Yesterday

We heard no.

Yesterday was hard, but yesterday’s tomorrow is harder, because now we cope with the aftermath of yesterday. It took me a long time to convince myself not to just stop writing after that sentence, We heard no. It took us a long time to convince ourselves not to just stop this whole thing altogether. Forget roller coasters, I feel like I was living in zero-gravity and someone turned the gravity back on and suddenly slammed me to the floor. My stomach is still somewhere up there and hasn’t caught up with me yet.

But there’s no time to be wasted in this process; before we even hung up the phone after our worker told us the news, we had already told her to reach out as soon as possible about all the children we had missed out on while we were waiting for this one. The time for processing your feelings needs to come AFTER business hours, there are emails to be sent.

Like every place we visit in adoptionland, we are tasked with making space for so many feelings at once. The sting of rejection, the anxiety of worthiness, the sadness and joy that comes with knowing a child found a family, but we weren’t it. The frustration of their justifications, and frustration at ourselves that there is nothing we can do about them. The fear and pain knowing there are many, many more nos to come before we will hear just one yes. How many more times will I have to say it? We heard no. We heard no. We heard no.

We’ll take the weekend to sulk, and try to retrieve the hope that yesterday’s today held. Next week’s children, next month’s children, deserve our whole selves. But those are our next week, next month selves, and our “this weekend” selves are just going to choose one feeling…sad.

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Today

Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but I want to hold on to this feeling, in case I forget someday.

As I explained in my previous post, there are a lot of stops along the way in this process where decisions have to be made, both by us and by a child’s team. Think of it like the Game of Life: stop here, even if you didn’t land here exactly, and make a decision on whether to get married, which house to buy, etc. Bad metaphors aside, if the answer given by us and the answer given by the child’s team match up, we move forward together, until the next time we stop and decide again.

Two and a half weeks ago we had a match meeting for a child. It was actually our very first match meeting, ever. Even though we felt excited about this child, we weren’t sure if we should move forward because…well, most people don’t marry the first person they date. What if we were just excited because this was our first meeting? How can anyone in this process separate logic from emotion?

Just over 24 hours later, this sentence was shared in the monthly parent support group hosted by our adoption agency: “If you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying no, then it’s best to say yes.” That sealed the deal for us. Even if we weren’t sure about saying yes, we knew for certain that saying no would mean missing out on a child we felt could be a very good fit. We passed along our decision and went back to (you guessed it) waiting.

Several weeks, a lot of anxiety, and approximately one thousand emails later, we got an email this morning from our worker saying the child’s team will be sharing their decision by the end of today. TO-DAY.

TODAY.

We have been focusing so well on taking things one day at a time, because that’s the only thing that’s useful to us. There’s no use stressing over what we said or forgot to say in the match meeting, wondering about how we compare to the other families they are meeting with, picturing our life with this child, navigating how we will move forward if we hear a no, or any of the other infinite past or future things we could worry about in regards to this process. There is just today, and the first-thing-in-the-morning question we ask each other: “Do you think today will be the day?”

TODAY.

Commence stressing about all those things I just said we had no use stressing about. Did we say enough? Did we say too much? Did they like us? Would they like us more if they met us a second time? Are we really ready for this? Have any other workers reached out about us? If they say yes, could this be our forever child? If they say no, have the last few weeks been a waste? What do I even want? What does this child want? What do they need? Are we it?

It feels like these workers have our lives in their hands (dramatic, I know). And yes, I know that comes off selfish, because really they have the child’s life in their hands, and they should take all the time they need to make such an important decision. Nate and I have discussed how if we do hear a know, our grief walks hand in hand with the joy we feel for this child, who will have been matched with the best family the team could find for them.

This process frays your nerves. It leaves you feeling exposed and powerless and highly sensitive. Each yes along the way, however exciting, signifies a no to some other child or children we haven’t learned more about yet. Each no along the way, however heartbreaking, signifies a yes to another child or children who could be the fit we are searching for. Most days, I don’t know how to feel or what answer to hope for.

But damn if my pride doesn’t want to hear yes

TODAY.

The Match Game

No, this isn’t a weird 70s TV game show. It’s real life.

As you know, we completed our home study and have had an active foster care license since early August. (Why do we have a foster care license if we’re adopting? Read the answer to that question here.)

Now we are in “the matching process.” This time consists of a LOT of reading and waiting, emailing and waiting, meeting and waiting. It’s not something you hear a lot about until you’re in it, so I thought I’d explain in detail how it works. Vocab words are shown in italics.

  1. Read a 3-5 sentence public narrative about a child that highlights their strengths, personality traits, and favorite things.
  2. Decide to request the private narrative for this child, which contains anywhere from one sentence to ten paragraphs about their personal background, care needs, and ideal family structure.
  3. Let your worker know whether or not you would like to submit your home study for this child, meaning have your worker send your home study document to the child’s worker. You might not want to, and the process could stop here.
  4. Wait anywhere from a week to forever to hear back from the child’s worker about whether they would like to set up a match meeting with you about this child. If they do, schedule the match meeting, typically for 1-3 weeks out. Sometimes they also send a longer file about the child. After reading this file, you might determine that you would not be a good fit to parent this child, and the process could stop here.
  5. Have a match meeting, which is an initial meeting typically in your home, with members of the child’s team, such as their social worker, child-specific recruiter, agency representative, etc. Each child’s team looks different, but they always have a social worker. This meeting lasts approximately 1-2 hours and is an opportunity to hear an overview of the child’s history, current living situation, birth family contact, specific challenges, and more about their personality and future forecast.
  6. Decide after the match meeting whether or not you would like to move forward into collateral meetings for this child. The child’s team is also deciding which family they would like to have collateral meetings with as well (which means you might say yes, but they might not, and the process could stop here). Here’s the really intimidating part: if you choose to move forward into collaterals for a child, you cannot accept any other match meetings for children until the collateral process has ended, either with a placement or a “no, it’s not the right fit.”
  7. If everybody likes each other so far, start collateral meetings. These meetings are the potential adoptive parents meeting with the child’s current foster parents, therapist, teachers, school specialists, other workers, etc. in order to determine fit and gather more information about the child. This process could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. If at any time you or the child’s team decide this is not a good fit, the process could stop here.
  8. If, at the end of collateral meetings, the family and the child’s team still feel the match is the right fit, say YES and make a transition plan for the child to move into your home. This typically consists of several visits of increasing length, ending in a full move. Depending on the age, distance, and needs of the child, this transition might be put on hold until a break from school or a discharge from a residential treatment center.
  9. The HOPE is that all of the work that’s been done ahead of time to determine a good match results in a successful placement, concluding with an adoption finalization 3-12 months after the child is placed in the home. However, in very rare instances, something goes wrong and the child is not able to remain with their pre-adoptive family. This situation is called an adoption disruption.

Keep in mind that you could be at various stages of this process with multiple children, or if a child’s team is too overloaded or already further along in the process with a different family, you might never hear back from them. In between every step, there is waiting, discussing, praying, and incessant email checking (maybe that’s just me).

Each time we move forward with a kiddo, we have to make room in our hearts and minds for that child, picture them as a member of our family, assess whether we are prepared to parent them well, all the while knowing that at any stage our journey with them could end. Each narrative, each meeting, each imagining, there is a delicate balance between overflowing with excitement and sandbagging your heart against the flood of feelings.

I am learning lessons (or resisting lessons) about patience and uncertainty. I am grieving a child’s trauma even when in the same moment I am having to say that no, we aren’t able to parent them through it. I am praying, child by child, that even though we weren’t the right family for them, that they will be watched over, loved, cared for, protected, and valued for exactly who they are. I am praying that each “no” gets us one step closer to “yes” for our future child, who is out there, needing us.

Praying that the right family is out there.

Mourning that ours wasn’t the one.

Dusting myself off and getting back in the match game.

Turn, Turn, Turn

To everything / There is a season / And a time to every purpose under heaven

Most people think of the seasons in terms of the calendar year: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. But going to school for 24+ years of my life, followed by five years of working in higher education, I tend to think of the seasons like this: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer.

In fall, when most things are dying, instead of feeling sad that summer is over, I feel the way most people feel in springtime: renewed, inspired, motivated. Lit on fire like the burning oranges and reds that surround me on the trees and crunching under my feet. Ready to tuck away the ups and downs of the year so far, to build on something new.

But this year, I’ve lost track of seasons all together. Instead of the weather, my rhythms are shaped by waiting. If you asked me how I’m doing, I’d respond that all I know is I’m sweaty all the time and our social worker probably hasn’t emailed us back.

A few weeks back, I was on a trip to Target (where else?) and walked in to find all of the patio furniture replaced with…back to school. It took me completely by surprise. As I took in all the Crayola-yellow packaging and contemplated what eight grader needs a chandelier in their locker, I felt like I had woken up from a long, restless night of sleep.

This too-early changing of the seasons, this eschewing of the 90 degree heat and holding out hope for a fall breeze feels oddly right. It lines up with how I feel inside, that something new is coming. We are submitting our home study for multiple children a week now, and any day we could wake up to an email that we’re headed to a match meeting with a social worker we’ve never met. That child or children might be the new member of our family, or they might not. We are learning how to be prepared for anything while staying fully present in the current moment.

We don’t know who will be showing up on our doorstep or when they will arrive, but we know that soon, life as we know it will change irrevocably. Anticipation, excitement, nerves, and hitting “refresh” on our inbox one too many times. It is a delicate balance but a unique and special one.

We don’t need the weather report to tell us that our current season of life is characterized by this uncertainty, so there’s not much else to do but to embrace it.

Turn, turn, turn.

 

Licensed to Parent

It’s official!

Our home study is signed, sealed, delivered and we are a licensed foster home!

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Cue the question: so, what’s next? 

Now that we’re licensed, we are allowed to view what’s called the “private narrative” of children we are interested in learning more about. These narratives could come to us one of a few ways: we request them based on a public profile we saw of a child, our social worker sends them to us based on a private database she shares with other social workers, or a child’s worker sees our profile on that same database and reaches out to our social worker about us.

If we feel comfortable moving forward with a child after reading their private narrative, we can submit our home study to their social worker for consideration. From there, it’s a matter of fit, meaning if that child’s social worker reads our full home study and feels confident we would be a good fit for that child, we would move forward with interviews, meetings with that child’s support team, and more. This can be a lengthy process as a lot of schedule coordination and research is vital to collect as much information as possible about that child so we can make an educated decision about whether we can commit to parenting them forever.

You might be wondering why we had to get our foster care license when we are exclusively pursuing adoption and not fostering. When adopting children from foster care who are considered “waiting children” (those with biological parents whose rights have been terminated voluntarily or involuntarily), the state of Minnesota has a law that the child must be in our home for at least six months before the adoption can be finalized. During that six month period, they are technically still in the guardianship of the state, and we are technically their foster parents, although we have committed to permanency with that child. You can read more answers to commonly asked questions like this one here.

There are still many steps to go before we are matched with a child or children, but we are taking this opportunity to celebrate the major milestone of being officially licensed! Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far and for continued prayers as we move forward with open hearts, knowing the many challenging decisions that lay ahead.

-Laura & Nate

When Adoption is “Plan A”

Note to readers: I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now. Issues of family planning, fertility and infertility, woman/motherhood, identity and the like are simultaneously deeply personal and frustratingly political. There isn’t always space for every woman’s story, unless we make that space exist for each other. Never one to shy away from a tough conversation, I hope my sisters reading can accept my perspective for what it is…mine alone, as I don’t claim to speak for all of us at once, presented without pretense and with as much sensitivity as possible.


I have held a dear friend in my arms as she mourned a miscarriage. I have sat beside women as they shared with their families that they do not plan to have children, ever.  I have celebrated the adoptions of children who were so incredibly wanted and chosen, although their parents’ story may have started with infertility.  I have cheered blended families on as they took the next step to grow their family in countless combinations of biological, step, adopted, and fostered children. I have shared advice and prayers with gay and transgender friends who were navigating how to grow their family. And of course I have talked, and tweeted, and blogged, and ‘grammed, and texted, and more about the benefits and joys of foster care and adoption.

In all of this, I have encountered few others like me. I have never had the physical, emotional, or spiritual desire to be pregnant. To be a mother, yes. That’s a different story. My heart aches for giggles at the dinner table, bedtime stories, messy playrooms and parent teacher conferences. To not be a mother would be the greatest loss of my life. But to not birth? Meh.

I get it, I’m a bit of an anomaly. There are plenty of women who don’t want to be mothers, but not necessarily a bunch who want to be mothers, don’t want to birth a child, and have no idea whether they are fertile or not (and furthermore, don’t care). It’s not something I can easily explain, though I do grapple with this emotionally, especially knowing so many women who battle infertility. If I am fertile, shouldn’t I want to birth a child? Can I really know that I don’t want to get pregnant if I don’t even know whether I can

Chances are, any question you may have for me is already something I’ve considered myself. And trust me, I do endure a lot of questions, stories, and attempted persuasions because of this. Some of people are kind, some not so much. Everything from, “But why wouldn’t you want to have your own child?” to “Well, I never felt like a real woman until I [got pregnant, gave birth, breastfed, etc.].” I have left rooms of women–mostly mothers–to cry in the bathroom and wonder, Will I ever be considered a ‘real woman’ if I don’t want any of that? What is this exclusive-access club I can’t get into? Isn’t wanting to be a mother enough? Isn’t BEING A WOMAN enough?

Because there are many individuals and couples who come to adoption from a path of infertility, I also encounter a lot of inappropriate questions and assumptions about my body. I empathize with women who are infertile, because the process of diagnosing and treating infertility can be invasive physically and emotionally, putting your body at the forefront of the conversation. In both cases, passerby think our bodies are their business. I recently read this from Rebecca Todd Peters:

“Despite the differences that have attended social attitudes toward women’s fertility, society has consistently believed that it is socially, culturally, and politically acceptable for external forces to control women’s fertility–whether through the encouragement or discouragement of (or the permitting or prohibiting of) pregnancies…”

Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice (p. 118)

In this season at least, my partner and I know for certain that foster care adoption is what we are called to do. So ask me about it, but don’t try to talk me out of it. If you want to know why we decided to adopt, just ask! You might be surprised to learn that a lack of desire to birth a child is not our primary motivation to do this work. Our story is no secret.

With no ill intent to ostracize anyone struggling with infertility, we proudly shout from the rooftops that adoption is our “Plan A” because we are so passionate about it and the good it can do for children and society. I believe it is my calling in life to mother in this way, and my mission to share this path with others so they can decide if it is right for them. But if it isn’t? You do you. What’s more important is that you can validate and honor my family as legitimate, whole, worthy, loving, “mine,” and equal to yours. In turn, I promise to do the same for you.

Peters later writes:

…discerning who God is calling you to be is ultimately a process between and individual and God. A willingness to accept one’s calling is an expression of honoring God and resting the holiness of life that is at the heart of living life as a Christian. Christians regard parenting as a sacred trust in which parents enter a covenant relationship to care for, nurture, and bring up a child to love and know God. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly…”

Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice (p. 174)

God calls us in different and unique ways, and each of our journeys is for us alone to walk with Him. The best thing we can do as women, without judgment or preconceived notions, without assigning value or lack thereof, is to be a listening ear and to hold the hearts of our sisters in our own, praying for them the same kind of close, purposeful walk with God we hope for ourselves.

So whether you’re child-free and loving it, saving money for a round of IVF in hopes of birthing a biological child, nervously asking a friend to be a surrogate or donor, trudging through paperwork to get your foster care license, pursuing adoption of a teenager or waiting to be matched with a birth mother so you can adopt an infant, there is space for your story here.

I have come to this:

just as the infertile woman should not have to justify why she desires to birth,

so too should the fertile woman not have to justify why she doesn’t,

so too should the wombless woman not have to justify her motherhood,

so too should the childless woman not have to justify her womanhood.

I know that it’s impossible to capture every part of a woman’s journey with her body, her fertility, her motherhood, her womanhood, in one little blog post. But I want all of us to know: your status as mother (or not yet, or not ever) may be integral to who you are as a woman, but it is not ALL of who you are as a woman, and our womanhood is not contingent on motherhood or anything else.

You are whole, real, and complete to God, and to me, and in this space, exactly as you are.

8 Things to Expect During the Foster Care Home Study

*Disclaimer: No two agencies, counties, states, or countries are the same when it comes to the foster care home study process. What follows is an account of our experience, in the hopes of dispelling any crazy myths and reassuring you that YOU CAN DO THIS!*

 

Alright, class. Welcome to “Parenting 808: A Study In Home.”

We’ll be meeting 4-6 times over the next six or eight weeks, depending on how thorough the in-class discussions are. I’ll be giving you all of the homework on the first day, and your entire grade is based off one final exam that determines whether or not you are allowed to be parents.

Yes, you in the back. What was your question? Oh, no, you won’t be receiving a letter grade for this course. The only way to take this class is pass/fail.

Did I mention you’ll only succeed if you bare your heart and soul and expose your home and family to intense scrutiny by strangers? I did? Great.

Let’s get started.

 

8 Things to Expect During the Foster Care Home Study

 

#1: It’s not really as scary as that syllabus makes it sound.

I knew I needed to write this post because in the weeks leading up to our first home study meeting, I think I searched a million different versions of the phrase “What to expect during the foster care adoption home study” on Google and Pinterest and any other site you can imagine. What resulted was a very overwhelmed mind filled with horror stories of failed licensing visits, intimidating social workers, and probing personal interviews during which you separated from your spouse for hours. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything like the internet had convinced me it would be. So far, it’s been friendly, educational, and the right combination of serious and fun (and we were only interviewed individually for about three minutes each so that each of us had an opportunity to share any concerns). If you’re looking for an honest, authentic overview of what this process will be like, look no further!

#2: You thought you were done with paperwork. You are not.

That giant manila envelope we turned in had nothing on the homework we were given during our first home study meeting. During the six-ish weeks of meetings with our social worker, we were busy creating discipline, grievance, and emergency plans, watching even more webinars, reading through state foster care laws, visiting our vet to get the pup up to date on shots, completing additional special needs questionnaires, and so much more. So do some hand stretches, because you will be writing and typing a lot during this process!

#3: Your social worker is your friend.

So many depictions of the foster care and adoption home study paint the social worker as cold, callous, invasive, or worse. Keep in mind that your worker has the same goal as you do: to license you as a foster parent and match you with a foster or adoptive child. Period.

You are on the same team, so if you approach your relationship this way instead of going into it picturing them as the adversary, the whole process will go a lot more smoothly!

#4: Honesty is the best policy.

We went into this process from day one (not just the home study, but waaaaay back when we were just interested parties attending an hour-long orientation) committing to full honesty and transparency about ourselves, our strengths and challenges, and our comfort levels with various special needs. There are so many spots along the way where if someone wanted to cover something up, they could, and I’m sure some people do. I’m not saying someone would necessarily lie with bad intentions–this process can feel very intrusive and when you are so focused on growing your family, there is a definite fear that even the smallest of things could become a roadblock. From taking the “marriage survey” and fudging your answers to make it seem like you’re the perfect couple, to leaving out that one time you tried pot in college…just be honest. Think about it: if you tell one white lie thinking you are making yourself a stronger candidate, how many other lies might you have to tell down the road to cover up that one? How much anxiety or guilt might you feel if the truth ever did come out?  You could be risking your family – your children – and nothing is worth that.

#5: Do the hard work up front.

One of the most intimidating parts of the initial application process was our “Self-Assessment Homework,” which ended up being about 25 single spaced pages EACH answering a ton of questions about our lives, families, and relationship. All of the questions were very open ended, so it was hard to know whether we were going about it correctly. Fortunately, our social worker walked into our first in-person meeting and the first thing she said was, “You guys did such a thorough job with your self-assessments, I feel like I could write your home study just off of that!” This was a huge compliment and has made the rest of the meetings go a lot more smoothly. She can ask us more pointed questions about specific things she wants to know more about, instead of having to start from scratch. So even though you may be feeling anxious to turn in your application, take the extra time to be super thorough, or you’ll just have to make up that time later.

#6: Prepare to answer a lot of questions. A LOT.

See #2. In addition to all that paperwork, your social worker will likely walk through anything you shared in your application and ask clarifying questions. You may also have to take a Relationship Assessment (ours was through an organization called Prepare/Enrich), or other activities that are meant to reveal your strengths and weaknesses.

These things might feel a little probing, but see #3 – you and your social worker are on the same team. These pieces are important to help your social worker know you well enough to write the final document that will be your Home Study (capital H and S)!

If they don’t ask, they’ll never know, and they won’t be able to answer questions from children’s social workers about what type of people and parents you are. So my best advice is to bring coffee with you, get comfortable, and share, share, share.

#7: It’s not really about your home.

Yes, there are some components of this process that are focused on your physical home–evacuation plans, emergency kits, smoke detectors, etc. But I was surprised to learn that in Minnesota, our social worker won’t actually visit our home until the very last meeting. That will be her chance to do a final walk through and point out any little things we need to fix before our license is finalized. But up until then, despite its name, the home study process has mostly been about US. Our relationship, our family culture, how we communicate, how we will parent, and more. The house is just a physical structure. It’s up to you to make it a home.

#8: Trust God. Trust your partner. Trust the process.

Before each meeting with our social worker, we took a few minutes to pray together over this process and what was to come. It always came back to this:

God has called us to this, and God will equip us for this. Because he doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.

Over the past eight weeks (and eight months), We have shared tears and fears, whispered late night wishes after the lights were turned off, navigated tough conversations, and laughed over the unsurprising results of our relationship assessment. We have at times felt ready to take on the world, and at other times felt completely in over our heads. But we’ve also learned so much about ourselves and each other, and it has been a season of renewal for our relationship. If you fully submit yourself to this process and God’s will, and you might be amazed at the good work he can do within and through you and your partner.

 

Our prayers and best wishes go out to anyone reading this who is considering foster care or adoption, or those who found us by a Google search late at night before your first home study. We hope your mind is put a little more at ease by reading our experience – because as intimidating as it is, it is worth every second.

-Laura & Nate

 

Have questions? Want to learn more about foster care & adoption?

Contact us here!