s request, but nothing in our paperwork specified that the prospective parents could not read them. So, give it some thought … but do what feels right to you.

We didn’t ask to read them, but we did say that if the letter writer wanted us to read them that we would. Two of references sent them to us in advance, and one did not.

We did answer questions for all three of our references. They were simple questions (like, “What year did you meet?”), though. I’m not sure what we would have done if the questions were harder (like, ”What should I say are the qualities that will make you good parents?”). We thought a lot about who to ask so we were pretty confident we wouldn’t get questions like that, but I guess we would have given some vague ideas and hoped for the best. Remember, you want the letters to be heartfelt recomendations – not boiler plate language that will sound like you wrote them yourself.

There are a couple of key elements that should be included in each of the letters. I found this summary on The Labor of Love:

An adoption recommendation letter should include information about how you know the person that you are recommending. It should tell how long you have known them, and in what capacity. It should talk about the person’s strengths, qualifications, and any other skills that you have observed. You should discuss their character, their contributions to the community, their accomplishments, their dependability, and their consistence. You should summarize the types of interactions that you have seen the person have with children, whether they are your children or whether they are other children. You should also discuss the persons temperament and attitudes about child rearing. Finally, you need to summarize the adoption recommendation letter with why you recommend the person, and how fully you recommend them.

Even after all that, we still wondered about two things: could we provide sample letters and should we share some instructions (like the description above) in order to make it easier for people to start the task?

Yeah, I Thought So

26 Oct

As family legend has it, I actually asked my parents if I was adopted.

We were a closed adoption family (which was very typical in the 70s stone ages) so unlike kids adopted today there were no birth parents as part of our family make up.

That meant that my parents expected they would get to decide when and how to share the story of my adoption with me. So you can imagine their surprise when over dinner one night at age four or so, I just came right out and asked. As it turned out another child at my day care facility had recently learned she was adopted and for some reason that we never did understand, her parents told her I also was adopted.

Because they always intended to be truthful with me, my parents took my inquiry very seriously. They told me that I was adopted and prepared themselves to answer any questions I had. I think I said something like, “Yeah, I thought so” and went back to my dinner. That was enough for them to know I wasn’t ready and it didn’t come up again until I was in second or third grade. By that time I had no memory of the dinner time incident when I was four.

Adoption was always a known topic in our house, but it was never a big deal. Sure, there were some random school projects that frustrated us all (silly science projects where you have to see who you inherited your ability to roll your tongue from or locate the people in your family with attached earlobes), but most of the time we didn’t think about it.

My feeling is that the vast majority of today’s adoptions are much different. Because there is often contact with the birth family, adoption stories are shared from the very beginning. There are late night snuggle sessions where kids are reassured about their place in the world. Kids have more questions because they witness more, experience more.

It’s hard for me to imagine having been part of an adoption like that because you only know what you know. But, I’m prepared for the fact that our child will likely have a very different adoption story than my own, that he or she will actually know his or her birth mom and maybe even birth dad or grandparents.

I wouldn’t change my own adoption story for anything in the world. I have amazing parents, but they’re enough to handle on their own. I honestly have never had more than a passing curiosity about my birth family. I’m excited to see a different side of adoption this time around, though. And I bet my parents are, too. 

Did you start explaining adoption to your child immediately upon bringing him or her home, or did you wait until a specific point in his or her development? At what age did they start asking questions that made you realize there was real understanding of the situation?

Online Dating for Babies

9 Oct

At one of the agency open houses we attended, a social worker offered several suggestions for creating a profile book or prospective parent website. She acknowledged that there’s no tested formula, but that there were several common themes she had observed in her years of working in the field of adoption.

We started thinking of these as the best practices and rolling them out at dinner parties to entertain our friends when they asked how our adoption was going. It occurred to us that preparing your online parent profile was a lot like making an online dating profile – both involve presenting the very best version of your personality and life in order to get someone to pick you for a long-term relationship. Essentially, we announced each time we rolled out these best practices, creating the profile was basically online dating for babies.

Though, technically, it’s more like online dating for birth moms … but you get the idea.

Here are two of the crazier suggestions she offered up. Remember – these are not my own suggestions. I’ve included our reaction below her advice. Do with them what you will.

  1. Social Worker: Do you have dog? Include him in the discussion of your family and home life and definitely include a picture.
    Don and Susan: We don’t have a dog. Susan is allergic.
    Social Worker: Can you borrow one for your photos?
    Don and Susan: …
  2. Social Worker: You should include a picture of the will-be nursery, but don’t have it set up as a nursery. In fact, don’t have it set up at all. It’s best if the room is empty.
    Don and Susan: Seriously?
    Social Worker: Well, maybe you could place a large stuffed animal in the corner. Oh – with a ribbon on its neck.  
    Don and Susan: …

She did have lots of other advice that seemed more reasonable, but these were among the ideas that made us laugh.

Did you get any funny advice about drafting your adoption profiles? How did you decide what photos to use and how much detail to provide up front?

Please look after this bear by gazzat

Why Was I Adopted?

3 Oct

As I have mentioned, I was adopted as a baby. When  I was in third grade or so (note to self: ask mom and dad about this), my parents shared my adoption story with me and gave me this book:

It became a favorite right away and we read it a lot. I got that book nearly 30 years ago and I still remember it. It was humorous and well illustrated, and told an honest story about adoption. I can still remember my dad and I giggling over a passage that said becoming a parent was not as easy as getting a baby from a gum ball machine.

Sadly, the book is out of print … though I think my parents still have our copy and I hope it joins our library one day. What are the new books for explaining adoption to your child? Are there new classics out there? What should we add our to list?

By the way, Amazon has used copies of “Why Was I Adopted?” if you’re interested. I have no idea how well it holds up in terms of relevant content all these years later, but it made a big impact at the time I received it.

UPDATE: My dad say I was younger than third grade. Maybe second grade, or even first. Either way, we loved the book. There’s a part in the book about why some birth mothers place children and one example is that they are too young, maybe even teenagers. Dad informs me that I thought that part was particularly silly. “Teenagers can’t raise babies. They don’t know anything about babies.”