Sunday, February 28, 2010

Birthmothers Know It's About LOVE

A couple of things have happened this past week which made me think about birthmothers:

*A comment someone made after hearing that our daughter was adopted.

*A complaint overheard about an adoption agency that “focused too much on birthmothers” rather than on the adoptive applicants

*Hearing an account of a heartbroken birthmother who placed her child with a couple a year ago and has had little or no contact with this couple or the son she placed with them even though the couple and the agency involved promised a semi-open adoption.

I’ll go into each of these examples in a little more detail. If you’re interested in my soapbox, then read on.

*A comment someone made after hearing that our daughter was adopted:

Last week my husband and I had dinner plans with a friend who was in town. Hours before we were to meet for dinner my friend called and asked if it would be alright if she brought a guy along whom she had recently met and started dating. We said that would be fine as long as they didn’t mind us bringing the kids. When my friend and her date met us at the restaurant he immediately started gushing about how cute the kids were (with so much enthusiasm that it actually made us a little uncomfortable), but I’m sure he was just trying extra hard to make a good impression on us since he was dating our friend.

Anyway, before we were seated at our table my friend asked us how our day and weekend had been. We mentioned that just that morning we spoke on a panel to a group of prospective adoptive couples. My friend’s date turned to my husband and asked if he worked with adoptions as part of his profession. My husband explained that we adopted our daughter and that we were asked to share some of our experiences with adoption and foster care with a group of couples who were starting the adoption process with the same agency we went through. He was taken by surprise when he found out that M. was adopted and that the baby wasn’t “ours” but that we were just fostering him, because according to him he thought they both looked like us. Then he turned to us and with a disgusted look on his face he said, “I just don’t understand how people can give up their kids.”

My husband and I didn’t even have to look at each other to sense the rising emotions a statement like that instills into each of us. We may not have always felt so strongly about the subject, but since becoming adoptive parents we have both grown deeply appreciative of birthmothers and at times although we may not always voice our opinion so openly we have become fiercely defensive when we hear people talk down about birthparents for choosing to place their children for adoption.

So, as soon as this guy whom I had just met one minute earlier and who was dating my friend said, “I just don’t understand how people can give up their kids” I immediately thought “What an idiot!” But rather than lecture him on how selfless and difficult a decision it is for birthmothers to place their children for adoption I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and I calmly explained that our daughter’s birthmother was a single mom with little resources, was not in a relationship with the birthfather, and just wanted to give her baby a better life than she could provide. “She did it out of love” I explained, playing extra emphasis on the word “love”. That was enough for my friend’s date to get the point. He looked a little embarrassed about expressing his opinion so boldly and repeated what I had just said in the form of a question, “So it was out of love?” I nodded in confirmation and thought to myself “When is it NOT about love?" He interjected a second later, “Well, I still just have a really hard time understanding how people can do that.”

My husband immediately piped up in an effort to ease some of the tension and said, “Yeah, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be faced with that situation.”

*A complaint overheard about an adoption agency that “focused too much on birthmothers” rather than on the adoptive applicants:

On Thursday night we went to a required meeting concerning policy changes with LDS Family Services. Let me back up a little and explain some things about LDS Family Services for those who aren’t familiar with the agency: J. and I are LDS (AKA Latter Day Saints/Mormons/members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and one of the things that attracted us to the social service/adoption agency which is run through our church is the affordability of adoption costs: Those who adopt through LDS Family Services only have to pay 10% of their income. I don’t know of ANY adoption agencies that are as affordable which is GREAT NEWS for Mormon couples wanting to adopt but who don’t necessarily have a bunch of extra money lying around.

The reason the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has made it so affordable for couples to adopt is that we place such an emphasis on the importance of families, because we believe among other things, that "Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. "

The other thing that we have learned to appreciate about LDS Family Services is that they provide counseling and support to expectant parents who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy both during and after pregnancy & placement (or parenting-depending on what the client chooses.)

However, one major setback for adoptive couples going through LDS Family Services is that there are SO MANY adoptive couples going through the agency but not enough birthparents using the agency who place their children for adoption which inevitably means that LDS Family Services cannot actually guarantee that each adoptive applicant can adopt a child. It’s not like how I imagine adoptions in the past were done where the couples who had been waiting the longest were at the “top” of a list and each time a baby was born that baby automatically went to the couple at the top of the list. Rather, birthmothers are the ones who take an active part in deciding which couple they would like to place their child with (which is why it’s so important for adoptive couples to network with others and get the word out about their desire to adopt so that a birthmother can find them!)

So, back to the meeting we attended on Thursday night . . . As we were leaving the building we walked past some prospective adoptive couples and we could overhear them “complaining” to each other about how LDS Family Services “caters” to birthparents rather than to the adoptive couples. Although they have a point I immediately recognized that they are probably new in the adoption process and are feeling a bit overwhelmed.

I’m not perfect so I’ll admit that when I’ve been discouraged about waiting to be picked by a birthmother I’ve had my share of bitter and resentful feelings creep up about having to “compete” with other couples to get a child. But the more I learn about the miracles, inspiration and love that make adoption possible I realize that it’s NOT a competition –it’s about LOVE.

First and foremost there’s the love and sacrifice that birthmothers have for their children- adoption wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for that love. It’s a given (or at least it should be) that couples who choose to build their families through adoption do so because they want a child more than anything else and they are filled with an overwhelming sense of love for the children who come into their lives through adoption, especially if they’ve been waiting a particularly long time.

Then there’s love that adoptive couples feel towards birthparents for giving them the gift of being a parent in the first place. And this might sound funny or a little weird but there’s even love (maybe camaraderie & support might be more appropriate terms- but they fall under the category of love) between adoptive parents and other adoptive families. Even now when I hear of a couple who is going through the adoption process or has gone through the adoptive process I feel an automatic kinship with them. I feel an immediate bond and have a desire to “talk adoption” with them and share all of the heartache and joys that are found along the adoption journey. Any feelings of “competing” for a child are washed away and I don’t feel threatened by advocating for their adoption because I know that it’s in the Lord’s hands and that the right baby goes to the right family at the right time.

Ironically, I had to remind myself of the exact same things (not resenting having to “wait” to be picked by someone and that it’s in the Lord’s hands) when I was growing a little antsy this week since we haven’t heard anything about the adoptive grandparent’s decision who are placing their grandson for adoption and considering us as a possible choice.

I found myself complaining, “What’s taking them so long- it’s been almost two weeks since we met with them! Even if they don’t decide to place with us I’d like to know one way or the other!” My wise husband turned to me and said, “Mary, can you imagine what it would be like to have to place our daughter with another family? Wouldn’t you want to be absolutely certain that the family you chose was the best possible one?” Good point. (Granted, I know that example seems extremely hypothetical but for the sake of argument bear with me; my husband was thinking specifically of cases of poverty stricken families in third world countries who literally can’t afford to feed their children- so tragic.)

*Hearing an account of a heartbroken birthmother who placed her child with a couple a year ago and has had little or no contact with this couple or the son she placed with them even though the couple and the agency involved promised a semi-open adoption:

The decision to place a child for adoption would be hard enough in itself, but then having to choose the right couple and family for your child when there are so many out there would seem totally overwhelming to me.

I read about a birthmother (on the r house) who felt strongly about placing her baby boy with a family over a year ago. Although this particular family had agreed before the placement to keep in contact with this birthmother, the birth family has NOT kept their word to the birth mother. 

One final thought about birth mothers (for now at least): If you would like to know what is appropriate to say to birthmothers regarding their decision to place- or rather what NOT to say check out Andee’s post here or Jill's post here. Because who knows better what it’s like to be a birth mother than a birth mother.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sibling Bonds & Sibling Groups

I just finished reading an article as part of some online training to keep my foster care license current. The article I read was The Sibling Bond: Its Importance in Foster Care and Adoptive Placement written by Gloria Hochman, Ellen Feathers-Acuna, and Anna Huston of the National Adoption Center for the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.

Although the article is nearly twenty years old, I learned some new things about the importance of maintaining sibling bonds in foster and adoptive children after reading it. These findings stood out to me in particular because despite having a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, most of the theories and research I studied in school dealt primarily with marriage relationships or relationships and attachments between parents (or caregivers) and their children, rather than relationships between siblings.

Here’s some of highlights taken directly from the article (bold italics mine):
*The bond between brothers and sisters is unique—it is the longest lasting relationship most people have, longer than the parent/child or husband/wife
*This bond exists in children raised in well-adjusted families, but it is even stronger for brothers and sisters from dysfunctional families.

*Sixty-five to 85 percent of children entering the foster care system have at least one sibling; about 30 percent have four or more. It is often difficult to find families willing to take all of them, and current estimates indicate that 75 percent of sibling groups end up living apart after they enter foster care.

*Studies have shown that even babies experience depression when they are separated from their brothers and sisters. In one such study, it was found that a 19-month-old girl was better able to cope with the separation from her parents than from her siblings. The children in this family were placed in different foster homes, resulting in the baby's loss of speech, refusal to eat, withdrawal, and an inability to accept affection. This pattern persisted even after she was reunited with her parents. It was not until her brothers and sisters rejoined the family that this little girl resumed her former behavior.
The article also pointed out the barriers to placing siblings together, both from a foster/adoptive parent’s perspective and from a social worker’s perspective. The article stated that foster families may be unwilling to take a sibling group because they have a perception that a sibling group might overburden a family.

The article went on to site barriers to placing sibling groups with families from a social worker's perspective, which included: a limited number of families willing to take sibling groups, the financial cost involved in since it is less costly to search for a family in the immediate area than to stretch across state lines or travel cross-country (which is often required when looking for a family willing to adopt a sibling group) and the fact that some social workers feel more comfortable placing a child with a traditional two-parent family although single parents and those with alternative lifestyles may be more receptive to adopting a sibling group.
--------------------------------------------------------------------Now for my personal thoughts on the subject of keeping sibling groups together (because, after all, the name of this blog is Adoption & Foster Care: My Personal Experiences)

Do I think that sibling groups should be kept together? Certainly- I can’t imagine the trauma and confusion of being separated from my brothers and sisters on a permanent basis as an adult OR most especially as a child.

Have I ever taken a sibling group as a placement? No . . . at least not yet.

I’ll readily admit that when my husband and I started the training to be foster parents the thought of taking a sibling group as a placement was a bit overwhelming to us. Perhaps that’s because we had never even been parents to one child before, let alone more than one child.

We took our first two placements before we ever had any children of our own: our first placement was a little boy who was an only child and our second placement was a baby girl who was placed separately from her half-sister. Even now that we have a little more parenting experience under our belts the thought of a sibling group still intimidates me somewhat.

Another practical reason a family may not be open to taking a sibling group which the article did not address is not so much because of unwillingness but because of lack of SPACE! I would like to think that in my imaginary idealist world my husband and I would constantly keep our huge home open to a continual influx of foster children. But the reality is that we don’t have a big house. In fact, if we are ever blessed with more than three children we will need to start looking for a bigger place.

Furthermore, even if we did have a huge house I just don’t know that our hearts are generous enough or brave enough to be foster parents on a continual basis like some families are. Being a foster parent can be very emotionally draining and to prevent burn-out our “quota” seems to be about one placement per year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Meet the Birth Grandparents

Yesterday we had our hour-long "interview" at LDS Family Services with the birth grandparents who are placing their 2 year old grandson for adoption. (Read the previous post first if you haven't already).

They will be meeting with four other potential adoptive couples throughout this week which is NOT the usual protocol for LDS Family Services. Normally, an adoptive couple meets a birthparent only AFTER a birthparent has selected them to adopt their child, but because of the unique nature of this case the grandparents want to make certain that the family they find is indeed the right family for their grandson.

How many people do you know who have to be interviewed and compared with other families in order to have a child join their family? It's a little bit awkward to say the least. We were nervous about the meeting, but the grandparents assured us that they were the ones who were nervous.

The grandparents were nice, humble people and very up front with any information they had about their late daughter, her husband, and their grandson. The grandmother was quite the talker but her husband was very quiet and hardly said more than ten words the whole time.

It is obvious that these grandparents want as open of an adoption as possible which is understandable considering that they have been their grandson's primary caregivers over the past year. Although we didn't go into too much detail about what Jared and I would be comfortable with in terms of openness (we would discuss that later in depth if they choose us) I did mention to them that the idea of an open adoption used to scare us, but that we are more open-minded to the idea now-especially when we take into account the most important person in the adoption triad: THE CHILD!

One thing that bothered us is that we haven't even seen a picture of this little boy- Don't you think that would be beneficial for us? I mean, even if someone adopts an animal they get to at least visit the shelter or pet store and get a "feel" for which puppies or cats they connect with. (Maybe that's a poor analogy, I know that children are not animals!) Families who adopt older children either get to go to an orphanage and meet them first or see their picture on a photolisting. The birth grandparent's caseworker assured us that this little boy is as "cute as a button" and the reason they didn't want to show us a picture of him is because if we saw him we would fall in love with him and then be heartbroken if we didn't end up being his family.

Like I said, it's not a typical situation. The birth grandparents met with two other couples besides us on Monday and they will be meeting with two other "candidates for the position" on Thursday. We won't know until sometime next week who they have chosen. But one thing we've gotten pretty used to is waiting.

If this situation had presented itself to us 3 or 4 years ago we would have been EXTEMELY ANXIOUS & walking on pins and needles and probably feel devastated if we were not chosen to be the parents of this little boy. We would have taken it personally, like "WHAT'S WRONG WITH US that nobody wants us to be parents to their children?!" But we believe that it is in the Lord's hands so we are trying to put our personal feelings, desires, and even pride aside and remind ourselves as we have with our foster children, that it's not so much about US as it is about what is best for a child.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Phone Call

Thursday afternoon I got a call from our caseworker from LDS Family Services. She had two questions for me:

1) Would my husband and I be interested in speaking on a panel at an upcoming meeting/ fireside for our local chapter of Families Supporting Adoption (FSA) about our experiences with foster care? I told her I'd get back to her after I consulted with Jared.

2) Would we be interested in meeting with some birth grandparents who are in the process of placing their two year old grandson for adoption? They had been looking at profiles and wanted to meet with four other couples besides us.

Two things immediately stood out to me as a bit unusual about her last question: First, rather than a birthmother or birthfather wanting to meet us it was some birth grandparents. Our caseworker went on to explain that this couple's daughter had passed away almost a year ago and that the birthfather had relinquished his parental rights. They had been raising their grandson but wanted him to be raised by a young family (rather than by them).

Our caseworker paused and asked me if I had heard about this case a couple of months ago. "No", I answered. But the part about a little boy who was being placed for adoption through LDS Family Services after his mother had passed away did sound familiar to me- I'll get to that later.

She continued . . . "We didn't show your profile to this couple initially because the little boy is Madison's age and we know you aren't interested in adopting a child older than she is . . . but for some reason your profile got into their hands- I don't know if it's the Lord's hand or what".

That's the second thing that I thought was unusual about this case- she was asking us about a two-year old but on our Preference Checklist [the list that adoptive couples fill out about what kind of child they would consider adopting in regards to age, gender, race, medical history, etc.] we had indicated that we would prefer to adopt a one year old at the oldest.

Now here's the part that I found particularly unusual: She explained that this little boy had already been placed with a family and that they were working on making the transistion from his grandparent's care to the prosepective adoptive family's care. He had been living with this prospective adoptive family for over a month, but after praying about it and going with their gut feelings, this particular family just didn't feel right about adopting this little boy- they didn't feel like he "belonged" to their family, so they informed the agency before any legal papers were signed.

When I heard my caseworker say that this family didn't feel like the little boy belonged to them it gave me a bit of a chill (in a good way, of course.) But the cynical part of me thought, "Something's got to be drastically wrong with this little boy- why would a couple who is longing for a child not want him- what information is the agency withholding from me?" So I basically asked my caseworker that question. She honestly didn't know too much about the situation since she was not the birthparent worker (or in this case, birth grandparent worker), but she gave me as much information as she could. She did mention that this boy was born premature (just like Maddie) and had a slight speech delay, but that didn't seem like a big concern to me. She told me she would get more information and call me back.

In the meantime I called Jared to tell him the news. Then I called my mom and somewhere in between calls our caseworker called back with as much information as she could get from the other caseworker. I also made one other call to somebody who I was hoping could give me some more information.
-------------------------------------------------------------------- When our caseworker mentioned that this little boy's mother had died last year and that he had been placed with a family I remembered a couple of months ago when I was getting my temple recommend renewed: The member of our Stake Presidency who interviewed me happens to be our former bishop. I can't remember if it was before or after the actual interview, but he was asking how our family was and the topic of adoption came up. I reminded him that we were going through the adoption process again and he mentioned that a relative of his who had been waiting to adopt was finally going to be able to adopt a little boy. I know our former bishop's wife from our ward and I even went walking with her and a couple of other ladies in our neighborhood a couple of winters ago. I specifically remember one morning when we were mall-walking and Kelly (a pseudonym), our former bishop's wife, asked me how our adoption and foster care efforts were coming. This was shortly after our home study had been approved over a year ago. She then mentioned that she had a close family member who adopted a little boy five or six years ago and who was eager to adopt again through the Church and had been waiting to be picked by a birthmother.

So back to the temple recommend interview: When the counselor in our Stake Presidency/former bishop mentioned that his relative was finally going to be able to adopt again I thought, "That's neat- he must be talking about the same family Kelly told me about." And then he mentioned that the little boy's mother had died I asked him, "Oh, is it through foster care?" (thinking that it might have been an emergency situation or something) but he said, "No it's through the Church [LDS Family Services]".

So . . . after I got off the phone with my caseworker I took a wild chance and picked up the phone and called Kelly. I told her, "This is going to sound really weird . . . but did your family member (I couldn't remember if it was her sister or sister-in-law) by chance almost adopt a little boy named ________?"

"Yes", she answered, sounding a bit surprised- it turns out it was her SISTER's family! I went on to explain the call I had gotten from our caseworker and as diplomatically but directly as possible I asked if she could tell me if she was aware of any problems that her sister's family had with the little boy or if there was anything "wrong" with him. Kelly said, "That's so funny that you called right now because my sister and I were recently talking about him." She confirmed to me exactly what our caseworker had said: that her sister's family was in the process of adopting this little boy but they just didn't feel right about it. She told me she would call her sister for more information and get back to me and I told her that I GREATLY appreciated it.

Over the next hour my caseworker called back with more information which I passed on to Jared, and Kelly called back. She told me that her sister's family had actually gotten very attached to this little boy and that he was a cute kid and there were no problems with him, but they just felt like he was not "theirs". Chills. She went on to say that they had even counseled with their bishop and gone to the temple about it.

"Mary", she continued, "Did you know that he was placed with another family before he was placed with my sister's family?"

"No . . ." I answered- I hadn't heard anything about that.

"Yeah- and that family said the same thing about him, too- that they didn't feel like he was theirs." More chills.

Kelly did mention that although there was nothing wrong with the little boy the only issue her sister had was that his grandparents obviously wanted to have a very open adoption with their grandson (which is understandable seeing as how they have been his primary caregivers) but there was a little problem with "boundaries" since the grandparent's definition of what an "open" adoption was turned out to be a little more "open" than what the prospective adoptive family was comfortable with.

That was a good heads up for me. I told Kelly we weren't yet sure if we had decided to meet with the grandparents but that I'd keep her posted and once again I thanked her for all of the information she shared.
Less than six hours after receiving the initial phone call from my caseworker, and after much thought, discussion, and prayer, we called her back to tell her that we would be interested in meeting with the birth grand parents. We have an "interview" set up for Monday afternoon.

Saturday morning Jared and I went to the temple. We both feel peaceful about things. Of course just because we feel peace does not necessarily mean that we know what the end result will be! We are trusting that this little boy's future is in the Lord's hands. Whether he is placed with us or with another family, it will be wonderful for him to find his forever family.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I won a giveaway on mrs. r's blog!

I won this Michael Eddington CD entitled "Believe".

. . . which happens to be VERY appropriate since I've been battling a lot of doubtful thoughts lately (mostly regarding adoption):

*Is a birthmother EVER going to find us?
*Am I ever going to have more than one child?
*Is it ever going to become easier to say goodbye to our foster children?

Besides winning the Michael Eddington CD I have had a few other small, yet significant experiences lately which have reminded me to keep believing:

-I was at Michael's craft store the other day (Who needs the Dollar Store when you have Michaels!) and as I was walking past the "Dollar Aisle" I saw some really cute notecards with the word "Believe" written on the front in bright letters. It was just one simple word but it stood out to me like a beacon of light casting the shadows of my doubt away. (My, wasn't that poetic?) But I mean it- as corny as that sounds they really did brighten up my outlook. Of all the words in the world that one simple invitation to "Believe" was just what I needed to see. Before I left the store I put them in my cart.

- My two year old is obsessed with the Tinkerbell DVD her grandma gave her for Christmas, Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure to be exact (cute movie by the way- a little pagan in nature but in an innocent Disney Fairy way rather than a Wiccan let's go howl at the moon way- no offense, Wiccans)

Anyway. . . the last couple of times we've watched the movie M. has turned to me and said "Mommy, sing it!" referring to the theme song played at the beginning and end of the movie. I started singing the first couple of words of the chorus in an exaggerated falsetto ('cuz there's some pretty high notes there) which I couldn't help but memorize seeing as how it seems we watch it at least once a day- but after I finished the phrase "If you believe . . . in who you are . . ." I realized I didn't know the rest. I tried to fake it and make up some words but my daughter didn't buy it. I confessed that I didn't know the words and I promised I would learn them.

Upon further research I learned that the song is called "If You Believe" and it is preformed by Lisa Kelly, who happens to be on of the "Celtic Women". As I listened to the lyrics of the chorus I found them to be really quite inspiring:
If you believe in who you are,

who you were always meant to be.

If you open up your heart,

then you'll set your spirit free.

In this time of the season,

every leaf on every tree,

will start to shine, come and see,

take my hand, come with me and fly.

And the song really is quite beautiful. Take a listen.

I know, I know- just like the "Believe" notecards I found at Michaels- it sounds so CORNY, but listening to that song was another small but significant reminder to me to believe- and more specifically to believe in myself.

Christian's 4 Month Update

Originally published on MEM's MEMOS on January 21, 2010

This week Christian turned 4 months old! Yesterday I took him to the doctor for his 4 month well baby check-up and was pleased to learn he has gained 4 pounds (I was hoping for five or six pounds, but four pounds is progress, especially with all his reflux) and he has grown 2 1/2 inches!

*He's outgrown his newborn and size 1 diapers and is now fitting into size 2 diapers!
*He's still not sleeping completely through the night, but usually only gets up once.
*He is developing more control over his head and neck muscles and is focusing and following objects & people much better with his eyes.

And our favorite milestone. . .

*He's much more responsive than he was six weeks ago as he is starting to SMILE and LAUGH and coo (especially when Maddie is in the room).

We've also learned some more info on how much longer he'll be in our home: there is a Review Hearing scheduled for the end of March; it is possible that he could be placed back in his father or mother's care (yes, birthmom is back in the picture now) at that time on a trial basis OR the Permanency Hearing [the final hearing to determine if he will remain in DCFS Custody] is scheduled for the end of June.

I think it wil be hardest on Maddie when he leaves- she has gotten attached to "little guy" and has been a great friend and helper.