Monday, June 24, 2013

Its the obligatory post about infertility

One of the jokes that Brian and I have is that I can meet someone in the bathroom at a restaurant or movie theater and come out knowing quite a bit more than you should know about a perfect stranger.  If I walk out with a woman and say, “Nice to meet you, have a good day,” Brian will whisper to me, “what’s her fertility situation?” It’s true though, I love talking about fertility. Thank goodness it’s part of my job (most of the time) but the truth is that it’s really interesting to me.

Oh, but it wasn’t always that way. When I was a young 22-year-old social worker and people started talking about their fertility or infertility for that matter, I was quickly squirming in my seat. Talking about sexual intercourse and IVF with this novice just about left me tied in knots. Thankfully, age has yielded wisdom on this topic and now I find it the height of importance and interest to be discussed during home study meetings. I spend quite a bit of time and effort talking about these things with clients during the home study process. I’ve learned a lot medically and relationshipey (note: I’m forever grateful to the family who taught me what a vas deferens was and its importance in the baby making. You know who you are and thank you.) Perhaps the most memorable families I’ve had are the families who know with whom the infertility originates. The closest I’ve ever come to crying at work was with the sweet man who was so frustrated about their Vietnam adoption process and called me one day in a panic. I told him although frustrating, he needed to be patient and it would all work out.  He started crying, “please, give my wife a baby, Nikki. I can’t.” So much love and emotion.  

But then there’s the other side – those of you who are not adopting due to infertility. I assume there are some of you who are trying darn hard not to get pregnant during the adoption process, and that’s ok. You don’t have to feel bad about this! It’s perfectly ok if you feel called to adopt without dealing with infertility. I work with people who seem to feel almost guilty that they want to adopt, and I quote, are “taking” a baby from someone who isn’t able to birth one. Do yourself a favor and work through that asap. Perhaps for some of you, this topic needs to find a place on your grief spectrum, and that’s fine. It’s like anything else you need to process and pray through, start early and resolve.

I recently read an article that stated the Duggars are considering adoption from China after a recent trip to a Chinese orphanage. No matter your feelings about this family, they apparently are taking the time to pray and consider adding to their family through adoption. Clearly they have not struggled with infertility but they might be feeling called to adopt, and good for them for giving time to consider that process. I’m not too sure about how getting that additional children waiver would work (China has a 6 children rule), but hey, it’s a nice thought.

As Brian and I share more about our adoption plans and embark upon this journey, one of the most interesting things has been talking with people who assume we’re only doing this because we have fertility problems. It’s been so sweet to see the people who come out of the woodwork to tell me their fertility woes and reach out to comfort me. But I’ve really been getting a lot of sweetness like “oh Nikki, I’m so sorry, we didn’t know you’ve been struggling about this in silence.” I’m learning a lot and seeing true compassion. Anytime you get to step out and see the raw, exposed layers of tender, human, compassion, that’s a boost for confidence in mankind. I’m always open to hear your stories about infertility and hopefully will be able to be a source of support for you as well.

But the idea that the only reason we would be adopting, adopting an older, special needs child from China no less, would be because of infertility is strange. For those of you who know Brian and me, I think this is a no-brainer. But more than that, it’s 2013. There’s no “rules” anymore for family building. How many people are helping raise their niece, or parenting stepchildren, or living with their parents to save on bills and have built in childcare, or taking a financial hit so one parent can stay home when the children are young? Lots of people! It’s simple, we felt called to adopt an older child from another country. We know the world has a global orphan problem. We do what we can. There are times when humanitarian aid efforts are not enough and children are still orphans. And sometimes we can adopt those kids and sometimes we can’t. But for the sometimes that we can, let’s open our hearts and homes to diversity and enriching lives because we truly want to…for whatever reason is right for you. I am happy to say that our little cousins will be forever enriched because of this adoption. Yes, they are also enriched by our cousin who has Aspergers, and our cousin in a wheelchair, and our Korean cousins, and our cousins who live on the reservation, and our mixed race cousin who was adopted domestically, etc., but we’ll gladly add our kiddo to the list too. Welcoming diversity = enriching lives. I’m glad we’ll be adding to the Pauls/DeSimone ball of crazy!      

But, you know that I so like talking about it, so here it is: we’re not adopting because of infertility. We might have the opportunity to birth a child as well someday but we wanted to start our family with this kiddo who had more significant needs so we would be able to focus 100% of our parenting efforts on her. We know attachment, English language acquisition, and her medical needs are going to be stressful and challenging and we wanted to be able to be all hands on deck for her. If you would have asked me if it was my dream to plan a family with an 11+ year gap between kids, of course I would have said no. But remember, it’s 2013…no rules. I’m calling Adoption Anarchy, and I’m happy to be participating.


Friday, June 14, 2013

How to afford adoption...the frugal gal's guide

It has been awesome to be on this side of things and get to answer these questions that I’ve been preparing you all to answer for years! In addition to many questions about fertility (another blog for another day), a lot of the questions we’re getting are about money. From asking us how much the adoption costs, to asking us why it costs so much, to telling us they thought only rich families adopt internationally, to telling us some story about someone the think they knew once who maybe adopted from Romania (or was it Russia? Some Eastern European country that begins with an “R”) who had to take $10,000 in crisp $100 bills and they ended up paying them off in the back of a panel van just to adopt a child with an attachment disorder. (thought bubble, “Um, I’m pretty sure there was a question wrapped up somewhere in that last statement”…benefit of the doubt...benefit of the doubt…)

Anyone who knows Brian and I knows that we’re not wealthy. Brian comes from a financially conservative family and I am just a naturally Frugal Frannie. Brian is building a business and I’m a social worker. We keep a tight budget that doesn’t really allow us much room for wiggling, let alone enough wiggle to just write a check and pay for an international adoption. Therefore, grants and fundraising are going to be key. So yes, we’re doing all the normal stuff with the grants and praying like crazy for financial blessings, but we’re also trying to get creative and think about other financially savvy avenues for saving money, no matter how small. We’re not focusing on going for the gold every time, but rather thinking of little ways that we can save or get funds raised, that will add up. So I thought it would be good to share some money saving/financing ideas, from your resident frugal social worker.  

Think small - First of all, it helps to think of the adoption funds in chunks, rather than think of everything as a giant financial monster. Honestly, I can’t wrap my brain around $30,000 but I find one plane ticket for $1,500 or our $890 immigration fee to be tangible. Perhaps that’s because I don’t often deal with tens of thousands dollars in my normal life, but hundreds or a thousand dollars makes sense to me. So when you get some little financial blessing, think about it as a thing and not just part of the monster. Start with $10 you find in the washing machine and think, “sweet, that’s our fingerprinting fee at the City of Prairie Village.” It also helps to involve your family and friends in the process that to most of them, is quite abstract. If someone gives you $20, you can tell them, “Thank you! We can now state certify two of our dossier documents! Only 14 more to go! That’s huge.” And then go to the bank and deposit it.

Banking – I would advise opening a savings account (that does not require a minimum balance) just for adoption monies. Do not wrap this money into your regular accounts that your monthly bills go in and out of. You will lose it, and probably use it, if you don’t set it up to be separate. In my opinion, if you are asking people to make donations directly to you and you don’t keep it separate, that’s not good stewardship. You must ensure that you are using adoption donations only to pay only for your adoption. I know that seems self explanatory, but... True story from an adoptive family that I read about on a blog (disclaimer: not my clients). They did a fundraiser for their adoption and it appeared to go well. Then they decided that they were going to have to do some home remodeling to make space for the additional two kids they are planning to adopt and came up short, so they paid for the rest with the fundraiser money. Then, two months later, they had another of the same type fundraiser to recoup the funds that they used on the home project and were begging people on their blog to donate items so they could get back to square one on the adoption funds. Seriously. #1, maybe you don’t need to adopt two children if you are tight on money and don’t have room in your home right now and #2, if you must, don’t use donations to pay for it. If this is a worry to you because you think you might use it, you are generally able to have people donate straight to your adoption agency to use specifically for you. Check with your agency first, but most would be happy to take your money sooner and start getting some interest!    

Found money – Now that you have your separate account, start to look for “found money.” Found money is simply that…money you find unexpectedly. Take anything that is found money and put it in that special adoption account. Remember that Alexander Hamilton you found in the washing machine? Found money! I don’t care how little it is, just put it in the account. And since you now have an interest bearing savings account, consider that interest found money too. We had a financial blessing happen with us last month in that our homeowners insurance went down a bit and we got a $329 refund from the escrow account. It was awesome and such a surprise! We then had a choice…use it for regular bills, spend it, or save it for the adoption? I think we made the right decision and that was the first $329 we put in the “adoption fund.” So find your money and then deposit it. Do not go out for fro-yo, whatever you do, nix the frosty treats.    

Messing with your head and getting in under budget – as I mentioned, Brian and I keep a tight budget. And so now I’m enjoying trying to beat it and come in under budget every month. When we succeed, we can take this little bit of savings and put it in the adoption fund.  It’s actually pretty fun to see what you can do and how far you can make things stretch. Such was the impetus for sending my husband to work yesterday morning with a pepperoni, cheese, and mayonnaise sandwich on a hamburger bun* and me with a new invention I’ve named “peanut butter burritos” which is simply peanut butter spread over a tortilla and rolled up**…I’m not kidding, though I wish I was. But if I can get the grocery budget down $20, that’s $20 more for Yiyi! And right into the adoption account it goes.     

Thinking of your friends and family who might want to host a fundraiser – I had thought of the usual suspects in fundraising, but nothing out of the box. Until I had a talk about adoption is with a good friend of mine, Doug, who is also an adoptive dad. Doug is a photographer and is part owner of a photography studio, KdogPHOTOGRAPHERS, in Westport. He works hard, but like most in his profession, he’s not rolling in the dough. He told me that he and his wife would like to donate more to adoptive families, but with their young children and tight budget, they would not be able to do more than a few dollars. But, he has this amazing talent that wanted to share. So the first ever Doug’s Awesome Photography Adoption Fundraiser In-Our-Backyard Extravaganza was born.  Doug came up with the concept and everyone was flexible and it just worked. Plus it was fun! He gave us an awesome gift, people loved their photos because Doug is terrific, and we got some great funds raised. Think of anyone you know who can donate a service or sell something and can give you part or all of their profits. Mary Kay (which is our next fundraiser), Scentsy, Thirty-One, and Silpada are all popular and good options. Other things like massages, hair cuts, nails, and facials are all things that people will enjoy and get a good feeling from making the donation. It never hurts to ask and all they can do is say no. But if they say yes, it’s really a win/win.

I say, it’s 2013, let’s throw out the rules, let’s start some new trends, and let’s open the doors for people who never thought they could afford adoption to send in that first home study payment!        

*Brian declared this his favorite sandwich I’ve ever made him

**I mean, I’m not going to crave them in the future, but not half bad

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Introducing: My Family

We’ve been into this blog for a few weeks, so I think it’s time for some introductions.

You already know me! I love my family. I love my job. I am passionate, emotional, empathetic, and I try to be fair. I love my girlfriends, I love talking about marriages and fertility (much to the chagrin of my husband). I love baking, coffee, and finally I can say that I love cooking. Oh, and of course, I love adoption!

This is Brian. We met in 2004 when he was our on-call computer support guy at the adoption agency where I was employed. He runs a technology consulting company called PerAspera Consulting (the name is best understood by those who have an equally passionate love for the State of Kansas) and I think does a great job at what he does. We dated for a couple of years and got married on April 28, 2012. He’s pretty great! He’s a wonderful spiritual leader for our family and has a heart for things to be right, just, and always gives 100% in everything he does. When this rain turns off we are going to have some awesome summer salads, thanks to his sweet gardening skills.    

This is our little dog, Sunny. We adopted her last July. She’s a rescue and was in a bad situation before we got her. Thankfully, some incredible foster parents helped her so much and prepared her for a family. She’s got her challenges still (bless the people who walk their dogs in our neighborhood and move to the other side of the road when they see us coming!) but she’s perfect for us and we like to think that we’re perfect for her.

And this is our newest family member. Her name is Yiyi. We think she’s pretty cute and obviously values good posture. We’ve not met yet, but we are hoping for an invitation to travel to China and meet her after the first of the year.

So there you have it, you’ve met all members of the Pauls family.

That's some news…we’re adopting! The consummate social worker is now going to be an adoptive mom too.   

It’s been very interesting to be on this side. We’ll use today’s blog, and the next few, to answer some questions that I think will become helpful tools for all of you adoptive parents and pre-adoptive parents. I want to make this blog a teaching and learning tool.

But I’m going to be somewhat guarded with my information sharing. I’m aware that it’s pretty exciting to learn as much as you can about people’s adoptions but I have to protect my family. Feel free to ask as many questions as you want and I’ll answer them if we feel it’s ok to share.

Let’s start with some FAQ’s.

1) Why?

There is no other best and first answer…we love adoption and we have been called. We have been called to submit and welcome this child into our family. We have been called to be the best parents to her that we can be. I can talk adoption and prepare families until I’m exhausted, but until we do something about it, are we really doing enough? Both Brian and I had a heart for adoption long before we got married and naturally came to this decision before we were married. How old, what needs, and where the child was from were up in the air until we found this child on a photo listing…then all that became clear.  

2) Why now?

We felt called to adopt an older child with special needs. And we felt it better for our family building efforts to adopt this child first, so we can focus 100% of our attention and attachment building on this child. We can be more intentional about attachment-focused parenting if we don’t have another child who is pulling our attention in another direction. We’re not sure what the future will hold with needs of other children, so we wanted to jump on this sooner than later.

3) How old is Yiyi?


4) Did you guys plan to adopt a child that old?

Honestly, not really. But I have looked a hundreds of photo listings of children over the 9 years I’ve worked in this field and never had such a visceral reaction to seeing a photo before I saw Yiyi. When I started talking with Brian about it and he was instantly connected (before he even saw her photo), we knew age didn’t matter.

5) Where is she?

She’s in a foster home in China

6) What are her special needs?

Yiyi’s needs are readily apparently so we feel that we can share. Yiyi has some significant vision impairments that stem from congenital cataracts. She has never had an operation or a pair of glasses.

7) Can these vision problems be corrected?

Probably not. At least we’re not going into it with the idea that they can be. We will get the cataracts removed and get glasses on her, but we’ll not know how that affects her vision in the long run.

8) Did you write your own home study?

Is this a serious question? No! We were so incredibly blessed with a social worker we imported from creation to do our home study. She and I were surprised that we had so many people in common, but didn’t know each other. She is awesome.

9) Where are you guys in the process?

We got pre-approval in February. Our home study was finished last week and our paperwork is now with USCIS.

We’ll share more as the weeks and our process progresses (my computer husband tells me blogs should be no more than 1000 words and I’m already over), but in the mean time, thank you for joining us in prayer as we pray for the Lord to prepare Yiyi’s heart for a forever family, the ability to adapt to her new life in the United States, and for us to be the best parents to this little girl that we can be.

So we wait, patiently, and learn as much as we can in the mean time. And I know our waiting and learning is only going to help me be an even better social worker to you and others in the future.