If you haven't read through my interview with Brandi at Okkar Lif, make sure you do that! I love her perspective on International Adoption and Special Needs Adoption... I could NOT have been paired with a better partner for Production, Not Reproduction's Interview Project!
Brandi sent me a list of amazing and incredibly though-provoking questions about our adoption experiences and especially experience with open adoption, since that is one main difference between International and Domestic Adoption. Her questions challenged me... and I loved it!
Thanks, Brandi... you're one tough Mama and I'm so glad to have 'met' you!
Our adoption stories are so similar and so different. The first question I would ask is what made you choose domestic adoption?
To be quite honest, we never really considered International Adoption! I have absolutely no idea why, so all I can say is that God laid on our hearts early on that our child(ren) were somewhere in the United States. Both of my younger brothers are also adopted and even though Eric is Hispanic and Native American and Brayden is Italian and Portuguese, they were domestic adoptions and their First Parents are somewhat local. I think we always wanted our children to have a common ground with their Uncles… having access to their history, their birth parents, etc. Growing up as a blonde with a brunette brother and a red headed brother, we were still a pretty diverse family! I greatly admire ‘International’ families! That road is long and hard, too… maybe more so than domestic!
I read through your blog post titled “Open” then I read it again. We don’t know anything about Jack’s biological family. We can only make educated guesses. How are you handling an open adoption(s)? Do you set up the guidelines or does the birth parent? Can you change how much interaction you must have based on what your children seem to need? Generally I’m interested in how it all works because this wasn’t an option for us.
Let me start by staying that open adoptions have changed and evolved so much over the past 25 years! Open adoption was nearly unheard of and definitely NOT recommended when my parents were waiting for my brothers. Regardless of the advice and warnings they were given, they still felt that having access to the boys’ health history and developing a positive relationship with their birth parents could only serve as a positive thing for everyone in the future.
Our family has been through a lot when it comes to our varying open adoptions… it’s a story I hope to tell one day soon, but it’s not mine to tell yet. Until then I’ll just say that if you were to ask my parents today, in light of how their open adoptions have evolved over time, they would say that they would do it again in a second… though, it’s been a learning curve, as they didn’t have anyone’s example to follow. When the boys were young they had access to extremely crucial health information, they never wondered; they could just ask, and I have such great memories of meeting both of my brother’s birth moms before the boys were born… one of them is even my Facebook friend now! Overall, my parents and my brothers are proof that open adoption really IS best for the child… and turns out being best for everyone else, too!
Our own open adoptions have had to evolve over time. When we first met Hannah’s birth parents, they asked for regular letter or email updates and pictures, as well as one or 2 visits a year while Hannah was young. We were more than comfortable with that and I worked extremely hard to do more than they asked for. Over the past 4 years, Hannah’s birth mom and I have become pretty close… we’ve seen her and her dad regularly and she and I text on an almost weekly basis; sometimes we talk about Hannah, sometimes I just send her a silly picture, and sometimes we chat about all of the amazing things that are going on right now in HER life. I always look forward to those conversations!
One thing we have made clear from the get-go is that we will always make decisions that are best for Hannah…. When the people who are surrounding her and influencing her aren’t making good decisions themselves, we won’t hesitate to make the call to keep some distance for a while. The same rule goes for our family, friends, and her birth parents. On that note, the majority of children placed for adoption do not have access or contact with both birth parents… We are SO fortunate to have Hannah’s birth father involved in our lives! We visit with each birth parent separately, per their request, which really ends up being less overwhelming and more manageable for Hannah… and lets her create her own relationships with each of them. Her birth father would be the first one to tell you that we stuck to email-only contact with him for a short time while he worked hard to straighten out his path in life and make sure he could be a good example for Hannah. We could not be more proud of him and the changes he’s made in his life… and for the great influence he can now be in Hannah’s life in the years to come!
We have had to navigate through our open adoption gradually, taking into account where our family is in life, where our children’s birth parents are in their lives, what they would like versus what we are comfortable with and vice versa… we are just so thankful for open communication and for the love they have for *our* little girl; she truly is blessed!
This also leads me to what is the best part of an open adoption? What’s the worst part of an open adoption?
The best part, hands down, is knowing that there are 2 people in this world besides us who are capable of loving our child as much as we do. As much as we sacrifice for our children and do anything possible to ensure they have a stable and productive future, in many ways, their birth parents have done more than we ever could by choosing adoption. No child can have too much love… and our children have so much more than most!
I don’t know of a ‘worst’ part of open adoption but there certainly are challenges; remembering that the only access their birth parents have to this child is through you… it’s a huge responsibility and it takes time and effort that you don’t always have; it has to be a priority. Another challenge I felt early on was wanting them to know how Hannah was doing, what she loved lately, her funny sayings, sharing videos, etc, but not knowing how much would be too much for them; would seeing those things make them sad? Would I push them to regret their decision by showing them how happy she is? Would they get angry that they couldn’t share in those special times as she grows and becomes her own person? Would they be honest and tell me when enough was enough or would I continue making things harder on them?
Ultimately, we had to decide that if our communication was too much to handle, or if they wanted something to change in our relationship, the only thing we could do was make ourselves approachable…. We would continue keeping them informed unless they asked us to do otherwise.
I love Hunter’s story. He is a true little miracle and Hannah is such a blessed little girl to recognize God’s handiwork already. In international adoption there were so many checklists because we knew our little guy would come to us a bit older and with multiple special needs. We did months of research on every special need imaginable. When it came down to Jack’s referral, we were in an unknown world. How prepared were you for special needs before you got that call? Was it a shock?
We have always been *open* to any special needs when it came to our adoption check lists. I was a special needs teacher before Hannah was born and we have always felt that, should we ever get pregnant, our biological child could have any number of special needs, as well. We welcome anything that would make our children even more ‘special’ than they already are!
Our agency did an amazing job at informing us of Hunter’s medical condition. When we first learned about him, he was in critical shape. We were over-nighted his medical records and were ensured that, if we chose to drive and meet him, that we could have a face-to-face with every single doctor who was working with him. I don’t know that you ever feel ‘prepared’ for a child with special needs; biological OR adopted! I do know that when we heard about Hunter, we felt something different than we had with the many other opportunities we had been presented with in the past year. All we could do was have an open mind and trust that God would lead us, as he had so many times before …and boy, did He lead!
While Hunter’s overall medical condition wasn’t a shock to us, we were not prepared for the roller-coaster ride we would soon be on. I guess we read his reports and took them for what they were… signs that he was stable and continuing to make progress in his growth. While that was true on so many levels, we were NOT prepared for the many times over our 10 week NICU stay that his doctors prepped us for his death… I think we thought he was past all of that. We saw an overall healthy, growing, stable baby who would have a few things to overcome (many of which God just took away!) but we didn’t foresee what more tests would reveal; the concerning blood work, surprise diagnosis’, ‘failure to thrive’ (I hate that term!), and whatever else seemed to pop up out of the blue. No one is ever prepared for the death of a child and nothing could have prepared us for that… but God is faithful and we have a healthy, thriving baby boy! God is so good!
We’ve only been down the adoption road once. You’ve navigated it twice. Do you feel like the experiences were mostly the same or very different? How so?
There is absolutely NO comparison! We brought Hannah home 7 weeks after our home study had been completed…. 7 weeks. I know now that 7 weeks is NOT a ‘wait’ in the adoption world! We also had involvement from both of Hannah’s birth parents; something we’ve come to appreciate, knowing it’s very rare that both birth parents are involved from the get-go, or even at all. Hannah made our transition into parenthood seamless… she slept well, ate well, grew fast, developed and learned quickly, and was the happiest baby! We were pros…#2 would be a breeze!
We updated our home study 3 times over the course of 2 years before bringing Hunter home .. mainly because we moved 3 times :-/ Still, updating a home study is something you want to do once… not 3 times. We suffered 3 failed adoptions in that 2 years and had many many more close-calls…. My grieving process was rough through those 2 years. I came to understand how a woman grieves through a miscarriage, how anti-depressants might be an option after all, and while I never wish those things on anyone, I’m thankful for those moments of struggle that (hopefully) made me more understanding and sympathetic to some of the things my friends are going through or have in the past. I also struggled with letting go of each of those precious babies. I know this might sound harsh but … when a woman miscarries, her baby is gone. She has to travel through the stages of grief and will ultimately find peace. When you ‘miscarry’ a baby through adoption, that baby is still alive and growing… just not with you. I think any hopeful adoptive mom holds on to the hope that if things changed once, they might change again. In our case, one mom came back to us when her boys were 6 months old and asked us to consider taking them again. The emotions you travel through… from grief to hope and back to grief and again to hope… they’re enough to wreck you. That’s where God’s faithfulness was most prominent in my journey to #2.
You’ve been a busy lady since Hunter came into your life. How on earth did you deal with an extended hospital stay so far from home? How did Hannah deal with it? How are you dealing with it now? If you could give advice to any other preemie mom out there, what would it be?
It took me 8 days and 8 separate ‘sessions’ to work my way through our interview … if that tells you anything :-)
The NICU taught me to take a day at a time, how to compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings, how to be vulnerable and accept that sometimes I will go through things that I just can’t do on my own, and how to ask for help. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without our moms, Joey’s understanding boss, and the amazing nurses and social workers who never made me feel crazy when I felt like I was losing it… and man, did I lose it a couple times!
Hannah was amazing! She handled our 10 week NICU craziness, moving in the middle of everything, and bringing a baby home better than anyone! She was flexible, understanding, and as you’ve read from our blog, reminded us daily that God is faithful and in control. She embodies ‘faith like a child’.
I could go on for pages about our lives today! I’m…. surviving J While Hunter is healthy and growing and has very little medical concern right now, our days are mainly filled with doctor appointments. We have 17 specialists and therapists… We had 27 appointments in June alone and are down to 13 so far in November. We’re making progress… HA! I can honestly say that, while the schedule we keep makes routine and stability difficult in our daily lives, I look forward to those appointments and hearing his doctors tell me how amazing he’s doing! I’m on a cell-phone basis with most of his doctor’s and they have been wonderful at working with us, checking up on us, and chatting amongst themselves about Hunter’s progress so I don’t have to worry about updating each one at each appointment. My ‘Type A-ness’ has become out of control I found myself drowning in medical records, sticky notes, business cards, and more so I’ve become extremely organized (when it comes to paperwork… other things, maybe not so much; just ask Joey)!
We have gone through many transitions since meeting Hunter and though some of them have been extremely tough or scary or unexpected, we wouldn’t change a single thing about our sweet boy or our lives today… and every time he smiles or laughs or meets a long-awaited milestone, we gain the strength to keep working harder for him!
For preemie moms; Ask for help. You know your baby better than ANYONE, no matter how many doctor’s you have… trust YOUR gut and use that to advocate for your child. Your instincts will go a long way when fighting for appointments, certain treatment, therapy, medication, and more! Do your research. Ask for help. Set aside time for yourself and don’t feel bad about it. Find ‘your person’ … your husband, mom, friend… who you can call when you need to vent. You’re going to need to vent! Ask for help. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re holding your baby too much. Be possessive of the bonding process… our babies have been through a lot and have been exposed to lots of people in the NICU. Bonding should be a priority. And… Ask for help!
And the age old really rude question… I feel like I can ask because I still get asked all the time. At what point do you think you’ll be finished growing your family? Let me also say, I thought after two we were done…
Are you asking me or Joey?
This is a conversation that’s come up many times already… and most of the time people who know me and our ‘new normal’ well, look at me like I’m completely out of my mind to want to do this all over again! I can’t help it… I’ve always wanted 3 or 4 kids. Joey’s always wanted 2… so I have some work to do. HA!
Right now, we have all we can handle. BUT, things will calm down and our kids will keep growing and I know that there will be a day when I miss my ‘babies’. God does know how much I love ‘baby-hood’ and He did give me extra time in ‘baby-hood’ with Hunter… I soak it up every day!
I don’t want Hunter to be the youngest… I think ti will be important for him as he gets older to be an influence on a sibling and to be part of teaching them and watching them grow.
Joey and I will keep talking…. And talking… and talking… and….
I’m so glad God knows our future!
Is there anything else you would like to say about your amazing family?
Your family is amazing, too!
For hopeful adoptive families; As much as I wish there was (and maybe I’ll write it, someday… when/ if I get the time ), there isn’t a rule book for adoption. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to navigate through the emotions, waiting, frustrations, anxiety, etc. All you can do is take a day at a time… trust that God knows your child and will bring him/her to you in HIS perfect time. Spend this time wisely…. Cherish time with your spouse and/or other children, if you have them. Pray constantly for your child’s birth-parents. Prepare your family for baby… share books about adoption, talk about it regularly, answer questions, and show your excitement! Showing YOUR excitement gives permission to everyone around you to be excited, too J Buy diapers and wipes… every baby needs them and you will never have too many! Christmas is coming… ask for that swing or crib or bouncy seat or stroller that you’ve had your eye on! Your baby WILL come and you WILL need those things… so get ‘em!
My new motto is, “There’s no time like the present.” Don’t waste this time you have… you’ll never get it back (though, I seriously doubt you want to )!