Wednesday, May 29, 2013


We all have limits. In my definition, limits are places that the mere thought of them sends us over the edge. The great part about being human is that those limits are different for all of us. As I sit in this fancy-schmancy coffee shop and write this blog, I can audibly hear the illustration of this point, as people talk about galas and little Michael’s summer camps…I can only imagine that their limits are somewhat different than mine.

But today I want to focus on your limits, and specifically talk about limits with medical or special needs for the child you hope to adopt. As you begin your adoption process, you will be faced with a ton of difficult decisions. The most of which will be the time when you have to sit down and decide what, if any, special needs you are open to in the child you plan to adopt. This is one of the most difficult pieces of paperwork for adoptive families. You will start to work on it, check a couple of the obvious choices, and then leave it. And then think about it more, then start to research some things you have never heard of, then stop the checking, and then see that you haven’t checked many at all, then feel like an awful person for not checking too much, so you check more, and then doubt those decisions.  And then you fall into the trap that every adoptive family falls into, “if I birthed a baby, I couldn’t control what special needs that child would have.” So then some of you decide to check them all and leave it up to the Lord.

And for some of you, you honestly and truly do believe that and are comfortable with that decision. And I am in much admiration of you. But you make up about 2% of the home studies I write. For the rest of you, its just guilt. And guilt, my friends, is simply no reason to adopt a child.

So through the home study process we talk about special needs, what you are open to, what you need to learn more about, where you live, your school district, your health insurance, the needs of your other children, etc. and I give you my favorite Nikki home study speech, “Your priorities are the kiddos in your home today, not the child that doesn’t exist or isn’t yours yet.” And then you think and pray and research and you see where your limits are and make some decisions that are right for your family. And then we finish something that we have all come to with comfort, prayer, and resolve. And then I send a draft of the home study to your adoption agency, and our weeks or months of work are promptly thrown out the window.

(The rest of this is geared towards families adopting internationally)

This is happening more and more, with the needs of children adopted internationally increasing and the countries referring more children as healthy referrals, therefore increasing the special needs of the children available for adoption. And then you feel terrible for being too picky before and you just blindly accept everything your agency suggests, because, after all, they are the experts. And yes, they are the experts, and that’s why you have selected them to assist you with this huge step in your life journey. All that aside, they do not live in your home, they are not in your family, they are not your spouse, they are not your paycheck, they are not your health insurance provider, they are not your childcare provider, but yet they are encouraging you to make decisions that can dramatically impact all those items.

Let’s look at one situation with one of my families that just happened. We’ll call them Tom and Judy. Tom and Judy are wonderful people. Tom and Judy don’t have children yet and are choosing to adopt from China to begin their family. During their home study, we talked at length about special needs. And in the end, Tom and Judy reported that they felt comfortable adopting their first child under the age of 2 and were open to correctable special needs only, specifically listing cleft lip and/or palate or correctable orthopedic deformities. These were not decisions they came to lightly or carelessly, so I felt comfortable writing their approval for such a child. I praised them for coming to a conclusion they felt comfortable with. And then we sent their home study draft to their placing agency who felt their special needs parameters were not broad enough. Broad enough for who? (or whom? I never know.) It seemed plenty broad for Tom and Judy. So I had more talks with Tom and Judy and more talks with the agency while I advocated for them and explained why and how they decided what they did. And then the agency had a call with Tom and Judy and I got an email from Judy stating that they would accept all the suggestions the agency made. So now, as I finalize this home study today, Tom and Judy’s home study states:

….Tom and Judy Doe to be approved for the adoption of one child of either gender, 3 years in age or younger, from China, with mild to severe special needs.  

Bless these sweet folks. I am confident that the Lord will bless them with the perfect child in his perfect plan.  

People, if your social worker or adoption agency makes some suggestions about special needs that they are telling you that you should be open to, but you don’t feel good about those decisions, please, don’t allow them to dictate the decisions for your family. Take their suggestions, and stop and think. If you are offered a referral that has more significant needs than you feel comfortable with, you do not have to accept that referral. If you planned to adopt one child and your agency offers you an additional child with significant medical needs, you do not have to accept the referral of two children. Now that the child is paperwork ready, the chance of that child being adopted by another family who is more prepared and open to his/her medical need is very good.  It is not your responsibility to save every child that comes across your computer screen.

These are lifelong decisions that you will have to live with. True, your adoption agency will be there to support you, but they cannot come into your home and provide respite care for you when you are at your wits end or take the kiddos so you can have an overnight and remember why you married your husband in the first place! Be good stewards of your resources and remember that no human person knows you better than you.  

*This article is dedicated to two very kind and loving families who had some very difficult decisions to make over the past two weeks. Bless you both!    

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Truth time

Truth time: the second blog entry has me more nervous than the first. Now I feel like I have to keep the readers entertained and present something even more compelling than the first one. I joined up with a blogging group that meets weekly so people take the time to get their blogs done (who knew such a thing existed, honestly people, who thinks of these things?!)  I spent the first 30 minutes of the two-hour blogging session organizing my Dropbox box and then had to check my email since it had been 42 minutes since I left home and had my last glance. Well, and then I had some Facebook notifications that I just had to read and then I had to get my ear buds out because the women across from me are having a superficial conversation and it’s irritating me and then I needed another Splenda for my coffee and…I’m fairly sure I could keep thinking of things preventing me from sitting down and starting. I must start. But so nervous! 

That was all 100% true. Wasn’t that honesty nice and refreshing? Did you identify with that? Did that make you feel a little bit better to hear that Nikki doesn’t have her junk together? Anyone? I’m pretty sure it did because tables turned, honestly, I would feel so much better if I was on the receiving end of that word vomit. So if that does make us feel better to purge the feelings and also to hear it, why are we not all just more honest? I’m not going to be able to get into a dissertation of societal norms, mainly because I don’t really care and that’s not the type of blog I’m going for. But what I am going to get into is honesty in adoption, why it’s important, and make you think about why we don’t open up that can of worms more often.

Truth time: I ask my husband to make the bed if we’re having any company of any kind possibly coming over. Our bedroom is on the second floor of our home and we, like most normal people, rarely entertain company in said bedroom. He thinks it outrageous, and grumbles whilst making the bed, but the good-natured man does it. I ask him to do this in the outside chance that such company (let’s call her Jane) ends up coming upstairs to look at something, quite possibly completely unrelated to the bed itself. And in the rare event that Jane does come up the stairs, why should I care if the bed is made or not? I mean, really, is Jane’s bed made at her house? And is it a big secret that I sleep in my bed? Am I doing anything different than every other person out there? Pretty sure I’m not. But the thought that Jane may see my unmade bed is so horrifying; I can’t even wrap my brain around that thought. But if it happened, I’m pretty sure Jane might feel just a little bit better as she thinks about her unmade bed at home, and probably wondered if I had stashed my pile of laundry in the closet (which I did) because she too has unfolded laundry. I’m glad I took a little stress out of Jane’s day because I normalized her situation. I made her feel better. But in that friendly visit situation, it’s not my job to make Jane feel better. But when I put on my adoption social worker hat and come to your house, it is my job. So why not allow me to do my job and start being more honest?

Now well into year 31, I think I’m becoming more aware of the fact that people don’t feel like they can truly reach out to their social workers for help. Oh my lands, I can look back now and see my blissful 22-year-old days of ignorance when everything was just perfect and I looked at marriage and family building through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. I’ll never forget one individual home study interview I had back in 2006 when I asked the woman what she most loved and admired about her husband and she straight up started weeping, full on crying, just thinking about her love for this man! She said he was just so wonderful she found it hard to talk about him without getting emotional. Oh, and he wasn’t serving our country in Afghanistan or anything. Nope, he was just at home, she was near 20 minutes away from being arms wrapped around the darling man. At the time, I was so enamored with this sweetness; I was so hopeful that one day I would get married and experience an emotional reaction anytime someone uttered my future husband’s name. I’m basically still a newlywed and I love my husband, but the mere mention of his name does not send me into near hysterics. And now I’m thinking, “lady, are you kidding me?” Really?

It’s an interesting job I have, being an adoption social worker. I am aware that my clients both love and fear me.  I know you vacillate between wanting to be my best friend and being more scared of me than any person you have seen in a dark alley. You know that I have the knowledge and ability to help you, but the sheer terror of what might happen if you open up and tell me your inner most worries and secrets is too much. But yet, I can’t help if you don’t tell me. I’m not clairvoyant, or quite frankly, that intuitive. I’ve spent a lot of money for a lot of education, and for licensing requirements; I attend at least 20 hours of continuing education annually specifically about adoption. And, I’ve fostered a great network with other adoption social workers and therapists that are way more clinical than I am. Let me use my knowledge. As much as I do enjoy hearing that your kiddo likes watermelon or can rock a game of candy crush on your iPhone, that’s not really intellectually stimulating for me or helpful for you.  And I think, if you just dig a little bit deeper you might just see that the fact that your 3-year-old wakes up four times a night might just be some bonding struggles and not just his sleep pattern, or personality, or the fact that he’s still adjusting to the time change between China and the U.S. (because, let’s face it, you’ve been home four weeks now and you know that’s not true). 

So let’s start to be more honest, shall we? When I’m in your living room during the home study, please tell me your concerns. Are you worried that you won’t love this child as much as your biological child? Great, let’s talk about that. Did your spouse “convince” you to adopt a child older than you are really comfortable with? I could rock that one. Does your adoption agency know how fantastic of an adoptive family you are and is trying to convince you to adopt two children, but you really only feel the Lord calling you to one child? Good thing, sharing stories of other families who have struggled with this is my specialty! Are you so irritated with the home study process because you think every other 17-year-old can just blink and get pregnant but you have groomed yourself to say you are open to the adoption of a two-year-old from Africa when you really want to just feel what it’s like to be pregnant and birth a newborn child who has your nose because you don’t have any other options?  Oh yes, I can help with that too because I have a cousin who was you. Do you think deep, deep down in your heart that your adoption agency might be doing something strange and you think something is amiss, but you sort of maybe don’t think you really care because you just want a baby and you are already this far along in the process? You, along with hundreds of your closest friends are going to bed every night thinking about that very same thing. I promise you I won’t judge you and I can help you to think/pray through that (and encourage you to read this blog post).

And after you are home with the wee one, did you fall into some post-adoption blues that came out of nowhere? Do you not really feel that you can talk with your girlfriends about this stress because, after all, “It’s what you wanted. You could have had another biological child that would have been a lot easier and cheaper.”  Are you resentful of this new child who has turned your previously calm family on its head? Did a lady from your church adopt just a month before you and looks amazing every time you see her, hair done, eyes bag free, pretty sure looks like she had a recent pedicure, and well behaved child who is smiling and speaking full English sentences, yet you feel a medal should be given to you just to have dragged your family into the sanctuary, albeit 17 minutes late and without brushed teeth? Are you a little bit more than a little bit worried that your 8-year-old Ethiopian daughter is starting to develop and despite telling yourself that it’s possible for 8-year-olds to develop, you think she’s really 11 and you have no idea what to do with that information? And as cute as it is that your child goes up to everyone she sees, smiles, and raises her arms to be picked up, you know that’s a bigger problem than little miss just being friendly….please reach out to me because that’s what I’m here for.  And although, now well into year 9 of doing this work, I can still praise the Lord and say that not one child on my caseload has been diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), people, that’s not to say that nobody has had attachment challenges. Or probably more truthful (since that’s what I’m all about today) is that nobody has gotten the appropriate diagnosis yet.  But along the way, I am here for you, I can help you, I can connect you with others who share your struggles, and I can connect you with specialists if you need.   

Truth time: I don’t have a car seat in my car just ready to scoop your child up if, two-weeks after you are home you tell me that you don’t love your child just yet. So maybe next time you are stressing out about my post adoption visit and your sink full of dishes, stop and think about how I can help you and do my job at the same time. Win/win.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I'm's about adoption

I've been trying to convince myself to start a blog lately, but it's been hard. I'm busy, I type all the time for work, I need to make dinner, the dog needs a walk, I want to plant flowers, I need to call someone, I need to go to the post office, I need...a million excuses not to ever get started. It's just long overdue. But I just couldn't sit down and make it happen.

The catalyst for me to get started today was a recent viewing of an international adoption documentary. It's called Stuck and it's a documentary about children and families stuck in the broken international adoption system. Just a couple of minutes into it, when I started to feel bad about eating my second Twizzler, thinking about the fact that I now have two Twizzlers in my already full-from-dinner belly, I knew that I was sunk. It's one of those documentaries that you watch because you know you should, but you have that sinking feeling that the subject matter is going to certainly get harder before it gets better. And Stuck is no exception.  

From beginning to end, 122 minutes of stories that I can relate to, watching interviews with clients that could have very easily been one of my clients, and most devastating perhaps was the raw video footage of these kids in these orphanages.  Not these old photos we've all seen in turn of the 20th century orphanages. Oh no friends, very modern photos, all from 2011 and later. It's really all there, for us to see, this is how these babies are being cared for and this is how these older children are growing up. And then when they turn that magic/tragic age of 14, 15, 16, or 17, whatever the age is, and those gates open, the child is leaving into an even scarier world. It is outrageous.

To those who tell me that we've got plenty of kids here to adopt, and then ask why people have to leave the country in order to complete an adoption (first off I snarkily ask you how many children you've adopted from the US foster care system, and then I put my nice girl hat back on) and then I will tell you to watch this movie and you will get it.  It’s nice that we have choices in life and adoption is no exception.  The Lord calls us to adopt from all different places and I’m glad we can submit. 

Texting with another girlfriend/adoption momma after the movie, she told me that she and her husband would love to adopt internationally again, but now, after seeing that she's now more frightened than ever. Obviously it's easy to see that side of it and quite honestly, anyone with two bits of sense in them should run quickly the other way. But is that the right thing to do? Is that what these babies (they are all babies in my eyes) need you to do? 

Has the Lord placed adoption on your heart and now you are feeling that's what He has called you to do? If so, knock sense square off its block, go watch that documentary tonight and plan to start researching agencies tomorrow (and let me know if you need any help!) 

* If you adopted once and you have been dragging your feet about going again because your oldest needs braces and you haven't been socking away enough in your retirement and you really wanted to take the family to Disney this year because you've been promising that to the kids for me, their hearts will benefit a lot more from a new sister than a stock photo of Mickey. 
*And if you have never adopted before but you say to yourself that your kids are too old and you have everything on the perfect trajectory that you planned back when you were 22 years old and dreaming of your future family with your four children, all stair-stepped, two years apart (boy girl boy girl), now two in college and two in high school, and so a four-year-old with all his problems and complications would just throw your world off too much...keep thinking about it. 

And trust me, in the end, when your kids reflect back on their lives, they won't be shaped and affected by Mickey or braces or private college or a bigger home nearly as much as they will be from their sister who came from a family, to the streets, to an orphanage in Haiti, to your home, and into your hearts.

Plus, I never went to Disney and I'm fine.