Suspended (in disbelief)
Teetering on the edge
Terrified to move forward
Unwilling to turn back
Tides churning far below
Or waves surging from behind
Bound to take me with them
Here’s to 2018. *clink*
A year ago I put together a blog to announce our foster care adoption process. I thought that maybe this would be a place for our loved ones to keep up with our journey, if they wanted to, and sharing every little thing on social media didn’t feel right. So, I created a little spot over here and we shared our news with our Christmas card message. I thought maybe we’d post a few times over the course of the year, as things moved along and we had significant news to share.
A few months in, this blog evolved into so much more. It became a safe space to share how I was really feeling and to process those feelings in writing. It is still a scrapbook of sorts, capturing our experiences so far and our hopes and dreams along the way. But it’s also a very public journal, documenting the feelings, both good and bad, that come along with this foster care adoption journey.
In December, I stepped away a bit (not just from the blog, from other social media and in-person commitments) because we had some major ups and downs in our adoption process that felt too big to sum up in a blog post. We did a lot of reflecting, working through big feelings, and making hard decisions. In the midst of it all, we took a pause from the matching process to breathe and just “be” during the already busy holiday season. We hope to be back in the matching game (and I in the blogging game) after the new year.
As I reflect on how far we’ve come and what is coming next, perhaps most meaningfully, I realized that Gentle Wild grew into something bigger than I could have imagined: a vehicle with which we can teach others what we wish we would have known. Now when I write a post, I have the goal in mind of helping readers see “the man behind the curtain” and painting a fuller picture of what this journey is like for everyone involved. You learn as I learn.
As it turns out, that’s what you needed! I’m so grateful to those of you who reached out to share how my words encouraged you, made you think, taught you something, or comforted you. Although things have been a little quieter around here this month, I still think it’s worth celebrating how far this little blog has come.
In all honesty, I’ve never been able to keep a blog alive for longer than a month or two (I tend to be a big picture thinker who gets a great idea and then gets bogged down in the details and gives up). But one year later, I can’t imagine giving up on my little corner of the internet. If nothing else, the numbers ignite my competitive side and fire me up to stay the course! The idea that 1,300 people found even one of my sentences worth reading blows my mind. Who knows where Gentle Wild will be in another year?
So, here’s to 2019, too. *clink*
Last week, Nate and I saw Instant Family with my in-laws. The film has been getting rave reviews among acquaintances in the adoption community, but poor reviews from those pesky paid critics who may or may not have any exposure to foster care adoption.
As for us, we all enjoyed and appreciated the movie overall. Considering the storyline was based on the personal foster care adoption journey of the director’s family, the overall plot of the movie was pretty true-to-life. A couple in their late 30s/early 40s who never had biological kids becomes aware of the need for foster parents. They take the classes and get matched with a sibling group of three who was removed from their first family due to issues with drugs. Shit hits the fan as they learn how to parent for the both the first time, and parent kids with trauma backgrounds. The case goes back and forth from pre-adoption to reunification, and all the while the parents go to support groups, school events, meetings with social workers, etc. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s worth a watch to see how it turns out.
The characters were very relatable. The movie gave enough screen time to getting to know the many sides of each character. The fears and anxieties of the parents were presented very honestly, which I appreciated, and there was even a hilarious dinner scene where extended family members expressed their “concerns” that had us smirking. The kids were three different ages and had unique ways of coping with challenges, which gave a well-rounded perspective on how trauma impacts children.
Some of the second-circle characters did not ring a bell, however. The social workers were very heavy handed, and the support groups came off as judgmental, which have not been our experiences. But the relationship between the two social workers was hilarious, and Tig Notaro’s delivery of the one-liners was on point. After the first few scenes, I chose to take off my “accuracy glasses” and just enjoy the humor for what it was.
Overall thoughts: go see Instant Family while it’s still in theatres, or consider renting or buying it later. We will definitely be snagging the DVD when it comes out!
As November draws to a close and things start to ramp up for Christmas, I find myself needing a moment to breathe. There are so many ups and downs, backs and forths in the adoption process, it’s easy to lose sight of why we did this in the first place. For all the frustration that comes with it, we have much to be grateful for.
I am thankful for the efforts of county and agency workers, who put in long hours and invest much of their personal time, energy, and love into some of society’s most vulnerable. I am particularly thankful for our adoption worker, who has been with us since day one and will remain on our case even after our adoption is finalized. She puts up with our incessant emailing and questioning, laughs with us, lets us cry to her when we need to, and so much more. She is our guide and helps us find our way through the dark and confusing parts of this process.
As things progress, we learn more and more about the experiences of first families who cope with the loss of children after removal or placement. Whether it is circumstances, personal decisions, health, or legality that prevented children from staying with their first families, there is love there. It may look differently than we think it should, but it is present. I have been working hard lately to take a step back and listen to the experiences of these first families and have come to respect them in new ways for the sacrifices they make and the things they have gone through. I am thankful for their perspective and their heart.
We don’t have it all. We stick to a strict budget. Sometimes we have to say no to things we want to make sure we can afford things we need. But we have a roof over our heads, healthy food on the table, jobs that expect us each morning, a warm bed to sleep in each night…and these are things that many don’t have. My heart aches for the many foster children who were removed from their first families for not having such things, and for the first families who still may not have received the help they need to get these things that I often take for granted. It’s good to have a reality check sometimes and appreciate all that we are fortunate enough to have.
I am so grateful to be on this journey with someone I love and trust. I’m thankful that Nate and I went all-in on adoption from the get-go, and haven’t given up even when it has been hard and scary. I’m glad I have someone to whisper my fears to in the dark, to run to when we get good news, and to process all these big, overwhelming fears with. I’m proud to have Nate as my partner in life and parenting.
I never take lightly what I am given in confidence. I’m honored to be privy to a child’s story: what they like, what they don’t like, what they struggle with, the pain they have experienced, the progress they have made. Usually, a child doesn’t even know that we are discussing them, so their workers are choosing to share their story in the hopes it will connect with ours and lead to a match. That takes trust, and I am so grateful for that trust.
How do you find things to be grateful for in the midst of challenges?
What things are you grateful for in the foster care and adoption process?
Person: “How did the match meeting go?”
Me: “Thanks for asking, it was really informative. But unfortunately, I don’t think we are the right fit for this child.”
Person: “Ugh, I could never, ever say no to any child.”
How would you respond?
A) Start some shit. “Well, I did kick it off with a pretty huge yes by pursuing adoption in the first place.”
B) Verbal eye roll. “Wow, you MUST be a MUCH better person than me then. I just find it SO incredibly easy to say no to children in need.”
C) Get real. Spend the next half hour delving into the complexities of a broken system and pouring out feelings of grief, shame, sadness, disappointment, and longing.
D) Say nothing.
The thing is, I could never say no either. But I have to.
After each match meeting, we have to do something incredibly hard: picturing our life, day in and day out, forever, with that child, as best as we can with the limited information we have. How many appointments will we have throughout the week with therapists, OT, skills workers, and teachers? Will school be a struggle, or sleep, or meals, or something else, or all of the above? What things will be trauma triggers for them, and are we prepared to parent them through the healing process? Are we ready to welcome not just this child, but their birth family, whatever that may look like and whatever may come with that, intimately into our personal lives? Can we say yes to this child, now and in all of their future forms?
Then, after all of that, sometimes we have to do something even harder: we have to say no. We have to grieve the fact that for whatever reason, we weren’t enough for this child. We have to sit in the discomfort of knowing that our decision kept a child in the system a little longer. We have to send the worst email ever, cry together, and pray over this child, their birth family, their support team, and their foster family. We have to break the hearts of our friends and family by telling them this wasn’t the right fit. Then we have to rally ourselves to start all over again.
I have learned that there is much joy, hope, and excitement wrapped up in saying yes, but there is even more guilt, sadness, and disappointment wrapped up in saying no. It feels icky and wrong. It is laced with platitudes like “You have to do what’s best for you AND the child,” and “Just think, your no got them one step closer to their forever family.” It results in feeling like I was stabbed in the heart when someone says “Oh, I could never say no to any child. I don’t know how you do it.” This is how I do it. Painfully.
So please, of all the things you could say to me about this process, PLEASE don’t tell me you could never say no. Trust me, neither could I.
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.
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.
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?”
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