I’ve been at this blogging thing a while now and there’s one area that I regret I haven’t yet explored – which is how we put together our families. So many of us take for granted that we fall in love, we get married, we get pregnant and we have a family. Meanwhile there are thousands out there who aren’t quite so lucky or have to jump through hoops of flames to get to that point. This was true in my own family. My mom has always been open about her struggle not to get pregnant but to STAY pregnant. Many of you know I have three sisters but it was a long path to that point for my parents, a path with a lot of miscarriages, a lot of heart ache and then after 6 years, a baby – an adopted baby. After my parents adopted my sister, the miscarriages stopped and three of us came along.
So how about for others? How about gay couples? How about couples with unexplained fertility? How about single women who so badly want a baby but haven’t yet found the right partner? Often we see the complete picture but we don’t know what that family went through to color in the picture.
I have been working on a two-part series on putting together our modern families. Because it’s a blog, I’m taking this from a personal, conversational approach. I interviewed two friends, one who adopted with her husband and one who used artificial insemination with a known donor because she and her partner wanted a family. I am so grateful to both of these women for sharing their stories with me because I think it important we appreciate how hard so many people work to put together a family, how many loopholes they have to jump through, and maybe, just maybe, they will offer some advice or support to someone else out there who is trying to put together her own family.
Truth be told, part of the inspiration for this series has been all the attention surrounding Russia’s ban on Americans adopting their orphans. Obviously, I think it criminal this is happening – punishing children and their loving parents – is about the lowest you can sink. But while we focus on adopting kids overseas, how about all the kids here in the US that need adoption?
And so, I turned to my friend Michaela, who with her husband Jon, adopted not just one baby but then later a second baby, right here in the US. She so graciously shares not just how they went about that process but offers some really excellent tips for anyone else considering this process and some emotional insight into the process. With that, here is my conversation with the lovely Michaela:
WM: Michaela – if someone out there is considering a domestic adoption, how do they even know how to get started? What resources did you turn to and would you recommend?
Michaela: I would not recommend the approach we took 9 years ago, which was to consult no one except for the yellow pages under adoption. We wasted nine months. Instead, I would highly recommend reaching out to people you know that have experience with adoption. Even if it was a while ago, chances are that they know someone who has adopted more recently and then do several informational interviews with those people. Doing some leg work up front will save you some time and heartache down the road. Another great resource is the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. In addition to hosting informational seminars (I sat through one eight years ago and found it to be very informative), there are a lot of really smart, seasoned attorneys that have a lot of information to share. When we got started on the wrong foot, it was an attorney who is a member of AAAA that did an informational interview with me and got my husband and I on the right track. We ultimately went through an agency, Adoptions from the Heart, and had wonderful experiences for both of our children.
WM: I read the Washington Post piece about international adoption and these families who spend tens of thousands of dollars and wait 5-6 years and still don’t end up with a child and it breaks my heart. If someone is looking into domestic adoption, how long should someone be prepared for this process to take? I mean – I remember you had such little warning when you were going to get your oldest but setting aside that moment – how long did it actually take from when you knew you were committed to adopting a baby to when you actually drove home with him?
Michaela: The timeframe greatly varies. People should be prepared for it to take a long time and hope for the best. For our oldest, it took 23 months. For our youngest, it took days. For the oldest, there were a few disappointments along the way and what seemed like a lot of heartache. For the youngest, we found out at noon on a Tuesday we got the house we had been in a bidding war over. Forty-nine minutes later our adoption agency called and said a birth mother had selected us and she was due in less than 2 weeks.
WM: Wow. Talk about a rollercoaster of emotions and also – in terms of adopting your second son – when it rains, it pours, right? Are you willing to share roughly how much this process costs?
Michaela: Six years ago it was roughly $20,000 for each adoption, which included legal fees. Costs vary depending on circumstances. It can definitely be much more or less.
WM: What is the best advice you were given in how to manage the emotions and stress of the process? What sort of advice would you give someone considering this path? I was struck, again, by the Washington Post article on international adoption a few weeks ago, by one of the mothers who said it was like being eternally pregnant but never having a due date.
Michaela: No question that you need to learn to have a lot of patience and to accept that there is a lot about this process that you cannot control. At an informational seminar, both my husband and I remember this great speaker sharing he and his wife’s story which included several disappointments before ultimately being matched with their first child. We remember feeling heartbroken for this guy, but he didn’t want any pity. He was super happy as his children played all around him while he spoke. His message was very simple – “Your baby is out there. Don’t give up. The only way you won’t have a child is if you give up and stop the process.” It sounds crazy when your heart is grieving over a child you’ve never even seen or touched, but it’s true. Hearing that story was an emotional turning point for us, in a positive way. No matter how difficult it may seem at the time, don’t give up. And this may sound impossible, but should you experience heartache along the way, that heartache really does go away when your child comes along.
Also, I remember thinking that we shouldn’t take trips or do certain things because we didn’t know if “the call” would come. This is far easier said than done because the emotions can feel so intense since you want it to happen so badly, but if I had it to do over again, I would take every single one of those trips and outings that I didn’t take. And I would have talked to more people about what was going on instead of keeping it so private. The privacy ultimately felt isolating, and made it harder to manage the emotions. I would do my best to keep my emotions in check (via seeking safe outlets, informational interviews, etc.) and trying to not let it consume my whole life.
WM: That makes a lot of sense to me. I would think the lack of control would be just so hard. Thanks for those really excellent pieces of advice, hindsight always is 20-20. So to wrap it up, what do you know now about the domestic adoption process that you wish you had known before?
Michaela: I wish I had known the above — that sharing the experience and taking the time to do more research up front would have saved time and been less difficult from a state of mind standpoint. But more than anything, I wish I knew throughout my life just how special birth parents are. So often we think about adoption from the adoptive family perspective and don’t hear as much about the birth parents perspective. When I think back to people I’ve known or heard about who have chosen to make an adoption plan for their child, instead of quietly wondering to myself how difficult that decision and process must have been for them, I wish I had instead given them a great big hug and thanked them for loving their child so much to have the courage and conviction to create and follow through on an adoption plan.
WM: Wow. Honestly, I have never once considered that perspective and you are really right, Michaela. Anything else you want to impart?
Michaela: One last thing……. A few years from now when your beautiful baby and maybe a sibling or two have filled your heart and your family with more love and happiness than you think is humanly possible, remember how clueless you were when you were starting your adoption journey, and seek opportunities to BE the mentor and the teacher and the friend for someone who is in that position now. Don’t just wait for people to come to you, but rather proactively tell your friends, co-workers, neighbors and pastor that if they know anyone considering adoption to send ‘em your way. If you can ease the pain and de-mystify the process for even one person, it will be worth it. The bottom line is, most of the people reading this today are probably already parents. So if you have friends out there who don’t have kids but you know they want them, share this with them, you never know who you might help.
WM: Thank you so so much to Michaela for being a mentor and taking the time to share some invaluable insight into the domestic adoption process with us. And most importantly for her honesty and insight into what is clearly a difficult but worthwhile process. Also, for anyone who follows my ongoing discussions on work-life balance or supporting DC-based female owned businesses, Michaela herself just launched a new female-owned lobbying firm in DC, Chamber Hill Strategies, with her business partner Jennifer Bell. Here’s hoping that together they turn K-Street powerhouses into female-owned businesses. Look for the second in this series on Our Modern Families next week and as always, keep up with moi on my Wired Momma Facebook page.