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40 weeks and counting

24 Jul

Source: etsy.com via Katie on Pinterest

 

A typical pregnancy last 40 weeks – nine full months. A typical adoption lasts a lot longer.

Case in point, 40 weeks ago today we had the first of three meetings with a social worker required for our home study. We had been working on an adoption plan for a long time before we even got to that point.


Here’s a look our timeline to date:

Summer of 2010 – Attended three open houses for local agencies that provide home study services.

Fall of 2010 – Bought our first home and selected our home study agency. Put further progress on hold as we began home renovation projects

Spring 2011 – Decide to begin working on adoption in July despite on-going renovation efforts

August 2011 – Met with adoption attorney to learn more about independent / parent-placed adoptions, met with Datz Foundation and started paperwork

September 30, 2011 – Submitted application and first round of paperwork to Datz Foundation

October 13, 2011 – Realize application was lost in the mail

October 14, 2011 – Resubmitted application electronically

October 21, 2011 – First home study interview

November 1, 2011 – Second home study interview

November 15, 2011 – Third and final home study interview

(and between September 30 and November 15, we did a whole bunch of other required tasks like getting fingerprinted, lining up our letters of reference, getting our state background checks, submitting to a FBI clearance and getting medical exams.)

November 19, 2011 – Attended American Adoptions open house in Northern Virginia

November 28, 2011 – Applied to American Adoptions, and began APQ process

November 30, 2011 – Home study draft received, and changes submitted

December 4, 2011 – Completed home study arrives in the mail

December 5, 2011 – Launched our independent adoption profile website and ordered adoption business cards (actually 4 x 6 photo prints)

January 2012 – Completed our APQ and began the process of planning our family profile

April 16, 2012 – Family profile completed

May 2, 2012 – Signed activation contract with American Adoptions and paid the hefty $10,000 activation fee

June 4, 2012 – Profile live on site and being shown to birth moms

July 2012 – Working on adoption video profile

July 12, 2012 – While on the phone about something else, adoption specialist mentions that our profile has been shown 24 times

July 24, 2012 – Wrote this post


So there you have it. It’s been two years since the day we went to our first adoption open house, about a year since we started getting serious about it and 40 weeks since we became actively engaged in the process. In short, long enough to have given birth to two children if that was the route we had decided to take.

Adoption is not easy. It takes a long time. It’s emotional. There is more paperwork than you can imagine. It’s expensive.

And it’s going to be worth every minute, every paper cut, every dollar and every tear.

Picking a Placement Agency

12 Mar

We knew back when we started our home study process that we’d have to pick a different agency for our placement OR pursue an independent adoption. In the end, we decided on both of those options.

Around the time we started filling out our home study application last August, we made an appointment with an adoption attorney to learn more about independent / parent-placed adoptions. Then in October we started meeting with our social worker from The Datz Foundation and she discussed the different options with us. While she certainly didn’t push us in either direction I kept hearing one of her points over and over. The big, national placement agencies have a lot of money and it’s difficult to compete against that. If we wanted to pursue an independent adoption, she told us, we’d have to behave like those agencies.

She suggested a profile at ParentProfiles.com. To be honest, the design of the site turns me off. Yes, it does group a whole bunch of people together in one place – like a placement agency’s website –  but the profile templates are really cookie cutter. Honestly, there’s probably something to be said for that … but I was hoping our personality and creativity would stand out a little more.

When I found some sites that had more attractive templates, I noticed that they had maybe 25 – 40 active families and they weren’t that easy to find so I worried birth families wouldn’t be able to find them.

The more I thought about it, the more I worried that an independent adoption would take too much time and as my 37th birthday was approaching, I worried that it was time I didn’t have to spare.

So, we hit up Google sites for a free website we could use on our business cards and started researching placement agencies. Phew. There are a lot choices out there.  

In the end, our pick was not that original. We decided on American Adoptions. They’ve done more adoptions in 10 years than any other placement agency in the country and they pretty much own “adoption” on the Internet. I guess it turned out to be one of those “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” kind of situations.

Before we made up our mind however, we (I) did a lot of research. Here are the things I really liked about American Adoptions:  

  • As I mentioned, they own the Internet when it comes to adoption. Type adoption into Google and you’ll find that American Adoptions is the first item displayed (sometimes via paid ad, sometime organically). See image above.
  • They spend more than $1.5 million a year in marketing to reach out to pregnant women considering adoption.
  • They complete more than 300 adoptions a year – an excellent track record.
  • They have one of the lowest adoption disruption rates.
  • There’s a money-back offer. Well, not really. BUT, they do have unique financial protection for clients. If a birth mother changes her mind, the adoptive family does not lose any money they spent on living expenses, medical expenses, counseling expenses and in most cases, legal expenses. The only money that’s committed up front that will not be re-funded is the activation fee (which, in the interest of full disclosure, is steep and allows them to spend so much money on advertising each year). However, that activation fee is still in place as you try for your second placement (whether that is immediately, or if you want to take some time).
  • There’s not  a set cost; each family sets a fixed budget for their adoption. We set a budget up front and the staff outlines all potential fees for each situation. 
  • Domestically, 99 percent of their adoptions are healthy newborns and infants.
  • The agency was founded by an adoptee (like me!) and his adoptive parents and lots of people on the client services staff have personal experience with adoption, including the adoption specialist assigned to us. Same goes for the birth parent specialist side of the clinical practice, too.
  • Counseling for birth moms. Look, all agencies require this so nothing sets American Adoptions apart here. BUT, it’s hard to get a feeling for how well they do it. We’re not entirely sure how well AA does it, but, for the most part, we liked the way they answered our questions about it. I don’t want a disruption, but I also don’t want to take a child from a woman who feels like she’s being coerced at the last minute.  

Selecting the placement agency is the part of the process I have felt the least comfortable with so far. There are so many choices and whoever we pick will ultimately be responsible for bringing our child to us. I’d love to be able to say that we made an entirely logical decision based on facts, figures and statistics. But, in the end, parts of picking this agency were totally random. We liked the people at the informational session. They waived the application fee when we attended an open house. The design of the profiles on their site are more appealing to me than some of the others I’ve seen. The list goes on and on. BUT, at some point, we just had to pick and American Adoptions seemed like a good fit. Time will tell if we made a good call.

 

 

 

These are a Few of Our Favorite Things

22 Feb

Photo courtesy of LornaWatt
Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String
courtesy of LornaWatt

Seems like all adoption agencies and independent profile sites LOVE the list o’ favorites. Our placement agency is no exception. I thought you might like to see our lists.

View the entire list of Our Favorite Things [pdf]

Some of Don’s Highlights

Favorite animal – Squirrels
I know – so cute.

Favorite children memory - Feeding ducks with his grandmother.
He does not mention that his grandmother let him skip Montessori Kindergarten in order to feed these ducks.

Hero – My dad
Awww.

Thing to Cook – Omelettes
Yeah, he does make an awesome omelette.

Some of Susan’s highlights

Childhood Toy – Kermit, Miss Piggy and Scooter
Did anyone else have these? Scooter was probably my favorite. Boy, did I love those things.

Hero – My grandfather who came to the U.S. with nothing and made a happy life
He taught me that if you love what you do, you’ll never “work” a day in your life.

Tradition – Hosting a big back yard bash to welcome summer and Don’s birthday
We had to skip it last year and I was so, so sad.

Vegetable – Brussels Sprouts
I love them so much it’s crazy. And, yes, I know they are usually everyone’s LEAST favorite.

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?

Made to Feel Guilty About the Status of Our Fertility

13 Feb

Photo courtesy of VirtualErn
And in one moment…
courtesy of VirtualErn

The application for our placement agency includes a long section of essay questions and five of the 24 questions are about how we’ve managed to work through our infertility.

Which is hard for us to answer because, you know, that’s not our situation.

Quick review for the newcomers. I have an auto-immune condition in my retina. To protect my vision I take a mild form of chemotherapy that suppresses my immune system but causes miscarriages and birth defects. I will likely have to keep up this course of treatment for the next decade at which time I’ll be in my mid-40s. So … adoption it is.

The fact of the matter is that most people who adopt have tried without success to conceive. Sadly, infertility affects 7 million American women (about 12 percent of the female population of child-bearing age). A lot of the adoption blogs I read are actually about both adoption and infertility since they often go hand in hand.

But not always. Sometime single people adopt. Sometimes same sex couples adopt. Sometimes people with hereditary medical conditions adopt. It’s easy to forget that we’re not the lone fertile people in the world of adoption when you consider how much of the content is geared toward couples working through fertility issues. There are even agencies who won’t accept couples like us, agencies that only help people who have struggled with infertility.

I alternate between feeling sad / mad / excluded, and feeling guilty that I have to work at NOT getting pregnant.

Take those five essay questions about infertility. There’s not a question about your ability (or lack thereof) to conceive. There’s an assumption. What have you done to deal with your infertility? What has been the hardest thing to cope with? Have you had the opportunity to close the door on other attempts to become parents?

I didn’t even have the opportunity to open the door.

And that’s okay. But it would be nice if I didn’t feel like I constantly have to defend our decision. You know how people always tell you that most of the time when you think you’re being judged, it’s all in your head? Well, in this case, it’s really not.

It’s not just the agencies that make me feel bad; sometimes it’s the other hopeful adoptive parents. Please – please – know that most people I encounter are kind and nice and not at all judgey … but sometimes I read forum posts like this one that make me feel really bad. Thankfully most of the respondents jump to the defense of people like me / couples like us, but the point is made. Some people engaged in this process don’t think I should qualify to adopt a healthy infant and that breaks my heart a little bit. Thankfully it’s a minority of people who feel that way, but it’s not exactly isolated.

Here’s another post in which the question about fertility is posed and there’s a lot discussion on both sides, with most people saying everyone should be allowed to adopt without prejudice and some people saying things like, “I do kind of think that childless couples who are infertile should be considered first and foremost and their profiles should be shown first.” Another person says that she doesn’t understand why a Caucasian couple who is not infertile would want to adopt a Caucasian baby when the wait is so long and there are people who are infertile waiting for those children – but she doesn’t think there should be a law about it or anything. Well, that’s good. At least she doesn’t want to legislate us out of the system (although, in fairness, since we’re open to children of mixed race heritage maybe she’s not talking about us specifically).

At any rate, it’s not something I spend tons of time dwelling on – we’re happy to have found an agency that doesn’t require infertility and I know there’s a birth mom out there who won’t care either. It’s just that occasionally, like while filling out our essay questions, it crosses my mind and stirs up these icky feelings.

Do you think that couples who are infertile should be given priority over people who are choosing adoption for other reasons? Do you think it shouldn’t matter WHY people are adopting as long as they can provide a stable, loving home?

Fill Out Your Answers with a #2 Pencil Only Please

9 Feb

Photo courtesy of Antalya1997
The Idea
courtesy of Antalya1997

So in between working on baby shower stuff, we’ve been plugging away at the mounds of adoption paperwork in front of us.

Specifically the essay questions. Uhm, did you know there were essay questions?

You biological parents had to fill out your essay tests, didn’t you?

Here’s what we have to answer in long form:

  • What is your understanding of how your APQ is used to match you to potential birth parents and create matches?
  • What is your understanding of how our agency will provide your adoptive family profile to birth parents to view?
  • What do you envision typical birth parents to be like?
  • What may her needs and fears about adoption be?
  • How can you provide comfort and security to birth parents?
  • What are positives to having contact with birth parents?
  • Negatives?
  • What are your thoughts/concerns about having to travel immediately within 24 hours of being contacted by the agency about a match and/or baby born?
  • What is your understanding of when your fees are due?
  • What type of financing have you secured for your adoption? What questions/concerns do you have about financing options?
  • What type of information do you expect to receive about birth parents and your adoption situation?
  • Looking at your APQ, what section(s) is most important to you (i.e., race, substance use, medical history and budget)?
  • In what section(s) do you feel you are the most flexible?
  • What materials/persons other than our Web site, staff and literature have you reviewed, read or used to learn about adoption?
  • What are your biggest fears/concerns about the adoption process at this time?
  • If you are open to adopting a child of another race(s), how have you educated yourself about transracial adoption or what information do you think will be important for you to best prepare for this task?
  • Have you considered how you will discuss your child’s adoption with him/her?
  • What have you read/researched on speaking to your child about adoption thus far?
  • What things have you done individually and as a couple to cope with any issues surrounding your infertility (ie. Counseling, support groups, message boards, clergy, etc.)
  • Have you done any medical interventions in order to become parents?
  • If yes, when was your last attempt?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you to cope with thus far?
  • Do you feel that both of you have had the opportunity to “close the door” on other attempts to become parents and are able to move forward with your commitment to adoption?
  • What questions or concerns would you like your Adoption Specialist to address on your phone call with her

That’s right – 24 freaking essay questions. So, if you’ve been wondering why so much time has passed and you haven’t heard about our adoption, that’s why.

If you need me I’ll be knee deep in our Adoption Planning Questionnaire. Next week I’ll be back with some thoughts about these question – specifically questions 19 – 23.

Hi! It’s Nice to Meet You.

5 Dec

Please visit our online profile.

Fingerprinted

16 Nov

Yesterday we went to the county courthouse to get fingerprinted. Cameras and cell phones aren’t allowed inside so I couldn’t document the visit, but here is the proof we did it.

Arlington County (VA) is inkless, meaning they scan your fingerprints. No alarms went off and bars didn’t slam down around us, so we must not be on any major Wanted lists. Phew.

I thought we’d be able to take funny photos of our hands after the process, but thanks to technology the shot I hoped we’d get was not possible. Don, ever the sport, did pose for the series below for me, though. Here he is doing his best to look like a hardened criminal. I’m not sure it’s very convincing.

The fingerprints are required to obtain state police and FBI clearances for all adults living in your house. Our home study agency provided the cards for us (there were a couple of pieces of information we had to fill in) and we had the scans taken at the Sheriff’s office (which in our town is at the courthouse, but it might be different for you). We paid $10 each for the imprinting.

The next step is to send them off to our agency, along with a cashier’s check for $50 for the processing made payable to the state. Again, the exact procedure may be different in your state, but here in Virginia the home study agency will forward them to the Background Investigation Unit in Richmond and the results will be sent back to them.

To find out where to be fingerprinted in your area, type the name of your city and state (or county and state) and fingerprints into Google and it should be fairly evident.  

So, did you have to get inky for your fingerprints?

 

And Now We Wait

15 Nov

It’s over – the last of our home study visits was a few hours ago.  Here we are with V, our social worker. She’s so nice.

In the next few weeks, V will write up our report and file it with the state. We can’t finalize an adoption until the paperwork has been filed, but we’re allowed to begin our search now.

So the long search and the wait begins.

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
‘Typists’
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 Adoptions.com (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?