Our coverage of this week has been patchy due to lots of work projects on deadline and more social activities than we’re used to! It’s all good, but when night finally arrives we tumble into bed as quickly as possible. Tess may have picked up on our exhaustion, and has slept through the night the last 3 nights – over 7 hours each night. She’s been a bit crabbier than usual, which I think is due to the huge shift in schedule! She’s doubling some of her feeds – even passing the 200ml mark yesterday! (Good job, Dave.) To complicate things, our dog isn’t feeling well and needed an emergency vet run last night (again, good job Dave!) at the exact same time as our friends Frank and Joanie got in from Chicago. Never a dull moment.
We’re realizing that dinners and socializing can happen; you just have to be smarter. We’ve been freezing avocado as a Pinterest-inspired experiment, and it worked pretty well. We had Sarah and Will over Wednesday and made a super-easy summery meal: guac and chips; grilled tenderloin steaks, asparagus and grape tomatoes; corn maque choux (which I can eat every day, warm or cold! It’s like succotash without the beans); melon fresh from the farm; and sorbet with a dash of booze to round the evening out. None of that took long to organize, but it tasted great and let us enjoy their company instead of running around the kitchen. Here’s where it got smart: we used the tenderloin in mini sandwiches last night, and served all the veggies as cold salads. Frank and Joanie didn’t know when they’d get here, and it didn’t matter! We could maximize our work/animal hospital time, and when they got here, we just pulled everything out of the fridge. New parents can be taught. Getting to spend two nights this week with such good friends was wonderful. Our life under lockdown – which is almost over! – is pretty routine, and we were super happy to catch up with other adults in a non-work environment. I fear we may have come off as overeager puppies. We’ll have to pull ourselves together and try to act cooler next time. 🙂 Not that an act like that would fool anyone that knows us, but it’s good to practice.
On top of everything else this week, we’re in the home stretch on Tess’ adoption process. Our finalization hearing, which we won’t attend as we already spoke with the judge before leaving Salt Lake, will be September 24. Gotcha day is on the horizon! I worried that the 6-month waiting period would make me crazy, but we’ve been too busy and tired to get too worked up about it. Instead, it’s a quiet pleasure to look forward to. I should clarify what all of this means, as a number of people have looked confused at hearing the adoption isn’t done yet.
Adoption Process for Domestic Infant Adoption
I’m being very specific here, as adoption of domestic older children works differently, and international adoption is totally different. We haven’t done it, so we can’t speak about it. The most significant difference is in the US, infant birth parents choose the adoptive parents. This feels remarkably like online dating, in that each party gets a profile to consider, where suddenly grammar and hobbies take on an astronomical importance you never thought possible. In this instance, instead of steeling yourself to reach out to a stranger for an hour, both sides cross their fingers and leap into a lifetime commitment of monstrous emotional proportions based on a phone call, photo exchange or meeting. I say lifetime because, even if the adoption isn’t as open as ours is, the parents and child all have a lifetime bond – whether or not they communicate after the baby is born. The trust required takes your breath away. Maybe arranged marriage is a better corollary…
- Choose an adoption agency for matching birth parents and adoptive parents, as well as an agency (can be the same – ours wasn’t) that does homestudies and follow-up visits after placement (see below).
- Do the required adoption training (varies by state; here we did 12-14 hours of online and in-person classes). Start to prepare the dossier for the homestudy and meet with the caseworker 2-4 times (8-10 hours total) for the home inspection, interviews, background report, etc. LOTS of paperwork. The homestudy report covers how the potential adoptive parents were raised, how they plan to parent, parenting techniques that they plan to use, their education/social plan for the potential adopted child up to age 18, how they’ll address adopting a child from a different race (specifics, like how you’ll find non-white environments and learn how to do hair), whether they would be eligible/interested in multiples as that’s a separate certification, babyproofing plans, fire escape routes, childcare options, etc. I am a paperwork animal, and it took us 3 months. The background checks were the first documents to be requested and the last to arrive. It’s extremely detailed; we even needed Dave’s military discharge papers – and he was only ROTC for a year.
- Prepare a video/photo/essay profile for prospective birth parents. I know this seems simple, but suddenly you have no idea who you are as individuals or as a family. What should you say to appeal to more birthmoms? Will you unintentionally alienate or offend the perfect match? Will you leave out some incredibly appealing aspect of your life and ruin your chances at happiness? (This is usually where Dave would make me walk away from the computer.) In hindsight, I think being as specific as possible is the best route to take. Our greatest joy with Kat and Spencer was in seeing just how shared our interests are. Kat and I listen to a lot of the same music and love to travel to foreign places. Dave and Spencer have very similar abilities to communicate and make anyone comfortable. Spencer and I firmly agree that Tess needs to take piano lessons whether she wants to or not. Kat’s family does family dinner like ours does! The more detail you give means the birth parents really know who you are, and then the secret fear that you won’t like each other dissolves in the joy of bonding. (Okay, I’m stepping down from the soapbox.) The profile goes to the matching agency along with the homestudy report, letters of recommendation from 5 people, background checks (local and national for everywhere you’ve lived in the last 7-10 years!), a detailed analysis of what medical/substance/race/other issues you are/are not open to in a match, what open adoption communication plans you would feel comfortable with or consider, and many more life-altering questions. (Dave and I found this step draining, as the life questions just keep on coming. Surprisingly, if you’re really thorough here, it makes the rest of the process almost painless – aside from the waiting. That’s excruciating any way you cut it.)
- Once your homestudy and profile are in place, you’re activated. By activated, I mean the fiery impatience to be chosen and meet your child supercedes breathing in your mental hierarchy, and you start staring at your phone all day and night, willing it to ring. (It usually won’t.) At this point, the bulk of your contact shifts from the homestudy caseworker to the adoption agency advocate. They answer your million questions, calm you when you call and frantically explain that you really need to rewrite your whole profile because it’s been a week and no one’s picked you, contact you with potential matches, tell you it’s okay when the potential matches don’t pick you/change their minds/aren’t the right fit/disrupt (a horrible word: means when the birth mom decides she wants to keep her child. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that choice, but it spells incredible heartbreak on the waiting parents’ side of the fence). Even more importantly, they reassure you that you are not a monster for saying no to cases you’re not comfortable with. This is so, so important! We realized that no – we wouldn’t be comfortable taking a child born with a drug addiction, for example. The idea of parenting a child who we couldn’t comfort FOR MONTHS broke our hearts. I would be a sobbing, hysterical puddle. I have trouble listening to Tess howl and I can meet her needs! This entails facing the limitations of who you are as a person, and it’s like running into a brick wall, especially if you’re a sucker for babies and so desperate to start a family. There are parents in this world who are better people than me and have heroic strength, and I bow down to them and respect them like crazy for choosing a parenting situation with such an incredible uphill battle. Truly. I’d never had to think it through, and the adoption process has made us more aware of just how amazing adoptive families are. I like having heroes, and they multiplied exponentially. Speaking of, if you need a feel-good moment, please read this article on an entire town choosing adoption. This gave me goosebumps. I digress (who’s surprised?!).
- Waiting. And waiting. And losing your temper. Impatience. Depression. Manic attempts to distract yourself. (This would be where our 20 trips last year came in. Dave said a weekend away sounded nice, and when he got back an hour later I’d planned a trip every three weeks all year.) Literally leaping out of your chair when you see a number from the agency’s area code on your phone. Blissful highs followed by bottomless lows as potential match after potential match doesn’t quite line up. Moments of calm, where you realize just how crazy you’ve been acting. Getting a match! Having it fall through. Months go by. Return to the beginning of this point and start over: you get the drift.
- Getting picked! We had a few potential matches that fell through, but I am not exaggerating when I say that Kat and Spencer were our dream match. Just reading between the lines of the profile and seeing what happy, loving people they are had our hearts in our mouths. When the medical scares started happening, we had a moment of panic and realized we were in too deep: this was our match, come hell or high water. That feeling had everything to do with how much we liked Kat and Spencer. We wanted our child to have the possibility of a relationship with her birth parents. How that plays out will develop over years and depends on a million different variables, but the only one we could control was choosing birth parents who clearly would be an asset to her in the future. We have no worries about contact with them because we enjoy them! This is a relief and a joy, especially after the Dickensian horror show I’d been playing in my mind. Sometimes a vivid imagination is not an asset. Going from reading each other’s profiles to talking on the phone to actually signing paperwork saying YES was like having a panic attack for a month. We were so excited and terrified and nervous and giggly….and that was just about the match! Add the ‘normal’ first-time parent jitters, the logistics of making sure we were on site for Tess’ birth (fail!), how to share our lifelong gratitude with these wonderful strangers that had just changed our lives forever, and the ever-growing fear that something would happen to the baby or they would change their minds. Which brings me to…
- Waiting. And waiting.Shopping like a maniac. Impatience. Depression when we thought about just how many weeks were left to wait before the baby arrived. Manic attempts to distract yourself. (This would be where our over-scheduled spring came in. Dave said a weekend away sounded nice, and when he got back an hour later I’d planned a trip to Curacao for April.) Literally leaping out of your chair when you see a number from the agency’s area code on your phone. Blissful highs followed by bottomless lows as you realize only 8.5 days have passed, and there are 13.5 weeks left. Moments of calm, where you realize just how crazy you’ve been acting. Getting photos and an ultrasound picture from Kat and Spencer! Weeks go by. Return to the beginning of this point and start over: you get the drift. Our wait was quite truncated due to Tess’ rush into the world. As terrifying as that was for all of us, I might have actually exploded into confetti by week 39. Now we’ll never know.
- I will insert as a separate point, as we didn’t do this so I’m fuzzy on the details, that the normal process calls for a birth plan (what the birth mom pictures as her hospital experience, including whether the adoptive parents can be in the room, who’ll hold the baby and cut the cord, and so on), extended conversations with all the parents about what we want the adoption to look like in the long run, lots of questions and answers on both sides about potential baby names, birth parent requests, getting to know each other, etc.
- Getting the call: baby is on her way! This would probably be the most incredible happy call in the world, were it actually in the third trimester. Again, we’ll never know! Our experience here varies significantly from the norm, in that we were hyperventilating with joy, fear, worry, need-to-learn-everything-on-the-flight, panic…I really don’t care to think about it. I can tell you we both wrote Tess letters on the plane. Despite the chaos, we were falling into parenthood and wanted to make sure she knew our thoughts before we ever met her.
- Some birth moms don’t want to meet the adoptive parents. Some birth moms want to know them intimately before labor. Some only want to meet the adoptive parents at the hospital, never to be seen again after. As choosing adoption is such a massive, emotional path, birth parents call the shots at this stage. As adoptive parents, you can make a request, but before you become a parent, the birth parents become parents in a slightly different way. In every case I know of, they love this child as much as the forever parents do. If I dare to put myself in their shoes, I would imagine birth parents feel they have this brief moment in which to impart all of the fierce love and longing they have to this tiny person they’ve been bonding with throughout the pregnancy. For some cases, the moment is a few minutes. Some birth moms prefer not to see or hold the baby, as the separation is too painful already. Some keep the baby with them in their hospital room until they’re ready to say goodbye. We’ll never really know what Kat and Spencer went through; we can’t relate to that kind of loss. The saddest part of adoption to me is that our joy comes from someone else’s pain. No matter how you look at it, adoption starts with loss. A lot is gained! But that kernel of separation is intrinsically built in to the process.
- I wish I could say we were cognizant of that; that we calmly waited to shoulder our parenthood. To be honest, this was the hardest wait in the entire process – and that’s saying something. Each state has their own laws about relinquishment (the transfer of custody from the birth parents to the adoptive family). As the birth parents say goodbye, they decide when they are ready to sign the paperwork and transfer custody. In some states, that can happen only 24 hours after the baby is born. Still, it’s the birth parents’ choice as to when they’re ready. For example, our custody transfer was at 1 week. After the adoptive parents take custody, many states have a revocation window during which the birth parents can change their mind. That can be 1 day to 3 months in some places, I think! Utah doesn’t have one, so again – I can’t share our experience.
- So when we became Tess’ parents, we got temporary custody with full parental rights. At that point, we are Tess’ parents, but the state still has final authority for six months. During that time, the homestudy caseworker comes back into play. They visit you at home, make sure the environment is appropriate, that the baby is getting appropriate care, and pretty much confirm that you’re good parents. You can’t leave the state, change homes, or have a new person move into your space without letting the caseworker know. Childcare has to be clarified and approved. Some states have specific rules at this point; you’d have to look them up. The birth parents CAN NOT revoke their relinquishment of parental rights at this point. The parenting arrangement is between the state and the adoptive parents. No one else is part of this. That’s where we are now.
- The caseworker visits the designated number of times and then sends a final homestudy report to the lawyer/agency, who presents it to the judge presiding over the adoption. The judge, unless a serious issue crops us, speaks with the parents and finalizes the adoption. At this point, the adoptive parents have all the rights of a biological parent. A new birth certificate is created with our names on it, and we get the finalized decree of adoption. That’s happening September 24!
I don’t know if this is too complex or messy or what, but I figures a walkthrough might help some readers understand why Adoption Day, when Kat and Spencer let us become Tess’ parents, was so emotional and meaningful. We’re looking forward to finalization, but the major transition happened in March in the NICU. This is a looooong post! I hope it makes the adoption process a little easier to follow. Eventually, we’ll be doing it all over again and you’ll know the lingo! I’m off for lunch with Frank, Carla and Joanie. Tess and I will be strolling around the neighborhood with friends in the sunshine. What medical lockdown? 🙂