Thursday, March 31, 2011

Terminology

Firstly, thanks to everyone for your wonderful response - primarily through Facebook - to my news of our plans to build our family through adoption.  We're fortunate to have many wonderful friends in our lives, and it means a lot to me to know that we have your support. 

Secondly, I'm sorry for the long delay in posting something new.  I have much admiration (and a little bit of jealousy) of those who have the discipline to sit down and write - something, anything! - on a regular basis.  For me, the creative energy seems to come in fits and starts - hence the three postings in a row two weeks ago, followed by...deadly, reader-decreasing silence.  Truth be told, I've been feeling a bit "tapped out" lately, in the sense that we had been putting in so much effort into officially joining the list of waiting families that once it actually happened, I just needed a break for a bit. 

So, in coming back to the blog, I thought it might be helpful to perhaps explain a bit about how we got to where we are, not only documenting our process for myself as a creative outlet, but maybe also to provide a window into what it means to become an adoptive family - both from a logistical and emotional perspective.

As I said in my last posting, we've both wanted to be dads for as long as we can remember.  And over the past few years, we've taken steps to get to the "right" place to become dads.  From a purely material standpoint, that meant a house - because we wanted to more space and a backyard for our child - and working our way up our respective career ladders to a point where we feel stable in our jobs.  And though we had been researching it over the years, we hadn't taken any actual steps in kickstarting the adoption process until last year, when we said to ourselves - what are we waiting for?

We've been asked by some if we had considered surrogacy.  The simple answer is yes:  we considered it, and decided that it wasn't for us.  Adoption has always felt like it was the right path for us in building our family.  And domestic adoption is the only option that's available for male couples these days.  Many countries don't allow same-gender adoption, and regulations have been tightened around the world, making it more difficult (and lengthy) even for married straight couples to adopt internationally.

So, thanks to my partner's thorough research, we learned that there are three agencies in the Chicago area that work with same-gender families in domestic adoption situations.  Two of them each hosted an "open house," which I would recommend to anyone who is even remotely interested in adopting, domestically or internationally - just to get a sense of how the process works.  Our first session was with The Cradle in Evanston.  Truth be told, we immediately felt comfortable with the agency, even though we were there just for the first time.  The other agency, whose open house we attended a few weeks later, did not instill as much confidence in us, although we appreciated the speaker's candor about the emotional ups-and-downs that come with the waiting process.  And after experiencing these two (and liking The Cradle as much as we do), we didn't even bother trying to set up anything with the third agency.

And so we officially signed up to become Cradle clients.  It's a bit difficult to boil down a year's worth of effort into logical format (well, it's either that, or my brain is mush tonight), so I'm going frame it around some adoption terminology:

Adoptive family counselor:  As soon as we signed up, we were assigned an adoptive family counselor who guides families through the process of being prospective adoptive parents.  Over the course of the year, we met with our counselor several times, both jointly and individually, during which time she walked us through the process step-by-step, assessed our potential to be adoptive parents, and really helped us think through what it would mean to adopt as a same-gender, mixed-race couple.

Birthmother/birthparent:  I had always had in my mind that a birthmother might be on the younger side, so I was surprised to learn that while the typical age range for a birthmother is 18-26, they can range anywhere from early teens to late-thirties (or older), depending on her situation.  I was also surprised to learn that many birthmothers are already parenting.  Each birthmother who approaches our agency is assigned a counselor who helps guide her through the process of what it means to make an adoption plan for her child.  We learned that birthparent counselors need to be extremely mobile and flexible, as they have to meet birthmothers several times in what might be a wide geographic range. 

Open adoption:  Our hope is to have an open adoption, where our family would have an ongoing relationship with our child's birthmother (and/or birthfather), with regular contact.  Everything we've heard or read about open adoption has confirmed for us how important it is for an adopted child to have that connection to his/her birthfamily. We believe that knowing her birthparents will help our child know her background - medical, family or otherwise; our child will never have questions about where he came from, because he'll be able to ask his birthfamily.   But we also recognize that an open adoption might not be an option for us, depending on the circumstances.  And that's all part of the life-long journey of adoption.  An open adoption doesn't mean shared parenting, by any means.  The adoptive parents are the parents - there is never any question of that.  It just means that there are more people to love our child, and s/he will always know where s/he came from.

DCFS License:  Working with an agency is not only meant to help educate us about adoption, but also to get us licensed by the state's Department of Child and Family Services.  Because adoptions are not made official until at least six months after placement, any adoptive family has to be licensed by DCFS because you're technically taking an "unrelated child" into your home (even though the child is yours through placement by the adoption agency).  As part of the licensing process, we had to attend several hours/days of in-person classes and sessions (including infant/child CPR certification), several online courses, and a home study, in which our counselor came to our house and made sure that we had a safe environment with adequate space for a child.  (Which we do.  In case you were wondering.  And, as a point of pride, it's "immaculately clean," according to our write-up.)  To me, the most useful of the in-person classes was a session on what it might mean to parent a child that may have been exposed to several risk factors in utero.  I thought the presenter's advice was very helpful - for any parent.  For example, he said that babies sometimes need to "take a breather" from too much stimuli.  If you're constantly trying to get your baby's attention, s/he might start giving signs that it's too much - like averting his/her gaze elsewhere, coughing or sneezing, eventually escalating to crying - and that you just need to give your baby a moment to relax and regroup.  I would never have known...

Short profile:  Most birthmothers participate in the process of choosing an adoptive family for her child.  The first step is to look through the waiting family album, which is filled with two-page profiles of (licensed) families that meet her criteria (and vice versa).  She could be looking for a family that already has children, a same-gender family that lives in the city, a married couple that has no pets, or a family that sits down for a meal together every night - it's really all up to her.  And so part of our work was to compile this short profile as a way to introduce ourselves through words and photos - who we are as individuals and as a couple, and to provide a snapshot of our lives.  We don't know what might trigger in a birthmother that "connection" to us - she could have a gay best friend, or share my love of all things Buffy, or have a voracious sweet tooth like Matthew.  Regardless, we tried to tell our life story as authentically and as openly as we could.

Long profile:  After going through the family album, the birthmother will typically select five to six families about whom she wants to know more.  At this point, if we are lucky to be among this small group (whom I've nicknamed as "finalists"), we would be contacted by our counselor who would let us know more about the birthmother's circumstances and confirm if we wanted to have our long profile presented.  In our case, our long profile is a multi-page book that provides more detailed information and about 40 different photos that encapsulate who we are.  Our long profile took about three months to put together, although we had been working on the text and gathering photos even before then.  (My advice to anyone thinking about domestic adoption - start taking photos now.  Many, many photos, because the more you take, the more you have to choose for your profile as representative of your life together.)  And the long profile is how the birthmother makes her choice for an adoptive family - even before a face-to-face meeting.

There are many more steps and much more to tell, including what happens for us next, now that we're officially a waiting family, but I'll save that for the next posting.  If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments, and I'll answer as many of them to the best of my ability and (limited) knowledge.  Thanks for reading.

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