Friday, January 31, 2014

Loss, Love, and How God Uses it ALL for His Glory

Adoption was always something my husband and I discussed as a way to build our family.  I never thought that it would be the only way though.  Since I was a little girl all I ever wanted was to grow up, get married, and be a mommy.  I didn’t realize it until after we started the adoption process, but God had been preparing our hearts for the journey ahead.    

As many of you know adoption is not an easy road. It’s an emotional roller coaster filled with ups and downs, heartache, loss, and joy; to name a few.  Our journey was no different.  Our journey started when we did kinship care for our nephew.  It wasn’t until this that we were able to fully grasp loving someone else’s child fully as your own.  We fostered our nephew for thirteen months and it created a loving bond between the three of us that is indescribable.  The experience was one that left us selfishly heartbroken for ourselves, and completely dependent on our Savior.  It was the most challenging, emotional experience of our lives, but also the most rewarding.   

It was two months after our nephew went home that we found out about our infertility issues.  Like many, we had OUR plan laid out for our lives.  We had been married for five years and decided we would start trying to get pregnant.  Little did we know that God had bigger and better plans for us.  It took us a while to just let go and let God lead.  For six months we did a series of failed infertility treatments, including hormones, shots, and IUI’s (intrauterine insemination).  After the last failed attempt we decided we were done going down that route.  I could not handle it physically or emotionally.   God taught us so much through these experiences, but the most profound one came to be LOSS.  This has had such a huge impact on us, because it became so relatable to what a birth mom experiences when she places a child for adoption.  God was working through our heartache to allow us to see what that kind of loss truly feels like.  I still cannot completely grasp the depth and magnitude of our loss and I still have hard days, but in the midst of that pain God gives me peace and joy. 

Through much prayer God was leading us to build our family a different way.  It became very apparent that adoption was how God intended our family to be built.  So we set out researching both domestic and international adoptions, contacting friends who had adopted, searching the internet, and setting up a meeting with a local attorney. After gathering all of the information we could and praying constantly, we decided to go with an agency.  In January 2012 we began the paperwork process for a domestic adoption with “A Gift of Hope Adoptions.”  Our home study and profile were complete in March and we began the waiting process.  Two weeks later I got a call from my sister’s friend telling me about a local private adoption!!! Of course we were very interested, so I contacted the family.  We got some information from them about the situation.  The birthmom was 18 years old and low functioning and had been taken advantage of by an older man.  My heart broke for her.  She was due September 10, 2012.  Her mom told me there was another couple interested in adopting the baby.  So we continued our wait…and then…two weeks later we got another call from the same family and the couple had decided not to adopt the baby.  We contacted our attorney with the information, and initially there were some red flags that he told us were of concern. So we prayed about it, but God was leading us to follow through….this was OUR baby!   

Naturally my husband was very skeptical and guarded, but I was ALL in.  It was just a couple days later that the birthmom went to the doctor and found out what she was having.  I can remember the day like it was yesterday.  At the time I was babysitting and my husband and I had brought the kids I watched to the park to play.  We were talking about what we thought the baby would be…initially we were praying for a baby girl because we felt it would give us a fresh start after fostering our sweet nephew….however God in all His humor gives us a sweet baby BOY! Immediately after receiving the text with the ultra sound picture I was in LOVE. 

It was instantaneous for me.  That sweet boy was mine and my heart was overflowing.  I remember her texting me and asking me if that’s what we wanted?!? I said HE IS PERFECT!! I couldn’t have been any happier.  From this point on I was in contact with the family everyday through text.  It was in May that I was able to bring the birthmom to a doctor appointment and not only meet her for the very first time, but also hear my sweet baby boy’s heartbeat for the very first time! It was so strong!

Throughout the summer we continued to bring the birthmom to all of her doctor appointments, as well as swimming, a concert, and picnics.  We just spent time getting to know her.  She gave us a few different scares that required us to go to the ER, but everything always turned out to be okay.  God truly turned something awful into something wonderful…like only He can.  He completely awed me and met us in our deepest despair and truly answered ALL of our prayers.  One thing I wanted more than anything was to experience the pregnancy and birth of my child…and He allowed us to do that in more ways than I ever could have imagined. Not only did I get to bring her to all of her doctor appointments, but she allowed both my husband and I to be there for her whole labor and delivery! 

The doctor decided to induce the birthmom on September 9th at 5 a.m. She labored for almost 21 hours and our sweet boy came into the world at 1:52 am on September 10, 2012 (my husband’s grandpa’s birthday).  He weighed 7 lbs 12 oz and 21 ½ inches long. We named him Grayson Samuel Morey.  Samuel means “prayed for” which couldn’t have been more fitting for our sweet boy.  Both Grayson and his birthmom gave us quite the scare.  Grayson came out with meconium all over him and didn’t cry for 5 minutes…longest 5 minutes of my life! Then they had to suction him out to make sure he didn’t aspirate any meconium.  After they got him all cleaned up I got to be the first to hold him! It was the sweetest moment of my life…Grayson immediately stopped crying and just stared at me…like he was taking me all in! He was so alert. 

Then his birthmom started hemorrhaging so they took my husband, Grayson, and I across the hall for what seemed like an eternity.  We were so in love with our sweet blessing, but scared for his birthmom.  Finally, they came in and we were able to bring Grayson to meet her for the first time! Such an incredibly sweet moment for the four of us!   

The hospital was able to give us our own room with Grayson and we brought him to visit his birthmom a few times until he was released.  Today we have a very open relationship with her.  We text often and we have visits every three months.  If you had asked us at the beginning of our adoption journey if we wanted an open adoption, we would have told you no…we were very hesitant.  But today I couldn’t imagine not having an open relationship with our son’s birthmom.  I absolutely love that our son has the opportunity to know her.  And as he grows up he will be able to ask any questions he has. 

Grayson’s adoption story is the biggest testament to God’s faithfulness and answers to prayer.  For me there’s no other explanation for it.  I remember leaving the hospital and the social workers and nurses telling us that his adoption was the most healthy and smoothest adoption they had ever seen.  I have no doubt it was God.  My biggest prayer throughout the process was for comfort and peace for Grayson’s birthmom…and God answered that prayer in so many ways.  She was so at peace with her decision…never once did she question it.  The joy we saw on her face after he was born was indescribable.  God gave her so much peace in choosing us to be Grayson’s mommy and daddy.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Q & A about Home Studies

This is my second Q&A installment for Joy in the Journey. You may have even seen a question posted last week asking what questions you have about domestic adoptions. Not surprisingly, a question immediately popped up about the “Home study” (which can be known by a variety of other names, i.e. Homestudy, Adoption Report, Investigation and Assessment, Adoptive Home Assessment). It is one of the most common questions that come up on the Journey.
Question: What is involved in a home study and how extensive is it?
Answer: A “home study,” in most respects, is a misnomer. It is a study of your home in the sense that it talks about the physical structure of the house.  You will give a tour of each room and the author will be looking for safety issues, bedrooms, bathrooms, yard space, etc. However, that is a very small portion of the home study. The home study is more about you and your spouse: how and where you each grew up; your childhood memories, good and bad; your education; your religion, then and now; your prior relationships, divorces, etc. You will need to describe your family tree. There will be questions about how and where you met your spouse, and how and why you fell in love. You will need to answer questions about how you plan to raise your child(ren), from discipline to religion to education. You will need to answer questions about your finances, including your income and expenses, and be prepared to back it up with tax returns, pay check stubs, etc. Your general health and medical conditions are fair game. Virtually nothing is off limits, and even things you did as a juvenile will need to be disclosed. You will also have to provide references and criminal background checks.  So yes, it is extensive.
Question: How much does the home study cost?
Answer: Fees vary widely. I’ve seen agencies charge as much as $5,000.00, and I’ve seen them cost as little as $400.00.
Question: We want to adopt. Should we go out and get a home study done?
Answer: Not so fast. Before you answer this question, you need to ask yourself what road you are going to travel in your domestic adoption journey. I do several adoptions each year where people are just in the right place at the right time and “know someone who knows someone who is pregnant and considering adoption.” Are you going to try to utilize social media and your friends and family network and see if you “get lucky,” or are you going to sign up with an agency? If you are going to sign up with an adoption agency, then you need to check with the agency as to whether they will do your home study and/or if it is already included in your agency fee. Is it something you can order “ala carte” or will the agency use your own home study if you have one? Will the agency insist you use their home study author before they will consider matching you with a biological mother?
Keep in mind that according to the statute, the Court is supposed to direct who does the home study, and it is supposed to be “requested,” either by the Court or the adoptive parents (the statute does not clarify which). Thus, read strictly, the argument could be made that you should not have your home study even started until after you file the petition for adoption.  This is impractical, however, and I have never been in front of a Judge in any county (yet) that interprets the statute that strictly. Considering the time and effort that goes into a home study, it can take several weeks for one to be put together properly, and Courts realize an infant should not be left without a family while the report is prepared. As long as your home study is relatively current (some courts say one year, some say six months), and you haven’t moved or had any major life events since the home study was prepared, then you should be able to use it.
Question:  Do I need to have a home or is an apartment or duplex acceptable?
Answer:  Apartments or duplexes are fine, provided there are no red flags (read on).
Question: What should my home have (or what do I need to get rid of?)
Answer: Your home should be in good repair. If your home is in the process of being remodeled, you need to reschedule your home study. You should have a fire extinguisher and if you are adopting a newborn or small child, baby-proof your home before the home study. Electrical plugs covers are cheap and a good idea. You need smoke alarms, and they need to work. Your kitchen needs to have food. Alcoholic beverages in the refrigerator are acceptable, but make sure there is healthy food in there too. Remember your fridge in college? Basically the opposite of that.
Then there are areas that are OK, provided you’ve taken appropriate steps. Firearms are acceptable, just be ready to show how you store them and keep them locked up. Animals are another issue. If you have a dog, it needs to be present for the home study. If it is aggressive with the person doing your home study, that does not bode well for the child. You may be asked to make a difficult choice before you receive a stamp of approval.
Finally, there are definite problems, such as exposed wiring, broken glass and dangerous conditions such as dilapidated automobiles or other junk. Other potential problems are easily accessible prescription drugs and homes heated solely by space heaters (or not at all).
Question: I have a [DWI/Shoplifting/passing bad check/assault (etc)] on my record. Will I fail the home study?
Answer: Probably not, provided 1) it did not happen often and/or 2) it happened a long time ago. There are a few lines in the sand here, however. If you are a registered sex offender, or have ever been convicted of a Chapter 566 crime (essentially a sex crime), then you will not pass a home study. Further, if you have someone living in your home who has been convicted of any of these crimes, then you probably will not pass your homestudy.
Question: I was hotlined once but nothing came of it. Do I have to report that? Will it prevent me from adopting?
Answer: Yes, you should report it. It probably will not prevent you from passing your homestudy (the answer to the criminal question regarding time and frequency applies here)
Question: We met a biological mother on our own and she chose us for adoption. We need to get a home study started. Who can do it?
Answer: This is a complicated question. The statute says the home study is to be done by “the division of family services of the department of social services, a juvenile court officer, a licensed child-placement agency, a social worker, a professional counselor, or a psychologist licensed under chapter 337 and associated with a licensed child-placement agency, or other suitable person appointed by the court.” Does that last part mean your neighbor or your sister can do the home study for you? Not really. Most home studies are prepared by adoption agencies, social workers, and attorneys (particularly attorneys who have Guardian ad Litem training). In other words, people who have experience working with families and working in court. Provided you stick with someone in one of those categories, and you clear it in advance with your attorney, you should be fine.
Question: We had a home study done this year when we were becoming licensed to be foster parents. Can we use it for our domestic adoption?
Answer: This is a controversial question. If you ask someone who works for the State, they will tell you your licensure home study absolutely cannot be used for any other purpose than a subsidized adoption. Judges and GAL’s, however, take a more pragmatic approach. You certainly should have a new home study prepared, but your state-prepared home study usually is more than sufficient to cover what you need as long as it is updated and made current. Some of the best home studies I have ever seen were not expensive adoption agency studies, but the “free” home study prepared by the State of Missouri for foster care purposes. While I would never recommend simply trying to pass off your foster parent home study in your private adoption, it can be the meat and potatoes of your new home study with very little effort.
Question: Our home study is done. Is that all?
Answer: No. You also have to do a “Post Placement Assessment” prior to finalizing your adoption. It is typically shorter, and in private adoption situations, it is essentially an update of your first home study that talks about how the child is progressing and growing in your home over the last several months. In most cases, efforts should be made to try to have the same person who did your home study do your Post Placement Assessment.  Therefore you will want to discuss if there is an additional fee for the Post Placement Assessment or if it is included in the fee you will be paying for the Home Study.

Joe Hensley is an attorney with offices in Joplin and Carthage, Missouri.  His practice includes civil trials and litigation, with an emphasis on adoptions.  He is the former Chief Legal Counsel for the Jasper County Juvenile Office and is a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Perfect Timing

When God has a plan for your family, it’s a perfect plan, regardless of the process. A good friend once told me “you don’t just get a phone call offering you a baby”.  To which I responded, “That’s not entirely true”. 

When my husband and I got the call about our daughter (we'll call her C), it was 10:00 at night and he was driving home from a two-week stint on the rig.  Our friend's mother (we'll call her T) met a young girl looking to put her unborn baby up for adoption.  She had been to an agency that morning, but didn’t feel like that was the right place for her baby.   She wanted to “know” the family first.  T knew that adoption was what we wanted for our family, however, something was holding us off from going to the agency.  After describing us to the young mother, T called and asked if my husband and I were ready for a baby and I of course told her YES!! I called my husband and he was excited about he possibility of our family finally being complete.  A few phone calls later, we met the birth mother at a local restaurant.  Since we were not going through an agency there was a lot more open contact, allowing us to get to know each other.  By the end of lunch, everyone knew that this baby was meant to be in our family, and the process began.

We contacted a family/adoption attorney in our area that afternoon, and met with her the following Monday.  She walked us through the paperwork and got us in contact with someone who performed home studies.  Since this adoption was private, and amazingly unexpected, we had not done any of the typical pre-adoption papers.  Throughout the entire process, we were in contact with our daughter’s birth mother regarding any questions or concerns that may have come up.  Having an open adoption made so many aspects of the adoption process much easier since we could just ask each other whatever we needed.  We also were blessed with being allowed in every one of her doctors appointments, including finding out the sex of the baby and being in the delivery room…I even cut her umbilical cord. 

Once C was born, we continued to have contact with her birth mother.  In the first year, we saw her four times (more than was expected, but I think it helped her with the healing process).  During her second year, we saw her twice, and now we are down to once a year.   There are some difficulties having an open adoption, but for the most part, it seems to be the best option for our family. 

There is no doubt in any of our minds that God had an amazing plan for our family.  It all happened because T was at her sisters one random night, and her sister had a visitor she babysat 15 years ago there with his pregnant girlfriend.  C is the perfect addition to our family.  She is full of life, love, and energy!  We thank God every night for her, and His wonderfully perfect plan for our lives!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Second Chance Adoption

What is a second chance adoption? Occasionally families who have previously adopted children both domestically and internationally come across a child who has not adapted well into the new home.  Most adopted children do wonderfully in their adoptive home, but now and then the child does not connect well, and a very difficult decision is made to find a new adoptive home.  Though Second Chance adoptions seem cruel, sometimes it is the best hope for a child who is struggling in their adoptive home and for parents who have done all they can to help but have come to the difficult decision that they have no more resources.  On a positive note, it is shown that over 90% of children from second chance adoptions thrive and do exceptionally well in the new adoptive home.

My initial reaction about an adopted child needing a new home was that it made me sick at my stomach. I couldn’t imagine someone not wanting their child anymore. Hopefully, when you have a child that seems to make life a little harder, you pray and trust God to give you guidance and resources to help parent that child. God has a plan and it is always perfect.  Our job is not to second guess it, but to trust His decision.  I believe that all six of my children, biological and adoptive, are children God wanted us to parent.  It didn’t matter if these “Blessings” came to us biologically, through foster to adopt, or second chance adoption, he called us to be their parents.  To be honest, raising children in general can be very hard at times. We’ve had just as many difficult times with our biological children, as we’ve had with our adoptive children. In other words, all children are different and all have different needs. It’s just life! This, my friends, is where our story takes off.

Sunshine, was originally adopted by a (non christian) family when she was 3 years old. The adoptive parents had tried for seven years to have children of their own, but had no success. Adoption through foster care became their plan.  They immediately were given the chance to adopt Sunshine and her younger brother.  However, shortly after being adopted, the adoptive mom became pregnant….as a matter of fact, she gave birth every year for the next three years. Two adoptive children, plus three biological children equals…….. a home of five children in three short years.  It was more than the family (and their marriage) could handle. 

Immediately Sunshine felt lost and unloved. She didn’t know how to deal with her feelings and did what most kids do at this point…..she acted out. Her grades dropped, she manipulated situations, picked on her siblings, had numerous accidents in her pants, lied, hoarded everything, stayed awake most nights playing and wandering through the house, and mentally separated herself from the family.  However, God had a plan…..

Sunshine came to us when she was eight years old. She was so withdrawn that she couldn’t look anyone in the eye and always spoke with a whisper.  Our mornings began with her fighting for control of every situation, which resulted in her whining like a two year old, and crawling around on the floor.  The evenings became tough too because she wanted my attention and didn’t know how to use her words to ask for it, instead she picked fights, stomped, kicked, slammed doors, and simply chose defiance to get it;  even though it was negative.  

At these times of acting out, I simply told her that behavior like that was not tolerated and she could dismiss herself to her room.  After 5-10 minutes, I had to stop whatever I was doing (one time was right in the middle of cooking dinner), appear before her and show her how important she was to me and to our entire family.  It required a lot of compassion and patience on my account.  Every confrontation started with reassuring her by saying, “Sunshine, we’re disappointed in your behavior but we still love you and you’re not going anywhere. You are stuck with this family forever!” Then we talked about what she did, and why she did it. This caused her to take ownership of her behavior and to identify with what she “really” wanted.  Later when everyone was calm, we role played.  My husband and I would show what we witnessed (the misbehavior), then we would show the correct behavior.  Finally, making sure the concept was understood, we would then have the children act out the right way to get attention or how to communicate their frustrations correctly.

Unfortunately, Sunshine does have a rough past with some horrible memories, and there are a lot of details she still has hidden away. Because of this we see a wonderful christian counselor on a regular basis, who helps her deal with memories as they surface. Positive reinforcers and rewards helps Sunshine feel loved and successful. 
However, there are consequences to every negative behavior. Consistency has played a big part in her success (consistency with Rewards and Discipline). 

I’m not going to lie and tell you that I do everything right because truthfully, many times I fail as a parent. Especially those days when I am exhausted or stressed. However, it is important for us (our whole family) to be intentional and proactive with Sunshine, because we want her to see how a Family after God’s own heart looks like. 

I’m convinced that God wanted her with us and He has big plans for her.  And even though we still have some rough days, it’s God’s goodness that gets us through them.  In our weakness, God shows us His strength.  At the end of the day, we want our children to know why we do what we do, and to hear our voice (besides the Holy Spirits) echoing in their heads that “When we Do Good, we Feel Good!” and “The words of our mouth and the meditations of our minds (need to be) pleasing and glorifying to God."

Since Sunshine joined our family, her grades have improved (mostly straight A’s), she gives people eye contact when spoken to, and most of the time speaks in a normal tone. When she wants my attention, she calmly and politely says, “Mom, I think I’m needing some attention from you.” She will tell me if its a hug she is wanting or just to sit on my lap, with my arms securely holding her. It’s those little things that have made a huge difference with her, not to mention melts my heart.  When I and the many others, have witness the changes she has made, it makes life even more rewarding than I could have dreamt.  

Sunshine is blossoming so much, even to the extent that she has made lots of friends and gets invited over for sleepovers on a somewhat regular basis. She has developed a big heart for others and is becoming more obedient with her day to day choices. Sunshine is now a christian too, and her spiritual growth has amazed me in the three years she was introduced to church, God and Jesus Christ.  Even though she has been diagnosed with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and many others,  God has been doing some miraculous healing in her life and she has bonded to us very well; especially me, her mom.  She and I always joke that she’s my little shadow. HA! 


In conclusion, I now believe that second chance adoptions can be a good thing.  Especially when you are able to give a child, like Sunshine, a second chance to thrive, connect, feel loved, hope and given a true Forever Family!  A promise of God’s we often remind Sunshine of is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  We still don’t have a simple life, but every year is better than the last, and improvements are always taking place in her life and in our home. We give God the Glory for these amazing changes, His perfect plan, and for this Joy in our Journey.

   My last year’s Mother’s Day Card from Sunshine (with her permission, of course):

Friday, January 17, 2014

It's the Lord's Purpose That Prevails

I always said I'd never do it. Couldn't do it. It sounded too hard and messy. Seems like every time I say things like that, God finds a way to make me do it. Who would have thought that our Ethiopian adoption would have changed my heart about domestic adoption? And besides, I didn't want to adopt the third child, I wanted to get pregnant again. I guess this is the right point to insert this little verse... "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. Prov. 19:21" When will I ever learn to accept that His ways are SO much better than mine?!
Each time we have prayed and asked God how our next child should enter our family, we've been given a very clear path. Cooper, our oldest and only bio child, came fairly early in our marriage. We had always wanted to adopt and when I was having some health issues about 2 years after Cooper's birth we felt like God was telling us not to wait on adopting after we had 'our' kids, but rather to go ahead and start the adoption process then. Silas entered our family at 10 months old and hasn't exactly been an easy child to parent. Attachment was rough, there was some illness involved, and he's pretty aggressive/defiant. We've learned a lot about parenting with grace in the past couple of years...our skin has gotten much tougher while our hearts have gotten much softer. I could go on and on but that's not what this post is about!
We were ready for child #3 and committed to pray about it. I wanted to try and get pregnant again (even though I knew this may not be ideal given some health 'things' going on) and maybe adopt again down the road. However, God had a different plan and I didn't want to listen. I was at an adoption retreat and was frustrated that I had gotten stuck in with all the domestic moms when I clearly had adopted from Ethiopia. I sat through dinner one night feeling lonely and annoyed listening to open adoption stories from other moms. A friend was on the trip with me who had worked with a local domestic agency but I was unaware of this before the trip. On the way home I started putting the pieces together...but I was hesitant. Once home, I requested an information packet from the agency but when it came in the mail I stuck it in a stack. I didn't reply to an email from them checking in with me, nor did I respond to a voicemail they left me either. I just didn't know what to do with this information and I was scared. I had always heard those birth mom horror stories and it wasn't anything I wanted my family involved in. I felt so torn. Then, one day I received a call from this friend who still had ties with the agency and she told me of a tiny baby girl who had been born the day before and needed a family to bring her home from the hospital and felt like it just might be us. What?! That's what I call my slap-in-the-face-by-God moment. Ultimately, we weren't her family but I finally got the message loud and clear. We filled out our application, spoke with the director, and within days our tax refund check came in the mail and we were able to pay all of the agency fees. I had plans but God's were better.
Sometimes it takes hindsight to realize God's sovereignty but have you ever recognized it in the midst of an event? While we were waiting on being matched with an expectant mother I found out I needed a hysterectomy. It all made sense. I was grateful that we had been led back into adoption before I knew about this or it would have been even harder to swallow. How perfect was His plan? It totally blew me away. If we hadn't started on the path to adoption we would have tried to get pregnant in October. I had surgery in October. We later found out that our soon-to-be third boy was conceived in (you guessed it!) October. He knew all along that this was what would happen! The first time we met with "P", our son's birth mother, we explained all of this to her and she said he was destined to be ours.
Once we were matched, the relationship between us and "P" was easy and she and I became fast friends. I won't go into detail online about her and her story out of respect for her family. What I will say is that she's one of the most beautiful, brave souls I know. The part that scared me about domestic adoption was the idea that a birth mom would be playing an 'auntie' role in our family and it would be confusing. I had heard that all adoptions were encouraged to be open and I wasn't comfortable with that. But after meeting Silas' birth mother in Ethiopia and wishing she was able to see him meet milestones and grow up, I could empathize with the role of the birth mother. Something cut me deep. They're not out to get adoptive families. They made a plan for their child to be with a new family for whatever reason. More love and courage goes into that decision and plan than most people will ever know.
Some of my favorite things about domestic adoption are that I became friends with "P", our kids played at the park together, she wanted to know us so she felt comfortable with her decision, we painted pottery together and it's now in his room, I got to feel him kick in her belly, the laughs we shared (that girl can make me laugh like none other!), she wanted me at all doctor's appointments, we were with her as she labored and were there when he was born.
And quickly, to debunk a few of the Lifetime Movie myths about domestic adoption...
Yes, she had the right to back out of the adoption at any point during the process. Even at the hospital and after we took him home. This is a risk you sign up for with this type of adoption. Yes, it consumes your thoughts.
In our state she had 10 days after birth to revoke the plan but she waived 5 of those days. We knew this was a possibility and the stress level ran high during those days but we had spent enough time with her to know she was confident in her plan.
We have a 'semi-open' arrangement which means that we have contact through the agency but not directly. I send in pictures and updates every 3 months for a year and then twice a year until he's 18. The agency forwards these to her. Also, when he wants to meet her one day we will arrange that and go from there.
He turns 6 months old this week and I haven't seen her or spoken to her since we left the hospital and I can't tell you how much this hurts my heart. I miss that girl like crazy! She holds a special place in my heart that I would have never known about if I had followed my plans. Once again, the sovereignty of the Lord amazes me! 
My name is Emily and I am a teacher turned SAHM of 3 boys and married to Justin who is an electrician. Cooper (bio) is 6 and in kindergarten, Silas (Ethiopia) is 3 and in preschool, and Roland (US) is an infant. We're very involved at our church and also run the food pantry. Our family loves sports, board games, traveling, and dance parties. Ha!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If It's Not OK, Then It's Not The End...

Our adoption journey began in 2009.  My husband and I were always on the same page that we would only be willing to adopt domestically.  Not because we had anything against international adoption, but because our hearts were drawn to the many children here, even within driving distance, that desperately needed a family to love them too. 
In 2010, after extensive research on which domestic adoption avenue to use, we chose to become licensed foster parents and went on to also get our state adoptive license.  We quickly had our eyes opened to the foster care system and the ups and downs within it.  We had 7 children come through our home in a short span of 5 months!  We had some very difficult cases, each one stretching our strength, faith and endurance to continue. 
Our first case was two young sisters, left to fend on their own by a drug-riddled mother.  They left our home to live with their biological father.  Shortly after that, we had the baby boy whom we loved whole-heartedly and wanted desperately to adopt.  He came to us at 11 months old, beaten, with a broken collarbone.  After two months of helping him and nurturing him, he was returned to his parents purely because of a legalist paperwork mistake.  The attorney had not filed some documents correctly and charges were dropped, negating the facts that his parents were homeless and on drugs and the cause of his injuries.  We were torn apart and so frustrated with the system.  The next couple came and went quickly.  Then, in mid-December, we got the case that scared us beyond comprehension.  Two brothers, ages 7 and 10 months, were removed from their home because of extensive abuse.  I can’t even begin to tell you the horror of the situation.  What scared us though, was that the baby was barely living.  His mother had been poisoning him and at 10 months old, only weighed a mere 10 pounds.  His kidneys were failing and he was unable to retain any food.  We begged foster care to find additional help for him.  My “momma bear” came out when I felt like these boys weren’t getting the attention they desperately needed.  In the end, our voices were heard and on December 22, 2010, the boys were put in a home with a licensed nurse who saw the severity of the situation.  The baby was taken immediately to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City to seek treatment.  By Christmas of 2010, Sam and I felt like we had taken on more than we could handle.  It was heart-wrenching to release the children back into their previous situations.  We were physically and emotionally drained.  We decided then that we were going to stop being foster parents and go a more “traditional” agency route.  We researched further until we came across Adoption Center of Hope.  Adoption Center of Hope is neither an agency nor private; they are an adoption facilitation organization which works both with adoptive parents and directly with expectant birthmothers in all walks of life.  In February 2011, we signed our contract with Adoption Center of Hope and began the new journey to find our birthmother match.
But God had another plan.  Our will is not His will.
Nearly 5 months after we’d quit foster care and contracted with our new agency, we received “the call”.  Anyone who has adopted will understand.  You never forget it.  April 28th, 2011 at 3:30 pm, we got a call from a social worker.  She explained that while she realized we had quit foster care, she had a case that she thought we might be interested in.  She asked if we wanted to step back into foster care one more time.  I listened to the details and then called my husband in tears.  I was terrified!  We both were.  We really didn’t want to re-enter foster care again, and we’d just paid lots of money for our contract fees, but something inside us (God’s direction) told us to take the chance again.  We took the leap of faith!
Within 3 hours… yes, you read that right, 3 HOURS… we had our little 6-pound bundle of joy in our arms. 
 Sam holding Eli for the first time
He was 5 days old and had been abandoned at a hospital just 30 minutes from our house.  Birthmother had been on drugs when she went into labor and then less than 12 hours after having a c-section, left without ever looking back.  Because of the drug use, our little baby was kept under observation but, miraculously, did not test positive or have any issues. 
Due to state laws, we were not allowed to pursue the adoption case until he was at least 6 months old so we were put on legal guardian status.  So started the most nerve-wracking, anxious and wonderful months of our lives!!  We were new parents and we were elated, but we were also fearful to bond completely with him, afraid that our hearts would be broken again (due to past foster care experiences).  Really though, how can you protect yourself from falling completely in love with a baby in your arms?   
 First family picture
Add to that the social worker visits, paperwork and court hearings; then a paternal grandmother from another state took us to court to try and get custody of him, only to later back out.  Other than her, no family members ever came forward.  EXACTLY 6 months to the day, we filed for adoption status and 10 months and 4 days after he was born, Eli was welcomed into our family forever!  The sigh of relief we felt on that day, having those documents in our hands, is indescribable.  
 Eli at 6 months

And so our journey continues…. Eli will be turning 3 this year and is still the biggest blessing we’ve ever received.  He desperately wants to be a big brother though!  In September 2012, we re-opened our original contract with Adoption Center of Hope.  They had been wonderful to work with and had been amazingly supportive when we received Eli.  Due to our situation, they agreed to place our contract on “hold” and we lost neither contract length nor money with them. 
The last 16 months have been extremely difficult in a different way.  First, there’s been the waiting and waiting and waiting... the birthmothers that consider us as a potential match but ultimately choose another family… the excitement and then the disappointment.  Then, we were finally matched in August 2013 to a birthmother that was going to bless us with our second baby boy.  However, she turned out to have undiagnosed mental instability and other issues.  Because of this, Adoption Center of Hope found it necessary to pull us from the situation two months later.  We were left stunned.  Not only did we have to deal with our own disappointment but also telling our son that the baby brother that he had been preparing for wasn’t coming now.  By God’s profound peace and grace, we cried, prayed, and then got up, brushed ourselves off and prepared to wait some more.  Then, on December 3rd, we received a call about another potential match, needing our approval to proceed; however, there was a “catch”.  The birthmother was going into pre-term labor in 5 days due to some health complications.  The baby would only be 28 weeks gestation.  And they needed an answer by the next morning.  Oh my, the emotions we experienced!  We had my mother come pick up our son so that my husband and I could have some serious prayer and discussion time.  We prayed for God’s peace to come over us if we were to accept this situation.  We prayed for answers.  We sought wise counsel.  After 12 hours, late into the night, we decided that we did not feel God leading us in this direction.  We called Adoption Center of Hope the next morning and told them we could not accept this match.  It was extremely hard to say no but they understood completely and began the search for the adoptive family that wanted to take on this situation.  Unfortunately, we received that answer we’d been looking for 4 days later.  The baby did not survive his birth.  Even though he wasn’t ours, we were so sad for the adoptive family that had been driving to meet him.  We were sad for the birthmother.  We were sad for a future this baby would never have. 
So our journey is not over.  We do not know how long it will take to add to our family again, but we can tell you from experience that God’s timing is perfect.  Even if we don’t like to admit that.  And honestly, I don’t like to.  I am not a patient person.  I want what I want and I want it now.  But adoption doesn’t work that way.  Neither does pregnancy, parenthood or marriage. 
The main thing that I’ve learned from these experiences?  It doesn’t matter if your child is overseas in some far away land, or if they are here in the U.S. waiting to be born, or if they are in your arms but not “yours” yet… each one is hard.  Each one includes waiting, patience and prayer.  You have given your heart to another and you have little to no control over the situation.  Life is full of uncertainties, but even though we may not understand, God’s got it all worked out in the end.  Therefore, if it’s not OK in your situation right now, take heart!  It’s not the end yet.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “… plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Christmas 2013
Jenny Madsen is a full-time mom to a highly active, exceptionally smart, almost-3-year-old little boy, Elijah.  She has been married to her amazing husband, Sam, for nearly 10 years and can’t imagine a better partner in life or parenting.  She will be celebrating a milestone birthday this year and can think of no better present than becoming a family of 4. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Celebrating Culture: Weaving Heritage into Our Everyday Lives

My name is Tobin Schultz, and it appears as though I'm one of the only guys who was asked to write for this blog. That's the perk of being married to one of the Joy in the Journey co-founders.  Most of the ideas below were copied directly from other families or books, but that's usually how it works with great ideas.  Here are some practical ways, as parents who have adopted internationally, that we promote our children’s heritage.

Ø  Journey to You Book:  For each of our children, Shannon chronicled our adoption process from the moment we found out about them up to the day we brought them home.  The books, which were created using IPhoto, include lots of photos, details, and stories of how they came to be part of our family.  We have a copy of each book always on display, ready to share with Lili and Eli or any visitor who comes to our home.  We also have a mint copy of each locked away for each of them when they are older.

Below are a few of pictures to give you an idea of the style and information in each book.

Ø  Gotcha Day Celebrations: Prior to Lili’s arrival I had never heard of a “Gotcha Day” but some amazing foresight (or stolen idea) by Shannon has led to a consistent, special celebration of the day our children became part of our family.  During our trips to Taiwan and Ghana we purchased a range of age-appropriate gifts to give to Lili and Eli on their gotcha days.  Our checked luggage leaving the United States consisted of diapers, food, and medicine, which we left at the orphanages.  Our luggage on the way home was filled with a special gift for each of the next 22 gotcha days.  Toys, trinkets, ethnic costumes, puzzles, decorations, jewelry, and tribal weapons all found their way to a hidden chest in the Schultz home.  It is a very fun time for Shannon and I to pick out which gift to give the children each year and we know that the older they get, the more they will appreciate the sentiment and planning of each gift.

Here's a picture of Elijah wearing his first Gotcha Day present, an authentic jersey from one of Ghana's beloved soccer teams.

Ø  Family Creed:  We have adopted some principles we learned from Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis to tie together our family’s values and heritage.  Using a combination of Chinese, Adinkra (West African), and Christian Symbols we have designed a family creed that we use to reinforce the expectations and behavior of our family.  In addition to these symbols being printed and displayed on a crest in our home, I created rings for myself and Shannon with these same symbols on them. We had a ring made for Lili and Elijah as well. The following paragraph explains how we plan to give them their rings.

The crest and accompanying jewelry allow us to teach and train each other while sharing the 8 core values of our family.  When our children reach a certain age and maturity level, we will take them on a tour of their homeland, have a special ceremony honoring them, and present them with their piece of family jewelry.  Shannon and I will also find time to stock up on a lifetime of future gotcha day presents! I highly recommend reading Lewis’ book to gain ideas regarding how to train and usher your children into adulthood and urge everyone to research the unique symbols and celebrations of your children’s birth countries.
Shannon's ring

Ø  Adoption Fairy Tales and Books:  Our bedtime routines are very similar to most homes, however in addition to reading to Lili and Eli, we make the most of the opportunity to strengthen their identity with some strategic book selections.  Our children’s libraries contain some  great “adoption fairy tales” along with children’s stories from their birth countries.  Here are some great titles that help to ensure adoption is a regular part of conversation and learning in our home:

  • Shaoey and Dot: Bug Meets Bundle by Mary Beth Chapman (My co-favorite)
  •  I Love you Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis (Shannon’s Favorite)
  • The Red Thread an Adoption Fairy Tale by Grace Lin (My co-favorite)
  • Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz
  • I Wished for You: An Adoption Story by Marianne Richmond
  • Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis
  • Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami
  • All Bears Need is Love by Tanya Valentine
  • I Don't Have Your Eyes by Carrie A. Kitze
I will measure the success of this blog entry by the number of books you order from Amazon in the next 10 minutes.

My name is Tobin Schultz, and I am the husband of Joy in the Journey co-founder, Shannon Schultz.  I am blessed to have been chosen as the father of Lilian and Elijah Schultz.  I am a high school teacher and football coach in Joplin, MO.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Country Spotlight: Taiwan

1.     Why did you choose to adopt from Tawian?

I often like to tell people that we didn’t choose to adopt from Taiwan….Taiwan chose us!  We had looked into adopting from a few other countries before proceeding with Taiwan but each time that country would close its doors to international adoption.  I had grown up hearing about Taiwan and the orphanage there but never really thought Taiwan is where we would adopt from.  It wasn’t until a dinner date with another couple that had adopted from Taiwan (and are family members to the people who run the orphanage in Taiwan) that God confirmed Taiwan was the country for us!

2.     Did you adopt independently or through an agency?

Both of our Taiwanese adoptions were through a private, independent orphanage in Taiwan.  Although there are a few agencies who have Taiwanese programs (but they are mainly for older, special needs children).

3.      Is the country still open for adoption?

The country is still open for adoption but because of new laws and regulations adoptions have been moving slower than in the past, meaning that adoption wait lists are longer. 

4.     How long did it take?

Our first adoption from Taiwan took 2 ½ months (in 2007) and our second adoption from Taiwan took 8 months (in 2012).  A typical adoption from Taiwan (after referral) can take anywhere from 8 months-1 ½ years to complete depending on government closing, birth parent status, and other unforeseen issues.

5.     How many times did you have to travel?

As of June 1, 2012 the county that the orphanage is in where we adopted requires you to travel twice. The first trip is to appear in court with the birth family and the second trip is to complete paperwork, appear at AIT and bring your baby/child home. That being said, each county in Taiwan is different. To determine the number of times you would need to travel, check with the agency or orphanage with whom you are working. 

6.     What is the average cost of an adoption through Taiwan?

Adopting from Taiwan can vary in cost.  It depends on what agency you use and how much your instate fees can be.  The average cost is anywhere between $10,000-$25,000 (most of the time this includes travel expenses as well).  I would suggest that you find an agency or orphanage that best fits your family’s adoption needs and speak with someone who has adopted using that same organization or see if they have a fee chart listed on their website.

7.     What has been your biggest joy of adopting from Taiwan?

We love the country of Taiwan!  We feel SO blessed that we had the opportunity to bring home two babies from this beautiful land.  The orphanage that we adopted from was amazing and we knew the entire time that our children weren’t with us that they were being cared for and loved on as if they were in our own arms.  Taiwan and adopting from Taiwan has forever changed our lives and we are so thankful that God led us on the journey. 

Tiffany is a wife, mother, 4th grade teacher, and co-founder of Joy in the Journey. She has been married to her best friend for 10 years. Together they adopted their son in 2007 and daughter in 2013 from Taiwan. Tiffany is very passionate about adoption and loves to be a support to families that are contemplating  adoption, as well as those who are in the adoption process.