Monday, January 16, 2012

Adoption Class #1 - Open Adoption

Last week we had our first of seven adoption classes through our agency. A lot of people have commented on the "hoops" we are having to jump through to adopt, including these classes, but I have to say I for one am very grateful they are offered and required! We are learning a lot, and adoption is completely new terrain for us, so the more prepared we are, the better.

One thing that really stuck out to us was how our agency stresses to the adoptive families that they are not there to find us all a baby, but to find these children families. Their first priority is the children, and they want the families that are matched with them to be as prepared and ready as possible. Each class has a different topic, covering everything from Open Adoption to Grief and Loss. Our first class covered a brief history of adoption, open adoption, adoption laws, and the adoption "triad" (baby, adoptive parents, and birth parents).

We hit on a lot of information, so I will try to condense it to some of the more important info we covered. We're in a class of about ten to twelve other adoptive couples, so we all introduced ourselves and gave a quick background. Our instructor prayed with us (I seriously LOVE our agency! Totally Christ-centered which means a lot to us!) and then spent some time talking about what the Bible says about adoption, which was pretty cool! She gave examples of different people in the Bible who were adopted (Moses, Queen Esther, even Jesus!) and also how Christianity itself is the ultimate adoption example. As Christians, God has adopted us into His family, giving us the rights and standing in His family as His children! He paid a ransom to rescue us (far more than the $13,000 or so that we are raising to adopt our child!) and accepted us into His family, loving us far beyond what we deserve or can even imagine. I love being reminded of how much God loves adoption, how it is totally of Him, and how this path is not second best, but something we have been given as a gift!

We then touched quickly on "Adoption Friendly Language" and the history of how that is evolving. We were given a handout on phrases that are now outdated and sometimes really hurtful, and what phrases and terms to use instead. I might list all of them on an upcoming entry as an FYI, but I will give you a couple examples here. It is not really appropriate to refer to the birth mother or father as the "real" mother or father, but rather the "birth" parents. If they are the "real" parents, does that make Josh and I the "pretend" parents? See where I'm going? :) The same goes to referring to our biological kids as our "real" kids, because how would that make our new baby feel? Probably like they aren't "really" a part of our family!

After that, we started our discussion on open adoption. What it means, what it looks like, how it has changed over time, etc. By my own definition, open adoption is an adoption without secrets. The birth mother chooses the family she places her child with, she gets to knows us, we get to know her, there is some kind of relationship between us before and after the birth of the baby. We are aware of her medical and social history, she has made an informed decision of the couple she is placing her child with. Open adoption has become the "norm" in adoption situations here in the U.S. and is now thought to be the very best scenario an adopted child can grow up in, if the family situation is appropriate.

I was surprised to learn that open adoption was actually historically the normal way to conduct adoptions right up until about 1930. After that, adoptions were mostly all closed in the U.S., mostly because it was thought to be best by the social workers of that time. It was done out of what they thought would protect all parties, but years later, when these children were grown adults, there was a huge change of thought due to the fact that they had grown up with absolutely no idea of where they came from, what their medical background was like, the reasoning behind their parents decision to surrender them, and so much more.

Adoption records had been sealed for years, but sometime in the 70's there was a movement to open them up and allow these children to have access to at least their medical history. Adoption was tainted with secrecy and even shame for a very long time, and that way of thinking began to shift only in the last few decades for a variety of reasons. There is still, however, questions among many people asking if it is really best for the child to know his or her birth parents, their story, or if it is best to "protect" them by keeping this information a secret and "protecting" them from the truth. Our instuctor reminded us, though, how secrets and lies are never of God. I really had the wake up call that God is truth, and He would not want any of His children growing up under the pretense of lies and secrets. I am NOT talking about unavoidable situations such as international adoptions where a lot of information simply isn't available to adoptive families, I'm talking about when information is available and the choice is made to hide it from the child.

I've had a few comments to the effect of, "Doesn't it worry you that with open adoption your child won't know who his parents are?" NOPE!!! Though there are quite a few worries in this adoption process, that is not one of them. If you know me and my parenting style at all, you know I'm a fan of telling my kids the truth! Kids are so much more capable of understanding complex human relationships than we give them credit for, and I have every confidence that my child will have no doubt who his or her parents are! If it is possible, we hope there can be some kind of relationship between our family and the birth family, for our child's sake at the very least. I have had many comments saying "I could never do that" (talking about open adoption), but in my heart I want to say, "Yes you could, and you would, if that's what was best for your child!" We all want the best for our children, and if the best scenario for our child is that he or she knows and has a relationship with their birth family, and that is also a possibility, than that's what we'll strive for! Of course there are fears in every adoption situation, but fear is never what we should base our decisions on, and we won't be basing this decision on fear either!

Nowadays, it is actually the law that all adoptive families have access to non-identifying social and medical information on their child, even in the most closed adoption cases. However, it is now thought to be a much healthier situation for all parties if there is at least some openness in the adoption between the birth and adoptive families. There are many reasons for this, including allowing the child to know where they came from and the reasons behind the adoption decision, giving them someone in their lives that looks like them (something I'm sure we all take for granted), allowing the birth parents to see first hand that they made the best possible decision, and in our agency, giving the adoptive parents the opportunity to be examples of a Godly family to the birth mother. Many of the women who place their babies up for adoption aren't Christians, and their relationship with the adoptive couple might be the only exposure they have to Christianity! That's a great opportunity for us to show God's love to them!

We got to watch a few videos of interviews with birth parents and how they came to the decision of open or closed adoption. God really used it to sooth some of our fears about open adoption! For one, our instructor talked about how these birth parents are not scary people hiding in the bushes just waiting to steal their baby back. Mothers who place their child for adoption with our agency are making a sacrifice for their child because they value marriage, they value the father's role in raising a child, and they on some level value raising their child in a Godly home. People who value those things are not scary, shady people! They are just like me, honestly, and God knows I could have so easily been in their shoes years ago. I know many of us can say it is only by the grace of God that we didn't face that kind of decision at some point in our lives, but if we had, would we have wanted to be feared, or understood and accepted with grace? Watching some of these birth moms and even dads talk, my heart just totally broke for them and I so admired the decision they were making to give their child the best possible chance in life. That is love.

We learned a little more about the type of people who make adoption plans. We learned that the typical birth mother making an adoption plan is actually in her late 20's, with one or more biological children at home. The reasons for placement are widely different, and each situation is so unique. We got to take a look at the actual match book prospective birth mothers look through when choosing a family for their child, and I nearly cried flipping through it, thinking of how, if I was a birth mother, none of those couples would seem good enough for my child, and what an incredibly hard choice that would be to make.

We reviewed the three different types of adoption plans: open (meaning there is regular contact between the birth and adoptive families, visits, and some kind of relationship), semi-open (this usually takes the form of letters, emails, and sometimes phone calls, but no personal contact or relationship between families), and closed (all information is sealed and confidential except for the required medical and social history of the child's birth family). The type of adoption we will have is entirely up to the birth mother and what she wants. We are open to anything and will do our best to work out a plan that is comfortable for all of us, but best for the baby.

We talked about the adoption "Covenant" that is made between the birth and adoptive families. Basically this is a written (but not legally binding) agreement that is made before the adoption takes place, outlining the type of contact the families will have. The adoption agency helps mediate this and carry it out after the adoption is final. We were told that it is always best to promise the least we'd be willing to agree to (such as bi-monthly letters or emails) and let it grow from there if it does. We talked about how though it isn't legally binding and the adoptive parents technically have all the right in the world to completely sever contact with the birth family, as Christians we are to honor our commitments, and making a covenant with another is not something to take lightly!

We also touched on adoption laws and how they have changed and evolved over the years. I will give a run down of some of the more important laws because this is probably the topic I'm most asked about when talking about our adoption with others.

Once an adoption placement is complete, meaning the mother (and father, when applicable) has signed the official adoption papers, it is irrevocable. Let me stress this as much as I possibly can: Once an adoption in the United States is finalized, there is absolutely no chance that a mother can change her mind and get the baby back. Because this is the law and is a completely irrevocable decision on the part of the birth parents, they are not even allowed to sign these papers until the baby is at least 72 hours old. This allows the mother the chance to see, hold, and spend time with the child if she desires, before making a permanent decision to place them for adoption.

This is also another reason we chose our agency. We are confident that the birth mothers who go through CFCA get the absolute best counseling and preparation when making a decision about whether or not to parent. They are not pressured or coerced, they are counseled and prepared and given every opportunity to parent if that's their desire. Obviously, those 72 hours after the birth of what could possibly be "our" baby will be incredibly difficult for everyone. We have to completely trust the Lord that He will bring us the baby He's already planned for us, and if we are in a situation where the mother changes her mind and decides to parent before those 72 hours are up, though that will be heartbreaking for us, it is the best thing for that baby.

There were a few random facts about laws concerning adoption that I found really interesting. For one, birth grandparents have absolutely no legal rights to the child being placed for adoption, even if the birth mother is a minor. Minors are allowed to place their child for adoption without consent from her parents, and it is also the law that every effort is made to inform the birth father of the adoption plan before placing the child.

We covered a lot of other stuff, but for the sake of time and space I won't go into everything here. We learned a lot and I found it all really interesting. The next class will be covering "Grief and Infertility", and from what I hear it is always a very difficult class to get through! Like us, I'm sure the other couples have walked a very difficult path bringing them to the decision to adopt, so it should be quite interesting!

I will fill you in on our next class when I get the chance, but for now, I hope you learned a thing or two about adoption, I know I have!

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