I celebrated my fourteenth birthday with a candle stuck in a pineapple, picnicking by the side of the road in Mexico. We were on our way to visit an orphanage, Colonia Gurerro. I had been there once before and my parents had friends who worked there and we had sponsored various children through the years. We spent several days there, visiting the local farm workers camps where the conditions were heartbreaking, working in the kitchen, serving oatmeal and smiling across the language barrier. I went to the school and shook a tambourine during the church service. But the thing that moved my heart the most was the babies. I held as many as I could, for as long as they would let me. There was one we called the raisin baby, he was so small and wrinkled. I wanted to take them all home. I’m sure I begged my parents many times to see if we could (on this same trip I also wanted to bring home the baby monkey in a diaper with a hole cut out for his tail from the zoo, too). As I look back, I think that is where I began to think of someday helping a child in need through adoption (the desire to have a monkey somehow didn’t stay with me!).
Four years later, Scott and I met. In a very early conversation I remember saying I wanted to adopt and he said he did, too. When we married, we planned to have two kids and adopt two. We soon had three beautiful children within five years and our hands full! Adoption was still in our minds and we watched as several friends and Scott’s sister began to foster or adopt. We soaked in their stories and waited. Waiting goes hand in hand with adopting…. We waited for our little ones to get older, to move to a bigger house, to overcome some challenges including my struggles with anxiety and depression. But in my mind were all those children, often in my dreams, who simply needed what we’d been blessed with—a family.
Four years ago our youngest was ten and we moved into the bigger house. We had come to believe that, for us, adopting through the state system would be the way to go. I made the phone call for information on the classes we needed to take and there began the long process…they didn’t call me back. Several calls and messages later, I finally talked to someone and found out the next set of classes we would be available to start was four months away. We waited…
We attended an all day orientation and classes for three hours every Tuesday night for eight weeks. It was an interesting group—people like us who wanted to adopt or foster for the first time and many grandparents and even great-grandparents, aunts and uncles who were adopting a related child that they already were caring for. Lots of stories and every seemed to feel the need to tell theirs, which made some of those classes pretty long! We went through topics covering the state processes, parenting skills, trauma and abuse, and discussion with experienced adoptive parents. These children had been in foster care, often many times and the state was terminating the birth parents rights to them and looking for a permanent adoptive home. What I think our teachers conveyed very well was a balanced view of reality and hope. The children have special needs of many kinds that would challenge us, but they can also come a long way with unconditional love and patience.
We completed the classes and were giving a very thick envelope of paperwork to fill out, including writing our personal histories and parenting perspectives. Just as we got started, Scott moved to a different company and began working longer hours. He really needed to focus on his job for a while and we to wait a while before we moved any further with adopting. Two years almost passed and we learned that we would have to take the classes all over again if we didn’t get our applications in. I remember working on answering our questions in a hotel room on the way home from a trip to Mexico, and rushing the envelope over to the office the next morning to make our deadline! We had to get medical forms filled out by our Drs. and references from friends and relatives. We had to decide what ages and kinds of needs we wanted to be considered for. There were many frustrations… everything took way longer than it seems like it should have, some things we had to redo because of delays and mistakes.
We were finally assigned a case worker. She visited our home, interviewed us and our kids and began to write our homestudy, a document that summarized all our information. In our 20th anniversary last June, our homestudy was complete and we sat in an office with a big book full of children’s bulletins, ready to begin the matching process. We were to choose the ones we were interested in, based on pictures and a one page description. We had decided to look at single boys or sibling sets of two, ranging in age from 2-7, feeling better suited to help with academic or behavioral needs more that medical needs . We chose several and our case worker sent our homestudy to each child’s case worker. The children’s caseworkers would chose three families for each child and then an independent committee would select the family they believed to be the best match for that child.
We found out the bulletins were a little outdated, some kids had already been adopted. Then our various workers went on medical leave and vacation, so we didn’t hear much during the summer. One worker was interested in us, but as we learned more about that particular situation we decided it wasn’t a good fit for us. In October our worker emailed us several new child bulletins and we said the initial “yes, we would be interested” to five or six of them. And we waited, wondered and lived our already full lives as a family. I often thought of how much more difficult the passing of time must be for a child who is waiting for the promise of a “forever family”.
Right before Thanksgiving , we were told we had been selected to go to the committee for a seven year old boy. We read more about him and decided to continue the process. The committee met on January tenth and we waited nervously for the phone call. They meet, listen to the child’s caseworker and counselor speak, and the worker for each family makes a presentation for that family and shares their book of photos. Then they deliberate and usually make the decision that day. It felt very odd to us that the child who would join our family would come to us in such an unusual way—based our yes and no, the appeal of a picture or description, the biases and ideas of the committee—a very unscientific process. We knew we could be a good family for many different children and just prayed a lot for a good decision to be made. I took the call and our answer was No, they had chosen another family who already had adoptive experience and a child of the same racial background. I felt very peaceful about the news, but strange that we had spent so much time answering questions and asking questions, making phone calls to the boy’s foster parents and counselor, preparing for the possibility of this specific boy and then suddenly the door closes and we will never hear anything about him again.
We were given access to the state’s new website at this point, which would make it easier to begin to look for other children. I was just starting to look, three days after the first committee decision, when I got a call from our worker—they were interested in us for a six year old boy, one of the ones we read about back in the fall! This time we knew what to expect and met with our worker to help answer questions for her presentation of our family, what about us would be a good match for him. I spent a couple hours on the phone with the boy’s foster family and his counselor and case worker. We wondered how many times we would go through this, but also felt so relieved to finally come to this point in the process! We knew when it did happen, the child would be placed with us within a couple weeks—but we didn’t know who to prepare for!
Though all this took longer than I would have imagined years ago, I was thankful for the stages of independence and maturity our kids had reached, and that we had waited until things were more settled at Scott’s work.
March 2, 2011. Committee day. A few last minute twists—one of the three families had dropped out, so there were just two of us for them to chose between. The meeting was in Klamath Falls, about four hours away—due to snowstorms and our worker breaking her arm, it was decided the 2 workers would attend by videoconference. Scott went to work and I used my nervous energy to clean the house. At 12:14 my phone rang—“Your family was chosen by the committee—Congratulations, you have a new son!” I called Scott immediately, told the kids, called the grandparents and my good friend who had praying with me so many times (this is where I got teary!) and , of course, made it Facebook official!
Before the child is told there is a seven day waiting period, during which time we are to be certified as guardian (legal adoption doesn’t happen for many months), read through every piece of paperwork about him and participate in making a plan to move him to our home. This is where we are right now. I hope to be talking with his case worker tomorrow to find out more details. We will be travelling and meeting with his foster family, counselor and school—and meeting our son for the first time! My mind is full of questions and I can’t imagine what it will be like for him or us! He knows he is going to be adopted and the day he will be told about us and see our picture book is next Wednesday, his seventh birthday.
At this point, I’m not going to put his picture or name up for general public viewing on the internet, but I can tell you a few things about him. He comes from a sadly typical background—never knew his birth father, has been back and forth to his birth mother until this fall it was determined that an adoptive placement would be better for him. He has several half-siblings, living with different people. He has been with his foster family for most of the past 3 years and they have been so good for him and he is doing really well, considering the instability of his early years. I’ve been on the phone a lot with his foster mom and believe we are talking about how to make this huge transition as smooth as possible and continue some contact with them and the guardians of his siblings. He is doing well in first grade, and is in speech therapy. He is very healthy and growing a lot lately. His racial background is African American/ Caucasian and he has a great smile (toothless at the moment!) and dimples. He likes to play outside and like all kinds of superheroes as his favorite toys and games. He wants his new family to have a big brother!
This has been a long and emotional journey and really it’s only beginning… we are so thankful for the love and support and prayers of our family and friends. Our boy will have so much to process, and parenting him will be so different than those we’ve parented from birth. I know there will be many challenges and surprises. I’m excited, nervous and peaceful at the same time, I have many questions and concerns, I want our older kids to have a good transition, too. Jessamyn is preparing to leave for her school in a month, so that’s also a big thing…not sure why it’s all happening at once, but it is and we will take one day at a time, loving our family.