Monday, June 8, 2015

A Huge Family Tree

So, I finished reading the first book of our 'required reading': "Dear Birthmother:  Thank you for our Baby" by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin.  Such a thought-provoking collection of letters.  So many things were hard to read, but I feel so much better about our future relationship with the birth mother of our baby.  It's hard to put into words, so let me share with you the images that came to my mind as I read the final chapters of this book.  I picture myself with a small toddler in their bedroom saying prayers before bed.  On the wall, there are several frames: a picture of their birth parents, letters from one or both of them, a picture of us all at the hospital, and a picture of us in a courtroom six months later...As we pray, we name each member of our family, praying for grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and we name the birth parents and possibly the biological grandparents, praying for their safety and thanking God for the gift they gave us.  A few years later and a 10 year old child is trying to complete a family tree for a school project.  What a family tree that will be! Putting aside the fear of there being 'empty' branches on which we have no name to insert, to be able to have a visualization of the number of people involved in the bringing about of this amazing child will be so beautiful!
Let me pause to mention a few quotes from the book...
First, this poem that I'm sure you've seen or read at some point:
"Legacy of an Adopted Child"
Once there were two women; who never knew each other
One you do not remember; the other you call mother
Two different lives shaped to make yours one
one became your guiding star; the other became your sun
The first gave you life and the second taught you to live it
the first gave you a need for love and the second was there to give it
One gave you a nationality; the other gave you a name
one gave you the seed of talent; the other gave you an aim
one gave you emotions; the other calmed your fears
one saw your first sweet smile; the other dried your tears
one gave you up - it was all she could do
one prayed for a child and God led her straight to you
and now you ask me through your tears the age old questions through the years;
heredity or environment - which are you the product of:
neither my darling - neither
just two different kinds of love.
   - Anonymous
Second, the definition of adoption:
"Adoption is the process of accepting the responsibility of raising an individual who has two sets of parents."  They delve pretty far into a discussion on semantics...the gist being, don't label your kids.  You wouldn't introduce them as: Suzie the cesarean daughter or Audra the math illiterate ;) lol  Likewise, your adopted child is simply, YOUR CHILD.  The other thing that stuck out was the phrase 'the process of accepting the responsibility'.  This is not a one-time event that finalizes and completes our family.  This is a life-long commitment to help this child realize their gifts, inherited and learned, to share with the world to bring glory to God.  They will have unique needs that we will have the responsibility to meet.  It is up to us to make 'adoption' a commonplace word in our home so that there is no shroud of mystery.  It is up to us to make available the opportunities to know more about their heritage.
So, back to the family tree:
Imagine your own for a moment...what each branch brought to your life, your childhood, your emotional and spiritual development...it's very humbling for me.  I consider my grandma Betty...her beautiful love for people, ALL people.   Her own dad never set foot in a church building that I know of, but she raised the most Godly and wise man I know! He inherited her love of people and his Dad's musical talents.  Those gifts and passions were then passed on to me in the form of using music to help people. WOW!  I love looking at myself and seeing my Omi's nose, my Papaw's hands which are also my brother's, Mom's eyes and body shape, Dad's cheeks and chin.  All make me, me, but this body is temporary, the legacy I cherish is the legacy of love and compassion for others; the things I've learned from my family and have developed into gifts I can use to share God's love.  When I married Chris, I was not looking for the other half of me...I was made complete and whole when I put on Christ in baptism.  However, I never imagined the gifts that he, and by extension his family, would bring to my life.  I think that's how I would like to explain adoption to our child.  We are a family right now...complete and happy...however, who can possibly predict the gifts and happiness that a child could bring us?  Likewise, this child will have not only my family's legacy of love and faith and Chris' legacy of familial responsibility, but also the genetic heritage of two other people and everything their respective families passed on to them.  This child will have four branches with a direct path to them...yes, we all have our faults, but we forgive those...I'm so excited about the possibilities!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Is this God's 'plan'?

I know it's always good to care for children who do not have their biological parents [James 1:27].  However, I've struggled a bit with how right it is for us to accept a child to raise while their parents are still living.  I do realize most of these children are being saved from the atrocity of an abortion.  However, I feel there is a fine line between a person who finds themselves in a situation they did not ask for and someone who made (sometimes habitually) decisions to engage in activities that lead to children knowing full well they lack the resources to care for those children. 
Again, responding to what I've read in 'Dear Birthmother' by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin, I read over and over that the birthparents simply want something 'better' for their children.  They want their child raised in a comfortable home with a loving mother and father.  Who doesn't want that? But here's my issue...please read this excerpt:
"I realize he's your son now.  We all have played such a vital part in his beginning.  I gave him life and then I gave him to you.  You will shape that life and make him into a fine young man.  I am so glad he has you.  I am so glad you're there for him.  I couldn't have found two better people to be his parents if I had done the choosing myself.  After he was born, I started believing that God does work in mysterious ways.  He gave me the son I had always dreamed of.  Then He made it possible for me to give my baby a family.  Something I wanted so much for him to have.  And He gave you the child you wanted so much.  I'd like to think God planned this from the very beginning." 
Now, God certainly can use anything to work out His plan.  Based on almost every account recorded in the Bible, He enjoys using the broken, weak, small, and lost to do incredible things; it brings the glory to Him.  However, I have a problem with thinking giving a child to be adopted is ever 'really' "His plan from the beginning".  (if you really wanna split hairs, Gods plan from the beginning was shot in the foot as soon as Eve had herself a little snack, but I digress
I don't fret about this for my sake, but for the birth-parents.  How much should I really encourage/enable them to give me their child when I feel like I 'should' be encouraging them to create an environment that would enable them to keep and care for their own child?  I know these women spend, ideally, months in counseling before the birth of their child to determine if adoption really is the best option.  I have to have faith that they understand what they are doing. 
I'm having a hard time articulating exactly what's in my heart, so stick with me...How can I tell, and is it really for me to know, if someone is giving their baby away because they would otherwise abort the pregnancy, or if they just don't feel they can afford a baby or give them a 'stable' life? How do they know God didn't give them that baby to do something amazing in their life? Perhaps making the selfless decision to give their baby to someone who desperately wants one IS the something amazing?
The only biblical example I can think of is Moses' birth.  First, his mother selflessly sends him off in his basket, trusting God to spare his life.  Then, when he is found, Pharaoh's daughter sends for Moses' own mother to look out for him until he was weaned, probably two or three years!   Now, every example from the Old Testament has to remain in the context of God bringing His plan of salvation to the world, so not sure I should read too much into that example.  However, I know the practice of wet-nursing was fairly common for hundreds of years.  Also, thinking about people who employ nannies to essentially raise their children...Plus the idea of boarding schools...are you not sending your child to be cared for by another? Are these concepts really so different from an open adoption? It may very well be that I'm putting way too much into this...Proverbs 22:6 says 'start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it'.  Whichever way a child comes into my life, 'starting them off on the way they should go' is really my only job and concern.  Right? I hope so. 
Here's another gem that kept me up for most of a night...again a quote from the book previously mentioned:
"The realities of adoptive parenthood
1.    Adoption is a lifetime experience.
2.    Adoptive parents will never totally parent their child; and adoptees will never be totally parented by their adoptive parents.
3.    Birthparents remain a part of the adoptee's life.

Number 1 sure, I got that.
Number 2 say what now?...you wanna bet? (feel free to picture the best 'momma-bear' face you can imagine right now)
The book goes on to explain in this way:
There are no first or second-best parents in this human experience.  There are only adoptive parents who can never give their biological heritage or genetic future to their child and birthparents who cannot raise a child born to them.  Both sets of parents in reality experience an incompleteness and loss.  The child, in turn, can never be parented by one set of parents.  He needs the adoptive set to provide the nurturing and shaping part of parenthood.  He needs the biological set to provide genetic past and future.

One may say, well the nurturing and shaping is really the most important part’…ok, then how come people spend HOURS on Ancestry.com? Because we want to know where we came from!  It IS important!  So, before my over-defensive response completely ruined my entire night of sleep, I recalled one phrase from orientation, were not talking about co-parenting.  I have to keep telling myself this when I begin to feel defensive.  We are not co-parents, but the birthmother/parents will ALWAYS be a part of my childs life whether through their presence or their absence. Period.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Down from the Mountain

We all know the feeling.  When you've had a 'mountain top' experience and feel ready to take on the world and then you actually return to the real world.  Not a bad place to be, but the harsh realities sink in.  After the orientation, I was on fire.  I just knew I would need a few weeks to get everything read and filled out and we'd be well on to the next phase by now.  ha! What I did not count on was the feeling of absolute resentment and bitterness at the necessity of having to do all this.  I thought I had already dealt with all THOSE issues, but you know how emotions can be...unpredictably cyclic.  How much easier it would be if we could just have our OWN kid!! So, I took a few days' break from reading and typing.  But then, a bad day hit.  The Munoz animals decided to go crazy (particularly the orange one).  I was so unbelievably frustrated that I soon found myself ridiculously crying in the middle of my living room wondering 'What are we thinking? We honestly want to add more mess and stress to this house?!'  I just had to tell myself that even the best/strongest people second-guess themselves sometimes.  I shouldn't let one or two days of frustration get in the way of something I've wanted for YEARS.  
So, mini-meltdown was soon over and now we're back to work.  
Small accomplishment: I finished reading the informational section of the application pack.   
Something interesting that will have to be discussed/agreed upon with the birth mother: the first 48 hours.  Just hearing that number sounds like an eternity to wait, pray, and wonder if everything will work on in such a way that you will become a parent. However, there is so much that has to happen for the baby in that time period! Important bonding time could be missed forever if everything isn't arranged well beforehand.  For example: who will be the first to feed or change the baby? Will baby sleep in nursery or in room with birthmother? Who keeps the hospital memorabilia? Who decides what they will wear coming home? Will the birth mother want us to meet her extended family?! Likewise, will she want to meet OUR families? It all goes back to how ‘open’ is an open adoption?
Some of our required reading consists of a book of letters to and from birthmothers at varying points in the child’s life.  Of course it illustrates the benefits of an open adoption, but the truth is (even stated in the book) there hasn’t been ample opportunity to research and know the risks of the open adoption route.  Up until about 30 years ago, EVERY adoption was closed…tight! It was then a very slow process convincing adoptive parents to loosen the reigns a little.  The justification being that the questions of the adoptee will be answered directly by the only person who can answer them.  These children no longer torment themselves with wondering ‘Why didn’t my mother love me? Why didn’t she want me?’ They can hear directly/in-directly from her why she chose this path for them.  Also, it puts the control in THEIR hands.  They decide if, how, and when to pursue a relationship with their birthmother/father. 
So, I’m still completely convinced this is the correct path for us, but I just pray that God works in the heart of the birthmother who may choose us.  I pray we will all want the same things for our baby and that we will be able to have a loving and respectful relationship.   

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Eating an elephant.

When you first think about the paperwork involved in an adoption, you know it's got to be extensive. You think you have some concept of its volume...especially if you've bought a car, a house (that sounds a bit insensitive...a child isn't a 'thing', but you get the idea)...Well, lemme tell ya...as much as you think it's going to be...it's more...much more.  :) They were very kind and gave us everything on a USB, but we heard from folks that adopted back 'in the day' that the binders were five inch binders completely full!! Granted, some of the forms are just to read and initial and some are merely instructions on how to fill out the other forms, but still! I've been working for a week on three forms! I'm not even done with them!
What makes it difficult is the nature of the 'questions'/check lists.  We have to categorize all these conditions/disabilities into 'unacceptable', 'acceptable', or 'willing to discuss'.  So, here's the deal: I don't feel comfortable checking anything less than acceptable if we're talking about issues that run in our families anyway because obviously that would be a concern if we were able to conceive.  However, things that are not already in our gene pool, but still 'possible' (muscular dystrophy, seizures, heart defects, cleft palate, etc...) make things a little tricky.  So, just lots of prayer and time to mull things over.
This blogging stuff is new territory for me...it's so completely one-sided...I feel like I need to finish with "so what's new with you?" :)
But on that note, if anyone has questions or comments...I'm all ears! [in a manner of speaking]

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Orientation (continued)

Day 2:
This was the emotional day.  There were three panel discussions.  One each from adoptees, birthmothers, and adoptive parents.  Without going into a lot of detail, I will say there were a couple things that stood out and I feel they will 'stick' with me for a long time.
The first is this: I seem to have a habit of underestimating the heart of a child.  For a while, my biggest fear was whether an adopted child would love me as much as a 'real' child.  Wouldn't they always wonder about their birthmother? Wouldn't they always wish [at least partly] that they were a 'normal' child? Even now, writing these out, I realize how silly they sound/look! What child doesn't wish they were more 'normal'?! What child, at one point or another, thinks, "What am I doing in this family?! I am so completely different from all of them!" So, giving myself a smile and a mental shake of my head, I heard something so insightfully obvious...do children not usually have two grandmothers/grandfathers? multiple aunts/uncles? Am I arrogant enough to think their hearts are not capable of loving every one of these people for exactly who they are? Listening to the adopted children (adults now) talk about their parents sealed this in my mind:  They KNOW their parents! They LOVE their parents! They are able to say, "I look just like my birthmother, but she hates Italian food...I definitely take after my MOM." Those are some of the most comforting, beautiful words I have ever heard from a complete stranger.
And the second: the birthmothers showed such compassion and love for the couples they entrusted with their child.  I realize I was hearing from three representatives, the ones that maintained at least some relationship with the agency months/years after-the-fact, so hardly the majority.  However, for them to sit in that room staring at 20 faces of complete strangers, sharing intimate details about their experiences, and having the courage and compassion to actually help make ME feel better about all this?! I am still in awe.  They offered advice as to how to support the birthmother and shared what not to say/do.  What was again very eye-opening, was the blatant differences in each of their stories.  Literally, not one adoption story is just like another.
I won't say much about the adoptive parents' panel, because honestly, I found it to be the most frightening and least helpful (not a reflection on anything except my current emotional state: the people were lovely and their children were precious).
I will backtrack to share this gem: before any of the panelists arrived, a staff member shared a story that flattened every single one of my toes and twisted something sharp and pointy right into my heart.  A woman who had experienced two miscarriages and a stillbirth was to be the adoptive mother.  At the hospital, the birthmother had signed away her rights and was standing in a room with the couple she had chosen.  Just when the birthmother is about to place her baby in the woman's arms, she [the adoptive mother]says, "I can't do this" and takes off down the hall.  The stunned birthmother looks at the adoptive father, says, "Hold your baby" and takes off down the hall after this woman.  She catches up to her and proceeds to say, "This isn't the same...you've lost babies before, but this is not. the. same." Apparently, knowing the pain of losing a child was not something she was willing to inflict on anyone, even if it was their choice.
I was sitting near the front, so I don't have a clue what was going on behind me, but I turned into a tearful mess...for pete's sake, it's not even 9:30...HOW am I gonna sit here all day with stories like THIS?
But, thankfully, that was the only breakdown.  Incidentally, I believe that particular adoption worked out...I really can't say for sure because I was...a mess.
It did make me think some other things though...those that have studied the behavioral sciences and the therapist/client relationship have dealt with counter-transference.  In one 'picture' I have in my head, I'm in a hospital room with a woman and we are just sitting together, hugging, and crying.  In another, I am unable to go into the room because how can I ask this woman to witness MY tears? To share in MY grief that I feel for her? I'm not talking about the happy tears when I look at my child; I'm talking about the 'can I really allow this woman to do this?' kind of tears.  I can not and will not ask her to deal with my sorrow for her anymore than I can ask her child to deal with my feelings of incompetence from infertility.  So, dear friends, All of you who have promised to pray for us, may I ask this of you? Be really specific in this matter for me.  If I am put in this position, may God please equip me to be there FOR HER.  May the words, "I'm sorry" NOT escape my lips.  I applaud the courage and wisdom of the birthmother in this story, but I can't say it was right for her to be put in that position.  Making me feel better about what is happening is not her responsibility.
I know this was a lot; thanks for listening.      

Monday, April 13, 2015

Orientation Weekend

Before the formal application can be submitted, each couple must attend a two-day orientation.  The first day is filled with hearing from each staff member about their job and how it ties into the overall vision of Christian Homes: a Christian Home for every child.  The staff walked us through the adoption process step-by-step and shared their anecdotes.  They included the good, the funny, the ironic, and the devastating scenarios they have witnessed over the years.
A couple things that I did not know: rights relinquished to an agency is an irrevocable agreement! Contrary to relinquishing rights to a private attorney.  This really put my mind at ease knowing there would be a time when we could 'breath easy' again without fear of being separated from our child.  Also, the parameters of an open adoption are negotiable.  The birthmother may not want contact at all, but typically will ask for at least photos and updates for the first couple of years.  However, post-adoption agreements are not legally binding (at least in Texas).  The staff did make a side note to mention since they do assure the birthmothers that they will be providing the children with CHRISTIAN parents, it is very important to uphold those agreements as much as possible.  I had no idea there were so many varying factors!
So, this is the basic plan: Ideally, we will be selected by the birthmother a few months before the birth in order to build a relationship with her.  Then, we arrive for the birth.  Depending on our relationship with her, we may be able to be with her and witness the birth, we may be waiting in a room in the hospital, or we may be waiting in a hotel room in town.  She is required to wait 48 hours before being presented the option to relinquish her rights.  This does not mean she has to sign; one scenario described was a cesarean birth.  The birthmother wanted her baby there in the hospital while she was there recuperating; FOUR long days for the adoptive parents to wait.  So, assuming she signs, we are free to take our baby home upon his/her discharge.  During the next six months, the agency is the conservator of the child.  Then, at four months we are eligible to apply for the finalization of our adoption.  This can not happen before the baby is six months old.  At this hearing, it is technically a lawsuit between us and the agency (a very nice lawsuit where we're all on the same side) :)  At this point, we receive an amended birth certificate.  We will be able to change the name of our child if we wish and we will be named as the parents of the child!
Let me back up a bit and talk about the biological father.  There is again many contributing factors, but the readers' digest version is this: if they have not waived their right upon the birth, they have 30-42 days to contest the placement and adoption. So, even if the mother has signed and the baby is placed with us, that is just the first 'hurdle'.  Approximately a month after the birth, there is a termination of rights hearing.  This is the second hurdle.  The staff of course had the devastating stories and words of caution, but at the end of the day, they say it's fairly uncommon.  I would have preferred them use the word 'rare', but they didn't.
The first day was mentally exhausting, but on the whole extremely encouraging!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Let's try this again...

Almost exactly 12 months after our first contact with Christian Homes, we were back.  Older, wiser, and growing more impatient by the day. ;)
They had an orientation coming up! Could we get everything in on time?!?
No matter where we go in life, there will always be such a special place in my heart for our church family at Western Hills in Fort Worth.  Our friends did not hesitate one minute when we called desperately trying to get references submitted by the deadline.

A little more about Christian Homes: in 1962, 'Christian Homes of Abilene', a ministry of Highland Church of Christ, provided foster care for young needy children.  In 1975, a similar ministry began in Tyler by the Glenwood Church of Christ.  This one was called 'Christian Services of East Texas' and focused on children rescued from neglect and abuse.  The agencies merged in 1999 and by 2006 was operating under the current name "Christian Homes and Family Services".  There are many different agencies and avenues to adopt a child.  However, this organization spoke to my heart in their care and ministry to the birth mothers.  They are provided free prenatal care, an apartment (when needed), food, clothing, counseling, etc...These costs are not passed on to the adoptive families! The mothers work with their case workers on identifying what is best for their baby.  They identify key elements they want for their child.  They are shown profiles of couples who match their criteria and make a list of the top three.  If the first couple agrees, a match meeting is held and birth mother/caseworker/adoptive couple/adoptive caseworker discuss expectations and compatibility.  If everyone agrees, great.  If not, the process repeats with the other two choices.  If you haven't noticed, these adoptions are all open; however, there are varying degrees of openness.  More on that at a later time!