Friday, July 29, 2016

Preparing Your Home for an Adoption Home Study

The home study process can be long and daunting. But by far what many hopeful adoptive parents stress about the most is the home visit. Welcoming a social worker into your home for several hours strikes fear in the hearts of most couples. The good news is it doesn't have to. As a social worker who's completed hundreds of home studies and a consultant who's coached just as many families from the other side, I can give you insight that might be helpful (and ease your nerves).

First, find a good home study provider

  • Find someone licensed by your state to complete your home study. They could work independently or for an adoption agency. (One important note, you'll need to know at this point if you are adopting domestically, through foster care, or internationally since each home study has different requirements.)
  • Feel free to call around to find the right home study provider. Ask the right questions. Find out if they service your area, if there are any trainings you need to complete, and how long it will take to finish the home study. Be sure to ask what their fees are for the home study, application, mileage, and post placement visits in the future.
  • Ultimately, go with your gut. Choose the social worker that feels like the best fit for your family, even over the most economically priced. This will be someone you invite into your home and who will get to know you well; you want to feel comfortable with them!

Preparing your home
  • The home visit is never a white glove test. Although you want your home to be neat and tidy, don't clean until your home is antiseptic and doesn't look lived in. Clean like you would for dinner guests.
  • Be prepared to give your social worker a brief house tour. This will simply be a quick walk through of all of the rooms, including your garage, basement, and yard. 
  • Your nursery doesn't have to be set up, but be prepared to show your social worker the space where baby will sleep.

Address safety issues in your home
  • Ensure all smoke detectors and working and have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. You might also need a fire extinguisher in your home (often under the kitchen sink and in the garage).
  • Secure any weapons in your home and make sure they are stored safety and out of a child's reach.
  • Be prepared to child proof your home. Although most agencies don't require this during your home study process, once you adopt you'll need to ensure that chemicals are stored safely, outlets are covered, and important emergency numbers are easy to access.
*Each state and agency has specific requirements that may vary slightly. Your social worker will inform you of anything additional that may need to be done to your home before the completion of your home study.

During your visit

  • Feel free to offer light refreshments like water, coffee or tea, and even a small snack.
  • If you have pets, ensure they won't interrupt the visit with barking or being too friendly (put them in another room if necessary). But note that your social worker will want to see them and ask how they are with children. 
  • Establish a warm and friendly environment, but remember to respect your social worker's time and don't be too chatty.

If you have children

  • Make sure they are a part of the process and let them know that a social worker is coming to meet your family and help you prepare for a little brother or sister. Empower them to give the social worker a tour of their room and give them permission to talk to the social worker and answer any questions they might have.
  • If your child is old enough, your social worker will probably ask them questions about how they feel about your family's adoption plans. They might also ask things like if they have any chores around the house, what they like to do as a family, etc.
  • If you have younger children, make sure you have a quiet activity set up for them to be engaged with during the visit. Don't worry if they interrupt or you need to take a break to care for them; your social worker would love to see your interaction with your children and is used to having kids around!

Throughout the home study process, and during your home visit, it's important to remember that your social worker is not looking for the "picture perfect" home or family. To be honest, if you present that you have it all together, your social worker will have concerns about how you will adjust adding a child into your home! Remember that the key is to be honest and open during the interview. Be yourself. Your social worker wants to get to know you both individually, as a couple, and as a family.

So take a deep breath. Do the prep work. And open the door confidently when your social worker rings the bell. It will be worth it and you'll be one step closer to bringing that little one home.

Want more information on the home study portion of your adoption journey? Click here.

Looking for the next step after your home study? Check out this adoption road map or contact me.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

For Birth Parents (a guide for your adoption)

My work in adoption has run the gamut. I've worked with adoptive families as a social worker completing their home study, as a consultant working with adoptive families around the US, and as a birth parent counselor. I've walked with mamas as they've bravely decided to make an adoption plan for their babies. I've met with them over coffee, attended doctor's appointments and sonograms, held their hand during labor, and cried with them in hospital rooms.

In my work as an adoption consultant now, most of my interaction and education is with adoptive families. But I thought today I would use this space for expectant and birth families. 

Making an adoption plan for your baby is a huge decision. And finding the right people to walk with you, an adoptive family to raise your child, and doing your best to make sure you and your baby are taken care of in the midst of your pregnancy (and long after) are critical to the process.

Here's a list of things to think about as you move forward on your adoption journey.

How to find a good agency or attorney
  • Get a few references. Instead of googling an agency or attorney, get a personal recommendation. Good places to call are pregnancy resource centers or hospital social workers. They work often with adoption agencies and attorneys and can point you to the best in your area.
  • Make sure they offer quality birth parent care and counseling. This is one of the biggest keys to a smooth adoption process. You want to find a birth parent counselor that has genuine care and compassion for you, allows you to work through your decision, and is willing to answer all of your questions. Typically agencies all have a birth parent counselor. If you decide to do a private adoption and work with only an attorney, make sure a birth parent counselor is still available to you. And most importantly, find one that will support you if you decide to parent your child and get you the support and resources you need for parenting. 
  • Look for how thorough they are with the adoption process. Adoption is complex and can be complicated. Make sure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities as a birth parent, are aware of the laws that govern adoption in your state, have a clear understanding of the birth father's rights, and feel educated about the adoption process and what to anticipate. 

How to find adoptive parents who are the right fit
  • Look for what's important to you. In making an adoption plan, you get to choose the family that will raise your baby. This means you get to look for a family that shares similar values and faith if you want. Or a family that values education, loves the outdoors, or has a love of animals. Are siblings important to you? Or maybe a family that isn't able to have children biologically? Or possibly a family who is already raising an adopted child or a child of the same race? These are all things you can consider when choosing the adoptive couple.
  • Go with your gut. So many women I've talked to felt a connection they couldn't put into words when they viewed their adoptive family's profile or met them for the first time. Don't look for a perfect family (since they don't exist); look for a family that is perfect for you. Look for a family that is sincere, transparent, and will love your baby unconditionally.
  • Consider your desires for openness. Are you looking for a closed, semi-open, or open adoption in ongoing relationship with your child and their adoptive family? In light of the relationship you desire, does geography matter to you? Make sure you find an adoptive family who desires the same kind of relationship moving forward and will honor your desires for ongoing contact. You can learn much more about the kinds of opennessmyths of open adoption, and tips for healthy open adoption on these links.

How to create a birth plan for the hospital
  • What is a birth plan? An adoption hospital plan communicates to your doctor, the hospital staff, adoption professionals, and adoptive family your desires for your stay in the hospital. It reviews labor, delivery, and the several days post-partum in regards to your wishes for you and your baby. 
  • Include all important aspects of your hospital stay. Creating a hospital plan during your last trimester will help you make important decisions like who you want in the delivery room with you, if you want to hold and care for the baby, and how involved you want the adoptive family during this time. Having a thorough birth plan can help you navigate the intense days of your hospital stay, communicate your desires to others, and give your heart what you need as you prepare for placing your baby with another family.
  • Remember that you're in charge of your birth plan. Your hospital plan can help you feel empowered and give you what you need during your days in the hospital. Feel free to change or update your plan as your desires can change; the best hospital plan is flexible to meet your needs. You can learn more about birth plans here and see a sample birth plan to use as well. 

How to take care of yourself after your baby's birth
  • Take advantage of counseling as long as you need to.  I know a lot of women struggle to continue talking to their birth parent counselor or to reach out after their baby has been placed. In some ways you might be eager to be done with the pregnancy and move on with your life. But in some significant ways there's still much to process. Every good adoption agency and attorney has ongoing birth parent services available long after you leave the hospital. Don't hesitate to reach out for someone to talk to or even for professional counseling.
  • Enlist the support system around you. Be sure to share honestly with trusted friends and family how you're doing. Surround yourself with people who are understanding when you have hard days and encourage your healing. Take the time to bring those people into your story and entrust them with how you're doing so they can offer their support.
  • Attend birth parent support groups. Ask your agency, attorney, and even your hospital if there are local support groups in your area. Often these groups meet monthly and are full of other women who have recently placed their babies and even women who have children who are older who have been adopted. This can be a rich space to be able to share with women who understand much of what you've been through. If you can't find a group locally, or would prefer to create a community online instead, some of my favorites are Birth Mom Buds and Brave Love.
  • Give yourself space and grace to heal. Adoption is bittersweet and full of some of the best and worst experiences of your life. Making the incredible brave and selfless decision to make an adoption plan and deciding that is best for your child will undoubtedly be one of the hardest things you will ever walk through. Anticipate grief and allow yourself time to experience all of the emotions that will come with placing your baby through adoption.

As you walk the hard and beautiful road of adoption, you decide to make some incredibly selfless choices. In the midst of it, don't forget to surround yourself with those who will also care for you. Choose adoption professionals, an adoptive family, and family and friends who will offer the support and encouragement you need to make the best plan for you and your baby moving forward. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

High Tea (and other ways I date my daughter)

I've been thinking about ways to be more purposeful in my conversations with Isabelle. I know in a blink I'll be dropping her off at college and wondering if I had enough time to tell her everything I want her to know deep down in her soul. I often find myself catching my breath looking at her and realizing she looks less and less like a little girl every day.

I have so much to tell her; so much I'm still learning myself. What it means to be a woman. What true beauty is. Where real value is found. How to live out of an identity as God's daughter. In a world fighting against all of this, I want her to hear from me, clearly and often, that her character is more important than her curves. 

So over the past year Isabelle and I have gone out on special mommy/daughter dates. They've been different than the typical running out to go shopping or heading to Starbucks together to grab our favorite drink and play cards. I plan and prepare and pray for our time together.

We've had high tea at the Intercontinental and talked about where our value comes from. We giggled over petit fours and talked about identity and I might have cried a little. We've gone for facials and a skincare tutorial at a beauty counter to talk about the world's false image vs. true beauty. Isabelle picked out her first lipgloss (mama had to steer her to the neutrals) and talked about our quirks celebrated our uniqueness. We've had our nails done at the spa and discussed self-care and healthy body image.

I've used this book as a guide. Although some of it hasn't been a great fit for us (even Isabelle rolls her eyes at some of it), it's been a fantastic foundation that I can use to get good beginning ideas to fit our relationship and the conversations I want to have. Isabelle and I have even gone to a Secret Keeper Girl event when they were in town and loved it.

Isabelle is 10. Conversations revolve now around how to be a good friend, modesty, and Harry Potter. I'm praying this paves the way in the next few years for the harder conversations about injustice and boys and purity. The topics might change but at the heart of it the message won't. I pray God will give me wisdom to always talk about what it looks like to love Jesus and those around her.

I want her to be brave and kind. I want her to love Jesus fiercely and love others relentlessly. I want her to have the courage to be exactly who God made her. To be confident in her own skin and freckles and lanky frame. And to model that same confidence when wrinkles start to appear and her body carries more curves from babies.

As a mama, these kinds of conversations come up all the time. While we watch TV, driving in the car, and talking about our day. But I decided I wanted to be purposeful and plan out specific times that Isabelle would remember. Connecting them to special times we spend together; laughing over cheesecake or at the beauty counter, my prayer is that God would use these times for the truth to go down deep into her bones.  I'm praying she remembers just a little of what we talk as she braves the world these next few years as a young girl.

I want Bella to know if her identify is found in Him, nothing can shake her.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What If We Never Get Chosen (every hopeful adoptive parents' fear)

It's one of the biggest fears of every adoptive couple I've met. The nagging thought that maybe you'll never be chosen by expectant parents. 

In the beginning, the adoption process is a lot of work. Stacks of paperwork, home visits and doctors appointments for the home study keep a couple busy. And when that is finished creating a profile and applying to agencies and grants keep you occupied.

But then you wait.

The home study is complete. The profile is printed. The grant money is waiting. And the nursery is empty.

For an adoptive family, this process can be agonizing. And for couple who have gone through the pain of infertility, it can feel eerily similar to waiting for a positive pregnancy test. It's easy to let doubts creep in, feel hope fade, and become discouraged.

So how do you get through this time and push through the fear that you'll never be chosen? Here's a few tips to help during the wait.

Don't believe the myth of the perfect family

It's easy to think if you haven't been chosen that there's something "wrong" with you. There are still age-old ideas that every expectant parent is looking for a specific "type" of family, but it's simply not true. As unique as each birth mother is, her idea of the "perfect adoptive family" is just as unique. I don't believe in the idea of a perfect adoptive family. But I've seen over and over again God make a match that is perfect for a birth and adoptive family.

Manage your expectations

Every adoptive family has a different story. When you know other's stories, it's easy to write yourself into them and assume yours might be similar. I've had families match the first time they presented, and the 20th. There are couples who have needed to hop a flight within an hour of finding out they were becoming parents and others who have waited months. And each one looking back would say that it worked out perfectly in the end since their son or daughter came to them that way. Unlike pregnancy, adoption doesn't have a due date. You won't know how or when your story will unfold. Being able to be flexible and finding peace and joy in the midst of the unknown will keep you sane. 

Take the opportunity to plan and pray

Use this time of waiting for a little one to join your family to the fullest. Complete a house project, decorate the nursery, or go on a vacation. I have a lot of families who choose to go on a "babymoon" and enjoy some of their last days baby-free. And this time can be an incredible opportunity to pray in a unique way, not just for your future baby and her birth family, but for all of the expectant families you hear about. As you read different situations and expectant mother's stories, you have a beautiful chance to pray specifically for her and her baby like few others do.

Try something new

Rethinking your game plan might be a good idea. Are your preferences too narrow? Have you hired an adoption consultant to walk with you and expand your ability to apply to more agencies and see more situations? Would it help to update your profile or have an adoption professional review it? Sometimes taking a step back, reevaluating your plans, and changing your path a bit might help jump start things.

Give yourself grace

Adoption is a unique experience to go through and it's important to give yourself space to experience all of the emotions that come with it. Remember basic things like eating right and getting enough exercise can do wonders for your stress levels. Find a solid support system and learn from other adoptive families a little farther along in the journey. And remember to extend extra grace to your spouse as well since the adoption process can be especially stressful on a marriage.  

Trust God with the process

Ultimately, the same God that called you to this process will be faithful to you. Remember that often God is working, even when we can see it. Cling to God's truth, his promises, and his ability to be enough for you. 

God writes the best stories. His plans are perfect. And he is never slow in keeping his promises.

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