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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.

Grey and Yellow Nursery

24 Oct

When we last left off, Don and I had been encouraged by our adoption specialist to “make a bucket list”. Yeah, she actually said that. Among the the activities that should go on said bucket list is decorating the nursery.

It’s funny, really, because both Don and I were sure they originally told us NOT to decorate the nursery. When I asked her about it, she clarified that now is a good time to decorate the nursery but if we find ourselves in a match before we get around to nursery decor then it’s suggested we wait until after the baby comes home.  It’s a precaution that they suggest in case of disruption. Apparently if you decorate the nursery with a specific baby in mind, it’s much more difficult to face the room after a disruption.

Of course, I’ve been thinking about what the nursery should look like for well over a year – partly because we’re excited to NEED a nursery and partly because when we remodeled the house last year we had to make a few decisions about that room. The wall color and the light fixture have been up for nearly a year now, but we’ve largely ignored the room since then. I wish it still looked that tidy, but we’ve used it for storage and other random junk so it’s a little purposeless right now. There’s an ironing board in the middle of the room, the bed is covered with towels we use for Casey that I don’t want to mix in with our own towels (it’s not that I don’t want his towels in with ours, but I don’t want Don to grab one of our nice towels to wipe down a muddy dog).  There are two pieces of furniture that aren’t nursery appropriate but that I don’t want to give away yet. And there’s a stack of art pieces destined for a gallery wall in the upstairs hallway.

So I decided to get my butt in gear and make a move on that room. I guess I was inspired by John and Sherry’s “Dude, Get on That Already,” projects over on Young House Love, though they started getting on that way back in January and I’m just starting to think about making my move.

So before I could bring myself to do the boring parts of the project, I decided some pretty inspiration would be in order. Here it is, my nursery inspiration.

Nursery Inspiration

1. Baby Crib Mobile by hingmade on Etsy

2. Hampton Bay Sadie Collection ceiling light from Home Depot

3. Yellow and grey owl from a whole bunch of places like this Etsy shop

4. Decorative Owl pillow by WhimsySweetWhimsy on Etsy

5. Handmade Botanic Gardens Grey Wool Rug on Overstock

6. That wall color we picked out a year ago, Light Yellow by Benjamin Moore

7. Gulliver crib in white from Ikea. I would have been skeptical of a crib from Ikea, but it has great reviews from Baby Bargains and real life owners.

8. Art project I made for the room. I smell future post!

9. Greyt / silver pillows I already made for the window seat in the room. The match the roman shades I made. Another future post?

10. Yellow dot and grey chevron fabric bunting from LittleFreeRadical on Etsy

Okay, no more delays. It’s time to Make a Move on That Room. This weekend, I own you.

40 weeks and counting

24 Jul

Source: 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.

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, we’re active

5 Jun

Nearly two months after our family profile was completed by the design specialist, we have activated with our placement agency. Phew. That was a long time coming and during that period our profile was not being shown to anyone. As of yesterday afternoon, our profile is live on the site and we can be included in profile books sent out to EBMs (expectant birth moms).

This in between time has been hard because, even though we’d done all we could do, no one could see our profile when choosing the family to adopt their child. The hardest parts are yet to come – the agonizing wait for a match and then the anxious days and weeks leading up to placement – but at least all of that is moving toward building our family rather than being stuck in a state of paperwork / contract limbo.

Wish us luck!

Our Family Profile is Done

16 Apr

Here’s a sneak peek. I’ll write more about the process of having this created soon, I promise.

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 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.




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?

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?

Hi! It’s Nice to Meet You.

5 Dec

Please visit our online profile.