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And You Start All Over Again

13 Nov

In Virginia the main portion of your home study is valid for three years, but there are dozens of documents that make up the home study that expire every year. A whole bunch of ours are expiring in November and December so we’re attacking piles of paperwork again just like we did at this time last year.

For example, we both had to get updated fingerprint cards this week.

We also have to have our state and federal criminal clearances updated and our child abuse clearances updated. It’s a pain, but it’s necessary.

How many times did you have to re-do your home study documents before your placement? I REALLY hope this will be the only time we have to renew ours.

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.

The Situation

11 Jun

Photo courtesy of NVS_Inc
Snooki at Seaside Heights NJ
courtesy of NVS_Inc

Let me tell you about The Situation. No, not the one that hangs out with Snooki on the Jersey Shore*.

I want to tell you about our agency’s Adoption Situations.

As I mentioned in a previous post, most of the time our profile gets sent out we won’t know it. In a case where a potential match is close to our APQ but is not a perfect match, we will be asked for permission to show our profile.

American Adoptions does not turn down any birth mother, but sometimes there just are not families they can present. In those cases, details about the situation are posted to a special page on their website. The situations represent a very small number of the agency’s placements and are only listed when they are unable to locate an adoptive family from their pool of waiting families. Many of the Adoption Situations include reported drug usage, medical concerns or other factors. All of them include the caveat that the fees are higher than average because of increased costs (lots of the birth mother’s are on anti-drug treatment regimens, for example).

Anyway, I wanted to share the Adoption Situations page because you do not have to be active with American Adoptions in order to be considered. You do have to have a completed and up-to-date home study and be ready to share it immediately upon request, though.

So, if you any of those situations speaks to you, send an e-mail to the agency and get started. You never know, right?

*Related: Did you know Snooki herself was adopted at birth? Snoooki and I have so much in common. We’re both adopted. We’re both pint-sized. And we’re both … oh, wait. That’s it. Adopted and short.

Part Four: Picking an Agency for the Home Study (or The Experience That Nearly Stopped Us in Our Tracks)

17 Jan

Photo courtesy of The Tire Zoo
4 Way Stop Sign
courtesy of The Tire Zoo

Okay, we’ve dragged our feet on this long enough. It’s time to discuss what happened when we went to our third and final agency open house before choosing our home study agency. If you have not been following along, you can read the first three parts here, here and here.

Let me say that it was a good thing it was the third agency we visited or I’m not sure we would have moved forward. Even as an adopted person, actually ESPECIALLY as an adopted person, I found the visit extremely traumatic.

Also – I want to add that we know people who have had very successful and happy experiences with the agency and so I don’t think this is indicative of the services they provide generally. Therefore, we’re not naming names – either of the agency or the social worker. Remember, like everything on this blog, it’s just one couple’s experience.

Now before I begin, remember that 1. I was adopted as an infant and 2. We have not struggled with infertility. These factors are important in understanding how we felt alienated from hello with this particular experience.

The third agency we selected to learn more about hosts their open houses on weeknights and the office is about 30/40 minutes from my office in non-peak traffic so I knew that getting there was going to be a hassle. The two-hour open house was also being held at 7 p.m. so there would be no time to eat. Don stopped and picked up two grilled chicken sandwiches which we scarfed down in the lobby right before the session started forcing us to take the last two seats in the front row.

Here’s more or less how it went down; I’ve compressed a few things but the actual statements are as accurate as I can recall them:

Social Worker: Hello and welcome. Many years ago, I suffered with infertility just like you so I understand the desperation and sadness that have brought you to this point. I adopted my two children in the 1980s and a lot has changed since then.

Me (in my head): Wait. I don’t feel desperate or sad about this decision. In fact, I’m not struggling with infertility. I made a deliberate decision to adopt instead of biological child rearing. And, by the way, even if I did have fertility issues, I still would’t necessarily feel desperate or sad about this. Why are you judging us?

Don (in his head): Actually we struggle with fertility, but thanks for the unnecessary assumption.

Social Worker: The first time I attended an agency open house, we were told we were too old to adopt a domestic infant. And at 32, I was a lot younger than most of you. Today, it’s so much better. Now people are permitted to adopt well into their 40s and 50s.

Me: Oh dear. Why am I here?

Don: A lot younger? Ahem.

Social Worker (after telling us more about adopting her children internationally): That’s why I decided to go into the field of adoption. I wanted to help make this a better experience for others.

Me (in my head): Okay. We’re back on track. This is good.

Social Worker: Especially for birth mothers who suffer a great trauma when they place their children.

Me: [hearts starts to beat faster]

Social Worker: This is something they will never get over.

Me: [an involuntary tear escapes one eye]

Social Worker: They will think of their child every day for years. They will lactate on the child’s first birthday. They will cry every year on the child’s birthday.

Me: [actively crying in front row. looks out adjacent window so she won’t see me]

Social Worker: They will never get over the loss.

Me: Oh my God. Is this what my birth mother deals with every day? Does she hate herself? Does she cry for me? [still crying and looking out window]

Social Worker: So, again, I enjoy working with the birth mothers to make this an easier process for them. I have been in adoption social work for 15 years. In fact I opened this office on behalf of the agency 10 years ago. Back when I ran the office we never had one single state finding. Now things are different. You can see the state findings hanging right there on the wall. This year we had some outdated personnel records. That never would have happened in my day.

Me: [still crying. barely register this.]

Don: Are you really badmouthing your employer as part of your “you should use our agency” spiel? I don’t think this is convincing in the way you think it is.

Social Worker: But adoption is hard for everyone. My daughter, for example, refused to bond. I used to turn on the vacuum cleaner and leave it outside the nursery so I didn’t have to hear her cry.

Me: [stops  crying. whips head around to look at social worker] Did you just say you turned the vacuum cleaner on because your baby cried? Are you insane? The state authorizes you to be the person to pass judgment on whether or not I will be a good mother?

Don: I’m beginning to understand why the baby didn’t bond.

It was at this point that Don and I look at each other in shock and surprise, my lips pursed tightly shut. I didn’t think I had telepathy, but at that moment I knew very clearly that we were both asking if there was any possible way we could stand up and leave.

[Aside from Don: if you need proof that Susan does NOT have telepathy, this would be it. I'd been thinking how much I wanted to get out of this room for several minutes at this point and would have been delighted to avoid the slow-motion train wreck that was continuing.]

Social Worker: And we’ve all heard stories about bad adoptive parents.

And then she went on to list them. The mother who tried to put her kid on a plane to his native Russia with a note that said the adoption didn’t work out.  A tragic story about an abusive mother in DC with a mix of foster and adoptive kids who was responsible for the deaths of two children in her care. The story of a Fairfax man who forgot his baby was in the backseat and went into his office building on a hot day.

Now let me say that the story of the man who left the baby in the car was devastating and, like all the other cases she mentioned, I heard about it on the news. But at no time in the coverage had I heard that the child was adopted. It was a crazy and sad situation where the mom usually did the morning drop offs and the dad was tasked with it one day. Once in the car, he was on auto-pilot and drove off to work, forgetting that his child was in the back seat. As Gene Weingarten’s feature on the phenomenon discussed, it’s more prevalent than we realize and cuts across pretty much every demographic – it had NOTHING to do with the fact that he was a bad adoptive parent. He made a careless mistake that ended in the worst way possible but there is no chance a “better” home study would have spotted it ahead of time or allowed the family to prevent it.

Oh no, wait. I’m sorry. Super Social Worker has the solution.

Social Worker: Now that family’s home study was not done by our agency, but if it had been and if I had been the case worker, I would have taught the man to put one of his child’s stuff animals on the front seat so that he couldn’t forget the child was in the car.

Don (the Weingarten article fresh in his head since it had just won the Pulitzer a month prior): You have to be kidding me. You’re really going to just dismiss this horrible tragedy as something that you could have told someone how to prevent with a stuffed toy?

Susan: I really want to leave. I really want to leave. I really want to leave.

And thus it went for two hours. We got to hear all about this woman, her children, their adoptions, how she rocks as a social worker and how she is far superior to, well, her superiors … but we didn’t get a single question answered.

We beat feet as fast as we could at the end of the open house and never looked back. To re-iterate, we’ve heard nothing but good things from others about this agency and we probably could have called the office manager and arranged a one on one meeting with someone more suited to our needs… but we had already found an agency that we liked better and there didn’t seem to be much point.

It’s been well over a year and I still feel raw thinking about that meeting – especially the part about the birth families. I have heard many people say that the grief in placing a child, even when you know it’s the best decision, is real and palpable. I get that. And it’s something that everyone involved in adoptions – the biological families, the adoptive families and the case workers – all have to cope with … but I don’t think one’s first look at an agency is the place to drop that bomb and to present it as a wound that will never heal?

Has anyone else had any experiences like this during the adoption process?

Part Three: Picking an Agency for the Home Study (Or How We Fell in Love with The Datz Foundation)

11 Jan

Photo courtesy of joe fakih gomez
I Dedicate You My Heart !
courtesy of joe fakih gomez

When Don and I started going to open houses in an attempt to pick our home study agency, we really had no idea what to expect. Everyone had told us we’d get a feeling when we found the right agency. We didn’t initially believe it, but it happened.

After visiting the first agency we decided against international adoption for a whole host of reasons.

Agency open house #2 turned out to be the one we ultimately decided on for our home study, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

I found the agency by googling. We didn’t know anyone who had used them and their website was not super slick … but there was something about the basic presentation of the information online that appealed to me. Also, if I’m totally honest, I liked that they had a weekend open house not too far from our home. Okay, it might not be the best way to pick an agency, but we had to narrow down our choices in some manner. Also, I figured an agency that makes it easy for us to get to know them is probably going to be pretty easy to work with later on.

So, on August 21, 2010 we met some of the good folks at The Datz Foundation at open house in Falls Church, Va.

Right away we liked what they had to say. They were straight forward and calm. The presentation was not filled with drama. They answered questions honestly and simply.

We were kind-of sold.

Later on (much later on), we learned from others that all the reasons we chose The Datz Foundation are the reasons everyone chooses them. That business-like, no nonsense approach appeals to some families more than others.

We went to one more open house and then it took us another year to make any real progress, but the decision was more or less made that day. We just hadn’t realized it yet.


In part four we’ll finally re-visit the only truly negative experience we’ve had so far in this process. Ugh.

Part Two: Picking an Agency for the Home Study (or Why We Reluctantly Decided Against International Adoption)

21 Nov

Photo courtesy of
‘Strange street sign’
courtesy of ‘quinn.anya’

Don and I started preparing for our adoption well over a year ago, in July of 2010. When we started to investigate what we had to do to get started, we quickly discovered that the home study was our first big hurdle and that picking the agency to conduct the home study was very important.

The agency that does your home study will be very involved in the early stages of your adoption, and will probably conduct your post-placement visits as well. Therefore it’s really important that you feel comfortable with your choice.

I’ve previously mention that we wanted to be able to pick the agency based on facts and figures – we both like to research and gather information. However, since this process is as much about personalities as anything else, you really do have to base some of the decision on a gut reaction.

Luckily, we had some friends who adopted recently and they gave us lots of great advice (in this post our friend is offering advice to someone else who is adopting and it showcases why we found their advice so valuable).  

We started by investigating the agencies in our area that conduct adoption home studies. We picked three we wanted to visit at the advice of our friends.

At first we didn’t know what kind of adoption we wanted to pursue – domestic or international – so we picked two agencies that specialize in both types, and one that only works internationally (with a stronghold in Russia).

First up was the agency that specializes in international adoptions. They have programs in several countries, but it was their strength in Russia that appealed to me.

A word about my interest in Russia. It was completely arbitrary. I had long heard stories about the conditions for Russian children waiting for adoption and I felt drawn to the country. My mother visited before the collapse of the Soviet Union and I knew she would enjoy going back with us for the visits before and during the adoption. Since she was then approaching retirement (and is now retired!), I thought she might like to take on the role of the Cultural Attaché for our family – seeking out ways we could include our child’s biological background into our decidedly non-Russian traditions.

The agency’s website listed the days and times it would hold open houses or informational meetings. We selected a day and signed up online. As it turned out, we were the only folks who attended that night so we got lots of attention (and subs and cookies from Subway). The administrator carefully went through their programs with us and walked us through the home study materials. She also showed us a video made by one of the families that chronicled their journey to adopt in Russia – including both trips to the country, the interpreter’s role, meeting the local doctor, etc. I have to admit that I cried a little bit when the mom got to hold her little boy for the first time  – he was about 14 months old.

She also went through average wait times for international adoption and I was astounded. I had it in my head that international adoption was easier in a lot of ways. I assumed there might be more up front paper work. But once you got through that, wouldn’t the wait time be less? These babies were living in orphanages for goodness sake. They should try to place them as quickly as possible. Sadly, that is not the case. International adoption is very rewarding, but it can be very difficult.

Even before that meeting, Don had expressed his interest in adopting a child as young as possible so that we could bond and be responsible for his or her earliest influences. We learned at that first informational meeting that if we decided to pursue an international adoption, there was virtually no chance to get a child under 12 months. There are lots of complicated reasons for this, but basically no one wants to exile their own citizens so it’s important to make sure no one in the country wants to adopt the child first. It might sound simple, but honestly it had never occurred to me before.

So even though we initially were skeptical that attending these open houses would give us a feeling about the agency that was right for us, we did get a feeling after that first visit. And our feelings told us that we probably didn’t want to pursue international adoption.

If I am honest, I still think about those kids in Russia and other Eastern European orphanages a lot. Don and I are only planning to have one child, but if something ever changes, I would maybe re-consider an international adoption. It’s true that there are lots of kids right here in America who need to be adopted into loving families, but there also are plenty of families waiting to welcome them. For me, it was a very tough choice.

The next agency we visited was the one we ultimately decided to work with for our home study. Such a good choice for us.

How did you decide between domestic and international adoption?  


We’re going to name the agency that conducted our home study when we get to that section, but keep the names of other agencies off the blog since our experience at one was so negative and we don’t think that it’s indicative of services they normally provide. However, if you would like to know more, please send us an e-mail.

Where to Locate Agencies that Conduct Home Studies

20 Nov

Photo courtesy of
‘Edward Nigma Was Here’
courtesy of ‘swanksalot’

We went to an open house for a large national placement firm over the weekend (more on that later) and there were lots of people who had not started their home study process. We shared the name of our home study agency with them (and will do so with you as well), but here are two resources you might find helpful to begin your own study:

1-800 Home Study.com
A stupid name name for a nice listing of licensed home study agencies. Here’s how they describe themselves:

1800HomeStudy.com is the definitive resource for adoptive families who are looking for qualified and reliable adoption home study professionals. Our knowledgeable adoption home study affiliates have completed thousands of approved home studies for hopeful adoptive families in every state.

State Department
This is a listing of the agencies licensed to conduct home studies for international adoptions, but many can do domestic as well if that’s what you’re planning.

We’ll tell you more about how we picked our home study agency based on a gut reaction soon, too.

House Update

18 Nov

With less than two weeks remaining before our home study house visit, our place was a disaster area and I had given myself stressed-induced shingles. Also, I had to go out of town for six days to attend and speak at the New York Chocolate Show (not such a bad gig in and of itself, but the timing was pretty bad).

As a reminder, this is what our house looked like when I was at the peak pain point in the shingles cycle:

 

And this is what our entry way looked like full of fixtures destined for our 2nd floor bathroom:

I was more than a little nervous about the whole thing, but our social worker, V, assured us that she understood the challenges of renovations and that she had other clients in the same situation.

On the day of our home visit our living room looked like this:

Not as bad as you expected, right?

Let’s take a few steps back, shall we?

Now we can notice a few oddities. First of all there’s a shelf in front of the opening for our pretty fireplace. Also, there’s the lovely brown paper runner all along the floor. When V walked in she said, “What a pretty carpet.”

But what about the bathroom fixtures in the entry? Well, we did get them moved upstairs.

Of course, the hole in the wall right behind the entry way bench is a little noticeable.

And we had this little issue going on, too:

The paper on the ceiling? Oh that. It keeps the ceiling from falling onto the floor.

And finally let’s peek into the dining room:

Well, it’s better. It’s still largely the storage room until we can move upstairs, but we managed to clear a little out. Two large dressers went upstairs, a rocking chair got moved to the future nursery and a few smaller items (dining room chairs and nightstands) went to the basement.

All in all, V did not seem concerned about the construction zone. It may have helped that we baked those cookies, though. Never underestimate the power of chocolate.

C is Cookie

17 Nov

When our social worker came for our home visit, I made cookies. Just from the tube of cookie dough mind you (I had been out of town for five night before her visit), but baked in the oven nonetheless.

 

This must be pretty common because when V, our social worker, came in she said, “And you made cookies.” She didn’t seem surprised at all. So, we’re typical. Stereotypes, if you will.

Doesn’t matter, though … she ate the cookies.

That crunchy bit on top of the chocolate chips? It’s a sprinkle of kosher salt. Try it. Seriously. You’ll never eat unsalted cookies again.

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.