As any mother knows, labor and childbirth is an intense experience where your physical world collides with your emotional world. It is the very moment your protective parenting instinct kicks in and the little beast-of-energy hordes all the love your heart can hold. It is impossible to comprehend the capacity we have for love until that baby is born. I have experienced childbirth and can testify that for those of us that have adopted, we have a much longer labor and delivery, but the unrequited love for this child not of our blood is no less than that of a biological child.
My husband and I love(d) the experience of raising our children in a yours-mine-ours-and-then-some family. As our children moved on, we felt we weren’t finished adding to our family and wanted to adopt. Our children have known for years that this was something we wanted to do, but did we really know?
We researched, considered, researched more and considered some more as to whether or not our family was ready to put ourselves out there for adoption. After lots of discussion, addressing heartfelt concerns, and making plans, we decided we wanted to be adopted by a child that wanted a “slightly off-kilter” forever family. And so, our labor of love and the search for a “match” to our family began…
We are located in the United States. We started with our county’s Children’s Services Department then went through a local adoption agency in North Carolina, Children’s Home Society (http://www.chsnc.org/ ), for our required Home Study and guidance. After the 6-month process of background checks, trainings, and multiple meetings with social workers, we were deemed worthy to parent a child in “care” (or foster/adopt) – even though we had already raised five of our own biological children ages 14-28 and were grandparents. We had no criminal records, educated, and our other kids still wanted to be around us – even after we raised them. I learned that your income didn’t matter, you can have some past issues with the law, and you don’t have to be a “model family”. And, I now believe the long process was a good test to see if we were strong enough to stand by a child and protect their welfare, no matter how hard it was or how long it took. We were ready.
We originally sought a child around the age of 9-years old, preferably a girl but open to a boy, until we learned the sad truth about the system. Once children who are termed “Legally Free” (for adoption) turn around 13-years of age, they can be separated from their siblings to make for easier adoptions – even twins! The system has a very difficult time securing families willing to adopt older children, especially sibling groups because most parents want babies or toddlers. We were extremely uncomfortable learning this, and so we changed our approach – we were now willing to take a sibling set of two over the age of 13. We truly loved parenting in the teen years and empowering youngsters to open their minds to the world that they can influence. It is a wonderful experience (when they’re not grounded-for-life, of course).
We discussed our decision with our social worker and she said, “…in my experience, most teens are actually easier and for those who want to be adopted, they are ready. They have been to counseling, they have learned to communicate, and how to address their issues. I personally prefer the teens.”
We began searching on www.adoptuskids.org, a great website that will give you a bit of information about each child and later, more details on the children once you are a licensed foster parent. Some of the information can be heartbreaking and you just want to embrace all the kids and give them your family to love, but the reality is that you cannot adopt over 101,000 children. Can you imagine dinner time?!
The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute states that in the U.S. there are “397,122 children are living without permanent families in the foster care system. 101,666 of these children are eligible for adoption, but nearly 32% of these children will wait over three years in foster care before being adopted. In 2012, 23,396 youth aged out of the U.S. foster care system without the emotional and financial support necessary to succeed. Nearly 40% [of those aged-out] had been homeless or couch surfed, nearly 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime, and only 48% were employed. 75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs. 50% of all youth who aged out were involved in substance use and 17% of the females were pregnant.” (http://www.ccainstitute.org/)
Having a permanent family to love and care for you, matters. It changes everything for the future of a child who has already been through so much that was not their fault.
My husband and I searched, documented, and inquired on about 25 different children looking for a good fit for our family. We went to some “matching parties” and met several children that could have been good matches except that there were issues within the system or with the child(ren) themselves. We were a family that was planning to relocate out of state, so it was a big consideration for any teen when contemplating a new family (yes, the kids have a say in who adopts them).
But then, nearly 9 months after our search started, we got a call…
Mark, a social worker we had met months before and had several interactions with through adoption events, met a sweet 13-year old in the lobby of the social services department. He was just casually chatting with her about “life” when he learned she was there to meet with her social worker, one he knew was an adoptive worker. He called us and shared about his meeting “Isabella”. We had many interests in common and she had a similar ethnic background as some of our other children. He asked for our permission to check with her social worker to learn if she would be a good match for us. We trusted his judgment.
A week later, we received her profile without a photo. With the exception of a few things, like two older sisters (ages 15 and 17) whom at this point, had no desire to be adopted, she seemed like a very good match for us. But, we were torn – Do we move forward meeting this young lady and forming a relationship with her only to pull her away from her sisters, the only family she has remaining, and move her across the country? Was this a cruel thing to do to a child? We took our time contemplating if we could provide her more than what she was receiving now and if we could help her maintain a healthy relationship with her sisters. The next week we had social workers in our home, interviewing us, and sharing more about Isabella.
She had only been in care for a year and a half, removed from her family due to physical abuse by her father and abandonment by her mother. Her older sister, Kiki, had the role of mother in her life, but her other sibling, Stephanie, was the dominant sister. Still Isabella was the curious one and wanted to be adopted, whereas her sisters were hesitant. She was smart and energetic, and the social workers felt that she was being “held back” by her sisters. They felt that separating them would be beneficial because each of them could use individual attention, especially when they had grown up parenting each other.
Since we already had several children, we were opposed to separating siblings if at all possible. We know how close our children were to each other and how they valued the sibling bond. We were told that her sisters had no interest in adoption but over time, perhaps the sisters would change their mind and want to be adopted too. That would make three more children when we were only considering two. We asked to see Isabella’s photo (typically they are attached to the files). There she was, a beautiful Hispanic girl with long black hair, bright doe eyes, and a gorgeous smile. She reminded us of our own children… we were in love.
It is a strange phenomenon that, at this point, something inside gave us permission to love this child. It was like a guard came down and we were allowed to become emotionally attached to her – someone we had never met. Just like anticipating the birth of a baby, we were waiting to meet our daughter for the first time. With no further thought, we would be willing to adopt all three if they were willing to have us. We decided to meet her.
One week later, my husband and I were in a conference room surrounded by an adoptive social worker, Isabella’s social worker and her intern, the current foster family’s social worker, Isabella’s therapist, a Guardian Ad Litem and her intern. Yikes! And even though they asked us to relax and make ourselves at home, it felt like an interrogation session. We were asked several questions, then asked several more, before they felt us worthy enough to meet Isabella – who at the time, was in the hallway eating chicken nuggets.
When they went to bring her in, we could hear her arguing about changing her mind. She was nervous and scared, just like we were. When she slipped into the conference room, we caught a glimpse of our beautiful daughter for the first time. She didn’t look at us and quickly sat at an angle behind her therapist so not to be seen. They tried to get her to move toward the table but to no avail, she was too scared. They tried getting her to speak by asking her silly questions, but she wouldn’t budge. Finally, we told her were nervous too, we heard her confirm with the social worker about whether or not we were nervous and the social worker told her we were. So, I jetted in and told her that her chicken nuggets smelled good then asked her what her favorite food was.
She softly told the social worker, “They wouldn’t understand, no one knows what it is.”
We told her to “try us.”
A shy voice spoke up, “Carne Asada.”
All the social workers looked at each other, no one knew what that was.
“Yummm,” we said in unison.
She looked around from the side of the therapist, and finally focused on us. “You know what that is?”
“Yes, it is one of our favorites. We’re from California, it’s part of the culture there. We used to have it all the time.’
We must have passed her scrutiny because she scooted up to the table. “What else do you like?” she asked.
“Chicken Mole, Tamales, Enchiladas…”
And so, a simple discussion about favorite foods broke down the barrier between a nervous child contemplating the biggest decision of her 13-year old life and prospective parents contemplating one of the biggest decisions in their 40+ years of life. We had our “first date” a few days later and met her sisters for the first time at the front door when we arrived to pick her up.