A Case for Domestic, Open Adoption

Adoption isn't for everyone.

That isn't what this post is about.  You need to do what's right for your family.

When others find out that we've adopted, we get lots of questions.  Sometimes these questions come because one spouse secretly wants to adopt and is afraid to mention the idea to her partner, because people are trying to decide between international and domestic adoption, or because a couple has talked about adoption for years but has never known where to begin.  Whatever the reason, I'm going to attempt to debunk a few of the myths I've heard (and believed myself) about domestic, open adoptions.  Adoption is important, and I think that more people would do it if it wasn't so intimidating.

Myth #1:  Adoption is too expensive.

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Okay, let's be real.  Adoption through an agency is expensive.  But it's not too expensive.  Our daughter's adoption cost more than we anticipated (over $18,000), but we made it.  We aren't millionaires; our combined incomes are far less than even six figures.  Whether or not you read anything else on this point, please read the following:

If you wait until you have all of the money to adopt, you'll never do it.

 We are very blessed with supportive a family and friends who supported us tremendously, but adoptions are still possible without those things.  There are adoption tax credits, employee adoption grants, odd jobs, savings accounts, low-interest adoption loans, garage sale fundraisers, reduced trips to Starbucks, grants through adoption agencies, and other options.  Normal people (not just wealthy people) can adopt.

Throughout our adoption process, I was in tears, humbled by the grace of God and the generosity of others in helping us bring home little Piper.  We certainly found it to be true that "He can do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine."  

And in case you were wondering, our little girl is more than worth every penny.

Myth #2:  The birth mom will change her mind.

Honestly, she might.  A birth mom can change her mind and decide to parent up until the point when she terminates her rights (within a month after the baby is born in Oklahoma).  This has happened multiple times at the agency we used for our daughter's adoption.  Wouldn't you maybe consider doing the same, though?  All of a sudden, the baby that you've carried for nine months is very real and very beautiful, and it would become very easy to fall in love and very tough to put her in someone else's arms.  I constantly worried that Piper's birth mom would reverse her decision.  But at the same time, I knew that I would be okay if she did.

These birth parents aren't crazy.  They're pretty amazing people actually, and I care about Piper's birth mom so much that I genuinely wanted the best for her in that period of uncertainty.  

Adoption, like most things worth doing, is risky.  The birth mom really could change her mind.  And you really would be okay.

Myth #3:  The birth parents will try to take my child away.

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After birth parents have terminated their rights, they legally cannot take the child from you.  In Oklahoma, birth fathers can sign their rights away before the baby is born.  Birth mothers, as I mentioned before, must appear in court within a month of giving birth to terminate their rights.  After both of those situations have occurred, only the state can take the baby away from you, which would never happen unless they found evidence of you being abusive.  Birth parents aren't going to come knocking on your door to steal your child.  As previously mentioned, they aren't crazy.  

Myth #4:  Open adoptions are a pain and I don't want my child to be in contact with his/her birth parents.

There are varying levels of openness for domestic adoptions.  The agency that we used requires at least a semi-open agreement.  Minimum obligations are sending letters and pictures (via the agency) to the birth parents monthly for the first year, and then twice a year after that.  If you are hesitant to send letters and pictures, I urge you to consider the reasons why.  Your child will always consider you to be her parents, but the desire to know who the birth parents are is innate in every adopted child.  

You owe your child honesty.  

Put yourself in a birth parent's shoes for a moment.  If you had given birth to a baby, you would always want to know that that baby is okay.  You would probably think about him all the time and wonder how he is doing.  You would ask yourself, daily, if you had made the right decision.  

When regarding the tremendous gift that your child's birth parents gave you, doesn't it seem like a small task to update them on your child's life?  

Finally, I urge you to contemplate the caliber of people who choose to give their babies up for adoption.  While it is true that some are not excellent role models, that is not the case in most instances.  Piper's birth parents are exactly the kind of people who I want her to know.  They are selfless, brave, and generous. My husband and I are hoping that they will be involved in Piper's life as she grows.  You don't have to start off an open or semi-open agreement by giving away your phone number.  Our relationship has evolved to the point where we felt comfortable with that, but yours wouldn't necessarily have to be the same.  A healthy sense of caution about birth parents is acceptable; an irrational, judging fear is not.  

Be skeptical of your skepticism.

Myth #5:  My child's birth mom will have consumed drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy and harmed my child.

It's possible, yes.  But maybe not.  Again, there is much to be said here for being cautious as opposed to being fearful.

 At our agency, we were allowed to choose the amount of prenatal drug and alcohol exposure that we would allow for our baby.  None of the case workers made us feel guilty about our decisions or tried to force us to do anything against our beliefs because they knew that we needed to make the best choice(s) for our family.  

In the end, we decided that we had to leave Piper's health and well-being in God's hands. Prenatal drug and alcohol exposures can cause problems for babies and children; so can many other factors.

Myth #6:  An adopted child won't really feel like "ours."

We now have a biological and an adopted child, and I can honestly say that there has not been a day when Piper has felt less "ours" than Caroline does.  I can't imagine my heart being any more full of love, nor can I imagine wanting any other child in the world in her place.  She didn't have to come out of my womb for that to happen.  That's all I have to say about that.

Myth #7:  There is a greater need for international adoption than domestic adoption.

I have a hard time not getting angry about this myth.  International adoption is not "cooler," "better," or "more necessary" than adopting in the the United States.  

If you're going into adoption with the mindset that you are "rescuing" a child, I ask you to consider the thousands of children in your own state who need "rescuing" from foster care ... babies who need "rescuing" from a life of neglect ... teens who need "rescuing" from juvenile detention centers ... birth parents who need "rescuing" from the feeling of having to abort because there are no other options.

And then remember that ultimately, whatever child you bring into your family will end up rescuing you in more ways than you even realized you needed it.

I'm not trying to convince you to do something that you don't think is right for your family.  What I do know is that I believed every single one of these myths until we jumped into Piper's adoption.  Now that I'm on the other side, I can say that a domestic, open adoption is hard, frustrating, scary, unpredictable, unusual, hopeful, happy, freeing, beautiful, and worth every monetary, physical, and emotional cost.  

Adoption is joy. 

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You are bigger than your fear.

Andrew Alaska Rock Climbing

This May marks one year since I left my full-time teaching job.  In the past couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on the year behind me, wondering if I made the right decision.

I don't write lesson plans or go to meetings anymore.  I don't spend my days conducting science experiments or facilitating art projects.  I'm not responsible for the direct care of a classroom full of little ones who are trying to navigate school for the first time.  Now, I cook lots of food, wash lots of dishes, and care for exactly two children (my own).  I go to class at night, and then I wake up the next morning to do it all over again.

At times, I doubt my value at my girls' preschool and even as their mom.  My current state of living the "in between" as a part-time employee, part-time student, and full-time mother feels insignificant.

"Do you think I'm different than the stressed-out mess that I was last year?  Did I do the right thing?"  I ask my husband.

"Yes!" he replies.  "Are those even questions?  Your decision to leave your job is the best thing you've done for our family."

***

April 2016.  I had a wonderful job and adored my students but was looking to make a change and leave special education.  I interviewed at a school across town - a wealthy school with involved parents where I wouldn't have to pay for my own copy paper.  (Yeah, you read that correctly.)  I would be teaching general education Pre-K but could use my special education background to help struggling students.  It was the perfect position, and I immediately accepted when it was offered to me.

Two weeks later, it still didn't feel right.  

Why couldn't I get excited about this opportunity?  Why was I plagued with a nagging sensation that even the ideal class, coworkers, parents, and school wouldn't be enough to make me happy?

***

Also April 2016.  My allergy-prone youngest woke up one morning with conjunctivitis in both eyes.  Her eyes were swollen shut so that she couldn't look at me.  She was scared.  I had already used all of my sick days during maternity leave in the fall, so my husband stayed home with her.  My sweet eight-month-old was clearly in good hands with him, but I bawled all the way to work.

That was the day that I knew I would never teach again.

Even on the really easy days, my job got my best and my family got my leftovers.

***

May 2016.  Feeling like a fool, I sat in my boss's office and declined the offer that many others would have been delighted to take.

She was so gracious.  "This decision doesn't have to make sense to anyone else if it makes sense to you," she said.

As I walked out of her office that day, I felt simultaneously very relieved and very afraid.  Relieved because I had followed my gut.  Afraid because I had no idea what was next.

It is highly unlike me to make decisions without calculating every detail of the aftermath.  What career will I pursue next?  How will we make ends meet without my salary, meager as it is as a teacher in Oklahoma?  Do I even understand how to be a good mom to my kids, and will I enjoy being with them for most of the day?  That last question was the most frightening to consider.  But it had to be asked.  For three years, my girls had spent a good chunk of their waking hours in daycare.  Will I even know how to parent them?

***

My three-year-old is terrified of everything from walking alone on the balance beam, to putting her head underwater, to the Chick-fil-A cow, to anything else in a costume or wearing face paint.  She is smart and persevering, but she lets fear dictate what she will and will not accomplish.

"You are bigger than your fear," I've started telling Piper in a feeble attempt to convince her of this truth while also convincing myself.

I wonder how often I have let myself become paralyzed by fear of the unknown.  It's so easy to spot this in other people.  "If he's abusing her in that relationship, she should just get out!" I think. But it's not that simple.  Sometimes, staying in a familiar but dysfunctional situation feels more comfortable than stepping out in faith to a bunch of question marks.

***

Last May was a turning point for me.  I chose to acknowledge the presence of fear without allowing it to determine the course of my life.  I spent that summer praying for direction and enjoying my children ... and mostly doing nothing.  It was weird and awesome.  I enrolled in classes for dental hygiene a week before they began.

Since then, fears of all sizes have continued to arise, but they don't define me anymore.  I even had a fear of starting this blog.  What if no one reads it?  Or, scarier still, what if people do? 

Obviously, I did it anyway.

***

Alaska

My husband and I went on a rock climbing date a couple of months ago.  He's good at that kind of thing, and I wanted to pursue one of his interests since our dates are usually the other way around.  I had no idea that I was truly afraid of heights until I reached almost to the top of that first wall, looked down, and started to cry and panic.  

"You are bigger than your fear," I remembered myself saying to Piper.  Instead of looking down at the ground, the place where I was comfortable, I looked up to the ceiling of the gym.  I made it to the top, and then I climbed another wall, and another one after that.  Eventually, I was unable to keep climbing, but what kept me from doing so was my embarrassing lack of upper body strength and not the panic that I had experienced so intensely at the beginning of our date.  Fear didn't win.

***

May 22, 2017.  I went back and visited the school where I taught.  I wanted to see my old friends and students, but I also needed to feel confirmed in my decision to leave.

I do miss my students.  Some of their parents text me on occasion, and I've been invited to birthday parties and awards ceremonies over the years.  In the moments when I question whether or not my six years in the classroom mattered to anyone, I remember these things and know that they did.

I also know, with every fiber of my being, that I did make the right choice at this time last year.

"Have you had a good year?" people have been asking.

"Yeah," I smile.  It has been pretty perfect.