Tell Me Your Story: Of Choosing Adoption First

Many couples arrive at adoption after exercising all of their other options. There are couples who battle years of infertility and heartbreak and finally turn to adoption as a way of expanding their family. And then there is Robyn.

Robyn was in the 8th grade when she watched a news special that changed her life. It was the late 80s and Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had just been ousted from Romania. Robyn watched the program, but what caught her attention were the stories of the children living in orphanages. Somehow she wanted to help. At the same time, she was attending Catholic school and taking Family Life Education. She was learning “precisely where babies come from” and wanted no part it in. At an early age, Robyn decided she had no interest in being pregnant or having biological children.

There were different reactions to her declaration. Robyn’s mother shrugged and told her, “As long as I’m a Nana”. Most of her other family members told her, “You’ll change your mind when you get older.” But Robyn didn’t change her mind. She started dating, and although having biological children was never in Robyn’s plans, it took her boyfriend a little bit longer to come around. Robyn and Max dated for 7 years and lived together for a year before he finally proposed. She said yes, and told him, “You know this means you’re not having biological children.” He decided that he was okay with that.

When Robyn and Max were ready to adopt, they started out thinking they would adopt internationally. Robyn’s original plan of adopting from Romania changed when the country closed to international adoptions. Their next choice was Russia because Robyn had some Russian heritage, but she was disqualified from adopting because of her health. Robyn has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a debilitating neuropathic pain disorder that has resulted in nerve damage in her knee and ankle. Russian adoption counselors wanted potential mothers to be very healthy and since long flights were out of the question, so was a Russian adoption.

So they went back to square one. Ethiopia came to mind, but Max asked, “If we’re going to adopt a black baby, can’t we do that here?” So they started looking at options in the United States. Because fostering focuses on reunification, and the couple wanted to be parents, they decided on domestic infant adoption.

Today, Max and Robyn are parents to Jackson and Cassandra, two biracial children ages 8 and 2. Both children came home with their adoptive parents from the hospital. The couple chose open adoptions and have good relationships with many family members of their children’s birth families.

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Max & Robyn with Jackson & Cassandra. Photo credit: Karyn Engle Photography

Robyn is very active in the adoption community. She blogs about her adoption experiences at http://chittisterchildren.wordpress.com, and has written articles for Adoption.com. Robyn is also active in several Facebook adoption support groups and moderates one for African American Domestic Adoption. When asked about the online discussions that surround open adoptions, Robyn is very outspoken.

“People are very passionate about adoption, which is both good and bad, and I do feel discouraged by discussions sometimes. Every time an adoptive parent chooses a closed adoption, or simply waves off open adoption as a choice. Every time someone calls adoptive parents “adopt-o-raptors” or similar garbage. Every time someone says, “Your story doesn’t count.” Every time someone believes that discrimination is OK. No one person can speak for everyone, and there are a few people with very loud voices who seem to believe they do know everything and speak for everyone, which I simply don’t like.”

Robyn also knows that she is under a magnifying glass when it comes to raising black children in America. One topic that always seems to come up is “black culture.” Robyn says that most parents, including the black parents in her discussion group, agree that there is not one definition of black culture. So instead of trying to give her children a particular experience, Robyn emphasizes the importance of teaching her children about black history.

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She does this by reading her children books with historical figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama. As her children get older, she plans to take them to museums, festivals, and parades. They read books by Faith Ringold, and some of her children’s favorite characters are Disney’s Princess Tiana and Doc McStuffins.

Robyn also knows it’s important for her children to see “people who look like them in their day-to-day lives.” She also makes a point to maintain relationships with other black or biracial kids and parents. Her advice to parents, “ You don’t base friendships on race, but when you genuinely connect with people of color, you work harder to make sure those people stay in your life.”

For Robyn, she knows there are challenges, and she admits that she is “finding parenthood is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be.” But in spite of the challenges, she is sure of her decision. It hasn’t always been an easy choice, but for Robyn, it was the first and only choice.

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Tell Me Your Story: Of a Modern Family

Nick King is a former business man, a successful politician (he missed out on a seat in Parliament by just 270 votes), but most importantly a proud father of  two. In his own words, Nick tells me how he and his partner adopted and changed both of their lives forever:

Our adoption journey began almost seven years ago. On a beach. On holiday. In Spain.

In 2005 the UK enacted legislation allowing same sex couples to apply to adopt children.

unnamedMy husband, J & I had been together for a number of years.  We’d talked often about our view of family.  One of the things that had drawn us together was a common view of what family was and meant to us both.

And so, lying on a beach in Spain, looking out to sea on neighbouring sun loungers, we spoke honestly and openly about our hopes to create a family of our own and agreed, when home, to investigate how we could work towards that goal.

Adoption in the UK is in essence a state sponsored activity.  Managed through our Local Government, prospective adopters need to apply to, and be approved by, a Local Adoption Services department.

The recommendation is not to apply to the Adoption Department covering the area in which you live.  The reason for this being the likelihood that the child(ren) with whom adoptive parents are matched will come from the same Adoption team.

The vast majority of British children placed for adoption are  removed from their birth families by the State.  The birth parents having been deemed either incapable or unable to care for their children.  Contact, other than an anonymous annual letter, is broken off with the birth family upon the child’s adoption.

Consequently, it’s deemed advisable they are adopted outside of the County or Borough where they have initially been taken into care.

The process of obtaining approval to be prospective adoptive parents took over eighteen months.  Months during which we met our designated Social Worker at least twice if not three times per month.  The questioning was rigorous, detailed and at times intrusive, but always we felt appropriate to the eventual outcome.

Approval came in front of a panel of independent people in the early Summer and by that autumn we had been matched with our son, then three, who had been removed from an abusive and violent family about a year beforehand.

Our son came to us scared, hurting, damaged by both his past with his birth family and his journey through the care system.

A transition week flew by, as we slowly assumed care for him from his foster parents and moved his (very few) belonging and eventually him to our home.

Nothing prepares you for that first night with a child under your roof, for whom you are entirely responsible.  We were both terrified that first night.  Although our bedroom was just next door we set up a baby monitor in order that we could hear him in case he awoke.  We expected he would wake, would be confused and would be frightened as he found himself in an unfamiliar bed and bedroom.  We wanted to make sure we were there as quickly as we could be, to limit the fear and to reassure him if that were to happen.

We tried to sleep, but couldn’t.  Listening in to his room on the baby monitor wasn’t enough for J.  He moved to sleep on the landing outside our son’s bedroom, while I lay awake listening in on the baby monitor.  We both slept fitfully, J much less comfortably than me.

Of course, our son slept for twelve hours solid, so was bright and breezy the next day, while we got through it solely due to high caffeine intake.

We were very lucky through those early months.  J is a doctor at one of our local hospitals.  Working in the National Health Service, adoption is treated in the same way as maternity.  He therefore was able to take nine months, paid leave for the adoption of each of our children (we adopted our daughter separately two years ago).

I had run my own businesses and also had a political career, both of which allowed me to be flexible around working from home and assuming the role of primary carer for the children once J’s adoption leave came to an end.

For an American audience, I realise the thought of same sex adoption must seem strange, perhaps for some even unnatural.  We test ourselves with the same questions many of you may be asking, often.

Was our decision to adopt purely for our own benefit?  Were we so arrogant as to think that we could offer our children a stable and happy new family, when the ‘family’ we offered them was one so different to the traditional concept?

Who has creating our family really benefitted? Our children? Or is it that we are just fulfilling a desire for societal ‘normality’ that our sexuality wouldn’t otherwise have offered?

Each time we come to the same conclusion.

Our son had an awful time through the first three years of his life.  His birth family were abusive and neglectful to one another and to him.  When he was taken into care he was placed in a foster placement that very quickly broke down and ultimately did more damage.

Finally, in the few months before his adoption he was placed with a foster family who provided the love and stability he needed.

There our little boy began his process of healing.  Not least by receiving love and kindness from his foster mother and thus beginning to combat the negative memories he had of both his birth mother and his previous foster mother.

Our son had been a victim, that’s beyond doubt.  But he had also learnt from those experiences.  He’d learnt how to manipulate a situation to his advantage.  He’d learnt how angry and demanding behaviour was the only way to get attention. He’d begun to learn to be like his birth parents.

So whilst he desperately needed stability, love, tenderness, compassion, he also needed to unlearn many of the behaviours he had witnessed and considered normal.  That meant boundaries and consistency.  It meant being kind yet resolute.

We were able to set those limits.  To provide both security and structure.

Knowing his past.  Knowing the pain, hurt and confusion he had faced, the instinctive reaction to our little boy was to smother him with love.  To forgive his misdemeanours.  To explain his challenging behaviours as purely the consequence of his past and to treat that only with compassion and tenderness.

Figures show that, in the UK, one in five adoption placements break down.  Anyone who adopts children faces challenges.  Ours have perhaps been no different to most and, quite possibly, much less than many.  When reflecting about the last few years we feel that both being male added something intangible but still positive to the task we faced.

Our daughter was younger when she was taken into care.  She carries less ‘baggage’ from the past.  She can though be very challenging in her own right.  The same still applies.

We won’t know for many years, perhaps ever, if we have been successful.  We do feel that both being male made this task somehow easier.  That knowledge at least has provided an antidote for our own anxieties.

In conclusion I would just say this.  As a couple and as individuals we have been blessed with extraordinary lives.  J has a very successful and well noted career in medicine.  I have built and sold a number of businesses, creating a situation where I have effectively retired with independent income in my 40s.

We’ve mixed with business leaders and celebrities.  I ran for Parliament and have had a successful career in local politics.

None of this has been as amazing and fascinating as adopting our children and building our unconventional (and rather dotty) family.

Families come in all shapes and sizes these days.  Those with two Mums or two Dads are increasingly familiar.  We have met with nothing but kindness, tolerance, support and, sometimes, admiration.  The number of children needing new, loving, strong, stable ‘Forever Families’ grows daily.

Regardless of your sexuality, gender, colour or background if you’re reading this, haven’t taken the step towards considering adoption but think you may then please do so.  The opportunity to change a life for the better is a blessing.  My experience has been it will change your life immeasurably for the better too.

Nick King lives in the UK and blogs about his modern family at www.nickkingsworld.com

Tell Me Your Story: Of Waiting Again

From the moment Angela and Matt started dating, they knew that if they had a son, they would name him Kyle. When it came time for them to adopt, the couple posted their profile online, and shortly after posting, they received a phone call from an expectant mother. As soon as Angela heard the woman’s name, she knew it was meant to be. Her name was Kylie, and Angela knew that they had just met their miracle.

Angela and Matt stayed in touch with Kylie throughout her pregnancy and were at the hospital when she delivered. The couple brought baby Kyle home, and started the adoption conversation early by reading adoption themed children’s books and watching adoption related episodes of Sesame Street. One of Kyle’s favorite books is Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis. For Angela, the book holds special meaning because it closely mirrors Kyle’s story. As Angela curls up with her son for a bedtime story, she adds details of how she and Matt met his birth mother, were present for his birth, and how they brought him home.

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Angela also helps Kyle connect with his birth family through pictures and stories. She says that Kyle comments that his birth family lives “far away”, and when he is shown pictures, he points and asks questions about each person, curious to know about his other family.  When Kyle was only two, Angela wrote a letter to Kylie and included a few pictures. Kyle helped put the letter and pictures into an envelope, as Angela explained to the curious face peering up at her who the letter was for.  A few days later, Kyle folded up a piece of paper with his tiny hands, explaining that he was going to send a letter to Kylie too! Angela says that even though he is young, Kyle displays an awareness that their family was not formed in the traditional way – he knows that he has someone special that he has a connection to.

Now that Kyle is three, Angela and Matt are ready to adopt again. But the experience is much different than the first time they adopted, and Angela sometimes doubts why someone would choose their family “when there are so many beautiful families to choose from.” The wait for a first adoption is hard, but the wait for a second adoption is even harder, especially when the adoptive parents are considering another open adoption. It’s more than just checking off the right boxes and filling in paperwork –  it’s trying to find a match with another special family.

Besides being matched, there are other obstacles with a second adoption. With two children from two different families, one family may not have the same level of openness as the other. Angela is worried that it will be difficult to explain to her children why one family has a certain level of contact while the other does not. Kyle’s birth family is a drivable distance away, but if their future child lived further away, it might become difficult to visit both families equally.

Although it’s in the back of her mind, Angela doesn’t have to worry about all of those details just yet. The family has a profile on Adoptimist, but she hasn’t told Kyle any plans for a sibling yet. Angela says, “Kyle lives in the moment because of his young age, and I am not sure that he would understand what waiting means. And I know that he would not understand the disappointment that is sometimes involved with the adoption process.” Angela and Matt find themselves patiently waiting again, but they are also treasuring each moment with their son. Angela would love to someday have a sibling for Kyle, but ultimately she is thankful for her son and grateful to be a mom.

Tell Me Your Story: Of Becoming a Mother

In January of 2014, Sarah started writing letters to her child’s first mother. In the letters, she shared stories about her own mother, anecdotes about her husband, and her prayers for the mother who would change both of their lives forever.

Married for almost ten years, Sarah and Doug started the adoption process in 2013,  although they had known for awhile that adoption would be in their future. After sharing with their families that they wanted to adopt, they set up a family blog to share what they had been learning about the adoption process. The private blog detailed helpful information from books, their home study training, and different classes they attended. They wanted to not only prepare themselves, but prepare their parents to be sensitive to the complexities of adoption.

Sarah and Doug represent the next generation of adoptive parents.They are honest about their expectations and committed to raising a child who understands their adoption story. To prepare for their adoption, they read, talked, and then read some more. The prospective parents discussed serious issues such as their level of comfort with an open adoption as well as more practical issues like discipline. Sarah advises that one way to successfully prepare for adoption is to tackle any potential issues before they happen. When asked if she comes across blogs or comments that discourage adoption, Sarah says,

“Adoption is not about being comfortable as an adoptive parent. I think it’s critical for me, as a prospective adoptive mother, to read these posts. I think these posts may be the most important things I read in this entire educational journey. My goal is to learn from these voices who are bravely sharing their stories. Their sharing empowers me to anticipate some of the challenges they bring up as I raise my child, to avoid some of the pitfalls altogether, and to acknowledge and APPRECIATE my child’s need to express his or her frustration with and hurt from the adoption experience.”

Also, Sarah and Doug don’t see their adopted child as a way to fill in the place of where a biological child should be. The couple see their future child as an extension of his or her birth family, and for them the adoption process is about  “adding an entire branch, with its own offshoot, to the family tree.” An open adoption means sharing with the birth family the opportunity to see their child grow and thrive.

For most prospective adoptive parents, waiting is the hardest part. While waiting, Doug and Sarah had a few close matches and even had a match fall apart. To put things in perspective, Sarah told herself that she didn’t want to rush the process because she knew that the birthmother would be making “an enormous, heartbreaking decision beyond comprehension.” Each day she tried to live in the moment and prayed that the mother meant to place her child with Sarah and her husband would be making a decision in full confidence and peace.

On January 1, Sarah wrote the first letter to her child’s first mother, and on March 2, they finally met. Frank was born on February 20, and after delivery, his mother chose Sarah and Doug to carry on her son’s life and legacy.

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Sarah & baby Frank

 In the days following Frank’s birth, Sarah and Doug were able to bond with their new addition and simply marvel at the miracle of life. Above all, they were profoundly grateful to Frank’s birth mother for the life she had entrusted to them. Of the experience, Sarah says, “Never in my life will I forget the moment this beautiful woman placed her baby boy in my arms before walking out of the nursery and said, ‘Look at you–you’re a natural. I knew you would be.’ Frank, your birth mama loves you so.”

Tell Me Your Story: Of a Full House

When the alarm sounds at 6:30 in the morning, Katie rolls over, rubs the sleep out of her eyes, and spends the next few minutes checking Facebook. Then she makes her way into the kitchen to make breakfast for her seven children. Yes, seven children.

Katie and Tony Gonzalez started their adoption journey by adopting through foster care. In 1999, they adopted a 15 month old little girl, and for over ten years, Gabby was an only child and took pleasure in being her parents’ “center of joy.”

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Gabby, Katie & Tony

Katie and Tony always wanted to have a big family, but were cautious about stepping back into the adoption process after Gabby. In 2010, through a “chance conversation”, they learned that three siblings  were in foster care and needed a permanent home. After a year of “forms, medical checks, background checks, and waiting,” Gabby became a big sister to Lydia, Will, and Madi on her 12th birthday. Although the transition from a family of three to a family of six was difficult, Katie is proud of her oldest daughter for showing tremendous maturity and adjusting to her new big family.

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Lydia

Will

Will

Madi

Madi

 Three years after welcoming Lydia, Will, and Madi, Katie received an email from her agency. She was asked to reach out to first time parents in the process of adopting three siblings from foster care. The parents were “struggling badly and drowning in needs they had not expected.” Katie reached out to the struggling parents, but they made it clear that they were not ready to adopt. Katie felt in her gut that she and her husband were being called to provide a home for the siblings. She brought it up to Tony who was apprehensive. Where would everyone sleep? How would they transport all seven children? Would there be enough to go around?

There didn’t seem to be any easy answers, and even friends and family thought they were getting in over their heads and expressed their concerns. Katie and Tony were receptive and discussed the potential adoption with their families at length. And they prayed. Katie knew that if God was calling her to adopt, He would also walk by her side. Katie and Tony took a leap of faith, confident that things would work out. Today, the three children are living with the Gonzalez family waiting for their adoptions to be finalized.

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Tony, Katie, and their seven children.

Katie and Tony’s seven children range from ages 5 to 16. To keep sane, Katie created a family schedule that would impress a drill sergeant. During the week, she is part of a homeschool co-op and teaches several 10th grade subjects. The oldest four are also homeschooled, while the youngest three attend public school. After the youngest are picked up from school, there is snack time followed by at least an of hour play time. All of Katie’s children see a Play Therapist once a week, and her youngest have an additional session with a Behavioral Skills Therapist.

The family gathers for dinner at six, and everyone pitches in to help clean the kitchen. Bath time begins shortly after dinner, and bedtimes for the six little ones are staggered throughout the evening starting at 7:15 and ending at 9:00. Katie tries to fit in one on one time with Gabby and quiet time with her husband to dicuss their day and read the Bible. This is enough to make anyone’s head spin, but Katie also manages to find time to keep up a family blog.  Although things do not always go as planned, Katie says, “it is her morning prayer that she would have an organized day.”

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Tony, possibly taking a nap?

Katie knows there is a need to foster and adopt, and takes the opportunity to spread awareness whenever she can. On her blog, Katie explains that she once read that adoptive families are not God’s plan A, but His plan A was for the biological family to work. But what happens when Plan A is broken? or fails? Katie says, “Looking around at my messy house, hearing the children laugh and yell,…helping our children cry over wounds they are too young to consciously remember…Yes, I think I am OK with that. Remember this is all Plan B. Plan A was a garden. A garden where foster care, orphans, and pain didn’t exist.”

On any given day there is laundry to be folded, meals to be made, and dishes to be washed. There are also lesson plans, homework, karate, and  band practice. If anyone thinks what Katie and her husband are doing is impossible, they don’t seem the least bit deterred. The name of Katie’s blog is “Seeds of Hope”, and written on the header is Matthew 17:20:“ I tell you the truth, if you can have faith as small as a mustard seed…Nothing will be impossible for you.”