Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Adoption Myths and Assumptions

We could never have an open adoption; we don't want to confuse our child or have the birth mother take them back!

Adoption is too expensive - how can someone 'buy a baby' for that much? It's like a black market!

Is there really a need for adoptive families in the U.S.? We heard there aren't enough babies to go around and we're not even infertile...

These are just a few of the comments I hear often from people who find out I work as an adoption consultant or from hopeful adoptive parents.

When it comes to the subject of domestic adoption, there are a lot of misunderstandings on the topic. Some stem from how adoption used to work in the U.S. (with primarily closed adoptions that were stigmatized), how some adoptions today are mishandled or unethical, or news and media that portray adoption a certain (often misinformed) way. But I've found that most of the myths and wrong assumptions people have about adoption are simply because they don't know better and need some insight and education.

If I'm honest, I probably believed a lot of these myths and shared these assumptions until I began working in adoption: as a birth parent counselor, an adoptive parent case manager, social worker, and adoption consultant and director. And after working with birth and adoptive families for years, I've learned a lot (and am still learning).

Today I wanted to break down some of the most common adoption myths and assumptions and offer some insight from my experience working in adoption. As in everything else, education is the best way to address what we assume we know or unknowingly and subconsciously learn from outdated practices or ill-portrayed media. Knowledge is power and that's especially true when it comes to learning about adoption.

WHERE the need is

Myth: There's a line of families waiting to adopt domestically and not enough babies available for adoption. 
Truth: There is a great need for adoptive families, specifically for babies who are minorities and substance exposed/affected.

Most adoptive families have the experience of working with a small, local agency. Very often these agencies do a handful of adoptions a year but do many more home studies for families. This often equates to a longer wait (1.5 to 3 years) for families to be matched with an expectant mom. It also means they sometimes limit the families they work with. But there are agencies (that might not be local to a hopeful adoptive family) that serve many more expectant families and are looking for hopeful adoptive families because they don't have enough locally. 

In addition, while it's true that there are a lot of families waiting to adopt infants who match their family portraits and they feel like come with guaranteed health, there are a number of children who desperately need adoptive families to say "yes." There are children every day who end up in foster care because there was not an adoptive family willing or available to open their home. Several years ago this need was overwhelmingly with children of color, specifically African American. Today, the need is for families open to children who were exposed to substances prenatally. 

So the need is absolutely there, but very often an adoptive family simply needs to connect the dots (or work with a professional who can help them make those connections) to find how and where they can meet the need.

WHY adoption is costly

Myth: Adoption expenses are unnecessary and exorbitant.
Truth: Adoption expenses are essential to ensure an adoption happens legally, ethically, and all parties in the adoption triad are cared for.

Adoption is expensive. Although adoption costs can be across the board from $25,000-$50,000, the average domestic agency adoption costs $43,239 (Source: Adoption: By The Numbers). These expenses include agency fees, birth parent care, medical expenses (if insurance isn't involved), and legal fees. Of course there are adoption professionals out there who do take advantage of some of these fees, but working with ethical professionals ensures adoptions expenses are used for the right purposes and that an adoptive family avoids the common financial pitfalls.

The good news is that financing an adoption isn't impossible. I've walked with hundreds of families who never had that amount in their bank account but were able to finance their adoption with a little creativity and hard work. And were you to ask any of them, now they they have their child in their arms if it was worth it, they wouldn't hesitate to say they would do it again in a heartbeat.

For more on this topic: The Cost of Adoption

WHEN a family should start the process

Myth: A family needs to have everything in order, especially their finances, before beginning the adoption process.
Truth: There are resources available to help families, starting in the very beginning, to help a family begin their adoption.

It's common that families believe they have to have everything figured out before beginning their adoption journey. While there's wisdom in having a plan, I've found that a lot of families can get paralyzed simply with the amount of decisions there are to be made in adoption. Where will we get the home study? How do we feel about open adoption? What about becoming a transracial family? How will we come up with the costs? How do we find a good attorney? The questions can seem endless.

The good news is adoptive families don't have to have all of the answers to begin the process of adopting. The even better news? They don't have to go it alone. There's a limit to the amount of "googling" and information seeking that can be done on the front end and without knowing how to filter what's helpful or not. Finding an adoption professional to help guide them and a community to support them is key to a successful adoption. Once that's in place, a hopeful adoptive family can confidently move forward, knowing they have the resources at hand they need to adopt.

For more on this topic: The Steps to Adoption

WHAT to consider with the complexities of adoption

Myth: Adoption is a happy ending for everyone.
Truth: Adoption is a complex mix of joy and challenges.

There's an assumption that adoption looks a little like a fairy tale; with nothing but smiles, sweet stories, and "happily ever afters." But adoption always begins with brokenness. The reality is that if sin and brokenness weren't a part of our world, adoption wouldn't be either; birth families would always be in a position to parent their children.

Adoption doesn't just begin with brokenness; it can be woven throughout. There's a child living outside their biological family, possibly outside their ethnic culture. There's a birth family who continues a life without that child. The impact of the grief and infertility doesn't go away simply because a family was grown through adoption. This doesn't mean that God doesn't meet us in our brokenness and can't redeem it, but being aware of the tension that this reality creates is so valuable when considering all that's involved in adoption.

For more on this topic: The Unexpected Journey of Adoption

WHO the birth family is

Myth: All birth families fit a common stereotype.
Truth: Birth families come from all walks of life and are just as unique as the hopeful adoptive families on the other side.

There truly isn't a specific box that all expectant and birth families fit into. In my work as a birth parent counselor, I've worked with birth parents who were young teens and grandmothers (truly). Mothers who were attending college and unemployed. Women who were expecting their first child, for others it was their eighth. Women who were single, married, lesbian, blue collar, professional...the list goes on.

But they always share one thing in common. Every single mother has a desperate, selfless, and sacrificial love for their child. Each one has made the courageous choice to do what they feel is best for their child, despite a tremendous desire for that to be to parent their child themselves. I've never met a birth mother who didn't have a tremendous love for their baby.

HOW openness really works

Myth: Open (and semi-open) adoption will harm and confuse the child and allows for ambiguity in parental roles.
Truth: Open (and semi-open) adoption has been found to be best for all parties in the adoption triad (the child, birth family, and adoptive family).

It's common that there is fear surrounding open adoption (for both the birth family and the adoptive family), but it's often based on the misunderstanding that open adoption looks like coparenting. Instead, open adoption simply allows for some level of ongoing communication and relationship with between the birth and adoptive family. Instead of threatening the adoptive family, this relationship offers more people to love the child, first hand answers and clarity about the child's adoption story, and assurances that adoption was in the best interest for the child. A recent longitudinal study showed support for open adoption and ongoing relationships and benefits for both birth families and adoptees, even into adolescence and adulthood.

The reality is that openness is both beautiful and challenging; a lot like many other important and valuable relationships in our lives. Some level of openness can offer tremendous benefits: a birth family can have the assurance that they made the right decision. An adoptee can know first hand about that decision and have critical information about their identify. And in addition to having key medical and social information for their child, and adoptive family can help build an incredibly valuable relationship for the entire adoption triad.

This has been just a few common myths and assumptions people have surrounding adoption. Do you have any you would add?

For more Adoption Resources, Tutorials, and Adoption Stories: click here!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Adoption Story: Colin and Kendal

This sweet family of three was built by adoption. But if you had asked Colin and Kendal just a few years ago if they dreamed about their family story, they wouldn't have imagined this kind of beginning. Today Kendal shares how an unexpected and heartbreaking diagnosis led them to their daughter.

Over four years ago, we received some information that changed our world – that we have less than a 2% chance of naturally conceiving a child. As a young, married couple with hopes of a full family, an infertility diagnosis immediately caused those dreams to come crashing down. At a loss on what to do next, we remained in a mixed state of shock, depression, sadness, and overall limbo for two years. However, after encouragement and support from close friends and family, we reached out to Susan and Christian Adoption Consultants in June 2016, ready to begin our adoption journey! After learning more about adoption, working with her to get our family profile book put together, and completing our homestudy, we started receiving and presenting to situations and began the long wait.

After a tiresome day of work on a random Tuesday in late November 2017, Susan’s name popped up on Kendal’s cellphone and she gave us the news we were waiting years for – that an expectant mother chose us as the adoptive parents for her baby! Those crashed-down dreams of parenthood were alive again and coming true! And on March 9, 2018, we experienced the immense joy that can come from holding your baby in your arms; our daughter – Caitlin Rose!

While adoption wasn’t something we talked much about prior to our infertility diagnosis, it’s clear to us now that it was God’s plan all along. We had to go through all the “junk” of infertility, discouragement, and waiting in order to get to a point of surrender to God and His perfect plan. We likely never would have come to the decision to adopt if our life had gone as we had planned. But how grateful we are now! Caitlin is our perfect match and we cannot imagine our life without her. 

We’ve learned many things through this process. How to be patient and wait on God. How family is much more than biology; our love for Caitlin is beyond anything that we could have imagined and how she entered our family does not change our love for her. And we’ve learned how much love you can have for your child’s birth parents. Birth moms – and birth dads – make selfless decisions to ensure that their baby has the best life possible. They sacrifice their role and trust us with the responsibility instead. Adoption is messy and hard, but it is beautiful.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Repost: What To Expect When She's Not Expecting

With Father's Day around the corner, I wanted to share Colin's post again from a man's view of walking through infertility. (Also, stay tuned for an exciting update from their family later on the blog!)

Colin and Kendal are in the midst of their adoption journey and have chosen to share their experience and story at Finding Our Arrows, praying it will also encourage others. Today Colin shares transparently about how their struggle with infertility has impacted him as a husband and how he's learned to support his wife through it as well. I'm thrilled to share a man's perspective of infertility, grief, and hope.

I’m sorry, what? “There is less than a 2% chance you can naturally conceive a child.” No, no, you must be mistaken. This must be some cruel joke; after all, it is April Fool’s Day.  “Less than a 2% chance.” But we followed the plan – we both graduated college, I finished law school and passed the bar…we even recently started building a house! Now it is time to start building our family, too! All of our friends are pregnant – surely this is wrong! But the doctor wasn’t wrong. And on that day, April 1, 2014, our lives were turned upside down. 
For those husbands whose families are struggling with infertility and adoption, trying to cope with the heartache, and searching for what to do next all while attempting to faithfully lead their families through such a trying time. Guys, this post is for you. Trust me, I understand and can empathize with the challenges and struggles you are facing; with the feelings of doubt, anger, and confusion. And because of that, I wanted to share with you a few lessons God has taught me through our journey. I’m no expert, but these are just a few of the thoughts and perspectives I’ve gained from our experience thus far.
My first encouragement is men, if your wife is struggling with infertility, make sure you allow time to grieve. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  Kendal and I received our infertility diagnosis in April 2014. At the same time, we were in the process of building our first home, so questions of wall color, furniture placement, and landscaping filled our minds. After closing on our home that June, our life settled down a bit. So, during a summer evening walk, and just a few months after receiving our tragic diagnosis, I brought up to Kendal the idea of adoption.  My comments were met with silence.
You see (spoiler alert), men and women think differently. Men are fixers and problem solvers.  In my mind, infertility + wanting a family = adoption.  This logically made sense to me.  But I missed the mourning and grieving part. Kendal wasn’t ready. She was still working and processing what such a diagnosis really meant. And I jumped waaaaaaay ahead of her, unrealistically expecting her to be on the same page as me. So men, take the time to grieve and mourn with your wife. And trust me, we did and still continue to do so, both together and individually. I still struggle with this, but I’m learning to stop, slow down, and just wait for her. We both wanted a family, and obviously both came to the decision of adoption, but take time to mourn and grieve with your spouse. Cry with her, hug her, love her. While adoption may be in your future, and perhaps it is God’s plan for you, it is ok to take the time to be sad. 
Secondly, realize that just because you made a plan, that doesn’t mean God has to fit Himself into it.  Proverbs 16:9 says “A man makes a plan in his heart, but God directs his path.” Kendal and I met while we were in college (Geaux Tigers!) and were engaged in December 2009. I was in law school at the time, so we weren’t “ready” for kids. But once I finished and passed the bar in 2012, we wanted to add to the two of us. We thought we were ready – it was just “time” to have children.  All our friends were pregnant and asking us when we would have children. They spoke as if it were a guaranteed outcome. But it just wasn’t happening for us. God wasn’t fitting Himself into our timeline – into what we thought we wanted and when we wanted it.
For two people who like plans, schedules, and being in control, this is a tough one to learn. God isn’t restricted to what our feeble minds can imagine, but just as He told the prophet Habakkuk, He is “doing a work…that you would not believe if told.” So, just remember, it is ok to not have the answers. Believe me, I know the pain of waiting and wanting a child and feeling so lonely when all your friends are pregnant and something just isn’t right.  But God is in control. The Proverbs writer puts it like this, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” 
Lastly, above all else, and while it may be difficult to see at the moment, these struggles are just light and momentary. I know that sounds like nonsense while you are enduring your trials, but that is how the apostle Paul describes them in 2 Corinthians 4:17 when he writes “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” In other words, Paul, writing with eternity in view, weighs his present trials against future glory and discovers his trials are actually working for him. So when your world seems to fall around you, when you and your wife are devastated by terrible news, remember that these experiences are paled in comparison with what is to come. And that is something to take hope in – your light and momentary struggles are producing something much better for you! And that is eternal rest with our Father in Heaven. 
I hope this post is helpful to you. Believe me, infertility and adoption isn’t just something you “get over” and move on from. But these are just a few of the many lessons I’ve learned which I hope will encourage you during your time of struggle. 

To follow along with Colin and Kendal's story, you can find their blog at Finding Our Arrows.

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