National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, a topic close to my heart. Two years ago, I wrote a blog entry about a very important aspect of our adoption experience, and it remains one of the my most viewed posts. I am re-posting it today in the spirit of the month. If you are planning to expand your family, please consider adoption.

Originally posted November 5, 2011

On Joy and Sadness

I’ve gotten some really great feedback on my post about adoption, so in the spirit of National Adoption Month, I will continue with another entry about our experience. Translation—getting serious again. I have changed the names of those involved out of respect for their privacy.

We were uniquely blessed when our adoption came about. We were contacted by an old family friend who had just learned their teenage daughter was pregnant, after hearing just days before through another mutual friend that my husband and I were about to re-start (that’s a story for another time) the adoption process. We were lucky to start off not as strangers, but as old friends separated by time.

Having not seen them for years, we got in touch that night on the phone, and in my elated state of disbelief at our great fortune, I was brought back to earth by my first glimpse of the reality of adoption, one that you don’t hear much about. One that, in my opinion, is critically important we as adoptive families keep in mind: our joy comes at the expense of others. Where we gain, they lose in equal measure.

Speaking with Karen that night, I heard the pain of a worried mother, listened to the strained tone of her voice, aware of the struggle they were already facing. They had just been to the women’s clinic, and had learned that Jenny was five months pregnant. Imagine, if you can, the weight of that kind of information. Your daughter, not yet old enough to drive a car, was going to give birth in mere months. Their lives were in turmoil, turned upside down by the news. As I spoke to her, I tried to rein in my excitement and reassure her that we were already absolutely committed to this baby, and would do everything in our power to help ease their minds. I volunteered to fly down to meet Jenny, and told her I would call our adoption agency first thing in the morning to get the ball rolling and put our adoption study on a “rush.”

As the months rolled by, my first visit turned into a birth plan. I was invited by the family to come down before the birth and stay with them until the baby was born, and would even get to be in the delivery room. I knew this was a risk, but it was just as much a risk for them. What if I fall in love, and they change their minds? How will I do this, with my husband at home in Wisconsin, 600 miles away? Could my heart take it if they wound up changing their minds? Could their hearts take it if they didn’t? What would this mean for all of us?

Two weeks before Jenny’s due date, I got on a plane, my bags filled with baby clothes, the tags still on. I couldn’t bring myself to remove them, despite Jenny’s reassurances that she would not be changing her mind. Everyone was on board, birth father included, but I was still afraid to let myself truly believe this would be a reality. As we waited for the birth, I got to know both families so well, and I could really appreciate how much love and heartache is involved in their decision. Is there a love stronger than that? Choosing to give someone else the gift of a family? Loving a child so much that you choose a life you can’t give them?

I spent a full month with Jenny’s family, living in their home, sharing in their meals, welcomed into their family. My heart was both swelling with excitement and breaking for these birth families as the days passed. The more I got to know them, the more I could see the love and selflessness it takes to do what they’ve done. It was a risk for all of us. How would this work once the baby was born? How would they be able to let us go? How would we be able to leave them?

My husband was a few hours away when our son was born, having left our house when Jenny went into labor. We would drive home together; the three of us a brand new family, once the ICPC office and both states cleared us to leave. He couldn’t get to us fast enough, eager to meet the son we hoped would be ours. Jenny’s commitment to the adoption was now being fought by the hormones in her body, the maternal instinct flowing through her veins. She still wanted the adoption to go through, and with the strength of her mother at her side, we were pretty sure this was going to actually happen.

It’s hard to describe the simultaneous joy and sadness this time brought to us. Holding our son in our arms the first time was a happiness like no other, but it was a feeling of elation tempered by the grieving process Jenny and her family were experiencing. The hospital let me room-in with our newborn boy, for which I was extraordinarily grateful, but just a few doors down his birth mother was grieving for the son she would never get to raise. She ached for him. She wept for him. Those two nights in the hospital were a delicate and sad dance, his bassinette rolling back and forth between rooms, all of us doing our best to share this beautiful boy we’d all fallen in love with, balancing our need to bond with their need to spend as much time as they could with him, time that was fleeting, slipping through their fingers like sand.

We offered to leave the room when she signed the papers that morning, her family, the social worker and an attorney all crammed into too small a room. Jenny asked us to stay, so we did, holding our breath as she signed the papers, tears slipping down our cheeks each time the attorney asked her to be sure she understood her signature was irrevocable. We hugged her and promised to be the parents this sweet little boy deserved, we told her we loved her, that we could never really put in words our gratitude, and that we would always make sure he knows how much she loves him. Our words couldn’t possibly have been enough.

A week later the time had finally come. We were heading home, eager to start our lives together. I will never in my life forget that morning. The car was loaded up with a month of my things, and far more baby gear than anyone would ever need—a true sign of first time parents. We came back in the house and watched as Jenny said goodbye, a tiny miracle lying against her chest, silent tears rolling down her cheeks as she cradled him and whispered in his ear.

Thank you. All of you. For your love, your selflessness, the wisdom beyond your years and your amazing sacrifice. We are more grateful than we can ever say, and we think of you with love every day. I wish I could find the right words to tell you how much you mean to us.

An Open Letter to Bill Donohue

Yesterday, the Catholic League tweeted the following:

Today, in defense of adoptive families everywhere, I sent the following letter to the Catholic League’s President, Bill Donohue:

Dear Dr. Donahue,

I will admit, upon viewing yesterday’s ill-conceived tweet by the Catholic League, I felt a rising anger and disbelief that such ugliness would be so publicly displayed. As both an adoptive mother and an advocate for equality, I take such attacks very personally, and it was, no doubt, an attack upon us all. Married, single, gay, straight, you disparaged each of us.

Rather than the “normal” nine months, my husband and I waited a long, painful, heart-wrenching seven years to meet our beautiful, sweet son. Does this somehow disqualify us as parents, or, on some scale unknown to me make us lesser parents? Is there a blood-link bonus not granted to those of us brought together by adoption? My son grew in my heart rather than beneath it—did that leave me in some way less qualified to love, nurture, raise, or protect him? Will my son live his life wishing for a life he never had, a biological link we do not share?

Perhaps the Pharaoh’s daughter should have simply left Moses in the bulrushes? Or maybe you feel Mary and Joseph were insufficient for the task handed to them by God himself.

And while we’re on the subject, I’d love you to explain an anti-abortion and anti-adoption stance, as I am completely baffled. A child needs love and security, whether from a mom and a dad, two dads, two moms, a single parent, or grandparents. Love and stability are not the exclusive domain of a husband and wife. To think otherwise is not only archaic fact-denying, but pure foolishness and bigotry.

These angry thoughts occupied my mind for much of the afternoon, until a sudden and blissful feeling of serenity washed over me, replacing my anger with sympathy. It was when I realized that an organization so blinded by vitriolic dogma, so wrapped in anger and disdain, is missing out on something beautiful. For you will never know the overwhelming joy of reaching out and grasping that which has been beyond your reach. Without this struggle, and simply having a child “of your own,” you will never comprehend the desperate longing to be a parent; your arms stretched out, your lungs burning from the effort of chasing that dream, until that magical day when finally you cradle a beautiful child in your arms, your heart swelling with pride and a love like no other as the family you were meant to have is realized. You cannot appreciate great fortune unless you’ve first suffered misfortune.

Yes, I feel sorry for you. You tilt at windmills, choosing to spend your time attacking the transgressions of silly and forgettable movies that, most likely, no one will watch, as though a girl in a bikini is somehow a bigger threat or insult to your faith than its hierarchy’s systematic, organized cover up of decades of the most hideous child abuse by your .02%.

You attack us all for a thoughtless comment of one. One wouldn’t think a man such as you would need a reminder on scripture, but it would seem a lesson is in order.

 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. –Psalms 68: 5-6

 I hope you can find the humanity, charity, and spirit of Christian faith which seems so sorely lacking in your actions and words.

Sincerely,

Michelle E. Reed

I will update if I receive a response.

Nature vs. Nurture

Photo courtesy of Volume One http://volumeone.org/

As an adoptive parent, I often ponder the role my husband and I play in who our son is as a person. How much is genetic? How much is our influence—the environment we’ve created? These are certainly not new ideas. The nature-nurture debate has raged for centuries, and I have no delusions about bringing anything new to the discussion, but it is a topic brought to the forefront of my mind a few nights ago while attending a concert.

We’re big fans of the Celtic band Gaelic Storm (check them out! http://www.gaelicstorm.com/), and see them whenever we can. This past summer, we took our son to his first show, and he was hooked. This week took him to show number two. We were front row, center, which gave kiddo the chance to really ham it up, which he did with great gusto. He spent the evening dancing right up by the stage, and by the end of the night, was completely wiped out. It was well past bedtime, and as they were playing their final song of the set, he finally sat down with me. My husband and I were sure he would fall asleep. Snuggled up to me, his sleepy voice asked, “Mommy, can we go home now?”

I told him they would play one more song, the encore, and then it would be all done and we could go home. He was agreeable to staying until the end.

After raucous applause, the band came back for their encore, and played “What’s the Rumpus?” Hearing the familiar song begin, a reenergized kiddo jumped up and started to dance again, joining the rest of the crowd which was on its feet. As the song went on, he began to run out of steam, so I picked him up so we could finish out the night dancing together.

Patrick Murphy, singer, musician, and all around cool guy, came to the front of the stage and motioned to me. He looked down at kiddo and held his hands out. With only a slight feeling of trepidation, I handed him over and watched as our little man was lifted on stage. I looked at my husband, knowing we shared the same thought. This would either be a smashing success, or a colossal failure. Our kid is not shy, but he was tired. And when he’s tired, watch out.

Fortunately, he was thrilled. He was handed a mallet, and given free rein to bash away at a cymbal. He embraced the task with great gusto, and the crowd went wild, cheering with each crash, egging him on. He looked from band member to band member, as if suspecting it was all too good to be true, but they smiled and encouraged him, seeming to enjoy the moment every bit as much as he.

After this went on for a bit, I went to the steps of the stage, figuring he would see me and come running.

Not even close.

I found myself onstage, standing next to a gleeful child still bashing away at that magical cymbal. When I finally got him off stage, he asked, “Can I have the violin next?”

After the show, he hammed it up some more with the band, and Pat expressed his admiration, telling us on the occasions when they do take a kid on stage, they usually stand there, frozen.

Not our kid. He was fearless and grabbed the moment with both hands, which got me thinking. I was the same way when I was a kid: a bold people person who would have done the exact same thing, begging the question: where does he get it? Is it our influence over him, teaching him never to be afraid of being himself? Do his observations of our interactions with the world shape the outgoing personality he’s developed? Or is it just who he is? Is it in his DNA?

We may never know, but it sure is fun to think about.

The Perp Walk

Since today is cold, windy, and generally crummy (ahh, the joys of November in the Upper Midwest), and I feel like talking about adoption, I think I should touch on the lighter side of the process. There’s a lighter side, you ask? Why yes, there is. There are things that, while happening, were thisclose to sending us off for a mental health evaluation, but with the benefit of time, we can look back upon and laugh. Hopefully. So enjoy a few laughs at our expense as our tale of woe unfolds…

Adoption involves paperwork. A lot of paperwork. In Wisconsin, we are blessed with an even greater pile to work our way through, as Wisconsin requires you to have a licensed foster home in order to house your child from placement until the adoption has been finalized. Where are the fire extinguishers located? Has your water been tested? Sign this affidavit that you will have licensed daycare for your child, should daycare be needed. Take a car seat safety course, a SIDS awareness class, background checks, driving record checks, provide copies of your homeowner, auto and health insurance policies, fill out this criminal records search form…well, you get the idea.

In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed (in my opinion, much needed legislation), which added one more bit of paperwork/bureaucracy to the adoption process. You see, prior to this law, all the background checks were done on a local and state level, thus, someone who had a record in another state could fall through the cracks. This law required a FBI background check (fingerprints through the database) for potential adoptive parents. No problem, right?

Wrong.

You see, in September of 2007 when we began our adoption process (on a RUSH RUSH RUSH because our son was due in January), I learned a little fact that would come back to haunt me. Wisconsin had requested, and been granted, and extension in enacting the Adam Walsh Act. Meaning? The state would not begin conducting the federal background checks for adoptions until 2008. Well, guess what? We were adopting out of state, where they required the check.

You can see where this is going. You’re a savvy reader, and I have utmost faith in your reasoning and forward thinking nature.

Apparently, we were the FIRST and ONLY couple this EVER happened to. Calls to our adoption agency (across the border in Minnesota, where they didn’t have this problem), local agencies, the Wisconsin Adoption Information Center (oh, the irony) and even our local field office of the FBI were all met with baffled “Umm’s” “Aaahh’s” and “Gee, I really don’t know, can I get back to you’s” (Still waiting for the call back, by the way). After a day of pounding my head against the wall (okay, I took scheduled breaks, but still…) I finally used the magical Google, and found the FBI forms online. Even found the address for rush processing. I printed out the forms and after a call to our local sheriff’s department, my husband and I went in to get our prints taken.

Problem solved, right?

Oh, no, dear reader. No, no.

At the county jail—fun!—my husband already pat-searched and on his way back to get his prints taken, the voice of GOD crackles through the officer’s walkie-talkie. And by God, I mean, the head honcho, whom I had just spoken to on the phone not an hour earlier.

“Wait, what are they doing here?” he demands.

“They need to be fingerprinted for an adoption,” says the officer.

Oh, boy. My officer has stopped the pat-search mid-pat, my husband and his officer frozen at the big, scary metal door. This can’t be good.

“What do you mean?” head honcho asks. You can hear the head scratching through the walkie-talkie. I swear. Some gears grinding, too.

“They’re adopting a baby,” the first officer says, slowly, like that will help.

“I just talked to him on the phone.” I say, a little too much irritation in my voice as I point to the radio on his shoulder.

“She says she just talked to you on the phone.”

Silence.

“Hang on, I’m coming down.”

Oh, great.

After several agonizing minutes, watching the comings and goings at the county jail, down comes A Very Irritated Man. The Voice.

“So, what is it you need?” he asks.

I stare at him for a moment, my mouth agape. My gaze falls to the cardstock fingerprint forms in my hand. I sigh, look over at my husband who gives a helpful eye roll, and finally return my attention to Mr. Very Irritated.

“We need our fingerprints taken. For an adoption. See?” I hold up the forms. “I printed these out. You said to come in.”

“I can’t just give fingerprints out to anyone,” he insists, shaking his head.

“But they’re my fingers. Attached to my hands. I’m not asking you for his fingerprints,” I say as I point to a nearby (presumed) miscreant. “I mean, it’s just ink, right? What’s to stop us from going to Office Max, getting an ink pad, and going to town on the thing?”

Oops. Too far, Michelle. Too far.

“No,” he says. Firm. Resolute. “I can’t do this without some sort of authorization.” He shakes his head like he’s dealing with children. “You have an attorney, right?”

“Uh, yeah, we do. Two of them, actually. One here, and one where we’re adopting. Out of state.” I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but still can’t believe them. Am I imagining this whole thing? Is this really what has come to pass?

“Well, pick one and have them get in touch with me.” And with that, he turns and walks away.

“Sorry,” the other officers say, quietly, as we leave.

We don’t speak as we make our way back to our car, too stunned for words.

“Did that just happen?” my husband asks as he buckles his seatbelt and starts the car.

“Yeah, I think it did.”

As we drive past the first gas station on our way home, he observes, “If we go rob that place, they’d fingerprint us without a problem.”

Yes, yes they would.

On Joy and Sadness

I’ve gotten some really great feedback on my post about adoption, so in the spirit of National Adoption Month, I will continue with another entry about our experience. Translation—getting serious again. I have changed the names of those involved out of respect for their privacy.

We were uniquely blessed when our adoption came about. We were contacted by an old family friend who had just learned their teenage daughter was pregnant, after hearing just days before through another mutual friend that my husband and I were about to re-start (that’s a story for another time) the adoption process. We were lucky to start off not as strangers, but as old friends separated by time.

Having not seen them for years, we got in touch that night on the phone, and in my elated state of disbelief at our great fortune, I was brought back to earth by my first glimpse of the reality of adoption, one that you don’t hear much about. One that, in my opinion, is critically important we as adoptive families keep in mind: our joy comes at the expense of others. Where we gain, they lose in equal measure.

Speaking with Karen that night, I heard the pain of a worried mother, listened to the strained tone of her voice, aware of the struggle they were already facing. They had just been to the women’s clinic, and had learned that Jenny was five months pregnant. Imagine, if you can, the weight of that kind of information. Your daughter, not yet old enough to drive a car, was going to give birth in mere months. Their lives were in turmoil, turned upside down by the news. As I spoke to her, I tried to rein in my excitement and reassure her that we were already absolutely committed to this baby, and would do everything in our power to help ease their minds. I volunteered to fly down to meet Jenny, and told her I would call our adoption agency first thing in the morning to get the ball rolling and put our adoption study on a “rush.”

As the months rolled by, my first visit turned into a birth plan. I was invited by the family to come down before the birth and stay with them until the baby was born, and would even get to be in the delivery room. I knew this was a risk, but it was just as much a risk for them. What if I fall in love, and they change their minds? How will I do this, with my husband at home in Wisconsin, 600 miles away? Could my heart take it if they wound up changing their minds? Could their hearts take it if they didn’t? What would this mean for all of us?

Two weeks before Jenny’s due date, I got on a plane, my bags filled with baby clothes, the tags still on. I couldn’t bring myself to remove them, despite Jenny’s reassurances that she would not be changing her mind. Everyone was on board, birth father included, but I was still afraid to let myself truly believe this would be a reality. As we waited for the birth, I got to know both families so well, and I could really appreciate how much love and heartache is involved in their decision. Is there a love stronger than that? Choosing to give someone else the gift of a family? Loving a child so much that you choose a life you can’t give them?

I spent a full month with Jenny’s family, living in their home, sharing in their meals, welcomed into their family. My heart was both swelling with excitement and breaking for these birth families as the days passed. The more I got to know them, the more I could see the love and selflessness it takes to do what they’ve done. It was a risk for all of us. How would this work once the baby was born? How would they be able to let us go? How would we be able to leave them?

My husband was a few hours away when our son was born, having left our house when Jenny went into labor. We would drive home together; the three of us a brand new family, once the ICPC office and both states cleared us to leave. He couldn’t get to us fast enough, eager to meet the son we hoped would be ours. Jenny’s commitment to the adoption was now being fought by the hormones in her body, the maternal instinct flowing through her veins. She still wanted the adoption to go through, and with the strength of her mother at her side, we were pretty sure this was going to actually happen.

It’s hard to describe the simultaneous joy and sadness this time brought to us. Holding our son in our arms the first time was a happiness like no other, but it was a feeling of elation tempered by the grieving process Jenny and her family were experiencing. The hospital let me room-in with our newborn boy, for which I was extraordinarily grateful, but just a few doors down his birth mother was grieving for the son she would never get to raise. She ached for him. She wept for him. Those two nights in the hospital were a delicate and sad dance, his bassinette rolling back and forth between rooms, all of us doing our best to share this beautiful boy we’d all fallen in love with, balancing our need to bond with their need to spend as much time as they could with him, time that was fleeting, slipping through their fingers like sand.

We offered to leave the room when she signed the papers that morning, her family, the social worker and an attorney all crammed into too small a room. Jenny asked us to stay, so we did, holding our breath as she signed the papers, tears slipping down our cheeks each time the attorney asked her to be sure she understood her signature was irrevocable. We hugged her and promised to be the parents this sweet little boy deserved, we told her we loved her, that we could never really put in words our gratitude, and that we would always make sure he knows how much she loves him. Our words couldn’t possibly have been enough.

A week later the time had finally come. We were heading home, eager to start our lives together. I will never in my life forget that morning. The car was loaded up with a month of my things, and far more baby gear than anyone would ever need—a true sign of first time parents. We came back in the house and watched as Jenny said goodbye, a tiny miracle lying against her chest, silent tears rolling down her cheeks as she cradled him and whispered in his ear.

Thank you. All of you. For your love, your selflessness, the wisdom beyond your years and your amazing sacrifice. We are more grateful than we can ever say, and we think of you with love every day. I wish I could find the right words to tell you how much you mean to us.

What Matters the Most

I’m just going to come out and admit it: I’m a little weird. And a bit irreverent, too. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me. My irreverence, especially, has a habit of popping forth at the most inappropriate times. I once got the giggles at a wedding during A Very Serious and Deeply Religious Moment when the bride sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” to her groom in this high pitched, yet wispy, voice. I’m a bad person.

You know what the gasoline dumped on a fire of giggles is? When NOBODY else thinks it’s funny (even though it totally is). Stern looks are just fuel, people.

Today, however, I want to talk about something serious. I’m pushing aside my goofy nature (not to be confused with a Goofy nature. I’m not an anthropomorphic talking dog, after all). Most of you probably don’t know it, but November is National Adoption Month, and anyone who knows me knows this is something very important to me, and to my family.

My husband and I were the typical adoptive couple, and came to the decision to adopt in the most typical way. Years of heartache and failed medical procedures left us at the end of our emotional rope, and my body felt like it had been through a needle and prod factory (Don’t ask me what a prod factory is. I wouldn’t really want to know, would you?). We had all but given up hope of being parents, but the human spirit is a resilient thing. We decided to give it one last go: adoption. I think this is where so many people get it wrong; making the assumption that adoption is a measure of last resort. That it is somehow a second choice—or third, fourth…well, you get the idea.

Having been through the gauntlet and out the other side, I can tell you this with certainty: There is nothing I would trade in this world for the adoption experience. Yes, it is a long, winding journey with twists, turns and pitfalls, but nothing can describe the feeling of holding your child in
your arms for the first time, knowing your moment has finally arrived. The reward of parenthood is that much sweeter for those who struggle. If you’ve never struggled, never run with your arms outstretched, your lungs burning from the effort while your goal remains just out of reach, well, you can’t truly understand how fortunate you are and what a remarkable gift you’re finally cradling in your arms.

After nearly four years, I still marvel every single day at our unbelievable luck. As I run my fingers through my son’s downy waves of hair, when I look into his eyes, when I hear those magical words, “I love you, mommy,” I’m still amazed.

Consider adoption. It will make your life remarkable in ways you can’t even imagine.