Let’s talk specifics: Agency Applications

2228603119_37792a3952_oIn our first, “Let’s Talk Specifics” entry, we hopefully provided you some additional clarity about a homestudy – what it is and how you get one. For our second post in this series, we want to explain the next major step in an adoption journey – selecting an adoption agency.

Type “domestic adoption agency” into your Google search bar, and over one million results will be presented to you. Agencies in every state, some with multiple offices, others with just a small staff, some with religious affiliations, others without…overwhelming to say the least. It can be hard enough for us to decide where to eat on a Friday night, so imagine our struggle on selecting an adoption agency! Luckily, this is where our adoption consultant comes in to save us.

If you recall, we are working with an adoption consultant, Susan. She doesn’t work for a specific agency, but rather an adoption consulting group and is a professional who walks this journey with us, watching out for red flags, assisting with paperwork, and answering our questions. Also, Susan has professional relationships with numerous adoption agencies, to whom she recommends adoptive parents. This was a huge help to us, shrinking that enormous, frightening number down to 15-20. This list provided a really good “starting point” for selecting an agency. In fact, because we are working with a consultant, we could apply and work with multiple agencies, potentially increasing our chances and speeding up the adoption timeline. Seems simple, right? Just pick a few and go? Well, if there is ever a recurring theme in adoption, it is that the process is slow and never as simple as it may seem.

Once we selected the agencies we felt were a good fit for us, the paperwork trail, similar to the homestudy, began again. Contact forms, applications, and contracts had to be completed, signed, and notarized. Nearly all of our homestudy paperwork and forms needed to be included, in addition to our family profile book (more on that in our next “Specifics” post). Fees had to be paid. Further, with a few of the selected agencies, a phone interview with their staff and attorney was required, where they explained the adoption process and legal implications of working with the agency. Whew!

Of all the paperwork, one of the hardest struggles was determining the “type” of child we are willing to adopt – characteristics and qualities of a child that are beyond our control. Not only are there decisions about gender, race, and age, in each agency application, there are checklists upon checklists of every disease, level of substance abuse by the birth parents, and family medical conditions, through which we had to decide our comfort level. It is very intimidating to make these decisions. Again, as Elisabeth O’Toole’s states in her book, In on it:  What adoptive parents would like you to know about adoption:

Could you parent a child of a different race?  Which races specifically?  Could you parent a child from another country?  Which countries?  Could you parent a child in contact with the birth mother?  Birth father?  Birth grandparents?  Siblings?  Could you parent a child with physical disabilities?  Which ones exactly?  How about mental disabilities?  Could you parent more than one child?  An older child?  How old?  What about a child who has been neglected or abused?

It’s hard to check “no” on some items; feelings of guilt come quickly with thoughts such as “we’d love any child, as long as we can be parents.” But we, like any adoptive parents, had to honestly ask ourselves what was the best fit for us. O’Toole continued:

Until I faced these decisions, I had never thought so specifically about adoption – or parenthood, for that matter.  If anything, I had a vague, untested belief that I could parent any child who was in need of a family.  And I really wanted to be that person, someone who could handle any obstacle with equanimity, one with boundless patience and humor, able to provide with generous hands whatever my child needed from me.  I still want to be that person.  But I’m not.  It was only by considering adoption myself – by facing that checklist in front of me on the dining room table…that I was compelled to acknowledge and accept my own capabilities and limitations as a potential parent.

And we also sat at our dining room table, with these checklists in front of us, trying to determine as best we could what we could handle in our family. Once we figured it out, we sent off our packets of applications, contracts, and other documents so that we could become “active” in each agency’s system, to be available as potential parents for birth mothers who make an adoption plan. Currently, we are active with about five agencies and are relying on God’s help to wade through the cumbersome clunky process that is adoption.

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Let’s talk specifics: The Home Study

shutterstock_150753773We often talk with people, who ask us where we are in the process. But we figure that, like us before we got into “the process,” many people probably don’t know much about adoption, and this is just the best way to ask how it’s going.

So, we thought it might be a good idea to write a few blogs to explain parts of the adoption process. First up: The Home Study.

One of the very first steps of any adoption, is a home study. This results in a legal document that confirms one’s ability to parent: physically, mentally, and financially. It is completed by a licensed social worker, and is written after review of legal documents, health reports, financial statements, as well as interviews, reference letters, and yes, an evaluation of the prospective adoptive parents’ home.

Sounds a little intrusive, huh?

As Elisabeth O’Toole put it in In On It: What adoptive parents would like you know about adoption, (a book we highly recommend, by the way):

“Compared to biological parents, the steps to achieving adoptive parenthood are much more . . . documented.”

Before we could even meet with our social worker, we first had to gather documents such as birth certificates, our marriage license, photo identification, income tax returns, residential histories, and pet records. In addition, we each had to have health exams and our doctors fill out a form agreeing we are healthy enough to parent a child. Another requirement was getting both state and federal criminal investigative reports, which involved going to the State Police and FBI locations for finger prints.

Once we had all the documentation, our social worker visited us in our home. While she did look around, it was not a “white glove test.” The main purpose of the home tour was to make sure we have a safe living space, and a plan for where our baby will sleep. This part of the home study visit lasted maybe a total of five minutes. The remaining time of the first home visit was spent discussing our relationship, our life together, work, religious views, our motivation to adopt, as well as talking about adoption in general. Our social worker is an adoptive mother, so she had stories to tell us and encouragement to share. The first home visit lasted more than two hours.

A follow up visit was required so we scheduled it for a few weeks later. The second visit lasted about four hours and included individual interviews discussing our childhood, families, where we were raised, and even things like the primary method of discipline in our childhood homes and our anticipated parenting styles.

The home study process also involves family and friends: we were required to have four to five people write letters of reference on our behalf, only one of which could be a family member. The correspondence was directly between our social worker and the individuals we asked to participate; we have never seen the letters.

Our social worker then took all her notes and our compiled documents, and wrote a report outlining our desire to adopt and why, our background and family information, childcare plans, and our health and abilities, among other personal information. Ultimately, she gave us the legal seal of approval we needed to move forwards with applying to adoption agencies.

All this red tape can be very frustrating and discouraging at times. It’s easy to fall into thoughts that having a baby biologically does not require document gathering and intrusive interviews by practical strangers. But our consultant gently reminded us to view it from the eyes of an expectant mother making an adoption plan – she wants what is best for her child and to be comforted knowing that the adoptive parents she chooses have been thoroughly examined and will provide the loving, stable home she desires for her child.

We constantly remind ourselves that we cannot find our joy in the process. But our joy from this will come when we are finally parents. And just like a woman who experiences the pains of labor and finds it all worth it when her child is placed on her chest, we believe that “the process” will eventually just be a distant memory, overshadowed by the beauty of our child joining our family.

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What to Expect When She’s Not Expecting

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I’m sorry, what? “There is less than a 2% chance you can naturally conceive a child.” No, no, you must be mistaken. This must be some cruel joke; after all, it is April Fool’s Day.  “Less than a 2% chance.” But we followed the plan – we both graduated college, I finished law school and passed the bar…we even recently started building a house! Now it is time to start building our family, too! All of our friends are pregnant – surely this is wrong! But the doctor wasn’t wrong. And on that day, April 1, 2014, our lives were turned upside down. 

If you have explored our site, you know about our struggles with infertility and adoption; if not, you can get caught up here. We are using this blog to share our story and hopefully encourage others through similarly difficult times.  But I wanted to write a post specifically for men. For those husbands whose families are struggling with infertility and adoption, trying to cope with the heartache, and searching for what to do next all while attempting to faithfully lead their families through such a trying time. Guys, this post is for you. Trust me, I understand and can empathize with the challenges and struggles you are facing; with the feelings of doubt, anger, and confusion. And because of that, I wanted to share with you a few lessons God has taught me through our journey. I’m no expert, but these are just a few of the thoughts and perspectives I’ve gained from our experience thus far.

My first encouragement is men, if your wife is struggling with infertility, make sure you allow time to grieve. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  Kendal and I received our infertility diagnosis in April 2014.  At the same time, we were in the process of building our first home, so questions of wall color, furniture placement, and landscaping filled our minds.  After closing on our home that June, our life settled down a bit.  So, during a summer evening walk, and just a few months after receiving our tragic diagnosis, I brought up to Kendal the idea of adoption.  My comments were met with silence.

You see, SPOILER ALERT, men and women think differently. Men are fixers and problem solvers.  In my mind, infertility + wanting a family = adoption.  This logically made sense to me.  But I missed the mourning and grieving part.  Kendal wasn’t ready.  She was still working and processing what such a diagnosis really meant.  And I jumped waaaaaaay ahead of her, unrealistically expecting her to be on the same page as me.  So men, take the time to grieve and mourn with your wife.  And trust me, we did and still continue to do so, both together and individually.  I still struggle with this, but I’m learning to stop, slow down, and just wait for her.  We both wanted a family, and obviously both came to the decision of adoption, but take time to mourn and grieve with your spouse.  Cry with her, hug her, love her.  While adoption may be in your future, and perhaps it is God’s plan for you, it is ok to take the time to be sad. 

Secondly, realize that just because you made a plan, that doesn’t mean God has to fit Himself into it.  Proverbs 16:9 says “A man makes a plan in his heart, but God directs his path.”  Kendal and I met while we were in college (Geaux Tigers!) and were engaged in December 2009.  I was in law school at the time, so we weren’t “ready” for kids.  But once I finished and passed the bar in 2012, we wanted to add to the two of us.  We thought we were ready – it was just “time” to have children.  All our friends were pregnant and asking us when we would have children.  They spoke as if it were a guaranteed outcome.  But it just wasn’t happening for us.  God wasn’t fitting Himself into our timeline – into what we thought we wanted and when we wanted it.

For two people who like plans, schedules, and being in control, this is a tough one to learn. God isn’t restricted to what our feeble minds can imagine, but just as He told the prophet Habakkuk, He is “doing a work…that you would not believe if told.” So, just remember, it is ok to not have the answers.  Believe me, I know the pain of waiting and wanting a child and feeling so lonely when all your friends are pregnant and something just isn’t right.  But God is in control.  The Proverbs writer puts it like this, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” 

Lastly, above all else, and while it may be difficult to see at the moment, these struggles are just light and momentary. I know that sounds like nonsense while you are enduring your trials, but that is how the apostle Paul describes them in 2 Corinthians 4:17 when he writes “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  In other words, Paul, writing with eternity in view, weighs his present trials against future glory and discovers his trials are actually working for him.  So when your world seems to fall around you, when you and your wife are devastated by terrible news, remember that these experiences are paled in comparison with what is to come.  And that is something to take hope in – your light and momentary struggles are producing something much better for you!  And that is eternal rest with our Father in Heaven. 

I hope this post is helpful to you.  Believe me, infertility and adoption isn’t just something you “get over” and move on from.  But these are just a few of the many lessons I’ve learned which I hope will encourage you during your time of struggle. 

Thanks for reading, and thanks for helping us find our arrows!

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Hope

Music has a way of speaking to us; it’s a language that has the power to elicit emotion and deep thinking. I tend to remember certain moments or periods in my life when I hear a particular song. And there are songs that have been particularly important to me in the healing process on this journey of infertility and adoption.

Recently I heard the song “I Have This Hope” by Tenth Avenue North and I really enjoyed listening to the simple lyrics that speak about hope in the unknown. The words could easily be my own: As I walk this great unknown . . . Was there purpose in the pain . . . I don’t wanna live in fear.

One of the biggest challenges for me recently is getting past my fear of the unknown. It’s really scary to put such a large part of your life basically in the hands of others, with no set dates or expectations. When I heard this song, I felt like it was written for me. I need to “have this hope” and know that “[God’s] with me and [He] won’t let go.”

I hope you enjoy this song and it brings you hope in whatever trial you are facing.

I Have This Hope – Tenth Avenue North

As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain
Did I cry these tears in vain
I don’t wanna live in fear
I wanna trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy

I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go

But sometimes my faith feels thin
Like the night will never end
Will You catch every tear
Or will You just leave me here

So whatever happens, I will not be afraid
‘Cause You are closer than this breath that I take
You calm the storm when I hear You call my name
I still believe that one day I’ll see Your face

In the flood or the fire
You are with me and You won’t let go
In the flood or the fire
You are with me and You won’t let go

 

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Finding Worth Through the Struggle of Infertility

This post has been sitting in drafts for a long time. I’ve just had a hard time pushing “publish,” because it exposes not only my struggles with infertility, but also self worth. However, we started this blog not just to share the good and happy things, but the hard stuff, too. While it’s extremely difficult to be this vulnerable, if this provides encouragement even to one other person, then it is worth sharing my heart.

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mom. That’s been my heart’s desire since I was a little girl. I never really felt like there was anything else that I truly wanted for my life; I didn’t dream of a certain career or fancy life. Now that’s not to say that I was/am not motivated in the things I do, including my job, I just felt I could make the biggest difference and have the most purpose raising children. I simply wanted to be married and have a family.

So you can imagine how devastating it was to be told that I likely could never conceive a child. De.va.sta.ted. When the words poured over me, my dreams crumbled. I had no idea how to move forward, almost to the point of not even having the strength to walk out of the doctor’s office. I felt like someone punched me in the gut and I was only semi-aware of things around me. The next several days were a blur. I remember many tears. I had no idea how to move forward, and honestly, I didn’t want to. I wanted it all to be a bad dream that would go away when I finally woke up. But that didn’t happen, life went on. And I put on a happy face while my insides fell apart.

It seemed like everyone we knew was announcing pregnancies or giving birth around the time of the diagnosis. In fact, just two days after the news, a good friend from work confided in me that she was pregnant. Though I was happy for her, it took everything I had in me to congratulate her and not to fall to the ground and cry. My beautiful niece, whom I love dearly, was born just a couple of weeks later. Pregnancy announcements at church, more at work, baby showers…it all just kept coming. I’d hold back tears when people would ask if Colin and I wanted kids, when we were going to start a family, or if we were “trying.” I’m sure I didn’t do near as good a job hiding my sadness as I would like to think. But I tried nonetheless. What else was there to do? No one talks about infertility.

I kept everything bottled up. Even from Colin. I just could not talk about it. It hurt too much. For a time, I thought maybe the doctor was wrong, or I could somehow be fixed. But as time went on, and tests came back with the same result (and worse), I realized that this may really be my life. My sadness worsened, I felt utterly worthless. I was broken. I questioned if I had done something to cause this, or even worse if I had done something to deserve it. I questioned if Colin would have married me had he known I could not have children. I questioned my self-worth. I was angry about the fact that other women could easily get pregnant, some who didn’t want a baby or who maybe weren’t even fit to raise a child. I was even angry at God, for giving me such a strong desire to be a mother, but keeping the physical ability to conceive from me. I laid in bed many nights with so much pain I physically hurt.

I continued to hold onto my pain, to mask it either behind smiles, anger, or not talking at all. And I grew callused, just going through the motions as best as I could through a life I did not like.

I hesitate to say I wasted two years, because I believe I had to go through that muck to get to a better place emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. But I hate that I spent so much time stuck in that place. I was encouraged by a wise friend to “get out of neutral.” At the time, I really didn’t know what that would mean for me, but I knew she was right. I had to move forward instead of sitting in my sadness. I had to get rid of the thoughts that I was not good enough.

Soon after, I attended a women’s conference at my church. The theme was “Enthralled.” Psalm 45:11 says “Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.” The last session really hit home for me. It was entitled “The Power of an Authentic Name.” You see, the enemy of our souls perverts our name, and we take on inauthentic, false names for ourselves. Ugly. Worthless. Broken. We have to get brave enough to spit out the poison and do business with these names, and instead take on the authentic names God has given to us. We took time to write down some of our inauthentic names, and then laid them on the alter. We picked up new, authentic names from God. Beautiful. Worthy. Whole.

I’ve learned that I am whole to God. Even though my body may not be able to do what a woman’s body “should,” I am still His. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still have hard days. Sometimes really hard days. But they are getting fewer, and easier to walk through. I’ve learned that my plans are not always His plans. And I’m working on believing that even though it’s not what I thought I wanted, I can learn to love the plan He has for me. And that His plan must have a purpose and be even better than what I could imagine on my own.

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Exceedingly Abundantly

A couple of weeks ago, we announced that our friends had graciously offered their home for a house show fundraiser, but to be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect. Will people even come? Will they like the items we made? How many items to make and bring? Will the weather cooperate? These questions ran through our heads leading up to the day’s event.  As 10:00 a.m. rolled around, the house began to fill with people clamoring to buy one of Kendal’s wooden signs or Colin’s cutting boards. Bath bombs, baby quilts, cake pops, and other handmade items were going quickly. Over the next three hours friends, family, and friends of friends stopped by with genuine excitement.

The event turned out to be a huge success! Though we really had no idea what to expect in terms of fundraising, the total was more than we could have ever imagined, and gave us a big boost toward our fundraising goals. Certainly, while we are enormously thankful that the show was a very effective fundraiser for us, the more incredible part of the day was the outpouring of love and support we received. It was, and is, amazing to us that there are so many people who want to help us and be involved in making a difference in our lives. Those who stopped by encouraged us in our journey and shared stories of their experience with adoption and infertility. Friends and strangers alike spoke kind words of support and love. These words strengthened us to stay on the path, committed and hopeful for the blessings to come.

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Us with our hosts, KeriBeth and Laura!

For everyone who was involved, we cannot thank you enough. Our family made snacks and treats to enjoy, dear friends donated items to sell and auction, local businesses also donated items and profits to our journey, and total strangers stopped by to show support and purchase a few items. It was an incredible day, and it was hard to put into words the emotions we felt once it was over. But one verse stuck out in our minds:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21

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Get Ready! A House Show Fundraiser.

In our last blog post, we mentioned that we had some exciting fundraising opportunities in the works. One of these is coming up this weekend, Saturday, January 21! A very good friend of my sister has graciously offered her home as a space to sell some of our home-made items as way to raise funds for our adoption. In addition, this open house will include donated items from a local soap company and Usborne Books.

Colin and I have been busily working to make sure we have plenty of things ready for sale. Our house is a mess (look at all that wood shaving!), but the results are some really pretty cutting boards hand-made by Colin.

I’m also churning out hand-painted wooden signs, along with my sister who is also making growth charts.

If you are in the Mandeville, Louisiana area (or close!), and would like more information about the show, please contact us directly and we’ll make sure you get all of the details! You can email or send us a message on Facebook. We are looking forward to this event and all of the blessings that will come from it. We can’t wait to share how it goes!

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