Wednesday, February 5, 2014

And Now a Moment of Irony

Back in December, everyone in our house contracted that evil stomach bug known as noravirus.  Of course the kids were fine in a day, but my husband and I took a few more days to feel normal again.  In about a week, my husband was back on track feeling normal, but my version hung on and on.  It didn't matter what I ate or drank, I never felt any better or any worse.  I went to the doctor and found out I had an infection.  Ah!  The source of the tummy troubles demystified!  He put me on antibiotics and something for the nausea.  I figured it would all go away in a few days as the infection got better.

After a few days, I could tell the infection was going away, but I still felt nauseated all the time.  The doctor had warned me the antibiotics could make me nauseated and had advised me to take them with food, so I again figured it would all go away when the medication was done.  As I finished the medication, the nausea stubbornly hung around.  I went back to the doctor.

They said they wanted to run a pregnancy test.  Uhm... okay.  I guess it's their effort, not mine, that's wasted.  I could have told them the results before they even ran it.

Have you ever heard God laugh?

The doctor came back in and said the pregnancy test was positive.  Sure, I'll go ahead and say it again: the pregnancy test was POSITIVE!  After an ultrasound, I discovered that not only was I pregnant, but I was 9 weeks along!  I had gone almost the entire first trimester without even knowing I was pregnant.

I have previously alluded to the statistical unlikelyhood of this very scenario.  Only 5% of couples diagnosed with infertility conceive.  I'm now a statistic.  And all I could think about as I drove home was all the times I told people they were nuts when they said, "Maybe you'll still get pregnant."

We'd decided we were done.  No more kids.  We'd started giving away all our infant stuff: clothes, bottles, bouncy seats, the swing.  And now that there's going to be breastfeeding involved, there's a whole batch of things we'll need to acquire that we are completely unfamiliar with.

This is a weird place to be.  It's our third child, but our first pregnancy.  There are a lot of things we don't know, don't know what to expect, don't know what to do.  And yet once the kid gets here, we'll be good.  We've done the newborn thing before.

I've become the person all infertile couples resent: the infertile woman who conceives by accident.  And now I wonder how long I would have let it go before I found out.  Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, the morning sickness (remember that unexplainable nausea?) went away and I've felt fine for the past couple of weeks.  Would I have been that girl who thought she was just eating too much fast food?  What would have been the tipoff?  I'm not an idiot, but I was certainly not expecting this particular outcome.

The roller coaster of life.  And we'll now be riding it as a family of 5.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Adoption Advice I Wish Someone had Given Me

When we began our adoption process, we looked everywhere for advice, tips, stories, some kind of idea of what we were heading into.  We found very little.  We spoke to a few adoptive families we knew, but they had all adopted through private channels.  We never had an opportunity to speak to anyone who had gone through the foster system, as we were planning to do.  We learned many things along the way via trial by fire.  Now that we're on the other side of 2 finalized adoptions, and we've closed our foster license, I've compiled the following list of points I wish someone had told me about before this all began.

1. Be Vocal
Social workers are busy people, usually being asked to handle far more work than any human should be able to get done in a lifetime, let alone the week many of them are allotted.  They are also having to juggle a number of different types of cases at any given time.  You, a stable home with intentions of permanency, will likely be lower on the priority list than you would like to be.  Social workers focus their time where they can, and less stable, potential problem homes are going to be at the top of the list.  If there's something you need, or a question you want to ask, don't wait for your social worker to come for a visit, send out an e-mail, or give you a call.  Ask any questions you have, address any problems you encounter, bring up any concern you think of whenever you think of it.  Despite the work load, your social worker wants to help you.  That's what they're there for.  You just have to reach for it.  Be the squeaky wheel.

2. Be Candid
Your adoption worker is your advocate within the system.  They approve whether your family profile is considered for given child.  Let them get to know you as you are.  Be truthful.  No adoption worker is looking for the perfect family.  They know it doesn't exist.  They just want to know who you are so they can accurately match you with a child available for adoption.

3. Be Proactive
Don't be afraid to go up the chain of command if your questions are not being answered.  If any of your social workers is unable to help you, speak to their supervisor.  If you don't get the help you need, speak to THEIR supervisor, until you find someone who can give you the information you need.  At some point in the paper process, you will be given a list of contacts within the foster system.  Use it if you have to.  It's there for a reason.

4. Be Flexible
Remember that you could get a call at any time that a child is available.  Be willing to leave work early, call in sick, or move your schedule around to accommodate that meeting.  Your social worker has a busy schedule, as mentioned before.  They may need to schedule their meetings with you at the last minute, sometimes the day of.  Within reason (they understand you have a job and things that need to get done) be as flexible as possible to these scheduling anomalies.

5. Be Attentive
Take notes during classes and meetings.  Whenever you deal with someone new, ask for a card or make sure you write down their name and contact information.  This way, when you have questions or concerns, you can address them to the proper person who can help you get the answers you need.  Nothing prolongs problem solving more than asking questions of the person who doesn't have the answers.

6. Be Realistic
Although you do need to be vocal, it's not a good idea to pepper your social worker with questions and expect answers immediately.  Give them some time, have a little patience, and remember they WANT to help you.  They will answer your questions when they have the time and the correct information.

7. Be Thorough
When filling you any paperwork, fill it out COMPLETELY.  Don't leave anything blank.  If you have no information for a particular item, write "N/A" or "none".  One of the most frustrating things during the process is having paperwork returned to you because something was left out or done wrong.  County deadlines are not suggestions.  They are real.  If you're late, your process will be delayed.  Make sure everything is done on time and in the correct format.

As you navigate the system, pay attention to social workers, other families, and any other sources you may come across.  They are your allies.  You never know where some important piece of information will come from, so make sure you have your eyes open along the way.

Adoption is amazing, beautiful, meaningful, and rewarding.  It is also aggravating, frustrating, confusing, and complex.  Fill your tool box, and forge ahead.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Adoption Education Is Flawed

My university's alumni newsletter did a feature on adoption in its most recent issue.  The focus appeared to be using adoption to express God's love.  A beautiful topic, and many inspiring and wonderful stories.  I'm grateful to the families who were willing to share, and I greatly enjoyed reading them.

And yet, as I read, I was aware of another similarity all the stories had.  They were all private or international adoptions entered into by families who felt they were doing God's will in adopting a child.  That this was their ministry.

While I agree that adoption is certainly a wonderful allegory for God's love for His people (we are, after all, adopted into His family once we choose to be), I wondered what these selfless and Godly people would think of me, who chose to adopt for the selfish reason of wanting to have and raise children.  I admit, I thought very little about what Jesus would do in my situation, and I was not motivated by showing God's love to my children.  Certainly they would be raised in a Christian home, but that's simply the climate of our family.  I chose to adopt because I wanted to be a mother.  It's possibly the only thing I've wanted for as long as I've been able to articulate future goals.  I've wanted it for my entire marriage.  My entire adult life, for certain.

These stories also brought to light a gap in the world of adoption education as far as what information is out there and the public opinion of adoption in general.

When most people talk about adoption, they're talking about these same kinds of adoptions: private, open, international.  The kind that cost a not-so-small fortune.  It's one of the things that makes some people afraid to attempt it.  Every adoptive couple has two major fears: the first is that something will go wrong and the adoption will fall through.  The second is the price tag.  The costs associated with private and international adoption also cause many people (myself included) to have an ethical dilemma on their hands.  In the face of $30,000 in expenses, how do you convince yourself you're not buying a baby?

My central thesis in this discussion is that roads to fost-adopt need to be more vocal.  The foster system needs to wave it's hand around and let people know it's out there.  People fear the foster system because of the horror stories that are out there.  We've all seen the stories in the news of the child being driven away from the adoptive family, tears streaming down her face, only to be returned to a family that couldn't support her in the first place.  Stories like these are, in fact, rare.  The reason we hear about them, the reason they make news is because they're rare.

Another thing to understand about the foster system is that adoptive families and foster families are essentially in different categories.  When you first fill out the very first piece of paper, you designate yourself as either adoptive or foster.  You also get to dictate how much risk you're willing to take when having a child placed in your home.  Legal risk is the likelihood that the child will go back to his or her biological family.  There are 5 levels of legal risk ranging from 5 (definitely going back) to 1 (parental rights have already been terminated and the are no family members within 4 degrees of biological separation who are willing to take the child... also known as legally free), and you get to say how far you're willing to go.  The social workers will only present you with children who meet your legal criteria.

The world of private adoption is all full of fuzzy stories about birthmothers making a loving choice and choosing a family to raise their children.  And those things are true.  But the adoptive family is left feeling totally out of control of the future of their own family.  Here they are, ready for a family, and it all hinges on someone else's decision.  They have to be "right" or "good enough" or "suitable". Most adoptive families already feel somewhat out of control for various reasons in their past.  And now they enter a process that removes yet more control.  The foster system, while not perfect, does give adoptive families a small measure of control.  When they are matched with a child in need of a permanent home, they go to a social worker's office for a presentation where they hear the child's story and then are given 24 hours to decide if this child's case is one they want to be a part of.  If they decide to move forward, a schedule is created to aid the transition from foster home to permanent home.  If they decline, the social worker moves on to the next matched family and offers them the choice.  The child never knows any of this is going on.

Adoption is confusing because the private adoption world has dominated the public opinion, and their advocates and representatives are not always clear about how the process works, how laws apply, and what the rights of all involved parties are.  People believe the horror stories perpetuated by the media because no one is standing up to set the record straight. 

Well, consider my feet on the ground, my head held high, and my hand waving in the air.  I adopted two wonderful, amazing, beautiful, unique children through the foster program.  They are neither "messed up" nor are they scarred for life (except what my husband and I may scar them with as time goes on).  They are perfect, incredible kids, and fine examples of the kind of experience that is common within the foster system.

All questions will be answered.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Anti-Adoption Groups Are Real

I recently had my first encounter with some anti-adoption groups. This encounter was, to put it mildly, less than pleasant. Without repeating what they said (it doesn't belong in civilized conversation), let me just say that it was very mean, very hateful, and very personal. Although the experience was negative and slightly damaging, it did get me thinking about the other side of the coin. I've heard it said that hurt people hurt people, and I had a strong suspicion that the hateful things these people were saying came from a place of pain, not malice. With that in mind, I set out to find out about this anti-adoption thing, and I learned some interesting information.

The term "anti-adoption" is a little bit of a misnomer. Most of the people I encountered (with the exception of the very vocal minority I was unfortunate enough to run into first) were not against adoption in every form and every situation. They're against unethical adoptions. Let me backtrack a bit to explain what MOST of them mean by "unethical".

As I was meeting people who defined themselves as anti-adoption, I noticed a lot of them were Canadian, and a lot of them were birthmothers who felt they had been coerced into placing their babies for adoption. When I enquired as to this Canadian mindset, I found out something disturbing. Back in the 80s, the Canadian government made the executive decision that babies are better off in homes with 2 parents who are married, rather than a single mother or an unwed couple. The hospital protocols were changed so that unwed mothers would always be in the same maternity wards in every hospital, they would always have pain medication during delivery, and while they were still under the influence of those medications a government social worker would convince them to sign over their parental rights, effective immediately. Many of them had no idea what they were signing, assuming it was more hospital paperwork, and only found out later when they asked to see their babies that they in fact had given them up. Many of these mothers have formed a coalition and are bringing lawsuits against the government for violation of rights and punitive damages. To add insult to injury, Canadadian adoption records are closed, completely. The children can't find out who their birthmothers are even if they do want to know, and the mothers are left with no answers, no closure, no resolution.

Needless to say, this was an abomination and I certainly share their opinion that this is not the way adoption should be practiced. The laws have changed and it's no longer done this way in Canada, but the damage is done.

Others of the anti-adoption crowd are against trafficking and sex slavery to create a baby mill. This is something we think of happening in third world countries, but it does happen here at home too. Again, something I'm not interested in supporting.

A smaller number of them are against any form of private adoption where money changes hands and agencies get richer by making families wait longer. I find myself leaning in their direction on this one, but it's because our first encounter with a private adoption agency was so negative that it turned us off completely.

And of course, there are those who believe adoption shouldn't happen at all, that you can teach anyone to be a good parent and that what you should do is support unhealthy birth families instead of removing children for their own safety and placing them with a family who can raise them and give them a future. Oh, sorry, did my opinion on that one show? Good.

Most importantly, I found out that the issue is far more complicated than being for or against adoption. A blanket label in either direction is misleading. I also found out something I've known for a while: you can't convince someone to agree with you by being loud, obnoxious, and insulting. People want information, not verbal beatings.

Bottom line: if you're pro-adoption, don't assume everyone else is, too. If you're anti-adoption, don't assume all adoptions are unethical.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I'm Important, Too

I have decided that today is a day for honesty. I have, therefore, prepared a couple of confessions for your perusal and consideration.

Confession 1: I love makeover shows. I do. I love the one where they take your clothes one by one and shoot them up a vacuum tube, and then all your friends shop for clothes they think are appropriate for you and you pick the ones you like. I love the one where a bunch of fat people go to boot camp together and get eliminated based on how much weight they lose. I love the one where people hang on to every candy wrapper they've ever owned until roaches have made their house unlivable and then they bring in a professional organizer (who usually has no clue what they were getting themselves into) to get rid of all the junk, clean the house, and make it like new. But my favorite one is the one where they film you for two weeks to show what a disaster your wardrobe is, throw away all your clothes (making fun of you the whole time), and then give you $5000 to go buy new ones.

Something I hear all the time on these makeover shows is the story of the "Martyred Mom". You know her, you love her, maybe you ARE her. She's the mom who has spent the last 20 years taking care of everyone else, and hasn't bought so much as a stick of gum for herself. So the makeover staff go out of their way to let her know that now's the time. She deserves it. And certainly she does. In the face of all she does, two weeks buying her own clothes are but a small reward. However, this brings me to my second confession.

Confession 2: I am not a martyred mom. I don't have the syndrome where I have to ignore myself in order to take care of everyone around me. If I get a chance to take a long shower, shave my legs, and put on makeup, I take it! And I don't care that I let the dishes or the laundry or the housework wait for an hour or two while I do it. Maybe that means I'm selfish. But I don't feel like I have to ignore myself in order to take care of my family. I'm acutely aware of the fact that if I don't take time for myself, I get overwhelmed and start to feel taken advantage of. That makes me feel like I'm the only one doing any work which makes me impossible to live with. I know these things about myself. I also know that because of these things, I take better care of my family when I do a few little things for myself every now and then.

So I will not apologize for taking a long shower every few days, dying my hair every few weeks when my roots start to show, or going through my wardrobe every now and then and getting rid of things that don't fit, and replacing them with things that do fit, do flatter, and do look amazing. I don't wear Mom jeans, I don't wear tennis shoes everywhere, and I certainly don't wear those velour track suits that do nothing but make EVERYONE look fat. I will not apologize for having good hair, cute clothes, and a stack of books by my bed without the name Seuss on them.

My final act for the day is to let all the moms out there know that you don't have to be the martyred mom. It's not selfish to get your nails done while the kids are at ballet class. It's okay to put styling product on your hair. It's just fine to buy that dress you saw that you totally love, provided you actually have the money for it. Your family doesn't want you to suffer for them. They DO need you. They DO depend on you. You ARE an important and vital part of them. And it's BECAUSE of those things that you owe it to yourself to be nice to yourself, every chance you get. There aren't a lot of those chances, so when you see them, snatch them. There's no doubt this can be a thankless job, so take every chance you can to thank yourself. Write yourself a speech. Because in this case you're the only nominee, and therefore a shoe-in.

Enjoy the after party.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

There Are No Two Ways About It

Two types of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It's a law of physics as well as an important Spiritual reality.

I have previously alluded to some faith issues I have faced, but I have refrained from going into detail. Yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany and feel that I have finally reached a place where I can let the world know what has been going on.

When I was first diagnosed with infertility, I had a few niggling doubts about the entity I have always called "God". However, I have always believed in a loving, caring God who always wanted what was best for me, and I knew that sometimes even the faithful have doubts. In my past, when doubt has arisen, there has always also arisen a way to overcome it; some small miracle that made me believe again. Bearing that thought in mind, I paid little heed to my doubt and moved on, knowing it would subside.

When our first adoption fell through, those doubts went from niggling to screeching. The God I had always known would never allow this to happen. He would never take two amazing children from a loving, nurturing home, and return them to parents who had gone to prison for felony endangerment. That single thought was so big and so loud and so important that the day we handed those children back to their parents, I said to God, "This is my reward for a lifetime of service? This is reaping what I sowed? This is your plan for me? Well forget it. I'm done with you. I gave you your shot and all you did was mess everything up, so I'll be doing things myself from now on, thanks."

I lived in that place of bitterness and anger right up until quite recently. It caused me to do many things I never thought I would find myself doing. I looked into other religions. I doubted whether God loved me or anyone else. My husband told me I sounded like an atheist, but the reality was so much bleaker: I believed God was out there, I just didn't think He gave two shakes about what happened to me. Which expanded into wondering whether He cared abut anyone at all. And if He doesn't care, how can He be in control? And if He's not in control then everything I've ever believed was wrong.

And I did all of it alone because I was so afraid of hearing nothing but trite, well-rehearsed "Christianese" from my friends. I was even angry at people around me that I loved because they could say, "Well, trust God," and I would think, "Oh sure. Trust God. Let's all trust God. Look how well that's turned it so far."

But a few weeks ago, I decided to confide in a trusted friend who I knew had also had significant doubt in her life. Since then, she and I have begun a partnership to rediscover who God is and how I can relate to Him. It's a slow process and I'm a difficult student, but together she and I are focusing on one important and fundamental truth: God is. My plan is to rebuild the faith I once had starting from scratch. As a church-kid, this is something I never expected to have to do. Faith has always been like breathing to me. So easy. As an intellectual person, understanding it has always been a bit of a mystery, but since faith was so easy, I could always fall back on it for things I couldn't explain.

There has been, however, one aspect of faith that I have been as yet unwilling to surrender. I was willing to move forward and rediscover God, but I felt I was entitled to keep that anger about the failed adoption. That was mine, and I refused to let God take it away. I needed that anger, I believed, in case God ever let me down again. That way I would have more than one example to point to in order to prove I was right and God didn't care.

Yesterday, in the middle of folding laundry, I realized that this is not the case. I can't hate Him for taking the other two away, and love Him for bringing me the new one. I can't believe He wants the best for me, except for that one time. I can't say He's in control except for that thing that happened. I can't be angry and move on. Those two states of mind can't exist together.

I can live in this place where I am at the moment where I don't know or understand God and how I relate to Him. I can seek Him with any sort of faith, philosophy, or Spirituality I choose, but I can't hate Him and love Him at the same time. Although this is not what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said it, it is truly being "a house divided". And as Paul said, it WILL fall.

Where am I now? A step or two closer than I was before. And there will be many times in the future when I'll have to let that anger go again (it's been such a comfortable place for me). But I am now truly stripped. I don't know who God is or what He wants from me or anyone else. And that's okay. I know eventually He'll tell me. And this time I'll be listening.

On the hillside you will be delivered
Sinner sorry and wrecked by the fall
Cleanse your heart and your soul
In the river that flows
For you and for me and for all

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The REAL Monster

It is officially Holloween season.  I love Halloween.  I love it (GASP) more than Christmas.  I love costumes and haunted houses.  I love scary movies and carnivals.  I love jack-o-lanterns, candy, and bouncy houses.  I love the magic in the air.  For a whole day, anyone can be anyone or anything they want.  I spend months planning my Halloween activities.  October 1st, I devote myself to finding scary movies on TV, the perfect Halloween candy (I have to be the good house), and the most fun festivals, parties, and carnivals I can.

Monsters are fascinating to me.  Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein, whatever that thing was that lived under my bed when I was a kid.  Each one scarier than the next.  However, I have recently discovered a monster scarier than any other I have ever encountered (and I've been to Knott's Scary Farm many times).  This monster strikes fear in the heart of everyone it encounters.  Angels certainly fear to tread in its presence.  And yet, there has never been a single movie made or book written about this monster (at least that I know of).  Perhaps it's because it's so fearsome we dare not speak of it.  It's so scary our brains refuse to dwell on it.  We awake from nightmares about this monster, unable to recall what caused such full-blown terror.  It is what makes us afraid of the dark.  It is what makes us afraid of silence.  We fear what's under the bed because we know this monster could certainly thrive in that environment.  This monster is known only as CRANKY BABY!

We live in fear of CRANKY BABY.  Everything we do, every day, is aimed at avoiding an encounter with CRANKY BABY.  Why do I skip lunch?  So I can feed Carson and prevent him from transforming into CRANKY BABY.  Why do I plan field trips?  So Carson doesn't get bored and turn into CRANKY BABY.  Why do I get up before dawn on Sunday mornings?  Because that's when Carson wakes up begins plotting when to become CRANKY BABY.

And when CRANKY BABY appears, what do we do?  We beg, we plead, we cry, we bribe, we avoid.  But you can't ignore CRANKY BABY.  You can't lock CRANKY BABY in a room and hope it goes away.  Why?  Ah.  This is at the heart of what makes CRANKY BABY so terrifying.  Avoidance and ignoring only fuels CRANKY BABY.  The more you pretend CRANKY BABY isn't around, the more CRANKY BABY displays its power.  CRANKY BABY has an endless supply of energy, and needs no motivation.  It takes no prisoners and can strike at any moment.  At home during dinner.  Out shopping.  At Grandma's house.  At Disneyland.  And its appearance is a virtual guarantee anywhere near bedtime.

But we have a weapon againt the terror that is CRANKY BABY.  We have one way to combat the fear, the demands, the insistence of this terrible creature.  That weapon is something in the home of every family that harbors a latent CRANKY BABY waiting to emerge.  It's a commonplace object that is our only raft in the endless sea of fear that surrounds CRANKY BABY.  This relief, this savior, this sword is known as THE BOTTLE.  When fear of CRANKY BABY reaches its peak, our only recourse is THE BOTTLE.  Wielding THE BOTTLE sends CRANKY BABY running for the hills, and only then can peace be restored.

And the peasants rejoice.