Saturday, January 28, 2012

Adoption Class #3 - The Healthy Adoption Experience

We had a lot going on this week (what's new?) so I am sorry my blog updates are getting fewer and farther between, but it doesn't mean we aren't moving right along! The opposite is true, really! The faster things are moving and the busier we get, the less time I find to blog! But I really want to make sure I am passing along at least the highlights of each class, because Josh and I learn so much each time, and hopefully you will too!

This week's class covered a lot of information. We spent a lot of time on the "Common Myths" about adoption, learned about some core issues of adoption, talked about the building blocks of healthy adoptive families, learned about the similarities and differences in parenting by birth vs. parenting by adoption, and spent some time talking about the reality of bracing for a birthparent's change of heart. We also went over "Positive Adoptive Language" again, and I will share some of that with you in this entry since we've danced around it for awhile.

I think the most helpful thing for me in this class was talking about the myths and fears about adoption. I know I certainly have had a number of these cross my mind, and sometimes I spend hours dwelling on them. Just like with a pregnancy, there are fears and worries, but I have never adopted before, and I know very few people who have, so those fears tend to get even more magnified in my worried little brain. I felt better seeing them on paper, because that had to mean at least I wasn't the only one that worried about these things! And as I saw the other adoptive couples nod their heads as we read them off, I realized that we are all going through it. I'm going to list some of the myths and fears we talked about below, because if I have thought about some of these things, I'm sure you have too!

Myths and Fears About Adoption

I will never be able to love someone else's child like I would my own.
Okay. This is a big one. I am going to stick my neck out and say that I think it is even bigger for people who have biological children already. How is it even possible that I could love the child we adopt as much as I love the children we have now? In class, we talked about how it is very similar to being pregnant again after having one child. You go through the same exact fear and worry, thinking, "How could I love another child as much as I love our first? It just isn't possible!" And yet, as every mother of more than one child will tell you, when that baby becomes real to you, when you hold them for the first time, your heart just grows. It just does! When I was pregnant with Lily, I honestly had the same worry I do now about having another child, adopted or not! Will there be enough love to go around? Will another child decrease the love I have for my children? Will I like the new one as much as I like the ones I already have? (Seriously, I have thought these things, and you know what? So have you. Don't deny it.)

To quote from our handout, "Those who raise children by birth and by adoption know this (myth) simply isn't true. Adoptive parents often find themselves amazed at how strongly they feel that their new son or daughter belongs with them! They also find it insulting for people to make a distinction between children by adoption and children "of your own." Their adopted children are their own children!"

Infertility is not an issue for us any more - we have resolved all that.
 Josh and I have a hard time coming up with a name for our "fertility" issues. We have had healthy pregnancies, birthed healthy children. We have had miscarriages, stillbirth, "flukes" that went completely unexplained. We have no problem getting pregnant, but we haven't been able to have a healthy baby for six years! We don't fit the "infertility" label, we don't even fit the secondary infertility label, not really. But we certainly have issues! That is for sure. When we finally, finally hold our baby after all of our waiting and loss and hurting, it will be amazing. It will be so amazing! But it will not erase all we've been through to get there.

Again quoting from our class, "Infertility is a huge loss and it does inflict a wound. Like any wound, it can heal, but the scars and the tenderness will always be there. Champion adoptive parents are those who have faced their pain, walked through it (not around it), and have come out the other side better able to understand others who have been wounded by life. These are parents who can empathize with the pain of the birthmother's loss and their child's loss. Because of that empathy, they are better able to embrace the birthmother's role in their child's life without fear."

That last part really struck a chord with me. I hurt for our birthmother. I admire her so very much for the decision she is choosing to make for the sake of her child. But I know what it is like to leave the hospital empty-handed. I know what it feels like to hand away your baby, to go on living without them. I know the hole that it will leave in her heart for the rest of her life, and my heart literally hurts for her. I start to cry whenever I think about it. I am thankful that the Lord has allowed me to feel her pain on a very real level, because I know He will use that in my life to empathize with our child's birthmother. I know it will urge me to pray for her heart often, and I am sure it will help our relationship with her, whatever that might look like.

Parenting is parenting - it doesn't make any difference if it is by birth or adoption.
In class, we talked about how children who were adopted have very different issues than children born biologically into your family. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone! But the reality of it is, every child needs to be parented in a unique way that fits that child's personality, character, and heart! I know this first-hand from raising twins. Yes, my kids were born on the same day, they were the exact same size, looking very similar to each other, related by blood certainly, with the same parents, raised in the same house with the same rules...yet...they are so different, and we parent them very differently!

Our daughter is highly independent. She takes offense to help being offered to her. She was born a tiny little mother. She melts at one stern look from anyone. She cannot be coerced, swayed, or talked into anything she doesn't want to do. She is the most obedient, helpful child I have ever met. We parent her accordingly.

Her brother is a follower. He will do what everyone else thinks he should do. He is loud, obnoxious, hilarious, rough and tumble, yet somehow incredibly tender-hearted and at times, very timid. He has a scientific brain, but an empathy for other creatures that is astounding. He is such a boy. And we parent him accordingly.

It should be a no-brainer that our next child, adopted or not, will be very different than the two we are raising now. Being prepared for that will, well, help us be more prepared for that!

Maybe infertility is God's way of telling me I wouldn't be a good parent, so we should take that as a sign.
I re-worded this a tad, because we dissected it a lot in class. What this myth boils down to, is that many adoptive parents fear that their struggles to get pregnant is God's way of telling them no. No to parenting, no to having a child, no to having more children, no. It is His way of "closing the door" to children. Josh and I have struggled with this a lot. Like, a lot. If it was so easy for us to have the twins, should we take it as a sign that the difficulties we've had since is God's way of saying no to more children? Other couples who haven't been able to get pregnant at all struggle with the idea that maybe they aren't "supposed" to be parents. Not only that, but all of us have had at least one comment saying something to the effect of, "Well, not everyone is meant to be a parent" or "Well, maybe God is trying to tell you something. Maybe you should be happy with the family you have." Personally, I have had only a handful of very veiled hints that maybe we should "move on", and I'm thankful for that, because some of the things people can say are downright stupid. 

We live in a fallen world. It sucks, but that's just the way it is. There is sin, sickness, pain, suffering, and God didn't desire any of it, yet we introduced it anyway, and we are now living with its consequences. When you look at someone born blind, do you conclude that God was punishing them? That maybe they simply weren't worthy of the gift of sight? Infertility and loss are a part of our fallen world, they aren't "of God". But like any evil and terrible thing, God can turn it into something wonderful! He can open new doors, He can and sometimes does perform miracles, and sometimes He nudges us down a new path. Our instructor said, "Ask any adoptive parent if they would give up their son or daughter for a child 'of their own' and see their reaction!"

Just having a child in my arms will cure the pain of infertility.
Again, I am not able to speak of the pain of infertility, but I know loss. I know that the pain of each pregnancy loss will not go away just because God gives us another child. You cannot replace children with more children.  Josh and I have five children, three in Heaven and two here with us, and we love them each uniquely. We are praying that God will allow us lots of time here with the next child that comes along, but know full well that finally holding a new baby will not erase the memories or the pain of our losses. 

For those who have been unable to conceive on their own, and then go on to adopt, the pain of infertility will always be with them. They still can't carry a child, and that is painful, whether you are blessed with a child through adoption or not. I think this is really important for people to understand, because understanding creates empathy, and I think we could use a whole lot more empathy in this world!

Birthparents need to get on with their lives, and they can't do that if they stay involved in their child's life.
The truth of it is, involved or not, birthmothers will never be able to just "get on with their lives". They go forward, they continue living, but they will never move on. I can't imagine someone saying to me, "Karen, it is time to forget about Lily and get on with your life." Excuse me? She was my child, I will never move on from her. It is not so different for birthmothers. They are forever changed after having their child, and for many mothers it is the contact they are able to have with that child that helps them heal. Sometimes, it is necessary to encourage a birthmother to get counseling to help her deal with her grief before resuming visits or contact with the child, but for goodness sake, who wouldn't need counseling after that? We are praying for our brithmother fervently, and hope that we are able to have some kind of contact with her to show her how very much her child is loved and adored, and what a beautiful sacrifice she made for the sake of her baby.

If our child's birthmother could see what a beautiful child he is, she would want him back.
This is perhaps the most expressed myth or fear that I have encountered when I talk about open adoption with others. I'm going to just copy what our handout says because it probably explains it better than I can.
"On one level this is undoubtedly true. She will have days when she aches with regret over her decision. She will yearn to be the one who feeds, clothes, and nurtures her baby. But it is extremely rare for those feelings of loss to be translated into action. Few birthmothers seek to have their child returned to them - or even try to undermine the adoption on an emotional level. Along with the pain and grief is the realization that she made her decision based on what she thought was best for her child at the time. Hard as it is to believe, many birthmothers experience real joy when they can see how happy and loved their child is in your family."

This is a tough one, for sure! It is very hard for us to think about the fact that with our unbelievable joy over our new baby, there is an incredible amount of pain and loss for his mommy. She is making the decision to place him in our family because she cannot care for him. She chose life for him rather than abortion months ago. She carried him all the way to term, and placed him in another family, our family. What an incredible sacrifice. One I am sure she will regret from time to time. We're praying for her every day, and I would love it if you did too!!!

Those are the big myths and fears that I wanted to talk about here. We covered quite a bit more, and I felt so much better after this class. I am so in love with our agency and all they do for us as adoptive parents, as well as how they advocate for the children and the birth families. I'm so comforted knowing what great hands our birthmom is in.

As I said earlier, I want to go over the Language of Adoption that we've talked about a lot in our classes. I will preface this by saying that Josh and I have had to make quite a few adjustments to the way we talk about our adoption, it is a learning experience for everyone! Our desire is that our children and our soon-to-be child feel completely loved and accepted in our family, always. I hope they never feel uncomfortable or hurt over something someone says unintentionally or intentionally. I hope you guys learn right along with us, and help change the way we talk about adoption and the way we talk to families who have adopted!

Negative Adoption Language

-"Children of your own" - Our adopted child is our own child, our very own! We hope he never feels otherwise.
- "Natural children" - All of our kids are natural...let's not make our new baby feel "unnatural"!
- "Put up for adoption" or "Gave up for adoption" - Josh and I use this term regularly, and are trying to change it. Did you know that the term "put up for adoption" came from the days of orphan trains, when children were literally put up on auction blocks to be inspected and sold at auction? Our birthmother is not doing anythign of the sort. She is making an adoption plan , and is not giving him away. This tells the child he was unwanted, unloved, and an object to be passed off, and I never want our child to feel that way!

Positive Adoption Language

-"Parents by adoption" or "Parents by birth" - Our child is blessed to have so many people who will love him. Not only us, his adopted family, but the family who gave birth to him. We will be given this child by adoption, but that does not erase his parents by birth. They existed and loved him, and will continue to do so after we adopt him.

- "Placed for adoption" or "Made an adoption plan" or "Relinquished the child"- Our child's birthmother is doing just that, making a plan for the life of her child. Using language like that conveys to the child and to the world that the birthmother took an active role in planning for her child, in creating the best possible life for him. She did so with thought and care and love for her child. She did not give him away, put him up for adoption, or hand him off. She made the best possible plan she could for him, with time and thought and love, and relinquished him because she decided that is what was best. It was not easy, thoughtless, careless, or hasty. I like using the word relinquised, because I think it more accurately conveys the birthmother's heart. It is hard, it is painful, it is probably the last thing she wants to do, but it is done out of love for her baby.

The last thing I wanted to talk about here was the last thing we discussed in class on Tuesday, and probably the hardest. As I have talked about before, a birthmother is not allowed to sign relinquishment papers until 72 hours after the birth of the baby. Most healthy babies and moms are discharged around 24 hours after birth. You do the math. That baby has to go home with someone, and 99% of the time, it is with the adoptive family. That means that depending on the day the baby was born, he usually goes home and spends close to four days or more with the adoptive family before the adoption papers can be signed and finalized. It is a very real possibility that the birthmother will have a change of heart during those four days and decide to parent her baby.

While this is a very difficult thing to imagine, it happens. It should not be a surprise when a mother decides to parent her baby. It shoud be surprising when she doesn't. Like I have said before, I never want to have a baby placed with us who should have or could have been parented by his birthmother. I believe that God will give us the baby He has planned for us, in His own timing! What is more difficult for me to deal with is the fact that we might be bringing home a precious little baby to our children, who will immediately attach themselves to that child. I worry about then having to explain to them, "Nevermind, he wasn't ours afterall."

Josh and I have talked about how we are going to deal with that, and the reality is we are just going to have to deal with it as it comes. I cannot predict the situation, and there are so many different possibilities that I just can't prepare for any of them. If God blesses us with a baby, we will explain to our kids that we are so excited to take care of that baby until his mommy can decide whether or not she can take care of him. If she can't, then we will be so happy to adopt him into our family. My kids are so smart, so empathetic, so adaptable, I know they will be just fine. That will be another loss to us that will be so incredibly hard, so I am praying God spares us from that, but we know very well that it is still a possibility. Just like with our pregnancies, we would be optimistic, but realistic. We are hopeful, but experience has taught us that hard things happen, and God will be there if they do.

Like I said, we had a lot to cover this week! Thank you for reading all of that and learning some new things about adoption! Another big milestone in the process this week was our homestudy interview. Our caseworker came to our house and spent some time talking to our kids, who did wonderfully! She glanced around our house a bit (very briefly, to my surprise after cleaning all week!) and made some notes. I told Josh that even though I had been warned that they barely look at your house during the homestudy, I still felt like I needed to make it as wonderful as I possibly could. I realized that I do these things because it is the only thing I have control over in this process. I will do what I can when I can! Just like in a pregnancy, there is so little you have actual control over. You can go to your appointments, you can take your vitamins and eat right, but that's about it. Everything else is completely out of your control. So you do what you can to the very best of your ability because it's all you can do! Well, in this adoption process, I can do very little. I can clean my house when my caseworker is scheduled to come over. I can go to our appointments, I can listen at our classes. I can pray for our baby. Everything else is pretty much entirely out of my hands, but at least I know I am doing everything I possibly can!

If you are praying, please, please pray for our baby!!! Pray for protection over him or her. Pray for his birthmother. Pray for her heart and for her protection and that she will be supported and loved during a very difficult time.

Josh and I have four more classes to go. We have two more interviews with our caseworker. After that, our homestudy will be submitted for approval, and we will enter the matchbook! Once we are in the matchbook, we are considered, "Officially Expecting" and can receive placement of a baby at any time! It could be a day, it could be a year. One thing I found really comforting was when our adoption instructor told us that a couple who has been placed in the matchbook has never not had a baby placed with them. No matter how long, it will happen eventually!

I will keep everyone posted, and we hope you will continue praying for us and supporting us through this process! Thank you so much for walking with us!

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