Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Adoption Story: Chris and Jamie (part 2)

You met Chris and Jamie when they adopted their first son, Jack. When they connected with me about their second adoption, I was more than thrilled to work with them again. The email was titled, "Round 2!" and it was such a joy to see God bring their daughter to them...

Gratitude is what keeps coming in my thoughts as I sit here writing our story of how God has blessed us with two beautiful children through the gift of adoption. His provision, love, and plan for our lives is so much better then we are able to understand. When we got married 7 years ago, adoption wouldn’t have been our first path on how we would grow our family and have children, but we are so grateful that God had a different plan for us. Grateful that two precious women selflessly and lovingly placed their children in our arms and made us parents. Most importantly, grateful that we are able to share with these two precious children the love of Christ and how he adopted us into his forever family! 

We adopted our son Jack in October of 2013 through CAC and knew that we hoped to adopt again when he was a little older. When Jack turned 2 we prayed about starting the process again and both felt a peace about updating our home study and “officially” begin the rollercoaster that adoption is. Although this time around it was different, we were already parents and that took the pressure off of waiting to get matched with a birth mom. On May 19th (Jamie’s birthday), 3 months after our home study and applications to agencies were completed we were “ officially matched” with a beautiful mom who chose us to be her baby girl’s parents. It was the best birthday present Jamie has ever gotten! 


We were blessed to be able to visit our birthmom and attend an ultrasound with her 6 weeks before she was due. It was such a special visit and we will forever cherish the moments we are able to spend sharing our life stories and sharing our hopes and dreams for our children. We both agreed that there is no question to why our lives have come together at this exact moment. We are both so thankful for what each of us are giving the other. She is giving us the greatest gift, a daughter! We are giving her the peace of knowing that her daughter will be loved, nurtured, and will always know how much her first mom loved her! 

Stella is here now, and she is beyond precious!  We are so thankful that God has entrusted us another beautiful life to love. 


Friday, August 26, 2016

Silence on the Other Side

This week we've talked about openness in adoption including navigating openness in the relationship and making promises in adoption. Today we'll continue exploring some of the complex issues that can be a part of an open adoption.

When an adoptive family begins their journey, one of the things they struggle with is what kind of openness relationship they want to share with a birth family. And very often, after researching open adoption and hearing from other adoptive families and adoptees, they surprise themselves and decide they want a more open relationship with the birth family than they had originally anticipated. They look forward to building a relationship with their child’s birth family, sharing updates, and know the value it will prove for their child down the road.

But what happens when an adoptive family desires openness and their adoption turns out to be much more closed than they anticipated?

This can happen a number of different ways. Since the beginning you envisioned meeting the expectant mother at match and she doesn’t want to meet until the birth of the baby. Maybe you anticipated giving her a heartfelt gift personally at the hospital and she decided she no longer wanted to meet. But most often this plays out with the birth family only sporadically answering your updates, struggling to find a time to meet, or even not hearing from them at all.

So what happens when you’ve agreed to an open relationship but you hear nothing from the birth family? Do you stop reaching out because you have no idea what’s happening on the other end?

It’s easy to make assumptions when you send updates but rarely or never hear back.
Don’t assume your updates are not being read (or never will be). It can be common for birth parents not to respond to every update or take a step back for a season and not access them.
Don’t assume your reaching out isn’t appreciated or valued. It would be ideal if you heard a response every time to sent an update. But just because you didn’t hear back, it doesn’t mean that the birth family isn’t cherishing the updates and pictures. 
Don't assume your updates are causing pain. Although receiving news about their child can be hard, it's also an amazing opportunity to offer reassurance that they are incredibly loved and doing well. 
Don’t assume your relationship will always look like this. Every person goes through seasons in their life, as well as every relationship. Relationships can grow over time, especially as people mature and are able to work through their grief and loss in their own time.
My advice: always always always continue at least the communication you offered at the beginning, even when you don't hear back.

A few tips:
It’s always good to establish more than one way the birth family can reach you (and vice versa if possible). That way, if one is lost or unable to be accessed, there’s always a back up.
Try to establish one form of communication that a birth family can access on their own time frame (such as a private Instagram account set up just for your adoption). This allows them to see pictures and updates on their own terms. If they're having a rough day, they can put it aside. But if they are eager to see how their little one is doing, they can pore over pictures as much as they want.
Be sure to include pictures of the whole family. Adoptive parents often wonder if they should only include pictures of the child. Adding pictures with parent and siblings gives a fuller picture of your family and how loved and cherished the child is. A good rule of thumb is about 70/30 (70% pictures of the child alone and 30% with family members or friends).
Occasionally ask if the openness relationship is still working. Feel free to ask if the mode of communication is still working and if they would like more or less communication. Be sensitive to their needs while also balancing healthy boundaries for everyone involved. Remember that healthy openness is a two-way street where mutuality is encouraged.

One of the most powerful examples of keeping up updates is a scene from the documentary, Closure(Find it on Netflix, it's so worth the watch.) It’s the story of Angela, an adoptee, and follows her search for her birth family. After finding her family, one scene shows Angela, her adoptive mother, and her birth mother going back to the adoption agency to look at the updates her mother sent to the agency faithfully every year. The treasures that had been kept for over two decades were wept over by all three. As they read letters and looked at school pictures through the years, it was powerful to see how meaningful those updates were to not just to Angela's birth mother, but to Angela. Her mother worked diligently to honor her life and her birth mother's brave decision for adoption in an ongoing, tangible way and never once heard back.

So those updates you faithfully send after you pray over what words and pictures to share? Keep sending them. It's always hard for the adoptive family to see the value of those updates when you don't know if they are being read. But hold onto hope that they are (or will be someday) and know that the love you pour into every single one will not be wasted. God can do something powerful in our own hearts as you pause to do the important work of remembering a birth family's important role in your own.

For more information on open adoption, click these helpful links:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Making Promises in Adoption

Today is the second in our series exploring some of the hard questions in open adoption. Earlier this week we chatted about how to navigate openness, specifically when the birth family is in an unhealthy space in their life. We also noted that studies are now showing tremendous benefits for the entire adoption triad (the birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee) when an open relationship shared in adoption.

In light of this, it’s important to identify what kind of openness you feel like you can offer in an adoption relationship near the beginning of your adoption journey. I say “offer” as opposed to “agree to” since in many states, openness agreements are not legally binding. And moving forward, thinking of your openness more as a relationship you share rather than a contract to hold to will cultivate a more organic and genuine relationship. 

It’s critical that the openness you agreed to doesn’t change based on geography, time availability, or health of the birth family. Of course this is all within reason. Did you used to live in the same town and have now moved across the country? Figure out a way that works for both of you to still connect (over Skype or visits less often). Is having a newborn keeping you busier that you thought it would so the monthly photos you promised to send are harder to make space for? Work to continue to make it a priority. And of course if something might impact the physical or emotional safety of your child, do what you need to to create healthy boundaries and contact an adoption professional who can help you work through it with the birth family.

When you step into adoption, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re stepping into an ongoing life-long relationship not just with your adopted child, but with their extended family as well. Of course what this looks like varies greatly, but it’s no less a reality. Many people wouldn’t think of not ensuring there are times for visits, phone calls, or updates with some of their extended family. Setting it in this framework will be helpful as you prioritize your time and resources.

Understandably, many adoptive parents think of openness from their perspective. In the beginning when you are looking to match with an expectant mother, that woman holds he power of decision-making: who she chooses as an adoptive family and what kind of openness she wants to share. It can be unnerving and anxiety-producing for the adoptive couple.

But think of openness through the perspective of a birth mother. Once her nine months are over carrying her child and she hands that baby to a couple to raise, she no longer holds any of the power. She not only has to trust a couple who are often strangers to care for her baby, but also to keep in touch with her so she can be assured she made the right choice and know how her child is doing through the years. There is an incredible power differential when a birth mother is asked to trust an adoptive family to raise her child but that same family won’t trust her to share simple updates or visits.

A healthy relationship is one where both parties share power mutually. They can work together to create a plan to ensure their child is personally aware of all of the parents in their life that love them and want what’s best for them. Of course the adoptive couple act solely as mom and dad and make all of the parenting decisions for their child. But making decisions with your child’s birth mother about openness actually gives her power as her important role as a birth mother. Sharing pictures of her first hair cut, a video of him crawling for the first time, and inviting her out to dinner empowers her as a mother and reminds her of the value she has in your family.

The bottom line: never over-promise in adoption. Making promises with caveats only leads to hurt, disappointment, and broken promises for all sides. Keeping the promises you made builds trust, communicates value, and shares the honor you have for your child’s birth family.

For more information on open adoption, click these helpful links:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Navigating Openness

Openness in adoption is something many adoptive parents worry about. After learning the basics of open adoption and that there are many myths out there that simply aren’t true, couples still need to figure out how to navigate an open relationship with their child’s birth family. (Note that I will often make reference to birth mothers here but you can easily insert birth family or birth father as well since birth fathers also share an important  role in the adoption triad.)

There are now long-term studies showing the benefits of sharing an open relationship for everyone in the adoption triad: the adoptee, the birth family, and the adoptive parents. But often how the openness is handled is more important than if openness is a part of the adoption triad at all.

Today starts a three-part series on the blog talking about openness in adoption. Particularly, some of the messy, hard parts of openness like making promises in adoption and what to do when there's silence on the other side. But what about when the birth family is in a hard spot in their lives and you're not sure if you should allow openness when they are unhealthy? We'll tackle that common concern today.

I often hear this statement made by adoptive parents: We will agree to an open relationship, but only if the birth mother is in a healthy space in her life. On the surface, this seems like a completely reasonable and even wise position for parents to take. Admittedly I used to hold this same belief. But then I realized this caveat fails to take the value of openness in adoption and more importantly the value of people (particularly the birth family and adoptee) into consideration.

Think of it this way: I have a completely different standard for someone who will be my nanny vs. an extended family member that we only see occasionally at family gatherings. For a person who will care for my children, I will obtain references, background checks, and complete several interviews. But a family member who maybe struggles with a drinking problem or is dating someone I’m not a fan of? I’ll still go to the family gathering, but I’ll be sure my child is always safe. My child would never be out of my care and I would put boundaries in place if needed to steer clear of unhealthy conversations, etc.

It’s the same with an open adoption relationship. In my years of adoption experience with both adoptive and birth families, I’ve actually never known a birth mother to ever show up to a visit drunk, make inappropriate comments to the child, or request to “take the child back” (even though this is not a possibility when a legal adoption has been finalized). In fact, I’ve seen the exact opposite unfold. Even if they are in an unhealthy season of their lives, most birth mothers would love the chance and are able to meet up with you for a trip to the zoo or picnic at a park. A birth mother that is able to see how her child is doing, how loved they are, and know first hand that they are being cared for is reaffirmed constantly that she made the best possible decision to make an adoption plan.

That’s not to say there are guarantees that openness will be easy and there won’t be setbacks and hard times. And of course your child's emotional and physical safety are always a priority. But it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture in this: as the adoptive family you are looking to honor the woman that selflessly chose adoption for her child and chose you to provide a life she felt she couldn’t. Choosing to maintain a relationship with her not only gives the opportunity to continue to give her insight into how loved her child is, but also gives your child first-hand knowledge of their value and identity from the very beginning. Open adoption has tremendous benefits for the adoptee as well. As parents we have an obligation to always put their interests ahead of ours, even when it's hard and uncomfortable. The relationships in our lives that are often the messiest are the ones we value the most and the relationships that are worth it to work through the hard times.

For more information on open adoption, click these helpful links:

Friday, August 12, 2016

Adoption Story: What Happens When God Writes the Chapters

Story telling is one of the most powerful things we can do. And in adoption there are plenty of stories to be told. Stories of God calling a family to open their hearts and home to adoption. Stories of God's provision and protection. Stories of redemption and bravery and courage. 

Adoption is a unique space for us to shout all God has done while also protecting, guarding, and honoring the intricate and personal details of a child's story. Today I'm thrilled to share Cody and Breanna's story. You've met them here before, and today, Breanna shares their adoption journey, along with all of the chapters and plot twists.

I love a good story. I love all the parts of a good story and watching them come together…

The dream, the conflict, the heartache, the hope, the redemption.

Because I love a good story, I love to read. My husband likes to give me a hard time about picking up a good book. Because he knows that once I start it, I want to finish it as soon as possible. I’ve been known to get so into the story that I just can’t wait to see how it ends. I have actually skipped to the back of the book to read the ending and then go back and finish the details that I missed. Some may say I’m weird, but I’ve met some other book-loving friends who graciously admitted that they have done it too.

Adoption is a beautiful story. It is full of dreams, conflicts, heartache, hope and redemption. It is full of bittersweet moments, tears and a happy ending…or dare I say, a happy beginning?

In Psalm 139:16, God’s word tells us “…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” I love that. I love knowing God knows the ending before we know the beginning. I have found comfort in that fact for many moments in my life.

Along with my love of books, I also love structure. I can also be characterized by my type A personality. I love planners. I love a clear task and a way to complete that task. I love the satisfaction it brings to know I have something “figured out.”

Adoption is not something anyone can “figure out.” Adoption does not have a clear ending date. You can’t know the details until they’ve happened. You can’t know the conflict until it arrives. You cannot come up with a way to get through it at the beginning, because you don’t fully even know what all you will feel and experience except for what you are feeling and experiencing in each moment. I guess what I’m saying, is you can’t skip to the end of the book and then go back for the details.

In Hebrews 12:2, Jesus is described as the “author and perfecter of our faith”.


That word is the word that bridges my love for God to write a beautiful story in our lives and my desire to have everything planned and controlled. I had to give up on the thought of writing my own story and have faith that God had the best story. I had to give up for my desire for control and give God control. I had to know that even though I had no idea how it could or would work out, that God knew. God knew our baby by name from the beginning of time. God knew the day we would first take him into our arms, before we had the thought of adoption as young single adults. Was my faith in God bigger than my fear of the unknown details each chapter would bring?

I can’t share every detail of our journey or this would be a chapter book rather than a blog post. But our beginning thoughts of adoption started before Cody and I were a couple. We talked about adoption on our first date because it was that near and dear to our hearts. We started our marriage knowing that we would adopt but not knowing when. After 8 years of marriage and two beautiful children, God began to stir in our hearts that it was time. Only I was scared. Back to the type A me who saw all the “concerns” and just didn’t see how it could work.

They all seem silly now.

But at the time, each concern was real. And little did I know then that God had bigger challenges along the way that I didn’t even know to consider on the front end of things.  But God gently led me through quiet times and quiet moments opening my heart. You can read in more detail of those here… 

The moment we decided to give our "yes" to God was the moment we started to see our faith grow. Through each little detail, of saying “God I don’t know how we will do this…., but we will trust in you," we began to see how God was orchestrating each chapter. While I would easily describe adoption as one of the hardest things I’ve done, I would lie if I said it wasn’t beautiful to watch God’s little details come together.  I want to share them all, but I won’t. And there’s a chance that in reading them, you might not sense the greatness of God.  But the truth is, I know how much he cares for me, for baby Judah, for our family, and for Judah’s birth family as I look back and see how God cares about the details of our lives.

Chapter details.

Chapter one.  Money.
When we signed up for adoption, I thought I knew how much it would cost. And the number I had in mind was a lot of money.  But I had a few ways in mind of how we might save, borrow and raise the funds. When we signed up with CAC, I found out in the resources of information, that I had underestimated and that the cost was about double.  DOUBLE.  

I didn’t know then that my grandmother would call me and offer a large loan to us debt free. I had been concerned if my family would be as excited as we were and it was family that came first to say, we support you. I didn’t know then that we would end up not borrowing a dollar to bring Judah home.

I didn’t know the first time we presented when we had hardly any money saved, that the following Sunday a church member and friend would donate $5,000 dollars which would be matched by his employer to help us reach our goal.

I didn’t know that family after family would send us a check in the mail just from feeling led by God to do so.

I didn’t know that a friend would make the most beautiful quilt which would end up raising over $3,700 and that even those who didn’t win the highest bid, still gave just for the cause of adoption.

I didn’t know that we would have an amazing turn out with a restaurant fundraisers and t-shirt sales. I didn’t know that Cody and I would have one of the biggest tax returns we’ve had.  

But God knew.

I didn’t know when I almost said no to the journey out of fear, that God would provide OVER what we needed. Now we hope to start an adoption fund at our church with God’s abundance to help others on their adoption journey.

Now tell me that’s not a good story?

Chapter two.  Matching.

I didn’t know when we started looking through emails of details of expectant mothers just how much I would feel. I didn’t expect to feel, cry and care so deeply. I didn’t know that once we said “yes” to be presented to a family how my mind would begin to wonder with dreams of what might be. I certainly didn’t know how much I would hurt with each “no." I didn’t know how that loss would feel of something that was never mine to begin with. With each “no," I didn’t know how many more it would take, how many “no’s” before a yes.

But God knew.

God knew we would present 5 times with five no’s.  God knew that after we said yes to present to a baby girl due in several months but before we were actually presented, that we would get a call from a local attorney about a three week old baby boy in her office with his birth mom who wanted to meet us.

God knew our no’s would lead to our yes.

There are other chapters. Chapters of hurting in the unknown. Chapters of waiting on our yes. Chapters of learning of things like racial tensions, attachment challenges and open adoption relationships. But this isn’t a chapter book, although it’s beginning to feel that way.

Chapter The End

God knew that on June 21st, when Judah was 3 ½ weeks old that we would hold him for the first time. That we would meet his birth mother and begin a relationship with her that we would have never imagined when we started this journey. He knew we would take home baby Judah the next day to join our forever family. He knew this yes, when all we heard was no. He knew this ending as he was writing our beginning. He prepared the way as we were praying and hoping.

He knew.

I simply cannot do justice to the goodness that God has shown to us. As I read this again and again while trying to write it, I realize that. But I hope that I can share that I didn’t have it all figured out. I didn’t have any of it figured out.  

I gave God my yes and then I watched as He wrote my favorite story of all time.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hard, Holy, and Humbling

Today one of my sweet adoptive mamas, Kerry (you've met her here before), shares her experience as a white mom with her black daughter's hair. I love her honesty as she talks about what a struggle it can be and ultimately how parenting changes us for the better. 

I never dreamed that adopting a little girl who was African American would change my life the way it has.

I never dreamed that something as seemingly simple as doing her hair would change me the way it has.

I never dreamed that I'd cry over my feelings of inadequacy or that my husband would get frantic calls from me because I couldn't get all of the pureed banana out of her hair. (It really happened people.)

I never dreamed that in confronting my hair-styling inadequacies, I'd actually have to confront my parenting inadequacies.

I never dreamed.

Today, we put Alivea in the car and drove her an hour away to a sweet lady's house who patiently sat with me and my husband and explained Alivea's hair to me. She lovingly washed, conditioned and detangled her hair.  She sectioned it off and asked me to feel how soft it was. She twisted it and dried it and explained exactly how I should care for it tonight and tomorrow. 

No judgment, no looks of disdain or disbelief that I hadn't figured this out in the eight years that she's been my daughter.

I have to be honest and say that Alivea's hair has been a huge stumbling block for me. And not just in the expected "oh gosh, I have to do her hair again" but in the "oh geez, we have to go to Wal-mart. How does her hair look?" way.

We get looks and not just looks because she's black and we're white but looks because I don't have her hair figured out and sometimes it lays funny and we do our best and we always tell her her hair is beautiful even when it lays funny and isn't braided as tight as it should be.

It's been eight years of learning and more money spent on hair products than I've spent on my own in my thirty-six years.

It's been eight years of lots of movies and tv and lots and lots of fruit snacks on hair day.

It's been eight years of learning the difference between conditioners, leave in conditioners, clarifying shampoos, plating and braiding and all of the other lingo that this white girl has never had to understand. 

But you know the biggest thing- it's been eight years of humbling. It's been eight years of asking and learning and driving to other people's houses and late night calls and text messages and blogs and friends bringing me samples from hair shows and lots and lots of YouTube videos. It's been eight years of admitting that I don't have it all figured out. And I don't know if I ever will.

I have friends I might not have had all because I am white and my daughter is black and I need help with her hair. I have learned more and I've cried more because of this experience.

I hope when Alivea is twenty and we're looking back through pictures, I hope Alivea can see love. Her hair might not look awesome in every picture. I guess that's just a burden of childhood that we all have to bear. (I have my scary perm pictures and my bowl cut pictures.) But I hope she can see love. One day when she has a little girl of her own, she'll understand. 

In the meantime, this process is changing me. The work is hard but it's also holy and it is oh, so humbling.

For more from Kerry on adoption and their family, you can follow her at Kerry Todd.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

In Their Own Words: Real Talk From a Hopeful Adoptive Mom

I have been honored to work with Hope and her husband, J.D. on their adoption journey. Currently they are right in the thick of it. They have their home study behind them and they're in the midst of fundraising, nursery decorating, presenting to expectant mothers, and waiting for God's timing to build their family. Today Hope has been gracious enough to share what what it REALLY feels like to go through adoption as a hopeful adoptive mama. She shares her heart as she struggles with hard questions, wrestles with control, and how this journey has impacted her spiritual life. Her honesty and transparency is insightful, encouraging, and full of hope...

People often ask me how they can specifically pray for us during this adoption journey. Well, I am about to put it all out there…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know the Lord is leading me and is right there with me each step of the way. He hasn’t failed me yet and He never will, but I am human. I have difficult days. I struggle with sin, anger, frustration, sadness, etc. You name it, I have felt it.

One thing I have been struggling with over the last couple of weeks is the simple question “why?” Why does this have to be my path to motherhood? Why did I have to suffer the pain of losing Taylor and Asher? Why is adoption so dad-gum expensive? Why can’t I just go the traditional (free) route of having my own baby? Why, when I want nothing more than to be a mom, am I forced to wait on some unknown timeline? Why, why, why? There are answers to all of these questions. Some I might not know until I am face to face with my Father, but there are answers. This morning part of my devotional was Romans 5:3-4: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” I think that is a pretty good answer. It doesn’t specifically address all of my “why’s,” but what could be better than strengthening our confident hope of salvation? I will take it!

Another area of weakness for me lately has been control. For those of you who know me, I don’t think you will be shocked to hear me say that am TOTALLY a Type A personality. Schedules, agendas, to-do lists…oh, you are speaking my love language! I like to have a plan, I like to be in control. This is not always a bad thing, but many times it is.  In a way it is me saying “Lord, I don’t trust you to handle this.” I have had to let go of this control and hand over the reins on many different levels. I am not in control of when (or if) we will have our baby. For someone who likes to plan things out down to the very last detail, this is hard. However, the biggest thing for me lately has been letting go of the fact that I do not have control over who our future birthmother will be and what she chooses to do to her body. Many of the situations we have seen have involved varying degrees of substance abuse. This scares me. If I was pregnant, I would be in control and could take care of my body. I know the Lord will protect our baby in the womb, but knowing we will more than likely have to deal with a baby who will experience drug exposure/withdrawals is terrifying. I think knowing that God is in control and and being scared can coexist…as long as we rest in His sovereignty at the end of the day.

Now the big one. The hardest one for me to talk about because it is such a personal and secret thing I have carried around. My sinful heart. I have let this adoption process take over my life. It has become all-consuming. Quite simply, I have allowed this baby become an idol in my life. I have had to step back and realize that even if we NEVER have a baby, that will be ok. My worth and value are NOT dependent upon having a child. HE should be the most important thing in my life. HE is enough.  During our ABF (Sunday School) we have been discussing the spiritual disciplines. Last week we talked about prayer and I became even more convicted. Part of the lesson talked about the motives behind our prayers. We can pray for GOOD things (i.e. having children), but be motivated by selfish desires. This is where I got a big gut check and had to take a step back and re-examine my heart. I was also reminded that God ALWAYS answers prayers and that there are three possible answers to our prayers: Yes, no, and not right now. It could be that we are getting a “not right now” on this adoption, but it might also be a “no.” I have to put my trust in the fact that God knows what is best for JD and me. He will answer our prayers to start a family in the exact way they need to be answered…whether it is a yes, no, or not right now.

So, there it is. The hardest things for me when it comes to this chapter of our lives. I will end with this - a song that has given me so much peace over the last few weeks…

To follow J.D. and Hope's adoption journey, you can follow their blog, JD and Hope Adopt.

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