Wednesday, November 25, 2015

adoption story: doug and elizabeth

Doug and Elizabeth have already been touched by adoption. They adopted their daughter with the help of Christian Adoption Consultants in 2012. When Elizabeth initially reached out to me, she was interested in my Adoption Lactation Counseling Services to prepare for a second adoption in hopes to bond in a special way and give the baby the best start at life.

I've never seen a woman more committed to breastfeeding an adopted baby than Elizabeth. I gave her all the resources to get started and was her constant cheerleader and advisor, but Elizabeth's dedication, perseverance, and fervor to prepare to nurse the little one they were praying for was unmatched.

While Elizabeth was continuing to prepare for a baby, diligently building her milk supply, they decided it was time to work with me as their adoption consultant as well.

Doug and Elizabeth share a strong faith, and knew God had called them to adopt a second time. What they didn't know this time around was that it wouldn't be as easy. They began with CAC in May in hopes that they would be matched quickly. That summer they went through two failed adoptions that left them heartbroken and wondering what God was doing. 

Elizabeth and I had long talks through those months of waiting. With inducing lactation, often timing is important and two failed adoptions added to the pain and confusion at what God must be doing.

And through it all. All of the waiting, all of the working, all of the preparing, God had been working and preparing as well.

On a Saturday morning they received a call about a little boy born just hours earlier. It took Doug and Elizabeth seconds to know he was theirs and just 30 minutes to pack and be out the door to meet their son. Several hours later they walked into the same hospital that several years earlier they had walked into to meet their daughter. This time, they met their son.

It's amazing how God can change the story overnight. What had been months of waiting and frustration and heartbreak had turned into answers and understanding and celebration. What began as another Saturday morning as a family of six ended as a Saturday evening as a family of seven. A son and a little brother was added to the family.

Elizabeth and her son have a strong nursing relationship. He's now two months old and still exclusively breastfed which has led to an incredible bond they share as mother and son.

And as she looks down at her beautiful baby, she remembers the hard spaces they walked through waiting for him to be theirs. The days spent praying. The hours spent preparing. Even the tears spent longing. 

And she knows it was worth it.

Photography by Four Wishes Photography

Monday, November 23, 2015

adoption story: daniel and taylor

I remember when Taylor contacted me earlier this year (just before Valentine's Day). She had found out about Christian Adoption Consultant's profile services through Pinterest and they were just finishing up their home study. She was eager to find some help with their profile but didn't know much about what consulting could offer.

After a conference call with Taylor and Daniel, they decided to move forward not just with our profile services but also with consulting, calling it a Valentine's Day gift to each other. It turns out that was the beginning of a love story...

Five months later, an expectant mother looked at their profile, the story of their family, and chose them to parent the daughter she was carrying. 

"Everything happened much quicker and much differently than we had expected. We can definitely see how the Lord has his hand in all of it..." What started as a call for help to create a profile ended with another beautiful daughter to add to their family. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

repost: 6 tips for a healthy open adoption

In honor of National Adoption Month this November, I'll be reposting some of my most popular blogs on adoption. This week we're focusing on open adoption...

The term open adoption can strike fear in the heart of every adoptive family. But it doesn't need to. Much of our ideas of openness tend to come from stories in the news the media has sensationalized, Lifetime movies, or our own assumptions and misconceptions.

An open adoption describes the kind of relationship an adoptive family shares with the birth family of their child. This can mean anything from shared pictures and updates via the adoption agency or a non-identifying email to yearly visits or even sharing holidays and birthdays together. Each family's open adoption is unique to their circumstance and story.

The good news is, if openness in adoption is approached with thoughtful consideration and care, it can be an amazing gift to everyone involved (and your family won't end up in the news).

Here are some things to consider when thinking about open adoption:

Establish your comfort level
Decide what you feel comfortable with early on in the process. What do you want your relationship with your child's birth family to look like? How often do you want contact? What kind of contact do you want?  How will you explain this relationship to your child, your friends, your family? Very often a family's initial thoughts about openness grow and evolve as they educate themselves about open adoption. One important note to make at the very beginning: decide early that you will never give money directly to the birth family. Not only can this be illegal and possibly jeopardize your adoption, but can lead to destructive relationship patterns. 

Create a plan
Things always go better when everyone is on the same page and there are clear expectations. Don't ever step into a match where you are unsure if you can honor the kind of openness and relationship the birth family is requesting. Talk early on with the birth family about what kind of relationship they would like with you and the child; specifically what this will look like during pregnancy, for the first year of life, and throughout childhood. 

Allow for organic relationship
The best relationships grow naturally and over time.  Remember it's easier to continue to open the door slowly than to have to slam it shut. So beginning a relationship gradually and building trust will create a foundation to a healthy and solid relationship. Most often, agreeing to periodic emails and updates can evolve into texting and meeting if you get to know each other and build trust slowly.

Facilitate open communication
Communication is key to any healthy relationship. Ongoing discussion about how the relationship is going and working (or not working) is critical to ensuring that it's working not just for the adults involved, but also the child. Being honest and upfront about issues will create an environment where you can work together to create a relationship that benefits everyone.

Set clear boundaries
Following the above steps and sticking to them will create clear boundaries for the kind of relationship you and the birth family are hoping for. If agreed upon terms aren't being met (the texts are becoming too much, money is requested, etc.), it's ok to remind them of the plan and even to pull back from the relationship for a season if needed.
*It's also crucial to note here that having an open adoption isn't necessarily about how healthy the birth family is. Of course safety is of paramount concern, but during a visit the birth family typically will not be caring for your child without you there. For most families, a visit would be at a park or a restaurant for a few hours with the child, the adoptive family, and the birth family. Most of the time, even a birth parent who is in an unhealthy space in their life and making poor choices can still have a very positive and healthy interaction with the child for a limited time.

Be flexible
Relationships and people change. As they do, it's important to hold onto things loosely. You might be surprised after meeting and getting to know a birth mother that she becomes as close as a sister to you. Or you might find that the birth father is going though a tough spot and firmer boundaries are necessary. As things change, be willing to change your plans in the best interests of everyone involved; particularly the child. And just like our other relationships with friends and family, things will occasionally ebb and flow in terms of closeness and frequency. You can count on this to be the case with your birth family as well.

I wish I could say that in the end if you follow these six steps, you will have a perfect open adoption relationship. But relationships are complex. Real relationships, those that are the most valuable, are hard work. But ultimately, these are the relationships worth fighting for.

For further reading on the topic of birth families and open adoption, check out these helpful posts:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

adoption story: stacey and megan

Stacey and Megan had already experienced the beauty of adoption with their son, Jake. And when they started with Christian Adoption Consultants, their home study was complete and they were ready to begin the journey again. It was less than four months later that they were matched with an expectant mother. And just five days after that when their son was born.

Megan recently sent me an update on their family and I loved hearing how Cole has brought so much joy to their family...

It has been a wonderful whirlwind since Cole's arrival seven months ago... We are just so in love with him, and grateful every day for God's mercy and kindness in giving us Cole! He is the sweetest, happiest little guy and just started crawling this week. He has the greatest laugh and seems to have the best sense of humor! Jake is the best big brother and literally covers him with smooches every single day. We are amazed at this beautiful completion of our family after so much loss and heartache... I would truly walk through it all again to get to Jake and Cole.

Thank you so much for your support and presence through it all. We are still in awe of how smooth and healing and life-giving the entire experience was after over 11 years of so many heart-ripping losses. We feel as though the experience we had adopting Cole reached back into those old wounds and kissed them and healed them. We are so grateful!

I want everyone to know that our experience with you and Christian Adoption Consultants was truly transformative to our hearts in terms of providing such a peaceful, joyful, and fast adoption experience. After over 11 years of pursuing having a child through infertility or failed adoptions, we found our experience with you all to bring such goodness in a place where we had experienced so much loss and pain! I would want to encourage people to not hesitate to use you all, and to continue to hope even when it feels foolish to hope... We truly experienced God's goodness and mercy and healing through the gift of Cole.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

repost: open adoption 1.0

In honor of National Adoption Month this November, I'll be reposting some of my most popular blogs on adoption. This week we'll focus on open adoption...

Those two words are enough to strike the fear of God in people: "open adoption." No matter who you are, I've found that nearly everyone immediately goes to the most recent Lifetime movie of the "big bad birth mother" who shows up on the doorstep of the adoptive family with a golf club demanding her baby back. Or the crazed tabloid story of the father that took the baby to the forests of Djibouti and never returned.

I've had this discussion with dozens and dozens of adoptive parents. And other mothers. And friends. And strangers who find out what I do. Because everyone wants to know what it really looks like and if it really works.

So let me just talk to you about open adoption like I would with one of my adoptive families. We're in your living room and you've brewed me some Starbucks to win me over. Done.

I would say this: "Get over it." (OK - I don't really say that.) But this is something like what we would chat about...

Years ago almost all adoptions were closed.  A young woman got "pregnant out of wedlock" and went to "visit Aunt Jean in Oklahoma" for several months. She would deliver, most likely not be given a chance to even meet her baby, and return never to speak of the life-changing event again. Then a sweet young couple dealing silently with infertility would be notified that a baby who matched their skin tone and hair and eye color was ready and waiting for them. Only close friends and family knew the baby was adopted and they would never speak of it again either. Until that sweet baby got to be an adult and they discovered the truth: "Happy 18th Birthday! Here's your original birth certificate - you were adopted [insert super awkward pause here]..."

OK - the story didn't always work out that way. But more often than not, this was a typical plot line. And you've heard it because many of these people ended up on Oprah or Regis and Kelly with tearful and dramatic reunions.

Today we know better. We know that closed adoption is usually not the best for anyone in the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee). For the birth parents, openness offers incredible closure and solidifies their choice for adoption. For the adoptive family, they have important information (social and medical) that make up a huge piece of their child. And for the adoptee, they've heard first-hand from the source the reasons their birth parents made an adoption plan. The child also has more of a sense of identity (I got my brown eyes from my birth mom and my love for music from my birth father's dad) which is invaluable for their sense of worth.

This is Asher with his adoptive parents Carter and Courtney and his birth mama, Sarah.

Many people think openness will lead to second thoughts, confusion, and Lifetime movie drama on their own doorstep. Instead, it leads to honesty, insight, closure, and genuine relationships.

Openness is a continuum. For as many different families who have adopted there are just as many variations to openness.

  • Open adoption is typically when the birth parents and adoptive parents have open communication after the adoption of the child.  First and last names including contact information are shared openly between adoptive and birth parents. An ongoing relationship is developed.
  • Semi-open adoption allows the adoptive parent's contact information to remain completely confidential, but allows a meeting between the birth and adoptive parents prior to or at birth. A semi-open adoption also often involves emails or letters and pictures sent periodically throughout your child's life. 
  • Closed adoption is when the birth parents and adoptive couple typically remain completely anonymous.  Only a social and medical history is shared concerning the birth parents. They do not meet or even know first names. 

Here's the concerns and questions I'm asked almost every time I get into a conversation about open adoption:

We don't want to confuse our child.  We want them to know we are their parents.
Usually we're the ones that make things confusing. If the birth and adoptive families are clear about their roles and aren't rivals, the child won't be confused. Just like some of us know and have unique relationships with two sets of grandparents, it doesn't mean we don't understand the important and often different relationship we have with each of them. Ignoring or undermining the significance of a child's birth parents can undermine the child's identity.
We don't want the birth parents to change their mind.  What if they see us and have second thoughts?
Open adoption actually solidifies a birth parent's choice for adoption.Rather than wondering "did I make the right choice? Are the adoptive parents really who they said they were? Do they love him as much as I do?" - the birth parents actually get to SEE their child being loved like crazy and know they made the right decision.   
What if the birth parents are intrusive or don't approve of our parenting style?
The birth parents have chosen the adoptive family to raise their child. Usually, they have received excellent counsel and fully understand the adoption process.Birth parents recognize that they are not in a season to parent and are giving up the ability to parent their child in the traditional sense of the word. After consent is signed and the adoption is finalized, it's understood that the adoptive family is the legal parents in every sense of the word.
So what does openness look like, really?
I've seen families walk this out literally hundreds of ways. I know a family who has set up a private blog and they update their birth parents (and the birth grandmas!) with picture and video updates. Another family sends pictures monthly to add to a scrapbook they made for the birth mom. Many families text updates and pictures. Most families send picture and letters through email. Some celebrate holidays together. I know one couple even who babysit for their now 3 year old daughter! 
Here's the crazy thing: these same fears that adoptive families have are the exact same fears birth families have. I've sat in numerous coffee shops with mamas saying they want to be sure not to overstep boundaries and want their child to know they've chosen an adoptive family to be parents. Big bad birth mama complex?  Right out the window.

You see, these are women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. They are the antithesis of selfish women who only want what's best for themselves. In an open adoption, they have hand-picked a family to raise their sweet baby. Birth parents aren't baby-snatchers. Because of their immense love for their baby they have chosen adoption. Is it hard? Yes. Do they waver and second-guess? Almost always.  But they are the heroes that deserve more than our questioning raised eye-brows. They have chosen LIFE when the world tells them otherwise. They deserve our awe, respect, and honor.

Below is an amazing video of some open adoption stories from The Adoption Center of San Diego. I give this video to many adoptive and birth parents when discussing openness.

Really, openness happens best when it's organic. I didn't sit down with my best friend at a coffee shop the first time I met her and chart out our friendship: OK, I need email updates from you every three months, pictures of your family every 6, and these are my plans for celebrating your birthday... Real relationship  is a gradual and slow process. I can't tell you how many families I've worked with who were scared to death at first at the thought of an open adoption, and then met the birth mama and fell in love with her. I've had many families who feel like they've also adopted the birth family and all become like extended family.  

My only caution is this: it's much easier to slowly open the door than to need to slam it shut. Openness happens in a healthier way like other relationships: gradually and slowly.  

I was reading my twitter feed awhile ago and came across this: "I woke up this morning and heard my son's mother reading scripture to him." I immediately had tears in my eyes. It was Mother's Day and one of my sweet birth mamas had traveled across the country (as she has several times now) to visit her son and his adoptive parents. And she was celebrating her first Mother's Day with the mother she had chosen for her son. They are like family now. I can't think of a more beautiful picture of open adoption.

Here's the bottom line: is open adoption hard? YES. But what relationship that is truly valuable isn't. My only "easy" relationships are with the barista and the grocer. Hard, messy, genuine, and worthwhile relationships usually happen in my living room.  

Want more adoption [mini] tutorials? Click here for more resources!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

repost: positive adoption language

In honor of National Adoption Month this November, I'll be reposting some of my most popular blogs on adoption. 

The language we use says a lot about our thoughts and values. Using positive adoption language communicates that adoption is as much a way to build a family as birth is. Both are equally important and valuable.

Sometimes we don't even realize we're using language that detracts from the value of adoption. But within one week of a birth an adoptive mom can tell you dozens of times she's already been offended: Is that your real baby? Which of your children are your own?  

And the birth mother? She has stories too where she inwardly rolls her eyes or cries after the comments and questions she gets. Why don't you want your baby?  Why are you giving them up?

The truth is, birth parents make an adoption plan. They are not "giving up" their baby. In fact, the opposite it true. They are making a thoughtful, self-less decision to choose parents for their baby since they are not in a season in their lives to parent themselves.

The term "put up for adoption" is actually from the orphan train era. During a period in America's history from 1854 to 1929 there was an estimated 200,000 children who were orphaned, abandoned, or abused and neglected. These children, many from New York, were placed on trains and sent to homes throughout the country. They were "put up" on platforms for families needing able-bodied children to work on their farms, etc. This is noted as America's first attempt at a foster care system. You can see why the term "put up for adoption" has negative connotations, to say the least.

By using the following positive adoption language*, you'll reflect the true nature of adoption; one that honors the child, the birth parents, and the adoptive family.

Terms to AvoidPositive Adoption Language
Real/natural parentsBirth parents: expectant mother, birthmother, birth father
Children of your ownBiological children
Adopted child/own childMy child
Adopted childChild
Was adoptedIs adopted
IllegitimateBorn to unmarried parents
Give up or put up for adoptionPlace for adoption, made an adoption plan
Adopt outAdoption
Keep the childChose to parent
Mixed raceBi-racial
Bi-racial familyTrans-racial family
Foreign adoptionInternational adoption
Hard to place/available childrenAdoptable/waiting children
HandicappedDisabled/special needs

*Adapted from my work with Hannah's Dream Adoptions

Want more adoption [mini] tutorials? Click here for more resources!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

shift the wind

God often uses my runs to talk to me.

(This is the part where I insert a huge disclaimer. I'm not really a runner and when I say my "runs," I'm really referencing my short 5K runs a few mornings a week.)

But, this is often the space where God talks to me and teaches me. Especially on topics of endurance and perseverance and staying the course.

I was challenged this week to use my runs to pray specifically about something in my life. To pray specifically for God to move in miraculous and crazy ways. Monday I have to admit my run felt especially exhausting as I prayed. My perseverance just wasn't there. With every step my energy seemed to wane. My prayers were scattered and seemed ineffective.

I set out this morning to beat what looked like a storm brewing. It was cloudy and windy and out of habit, I turned on my podcast. About half a mile in I was reminded that I was committing this time to pray specifically. So I turned it off, took out my ear buds, and started praying. Praying and running. 

Today was different. My prayers were clear and bold. Audacious even. Most of the time my prayers are filled with thankfulness for who God is, requests for him to be near and give wisdom and help. But this morning I was making bold declarations, claiming promises, and asking for Him to move mountains.

Then I started nearing a part of my run where I'm usually exhausted and can't run the rest of the way home. Since I broke my foot last year, I've struggled with endurance and haven't gotten back to where I was. So I said a simple prayer that God would give the the energy to keep going. And He did. 

My prayers continued and so did my run. But near the end my strength was fading. Then, I felt the wind pick up and blow against me. I was now running up hill and against the wind. The last thing I needed in that moment was more resistance. More pressure to quit. More reason to give in. In the middle of my talk with God, I said a quick prayer:

"God, can you shift the wind?"

That was it. A brief addition to my conversation with God. I even laughed a bit at myself at such a silly and small prayer. Come on, Susan, he's not going to shift the wind for your run.

But then He did.

The wind actually changed directions within seconds.  A full180 degrees. Where I had been feeling the wind as resistance against me, it was now behind me and pushing me to move forward. At that point I was off the trails, heading back into our neighborhood and taking the winding way through back to our house. And the entire way, somehow even when I changed directions, the wind was at my back, propelling me. 

I didn't know before my run how much I needed that sweet reminder from God today. Amidst big and bold prayers, I can also ask for his sustaining grace to continue to push and propel me forward. In those moments I would rather give up (or even just start walking rather than running toward my goal), I can ask for more of him. The grace to go on. The endurance to continue. And help from him to carry on. 

Sometimes, he answers our prayers to literally shift the wind.

Today I ran all the way home.

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