Saturday, January 28, 2012

Picking Our Agency, Part 3: Open Adoption & Family Services

See also:

Hey everyone!  Brian here and I'm finally making my first post on the blog.  Andy's been doing a great job so far.  We both hope that all of our posts are not only fun and interesting to read but also provide a good window into the process of adoption!

Taking another step forward in our process, it's time to review our next milestone: the info session at Open Adoption & Family Services.  This info session took place on Jan 10th in their Seattle office and was led by Lisa who is the Office Manager & Outreach Coordinator.
It was great to be able to learn more about another agency that was much different from Amara.  While Amara focuses primarily on foster-to-adopt, Open Adopt does infant adoptions.  During the info session, we learned a lot of things about Open Adopt.  Here are a few the highlights:
  • Started in 1985
  • Located in Oregon and Washington
  • Provide support for pregnant mothers and adoptive families both short-term and long-term
  • Place 38-60 infants every year (Over 1,200 since 1985)
  • Similar adoption timeline to Amara (6 months of preparations + Avg 14 months of waiting)
While many elements of the process are similar for both Open Adopt and Amara, there were some unique differences due to Open Adopt being a different agency and their focus on infants. For Open Adopt, the birthparents are automatically involved from the start and select the adoptive parents.  Selecting the adoptive parents usually occurs when the birthmother is in her third trimester.

Overall, both Andy and I really enjoyed this info session.  We had already heard some of the basic information about Open Adopt from several sources, and  Lisa did a great job answering all of the questions that we had.  She was an adoptive mom herself which also provided some great personal perspectives.  As we left the office that night, we knew we had a pretty big decision to make. 

Coming Soon: The Decision!


It's been quite the week for new additions! Congratulations to my brother Josh and sister-in-law Elise on the birth of their daughter Cora Ann, and to our friends Tatiana and Mike welcoming little Summer!

Cora Ann

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Picking Our Agency, Part 2: Amara Parenting

See also: Picking Our Agency, Part 1: The Adoption Fair

After we narrowed down our search to two agencies, it was time to get more information. It's really important to find an agency that's a good fit, since they're involved every step along the way and facilitate the entire process. Both of the agencies had free informational sessions coming up, so we signed up to attend each of them.

Amara Parenting was the first agency we visited. It was a cold Saturday morning, and it was earlier than either Brian or I really wanted to be up. I drove us to their location in east Seattle (Madrona), and we ended up about 15 minutes early sitting in the car in the parking lot.

"Do you want to go in, or should we wait in the car another 10 minutes?", one of us asked. The reply: "Let's wait."

I won't speak for Brian, but I was terrified! Even though we weren't making any commitments, going into the building felt like a big step to me at the time. I didn't know what to say, who would be there, or really anything at all about what to expect. So we waited for a few more minutes, I took a few deep breaths, and eventually we walked on in.

We ended up in a room with maybe 20 people. I think a lot of them were in the same place as us - excited, apprehensive, and just kinda waiting to see what would happen next. It was pretty quiet overall, but there was a nervous energy that I could feel pervading the room. Or maybe I was just projecting my own emotions on everyone else.

A woman named Megan eventually came in and started her presentation. We found out a lot more about this particular agency: their history (operating in Seattle since 1921), their size (10 full-time staff members), their mission (most of their work is with Washington state's foster system). All of their prospective adoptive families enroll in the foster-to-adopt program, and then can optionally participate in the relinquished infants program as well (in which case they wait for whichever placement comes first). As Megan worked through all the details of her agency, the mood in the room gradually relaxed - people started asking more questions, getting more into it, and a lot of my initial nervousness wore off.

Megan talked a lot about the general adoption process as well, and how it worked at Amara. First they would do the application and home study (which would take about 4-6 months); then they would match us with a family (on average 10-18 months); and finally their post-placement processes would last anywhere from 6-24 months after placement. Because they work with foster children who are wards of the state, the finalization process is significantly different than in a private adoption.

The highlight of the session by far was about an hour in, when one of Amara's "success stories" visited. In came a family that seemed tailor-made for us: two dads, and the most adorable little boys you've ever seen! First off, we knew that Amara worked with same sex couples, but it was very reassuring to see an example right there in front of us. And then the kids were seemingly perfect: very cute, and also extremely well-behaved. They were 5 and 3 years old, if I remember correctly, and were biological half-brothers; they had previously been fostered in separate families before eventually being adopted by their "forever family".

We had a chance to talk to the parents about their experiences adopting (especially as it related to Amara as an agency), and that was probably more valuable to me than anything else in the session. Being reminded of the end goal suddenly made me remember why we were signing ourselves up for what's sure to be a long and involved process.

After the session, Brian and I went and had a great brunch at the nearby Hi Spot Cafe. (Side note: if you're in Seattle, go there for brunch! It's amazing!) After getting so much information in such a short amount of time, I needed to decompress a bit and process everything we'd just heard. I liked Amara as an agency, and felt comfortable with the people we met who worked there. However, Brian and I had already discussed that we wanted to adopt an infant, and most of the children in foster-to-adopt were somewhat older. In the end, we concluded what we'd already known: that no decision would be made until we visited the other agency as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snowmageddon 2012

One of the agency workers we were speaking to recently mentioned* that they tend to see an increase in newborn placements 9 months after any major power outages, major weather events, etc. So... let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!

View from Our Condo

*Anecdotally, of course; she didn't have official statistics to back this up.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Picking Our Agency, Part 1: The Adoption Fair

The first big decision that we've had to make as prospective adoptive parents is which agency we're going to use. (Well, the real first big decision was actually to adopt, but I guess that goes without saying!) Before we started, I had no idea how many adoption agencies are out there. Let me tell you - there are a lot.

So where to begin? We were lucky, in that we found out about an annual adoption fair happening locally through Microsoft. It had some "Adoption 101" type sessions, and it had numerous representatives from all sorts of agencies that operate in Washington. So we thought, "great, let's go!" And next thing you know, there we were in November, with probably 20 different agencies staring us down as we walked into the conference room. It was more than a little intimidating for two first-time parents who still weren't quite sure what they were getting themselves into :)

As it turns out, we were able to narrow down our choices pretty quickly. As gay men, we decided that we wanted to do a domestic adoption; while international adoptions are probably possible, the legality of gay parents adopting from foreign countries introduces a whole host of problems that we'd rather avoid. So all those agencies that only do international adoptions: out. Additionally, we were able to nix any Christian agencies; many of them won't place with gay and lesbian parents, and even if they did it would likely still take longer for us to be picked by a birth family. Finally, we knew that we wanted an established agency that employed more than just a handful of people. After all that, we were left with two agencies: Amara Parenting and Open Adoption & Family Services.

After the fair, we did some more research on our own, but we kept coming back to these two agencies. We felt comfortable with both from what we knew of them, and either seemed like it could be a good fit for us. So all that remained was for us to call up the agencies and sign up for their individual informational sessions - finding out more would of course be essential in deciding which agency to use.

In retrospect, I think signing up for Amara's and Open Adoption's info sessions was really when everything started to feel real to me. Up until then, we had gone to a few meetings sponsored by the Microsoft adoption employee group, but we were mostly passive participants at best. Now, all of a sudden, we were taking concrete steps on our own to start moving forward. Even though signing up for the informational sessions was in no way a commitment, it still felt like a big first step.

Next up: our visit to Amara.

See also:
Picking Our Agency, Part 2: Amara Parenting
Picking Our Agency, Part 3: Open Adoption & Family Services
Picking Our Agency, Part 4: The Decision

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The "Process"

Over the past few months as Brian and I have been working towards an adoption, we keep hearing (and saying) "the process" over and over. Adopting a child isn't something that happens overnight - there are a number of steps, and from start to finish it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years for an adoption to be completed. There's a lot we didn't know when we started, and there's so much more we still don't know, but I'm going to give it a shot to explain what's going on.

There are numerous different ways to pursue an adoption, and we've chosen to do so through an agency. As such, I'd break down our process into 4 major steps:
  1. Choosing the agency
  2. Completing their application and home study
  3. Waiting for placement with a birth family
  4. Finalizing the adoption

Currently, we're at the point where we've chosen an agency (Open Adoption & Family Services, more on that in a later post), and we're waiting to begin our application; so I'd say that Brian and I are between steps 1 and 2 right now.
1. Choosing the Agency
By all accounts, choosing an agency that fits right with us is extremely important. We'll be working with the agency throughout the entire adoption process, and even for the rest of our lives (many agencies provide ongoing counseling for both birth families and adoptive families even after adoptions are finalized). So it was important to us to consider what agencies were available to us, and to find one the felt right.

This part of the process can take as long or as short as you want it to; for Brian and I, we took about 3 months.

2. Completing the Agency Application and Home Study
Time for paperwork!

Different agencies have various requirements for their applications, and the specifics run the gamut. That said, any adoption is going to involve mounds of paperwork no matter how you slice it! Additionally, all states require that a home study is done, as well, to ensure that the adoptive parents are ready and able to care for a child. This is conducted by the agency, and often is done in conjunction with the agency's application. This phase involves filling out a ton of forms, giving information about your own family and background, having background checks done on you, etc, etc.

Our agency requires that we first attend their Pre-Adoption Seminar, and only then can begin what they call the Application and Intake Interview. Finally, following their application, they'll conduct our home study.

The length of this stage varies depending on the agency's and the state's particular requirements. For our situation, we expect this to take 3-4 months from when we attend the Pre-Adoption Seminar. We're scheduled to attend the seminar in late February, so we hope to have the home study completed by sometime in June.

3. Waiting for Placement with a Birth Family
Some would say that the hard work is done after the home study's complete. From everything I've read, the waiting that happens now is when the real hard work begins!

At this stage, we'll have finished our paperwork and we'll be ready for a match with a birth family. Since we're doing an open adoption, the birth family will be the one to choose us as their adoptive family, not the other way around. (Once we're selected, of course, we're still able to turn down the placement, but the initial match is not something we control.) So we'll go into a pool with other waiting families, and hope that something in our profile makes us stick out!

OA&FS (our agency) shows many of the waiting families on their website. Brian's already going in there and sizing us up against the "competition" :)

This is where the big unknowns come into play. Once we enter the pool, we simply wait. We could be chosen in 2 weeks; or we could be chosen after a few years. For our agency, the average wait time is 11 months (14 months for same-sex couples), although the extremes of that are anywhere from 2 weeks to 52 months (their longest ever wait).

4. Finalizing the Adoption
The final portion of this whole process can vary a lot depending on the birth family's circumstances. OA&FS tries to match families sometime during the third trimester of the pregnancy, and if that's the case then we'll probably have a few months to prepare for a placement. In some cases (last year for OA&FS, 16% of their families), the placement is made at the last minute, in the days after the child has already been born. So whenever we get "the call", it'll only be at that point that we determine what the end game will look like for us.

It's important also to keep in mind that the birth family cannot (and should not) relinquish their parental rights until after the child is born; specific laws vary depending on the state. Even if we're matched with a family and go through the final months of the pregnancy with them, we will not officially be parents until after the birth. Disruption rates are low with this particular agency, but it's something that we will need to be prepared for.

The legal adoption process will take a few more months after the birth to finalize, but at this point we'll have a child at home and will begin parenting! This is the end goal, of course, and it's quite exciting to imagine it happening. Of course this is still a ways off for Brian and me, but I'm sure we'll need to keep it in mind often to remind ourselves why we're going through all this stuff!

Of course there's a ton of detail I'm glossing over here, but that's what the Internet's for :) And Brian and I will do our best to answer any questions, although of course we're learning as we go here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

And We're Off...

Hello world!

I don't quite know how to begin, so I figure the best way is just to start writing. I guess a little introduction is in order: my name is Andy, and together with my husband Brian we're starting process to adopt our first child. We're both in our late twenties, have been together for almost five years, and now seems like the perfect time to start our family! It's exciting (and more than a bit scary!), both for us and for our family and friends.

Eventual Fathers-To-Be

We decided to start this blog with the idea of chronicling our adoption process in full, from beginning to end. All told, it's a process that could take anywhere from a few months to a few years, and while we have some idea of what to expect, there's still a lot that's unknown. I'm hoping that by writing a bit about what's going on in our lives, we can keep all our friends and family up to date and give our future child(ren) some record of how their family was created.

No guarantees about how often we'll post; while I'm sure we'd like to be really ambitious and give updates all the time, life's sure to get in the way! In the next few days, I'd like to explain a little bit about how the adoption process is going to work, and then talk about the steps we've taken so far. In the meantime, welcome and enjoy!