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Detached Earlobes and Other Traits

3 Oct

Where did your hair color come from?


I have detached earlobes and can roll my tongue. My hair was blonde as an infant, then strawberry blonde when I was a toddler, then light brown (it’s blonde-ish again now, but I can thank the Cam Lai Salon in Georgetown for that one). My eyes are light blue, almost grey.

Who cares?

Well, a couple of science teachers I had in middle school and high school apparently.

There were several school assignments I had over the years that were hard or impossible to complete because I am adopted. Bring in your first baby picture was a little weird since my first picture shows me at 8 months old and my classmates all had newborn pictures to share. Illustrate your family tree wasn’t hard, because I have a small, easily documented family … but it did remind me that, in fact, my family tree was created through adoption. Without fail some kid in my class would ask, “Where is your mom?”. I was super confident in my family relationships, thankfully, so I would point at my mom’s position on the tree and say, “She’s right there.” That would lead to the inevitable, “No, I mean your real mom.” And I would say “Yeah. That’s her. Right there.”

Granted, these assignments could have been a lot harder. If, for example, I had been adopted as an older child, I might not have any baby pictures at all. If my family had a relationship with my birth family, the heritage tree project could have been confusing.

The assignment that I really couldn’t complete at all was the genetic mapping projects that came later. Find out who gave you your detached earlobes. Chart out the recessive and dominant traits in your family. That’s completely lost on an adopted kid who doesn’t know her birth family.

While I remember these frustrations, they didn’t end up being significant events in my life. That’s just me, though. I was curiously not curious about my origins growing up. My dad was my dad. My mom was my mom. I was of German heritage. Who cares who else in my family can roll their tongue?

However, I think they could be a lot more meaningful for some adopted kids – the ones with natural curiosity about their birth origins or with the complex family structures that often go hand-in-hand with adoption.

I recently stumbled across this resource to help adopted children work on tricky school assignments like the ones I describe above and others. It has some great tips for how to work with the teacher and how to help your kids actually complete the assignment.

Here’s one final memory I have of an assignment I had that was hard to complete. During an all about me project in middle school, I had to list my birthday- including the day and time of my birth. This was, of course, before the Internet. For some reason, we didn’t know the time of birth is recorded on one’s birth certificate, so this whole section had us stumped. My mom shrugged and said, “Make it up.” I decided Friday late afternoon would be a good time to be born. Years later, as an adult, I happened to notice that my birth certificate says I was born at 7:41 a.m. or something (of course, this is my re-issued birth certificate that says the parents who adopted me actually gave birth to me, so who knows if that thing can be trusted*). A few minutes ago Google told me that December 15 was a Sunday the year I was born. Oh well.

Whether you’re adopted or not, do you remember having to do these assignments? Do children still get assignments like these?


* That reminds me that I want to write about how weird birth certificates are one day.

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.

What Happens Now?

9 Jun

Photo courtesy of Jerry Bunkers
Woman on phone using laptop
courtesy of Jerry Bunkers

On Monday, we officially activated with our placement agency. Our profile is live, searchable on the site and being sent out to potential birth mothers and families.

So, what exactly does that mean?

Back in January, Don and I filled out what is referred to as the APQ – the Adoption Planning Questionnaire. That document is the one that contained the 24 long form essay questions we had to answer, but it also contained all the specifics we’re looking for in our adoption – race, substance use, medical conditions of the birth family, etc.

When potential birth mothers enroll with American Adoptions, they fill out a similar form. Their answers are entered into a system that matches her answers against all the waiting couples. A random 20 matches that fall within the APQ are generated for her. She looks through those profiles to see if any hopeful adoptive parents stand out to her. If not, she can ask for 20 more until she finds just the right family.

In cases that fall within our APQ, we won’t know that our profile has been sent out. It just happens too often to alert 20 couples every time. Remember that these are situations we’ve already told the agency would make us happy so there’s really no point in contacting us since all it would do is make us wonder and worry.

However, sometimes there are no perfect matches because each birth mother’s situation is so unique and individual. In that case an adoption specialist looks for APQs that are close to being matches and reaches out to the waiting families to ask for permission to show their profiles outside the APQ. A close match might be a maternal or paternal disease that you didn’t indicate any level of comfort with or more alcohol consumption in the first trimester than you initially wanted. At that time, you have a day or so to give permission. Because those outside APQ matches are done by hand, the birth mother may only receive a handful of profiles. Therefore, they represent a good chance to result in a match so it’s really important you’re comfortable with your decision.

Back in the 70s  stoneages when I was adopted, there was nothing like this. There was, basically, one list of adoptive families for a county or state. Each family was checked off in turn as babies became available for placement. There was generally no contact between birth families and adoptive families, and the children would usually not be located very far away. I was born about 70 miles from my parents’ home and eight months old when I was placed.

These days, there is a very good chance we’ll be in a match 2 or 3 months before the baby is born. Or not. Sometimes you have day’s notice. Sometimes the baby is already born.

Either way, the match call is exciting and I can’t wait!

What was your match call like?

And Now for a Heartwarming Tale

1 Feb

Photo courtesy of Master Magnius
Wonder Twins
courtesy of Master Magnius

No posts about children being removed from adoptive or foster homes, foreign nationals being deported or horrible agency experiences today. We’re all sunshine and rainbows over at the Nest today.

I read this amazing article about 29-year old twins who were reunited after being separated and adopted as infants. Originally from Indonesia, both girls were adopted by Swedish couples and have lived only 25 miles apart their wholes lives.

The craziest part about the story is that the parents suspected their girls were twins and tried to verify when the children were small. A series of inconsistencies convinced them it wasn’t true and they gave up trying to find the connection.  It’s not like they tried to keep the information from the girls either – both had been told as children that their parents had once believed they had been a twin. And, even crazier, the twins think that the person who tipped off one set of parents, the cab driver that picked them up at the orphanage after the placement, could actually be their father.

I love this story! When I was kid I used to imagine that I was secretly a twin, my sister had been placed with another family and that one day we would be re-united. Of course, now I know how utterly sad that would be and I’m so glad it didn’t happen.

What’s your favorite adoption reunion story?

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?

What does it matter whose car we came in?

1 Nov

Photo courtesy of
‘Manly Harbour pool, 193-’
courtesy of ‘State Library of New South Wales collection’

I wrestled with whether to share this article, for reasons that will be brutally obvious once you get started on the article. Spoiler: the question asker is a complete loon.

Never the less, this question to Salon’s Cary Tennis “How do I tell my daughter she’s adopted? has some excellent moments in it. It’s also got some really awful moments in it, but they manage to raise some interesting questions. If I’m going to defend unpleasantness in fiction then I’ve got to be willing to learn something from real-life uck, right?

From the start I started getting irrationally offended when friends referred to it. I cut off someone because she said “oh, she has really taken to you.” Like, why should she not, she is my daughter.


Everything I read tells me that this information should be shared early. However, I also read that adopted children grapple with the issue, agonize over it. I mean, why should my lovely daughter have to deal with something her peers do not?

and wrapping up with

I just want to be her mother, not her adoptive mother. 

To which I say, yeah, totally! What makes a family connection isn’t that moment of conception or birth or issuing of a birth certificate. It’s each moment on top of the next and the next, the decisions we make over and over again to be and stay a family. So why is this one tiny thing so much the topic of conversation that it gets equal billing with being a mother?

But… you are her adoptive mother. It’s a simple and unarguable fact of how that child came into your life. Isn’t that just fine? Adopted children were chosen in a way most kids are not. Does bristling at the raising of the topic imply that it’s a problem or something to be hidden?

Where’s the line between “yes, and it’s no big deal” and “holy cow, would you just shut up about it?”

Anyway, check it out for yourself. I think the writer is a nut and Tennis’ answer isn’t perfect. But I do like his metaphor that I took the post title from.

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?

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.”

Then We’ll Adopt

2 Oct

There’s something you might need to know about us before we enter into our long-term online relationship. We do not struggle with infertility as far as we know. In fact, my husband recently pointed out, we struggle with fertility – meaning we believe we are capable of conception, but go to great lengths to avoid it because of a different medical complication.

Almost six years ago my vision started to do funky things. Where there was period on a printed page, I would see a semi-colon. I started to clean my glasses two or three times an hour when I was at work or reading a book. Finally I went to an eye doctor, thinking I needed a new prescription. A few weeks later, thanks to the amazing team of specialists in the field of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at The Johns Hopkins University Hospital, I learned that I actually have a retinal eye disease called Punctate Inner Choroidopathy. It’s an extremely rare, inflammatory eye condition primarily occurring in women in their 20s and 30s who are nearsighted but otherwise healthy.

Although it’s not technically classified as an auto-immune disorder, it behaves like one AND it responds to treatment like one. So, to effectively manage the condition, I began a long-term treatment involving a drug called CellCept. Usually, CellCept is used to suppress the immune system in transplant recipients so they don’t reject the new organ, but it’s been effective in off-label usage for people with auto-immune conditions. And, it’s been mostly great for me. I’ve had relatively few flare-ups in six years and very little if any permanent vision loss. I’ve been extremely lucky.

But, CellCept is a powerful drug and it’s believed to cause birth defects. Patients who are on it have to be extremely cautious not to become pregnant, according to two warnings in place by FDA. There are other ways to manage the disease, including regular shots of a drug called Avastin and steroids, but I already take a daily dose of steroids and recently started the injections as well. This overall course of treatment seems to work for me and I see no reason to tempt fate by altering my plan – especially because I sort-of always expected to adopt.

I knew I was adopted before I knew how babies are made. So to me, adoption always seemed like one of a couple of ways families are created. When I was a kid and teenager, I told people I wanted to adopt. For a brief period of time in my 20s, I assumed I would parent biologically because it’s certainly easier and less expensive in most cases, but the minute I began my CellCept treatment I knew adoption had always been the right choice for me.

Don’s own journey to adoption was different than mine because he had to first determine if he even wanted to be a dad. I’ll let him tell you that story himself, but I will tell you how his decision intersected with my own.

When I first had my diagnosis and began treatment, it was a scary time. My vision was deteriorating, there was talk of needles to the eye (or warm laser treatments which would cause some vision loss) and these very powerful drugs which can have lots of terrible side effects. I saw a doctor every two weeks at first. It was at one of these appointments where I learned about CellCept, its benefits and drawbacks. My doctors explained that the course of CellCept would likely last for years – well into my 40s in all likelihood, eating up the remainder of my child-bearing years. I called Don when I got home and told him everything that had happened at the appointment. Finally, I said in small and scared voice, “And I won’t be able to have kids.”

And Don said, in a determined and not-at-all small voice, “Then we’ll adopt.”

We weren’t married at the time, we weren’t even engaged (though we had been dating for four years), and our previous conversations about kids had ended with Don saying he wasn’t sure he wanted them … so this was a Big Deal. He wanted them, he wanted them with me and he was okay with the fact that we’d need to look at alternative ways to create them. He didn’t even take 30-seconds to mourn the loss of the opportunity to be a biological dad.

It took us another two years to get married and another two to arrive at this point, but those three words helped me know that Don and adoption were my future.

“Then we’ll adopt.” It started as simply as that.