The HOME STUDY CLASSES.
Until these are complete, we cannot be assigned a social worker, we cannot start our home study visits that will complete the home study process. This is apparently true as long as you are doing an agency adoption--I found out in the classes that if you are doing private adoption, assisted by an attorney, you do not have to complete these classes.
Which to me would be a terrible loss. The classes were awesome, informative, and even entertaining.
It was 12 hours of coursework -- six two-hour classes spread out 5-9 on Friday night and 9-5 on Saturday. There were breaks built in, but we were often listening and eating at the same time. Or in my case, listening, frantically taking notes, and eating at the same time. Like the nerd I am, I took 28 pages of handwritten notes over the course of the weekend. But I have news for you -- nerds rule, and I will have a reference for EVERYTHING -- since there weren't a ton of handouts.
The classes were as follows:
Welcome/What to Expect When You Are Adopting (my own title for the second half but it's pretty accurate)
Talking About Adoption
Child Interest: Considering Referrals-- The Grid
Creating New Relationships -- Post Adoption Contact Agreements (PACA), also Grid
Child Identity (more Grid, considering transracial adoption and other differences)
The room was a training room, set up with 6 circular tables (okay, one was a rectangle but most were circular) with space for about 6 people at each. I'd say there were at least 20 couples there, if not more. Although, they had a staff training and a 15-year anniversary gala that same weekend, so there was a table of about 6 social workers, too. Which may or may not have made us all feel a little more...observed, although probably not rationally so.
Seats were not assigned, but we sat with the same people Friday night and then...the same people Saturday, although at a different table and with another couple joining us. There were opportunities to mingle during breaks and some forced mixing during group activities, which I actually appreciated and wished there was more of. I am always afraid at these kinds of events that we won't find anyone to talk to, that we'll be the weird people on the periphery, that no one will want to get to know us, that we'll be picked last... basically middle school all over again. There's a fine line between being friendly, being assertive in introducing yourself, and being desperate..."please like me! WANT to talk to me! Sit by me!" I think we did a pretty good job not being desperate but also not being too wallflowery. I did get email addresses for three couples, which is great because it's always nice to have people who are in this with you. I have friends who are at varying stages in this process, but I think you can't have too many friends who are also adopting and will "get it."
Okay, on to the actual classes. To prevent this from becoming a novel, I'm going to publish it in three parts. This one covers Friday night. Part II will be Saturday morning, and Part III will be Saturday afternoon.
Welcome/What to Expect When You're Adopting:
This was basically, "Hi! Welcome to your home study classes. Please introduce yourself to everyone, these are not assigned seats, and get ready to learn a whole lot!" It was facilitated by one of the family advocates (a social worker who works with the adoptive family throughout the process but does not do the home study, but who DOES call you with profiling opportunities once all that is complete).
- It started with some interesting information that I wished had been shared earlier: Your home study report expires a year from when it is approved. (This I knew.) HOWEVER, any paperwork that you completed prior to the report that is a part of the report (background checks, medical forms, etc.) ALSO expire, but a year from their completion date. So, while the agency will keep track of all your expiration dates, you also should know when they expire. COMMENCE HEART ATTACK. Because, when we did our application in February, I took advantage of February Break and hauled ass on a lot of that paperwork. So my medical form was completed in February. And our clearances have March dates (which was surprisingly fast, since I thought the FBI child abuse clearance took months). So, since our home study report will most likely not be done any time earlier than July or August, we only have SIX MONTHS on those other forms. Which means, if your home study is good and you get a profile opportunity but one of those other forms has lapsed...you have a problem. So, in some ways, the early bird gets screwed. However, I did find that fingerprints are good forever, and the background checks just need internal updating, so the only one that requires going out and completing something is the Medical Form. Just in case, you know, you acquire some kind of condition that would make you less likely to be able to parent. No pressure. If you live in New York, the nice thing is that the Adam Walsh form that clears you for child abuse in the state is good forever, if you've lived in the state for five years. Which we have. Whew. I just kind of wish I had known that some paperwork was not worth speeding through, because it expires. I might have pushed my doctor's appointment out a little further. (Score for Bryce for not having his appointment until the week of the classes...)
- Then, you got to the Expectant Parent Information--Things to Remember. Some bullet points on the excellent advice that was given:
- Until surrender documents are signed, decisions belong to expectant/birth parents. This includes circumcision, but naming is the legal right of adoptive parents. However, it was stressed that you may have discussions with the expectant/birth parents on names because there may be a middle name or other inclusions that are wanted.
- Let expectant parents lead the way -- follow their cues especially around the time of the birth.
- Use the agency for guidance--they are there to help you navigate this complex process. Don't hesitate to call with questions, if you're overwhelmed, or to share good news. They like good calls, too. (Not dissimilar from teacher calls -- make the good ones too so a phone call home isn't always ominous.)
- Have awareness that the process is emotional -- education is key. Oh, and avoid, avoid, avoid people who tell you what you "should" do -- its' not always good advice and will make you feel bad.
- RESPECT expectant parents' right to confidentiality. This applies to facebook as well as in-person conversations. It is possible that you could accidentally see the birth mom's last name at the hospital -- if this is not part of the information she wants you to have, SCRUB IT from your memory, as best you can. (This is not an opportunity to do internet research. SCRUB IT.)
- DO NOT JUDGE. Expectant/birth parents can be in tough situations. No one has the right to judge another person, even if it is tempting. You don't know what you would do in certain circumstances unless you yourself are in those exact same shoes. So don't judge.
- You will be fearful of mind-changing. This is totally normal. However, the time right before and right after the birth are the scariest, and even if decisions were made ahead of time, the expectant mother has the right to change her mind as to what she's okay with. This doesn't necessarily mean that she is CHANGING HER MIND about the placement. It's just a very, very emotional time and it is malleable. So try not to be terrified and be malleable, too. It is possible that the birth mother could change her mind before placement occurs (this is a failed match, not a revocation). You need to be okay with this. You will be devastated. Completely and utterly devastated, but you do not want an adoption where someone felt obligated to place against their better judgment. Also, the placement could still be happening, but the expectant mother has changed her mind about your presence at the hospital. This can go either way -- you can have been invited to the birth but now not, or you could have been planning to be in a nearby hotel but now you are invited to the birth. Be flexible. No matter what happens, this is totally beyond your control.
- Always, always follow through with open agreements. The agency does not want you agreeing to ANYTHING that you cannot do for 18 years. You will want to promise the world. Promise what you can definitely follow through on at the minimum, because you can always do more as the relationship evolves. DO NOT OVERPROMISE. It's bad for everyone.
- Remember that disrespecting the birth parent is disrespecting your child. Be careful what you say in the moment if you are upset with something that has happened -- your child WILL hear it and they will internalize that. Share this with your friends and family. Birth parents are not to be bashed, ever.
- FINANCIAL PREPAREDNESS: once you have your home study done and your profile is ready and printed and five copies are in the agency's hands, you are considered a Waiting Client. At this point, you must have your finances in order and easily accessible. You don't want to miss a placement opportunity because you couldn't transfer your money over and write that check.
- You need to have available all maximum placement and post-placement fees, PLUS an additional 10k buffer, available. (GULP. Gulp, gulp, gulpity gulp gulp gulp.)
- Fee is per placement and is discussed at the time of profiling. It varies dependent on the situation, the state, etc. In the states covered by this agency birth parent expenses are limited to certain timeframes but covered by the adoptive parents. This includes legal representation for the birth parent. So fees can vary quite a bit. All fees are for the support of the birth parent and services provided by the agency pre- and post-placement. YOU ARE NOT BUYING A BABY. THIS IS NOT A "COST" FOR THE BABY. HOLY JEEZUM I CAN'T STRESS THIS ENOUGH. ADOPTION IS NOT BUYING A BABY.
- From the time you receive the profiling call, the fees are due anywhere from a few days to weeks to month or more, but once you are selected by the expectant mother, you need to have the money ready. Sometimes there are last minute situations, and the fees are due TOMORROW. You want to be prepared for that possibility.
- There is a sister organization within the agency meant to support families post-adoption process, this covers issues with family, issues within your own nuclear family, issues with the birth family. You can utilize these services for mediation as well as counseling and other support.
WHEW. Are you totally overwhelmed yet? That was the first two hours, done. On to the next class.
Talking About Adoption
This course was facilitated by the agency's Client Relations Manager. This is the person who calls you after the application is received and approved and welcomes you to the agency. He was super nice and helpful.
- We were given a group name, so that we could call in and see where other people in the group were in the process. Since obviously we can't ask about specific couples or individuals due to confidentiality, this gives you a sense of if others have been profiled, or someone has had a placement, or most people are still doing the massive amounts of home study paperwork. I kind of feel like calling to get this information might make me feel worse, not better, but maybe it's comforting in some way to others. Previously, they had a giant box of crayons and each group received a color. Each group is completely unique--no duplicate names ever. Since they ran out of crayons, we were on to wildlife flashcards. And our group was designated... African Elephant. I found this somehow hilarious, given that elephants have always been a good luck totem of sorts throughout our IVF process, and I have a little stuffed elephant on my tiny rocking chair in the little room. How very fitting.
- The class started with an ice breaker of sorts, two sets of envelopes that had different questions in them. The first questions were randomly distributed to people at the table, and included things like, "Do you remember when you drove alone for the first time?" "Do you remember when you were first told that someone you knew had died?" (Way to bring us down, question.) "Do you remember your first date?" Then the second envelope had questions like, "Do you remember when you first walked?" "Do you remember being born?" (He said that previous classes had people who claimed to remember this, which was just plain bizarre to me.) "Do you remember the first storybook that was ever read to you?" Then he asked us what the difference was between the two groups of questions. Can you guess?
- The difference was, that you can remember the things that happen later in your life, but some things just ARE, because they happened so early. They are just a part of your story, not something you remember.
- The point? That adoption for your child should be something that they DON'T REMEMBER EVER BEING SAT DOWN AND TOLD -- it's just part of their identity. The story should begin as early as possible, the first day you bring your child home, a part of bedtime stories, just a part of their identity. Not an event when they are eight, or twelve, or eighteen -- a suckerpunch surprise. That is helpful to no one.
- Start the adoption story early -- it is a part of life, not a revelation.
- We were advised to write down all the info from our phone call for the adoption story, as well as for our own decision-making processes. Because from that call (and I would argue from the day you fill out the application), your child's adoption story has begun. They deserve to know it. It is part of their identity.
- Stress that ADOPTION IS NORMAL. It should be talked about. It should be okay to discuss in school or anywhere.
- He gave us some names of famous people who are touched by adoption -- adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents. There is a list on the website. Point out how normal adoption is and famous people who give representation to this experience.
- Find good TV shows and movies, and point out how adoptive families are normal. Discuss when it's not realistic.
- ADOPTION IS FOREVER. Stress to your child that this is permanent. Your child may be worried when you share their adoption story that they could be placed to another family by you, stress that your family will not change.
- Talk positively about birth families and reasons for placement that are different than the permanent situation you currently have.
- Remember, your child has a BIRTH STORY, too.
- Young children will sometimes say, "I wasn't born, I was adopted." Your child WAS born and that is part of their story. Even if it is uncomfortable for you, it's a need all children have. Meet it.
- Whatever you know, share. It is completely normal for children to want to hear their birth story in addition to their adoption story, they go hand in hand.
- Celebrate birthday and Adoption Day, but separately. They are BOTH important, but they are separate events and should be treated as such.
- "LOVE" IS TRICKY
- When you say, "Your birth mother made a plan out of love," be careful. This can be confusing to young children especially who don't distinguish the nuance of love. They may hear YOU say, "I love you!" and then think, "But my birth mother loved me too, and she made a plan out of love, are they going to make a plan for me and place me elsewhere?"
- So, uh, do not necessarily use "LOVE" with regards to the decision to place, use "care" or "a loving decision"
- Try not to muddy this, but be aware that this confusion could exist and talk about it.
- Okay, here is where he had me read the Did My First Mother Love Me? book that was
- You can call the birth mother: First Mom or First Mother; Birth Mother or Birth Mom; First name. All are fine, all can be interchangeable, you decide what's right for your family.
- Be sure that your sharing of the story of placement is cumulative. Add more details as is age appropriate, but DO NOT leave things out, smooth over unpleasant realities, or lie. This breaks trust, big time. Do not share your child's story of placement with anyone else outside your immediate family (you, your spouse/partner, your child). You do not want someone else to accidentally tell your child information about themselves that you did not already share. That's bad.
- Here is where we watched a home video of children being interviewed about their thoughts on adoption, from various ages. And then... it was revealed that all of these children were siblings, some adopted, some not, and they were all siblings of... our facilitor--he was also adopted. And then, a smattering of the children in the video, now very much more grown up, came out to do a panel on talking about adoption. And, it turned out that all of these young people (I feel so old saying that, but the oldest was 27, and now that's a young person to me, what's happened to me?!?) were the children of the founder and CEO of our agency. She has ten children, some biological, some not, some special needs, some not, some transracial, some not... and so they all spoke to us about their experiences. I won't do a nitty gritty on it, just a bulleted list of the topics that they covered. I will say that it was very eye-opening for both of us, and they were the most well-adjusted family I've ever seen in my life. Not everyone was there, but those that were did such a beautiful job of answering questions and speaking to experiences that came from people bungling talking about adoption:
- Loss -- Information and contact helps. What happens when contact ceases; dealing with the rollercoaster that comes with contact. The danger of social media--being able to find out information from searches or "friends" on facebook that maybe you were better off not knowing (or finding out in that way).
- the fact that the parents had contact with birth parents, but gave children choice when they were older as to whether or not they wanted to have contact themselves. Which I found interesting.
- School, bullying, surprisingly awful statements from teachers with narrow minds as to what constitutes immediate family.
- Dealing with outside comments that are stupid, being given a great toolkit by parents and having the confidence to deal with situations outwardly and/or inwardly
- Older children transition/adjustment: grief, bad situations, trauma, feelings of impermanence
- Sibling search, birth sibling relationships are important, sometimes more so than birth parent
- openness is important, not just for parents but siblings.
- Find movies/TV shows to give opportunities to discuss with kids. Try not to overprotect but give dialogue about it. Often shows/movies that mom was worried about were just fine for kids.
- What is my alternate reality? Fantasy of what birth parents were/are really like, when there is contact/openness the fantasy is more reality but you always wonder...what if
- HONESTY, HONESTY, HONESTY. Most important thing to all siblings was honesty from parents. Real answers to tough questions. No secrets.
And that, THAT was the end of the first night of classes. We went home to our hotel room, I typed up the blog post about reading that picture book, Bryce read his book on making speakers from scratch, and we CRASHED. Because we had to get up early the next day and get ready for...
PART II -- a FULL DAY of classes.
To be continued...