Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brian's Homestudy Interview

As Andy posted yesterday, we've both completed our homestudy interviews!  While Andy went first, I setup shop in a nearby Starbucks and got to work on a variety of things.  I worked on some edits to my autobiography from Katie, started some preliminary research on fetal alcohol exposure, and then took about 30 minutes to relax by finishing the last 40 pages of the Hunger Games trilogy.

Heading into the interview, Katie started things off by asking me a similar version of Andy's favorite question "What traits would you use to describe yourself?"  Thinking back to elementary school, I'm pretty sure that everyone has taken their first name and used each letter to represent the first letter of various traits that represent who you are.  Unfortunately, I didn't remember any of them right off, but I think I muddled through everything just fine  :)

Like Andy's interview, we talked a lot about my personal background, history, and feelings.  Not being a big talker, it was interesting having a large expanse of time with Katie where I was expected to be mentally on and going 100% full time.  In other words, I didn't have Andy around to use as a shield if a question stumped me or if I couldn't come up with the right words to explain something.  In the end, I think I hit on the themes that I'm somewhat introverted (great excuse for an interview setting!), that I've been extremely lucky to have great parents and a great husband, and that I'm totally ready to have kids.

Adoption Process
  • Information Meeting
  • Pre-Adoption Seminar
  • Application Submission
  • Application & Intake Interview
  • Homestudy Interview #1
  • Homestudy Interview #2
  • Homestudy Interview #3
  • Homestudy Interview #4
  • Homestudy Completion
  • Pool Entry
Taking a look back at the adoption process we outlined several weeks ago, we've taken a big leap towards getting into the waiting pool of families.  After a seminar, 5 interviews, mountains of paperwork, FBI background checks, and many other things, we still have a long ways to go before pool entry.  However, it definitely feels good to look back at how far we've made it in just a few short months.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Andy's Homestudy Interview

I'm done!

I just did the final of my meetings with Katie, our adoption counselor, and Brian's in with her now for his portion. After today, we'll be done with all the meetings needed for the homestudy, so that's a nice milestone to pass.

Today's meeting started with: "How would you describe yourself?" I hate that question. I mean, I don't mind talking about myself; I think a lot of my friends will recognize that I often wear my heart on my sleeve. But that question is so vague and so open that it's always a difficult one for me, especially to start off with! Luckily I managed to say something that passed for acceptable, so we moved on.

We turned in autobiographies to Katie a couple weeks ago, and most of today was spent with Katie delving into more detail based on that material. I got to spend a lot of time talking about my childhood, my brothers, my parents, and anything/everything related to that. Once I got going, I actually think Katie had a hard time stopping me from talking! Don't worry, Josh and Matt, I didn't tell any stories that were *too* bad...

The homestudy meetings have really not been a nerve-wracking process so far. I was a bit apprehensive going into them, especially since they included a tour of our home to make sure it wasn't a death trap. But I think a lot of my nervousness was due to a misunderstanding of what the meetings would entail. The homestudy is a legal document that certifies our home to receive a child, and so I was expecting the vetting process to be difficult (and perhaps even adversarial). As it turns out, the OA&FS homestudy is more than just the legal document; it seems they're really trying to profile us as a family, so that expectant mothers considering adoption can get a sense of who we are. To that extent, the meetings really ended up being more like a set of long interviews by a biographer, and less about judging us and our home.

Anyway, so today's meeting was the last of those for me. After this, we have a few more documents we need to turn in (thanks to everyone who wrote us recommendations - they've all been received!), and then Katie will use them all to write our homestudy in about 4-8 weeks. So things are moving forward pretty quickly! If all goes well, we should be in the pool of waiting families sometime mid-June. Exciting!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Homestudy Interview #2

This morning marked another step forward as we had our second homestudy interview!  First off, we're in an adoption stage known as the "Homestudy."  While part of this stage is getting our home approved for children (already completed in Interview #1), the majority of the time is spent collecting additional information about us as a family.  Katie, our counselor, went over several important topics like our relationship, how we operate as a couple, general strengths/weaknesses, how our parents influenced us, and how we plan to handle discipline.

Before we wrapped things up, we talked about transracial adoption and the Screening Tool.  Before the meeting, Andy and I went through a special transracial adoption packet of information.  With Katie, we talked about our perspectives and she really felt that we're both completely ready for a transracial adoption.  With the Screening Tool, Katie gave a great overview and answered a lot of our questions.  In the next couple of weeks, Andy and I will do some research and finalize some of our answers beyond the draft level discussion in our previous blog posts.
  • Homestudy Interview #1 - April 9th
  • Homestudy Interview #2 - April 23rd
  • Homestudy Interview #3 & #4 - April 25th 
Next up, we have interviews #3 and #4.  This homestudy interview was the last one where Katie meets with both of us at once.  On Wednesday afternoon, Andy and I will have separate interviews where we meet with her one-on-one to talk about more personalized information, the autobiographies we submitted, and any other info Katie will need to write our homestudy report.  Check back later this week for final homestudy interview updates!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Drugs + Babies = Maybe

In the case of prenatal development, drugs and alcohol can be scary subjects to talk about. Most women that have planned pregnancies do everything they can to eliminate these risks. On the other hand, it's hard for women with unplanned pregnancies to eliminate risks.  Their fetus could be exposed to alcohol or drugs before they even know they're pregnant.

With our agency, babies of all levels of exposure are placed with adoptive parents.  From available stats between July 2009 and June 2010 for OA&FS:
  • 47% of children placed had no prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol
  • 26% had mild exposure
  • 13% had moderate exposure
  • 13% had severe exposure
Pictured below is the lower half of the Screening Tool discussing the various types of exposure.  Luckily, our agency uses this to allow adoptive parents to specify the level of exposure that they are comfortable with.  While our agency does not advise us or directly educate us, they encourage us to do our own research and come to our own decisions.  We still have a lot of research to do, but we do know that we won't rule out every single exposure.  Here are some gut-check reactions to share my personal perspective on this portion of the Screening Tool:

Mild - Alcohol Use
From what we know right now, exposure to alcohol seems to have a higher potential for permanent damage.  This one is a major concern even though there are also plenty of cases where alcohol has absolutely no measurable impact.

Moderate - Marijuana, Methamphetamine, Cocaine, Heroin, Prescription Narcotics, and Tobacco
More research is definitely needed for these, but current input we have now seems to say that even babies born addicted to drugs can be weaned off of them without long-term problems.  I would certainly not be a fan of that situation, but the knowledge that risks for long-term problems are reduced makes me lean towards a wider acceptance of exposure. 

Moderate - Mental Illness of Birthparent and Developmental Disabilities of Birthparent
Both of these are extremely variable.  For mental illness, a birthparent could simply have depression or something that wouldn't pass genetically to the baby.  For both of these, the bigger concern would be genetic impacts and the capability for the birthparent(s) to sustain a healthy and ongoing relationship in an open adoption.

Moderate - Child with a known medical condition
This is rather broad considering the amount of information available about a fetus.  It could be something permanent or something with a potential to be corrected.

So, some of you may be reading the answers above to mean that we would automatically accept a baby from a birthmom that consistently used heroin, dabbled with meth, and wasn't opposed to binge drinking while pregnant.  The agency could tell us that a birthmom with that history has chosen us, but from there it would be our decision on what happens next.

Rather than locking us into an automatic acceptance of certain cases, the Screening Tool is used to help the agency match each unique birthmother to an adoptive family.  Just like we want the birthmother to share an honest account of possible exposures to the baby, Andy and I should aim to truly represent our comfort zone in the Screening Tool to raise our chances of having a sustainable match with a birthfamily.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Boy or Girl? - The Screening Tool

One question parents always get asked when people find out they're pregnant is if they're having a boy or a girl.  Even as adoptive parents, Andy and I frequently get asked whether we want or are specifically adopting a boy or a girl.

While this may sound coarse, this is a regular fact of adoption.  In some cases, babies are essentially "ordered" like the beverage I just ordered from the coffee shop I'm sitting in.  If parents want a newborn baby girl that is Asian with parents that are genetic scientists, they can make that happen.  Of course, every agency is different.  Does our agency allow for this?  Short answer... yes.

Say hello to our Screening Tool!  In a way, it's fascinating that we can essentially fill in parameters on a piece of paper and eventually end up with a grande chai tea latte baby.  Jesting aside, there are likely some great reasons why these parameters exist.  Some adoptive parents or extended families may not readily accept a child of a different race which would not be good for the family, child, or the birth family.  As you can see above, the Screening Tool has a lot of information to fill out.  For this post, I'll focus on just the top portion that addresses things like gender, age, race, etc.

Officially, Andy and I have sort of discussed some of these but not put them into writing yet.  With the general clarifier that these are just my opnions and thoughts, let's run through these:

Age: Newborn to 3 months
The dream baby for most adoptive families is a newborn baby.  For me, being a first-time parent means that I don't want to miss out on any experiences in my child's life.  Being a parent of a baby is all about marking those milestone 'firsts' such as the first smile, laugh, crawl, etc.

Gender: Boy or Girl
I'm 100% sure that we will mark down "either" and leave this to chance (just like regular parents!).  Admittedly, I'd love to have at least one boy, but this is just our first child.  It'll be fun to see where we end up.

Description/Race: All
The title of this line is vague, but it is essentially a catch all line that includes race and any other factors adoptive parents would like to specify.  For us, race isn't a huge factor.  While specifying a white baby would better fit our family as both Andy and I are white, it's not like our family pictures won't give us away as an irregular family anyway!

Twins: Yes
Shh, don't tell Andy about this one.  We haven't really talked about it, and I'm just throwing out an answer  :)   Our current plan is to have two children that are a couple years apart or so.  To have twins means we'd have two babies up front and double the work which could be both really taxing but really rewarding too.

So overall, I've covered some of the elements of the Screening Tool and some potential answers, but I've left out one of the most important consequences about the Screening Tool.  By it's nature, this form is meant to "screen" down all of the potential babies to one that adoptive parents would like to welcome into their family.  Every time a new criterion is entered, your pool of potential matches is reduced.  If we put down that we only want a boy, then we would miss out on 50% of the babies that we could be matched with.  That could potentially double our wait in the pool.  Would that be worth it?

This concept of reducing our available pool is both a boon and a burden.  It's great that we at least have the chance to provide input on our future baby and birth family, but every choice means that we could be reducing our chances of getting picked which could increase our waiting time from months to several years. 

The next post about the screening tool will cover the heavier latter half of the Screening Tool dealing with topics such as drug and alcohol use by the pregnant mother, mental health, and other factors.  In the meantime, feel free to comment and share how you would fill out the top half of the Screening Tool.  It would be a lot of fun to know how all of you would answer these and why!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Homestudy Interview #1

After a great weekend in Providence, RI with Josh, Elise, and Cora, we came back to Seattle for our first homestudy interview with our counselor, Katie, on Monday morning.  Given that we wanted to put on a good show, Andy and I did a fair amount of cleaning before we left town for the weekend, after getting home close to midnight on Sunday, and then some last minute work before our 9:30am meeting.

So, how did it go?  Our home has been stamped with approval and is safe for children!  (For those of you that have asked already, you already know this as I've been enjoying passing on the fact that our house is surprisingly not a death trap.  Go us!)  Amusingly, Katie was at our condo for about 2 hours and we spent the majority of the time in our living room just talking through some of the basic interview questions that she had.  One of the primary purposes of the homestudy meetings is to learn more about us.  Katie will write a 10+ page homestudy report that will tell potential birthfamilies all about who we are and what our home is like.

Katie led us through some basic 'get-to-know-you' questions to help get that ball rolling.  We talked about each of our typical days at work, what we do during the evenings, our weekend hobbies, and how some of those things may change after we have a baby.  For example, I know my 3x a week gym schedule will be converted from running and weight lifting to bouncing a baby and lifting loaded diapers!

After our extended chat, we led Katie on a tour of our house which turned out to be really laid back and easy.  She was rather impressed with our awesome evacuation plan (yeah!) and it didn't take long for her to fire through her checklist and give us a stamp of approval.

Even though this was just the first of four interviews, it felt great to get all of that completed and out of the way.  I know I had been carrying some stress about this meeting even though I was 99% sure we'd pass through with flying colors.  With this one done, here's a check-in on our process:
  • Application & Intake Interview
  • Homestudy Interview #1 - April 9th
  • Homestudy Interview #2 - April 11th  April 25th  (Just rescheduled today)
  • Homestudy Interview #3 - April 23rd 
  • Homestudy Interview #4 - April 25th
As mentioned in previous posts, two of the interviews will take place at our condo and involve both Andy and myself.  The other two will be individual interviews with Katie.  Interviews #1 and #3 are the joint interviews at our condo.  Interviews #2 and #4 are individual one-on-one meetings at Katie's office - one for me and one for Andy.  These will both be on the 25th so that means "Interview #3" at our condo is up next on the 23rd.  Until then, we'll have some fun posts to entertain you before a flurry of updates during the week of the 23rd.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Visiting Cora Ann

What a great weekend! Brian and I got to go to Providence, RI, this weekend to visit my brother Josh and sister-in-law Elise, and to meet their adorable 2-month-old daughter Cora Ann! My younger brother Matt made the trip from Seattle at the same time, so we had a great "brothers' reunion" as well. Thanks Josh and Elise for being such wonderful hosts, even as parents of a newborn!

And without further ado, the pictures :)

Meeting Cora for the first time

Aunt Meghan and Daddy entertain Cora

It was hard to get a good picture of both Elise and Cora at the same time - so here's Cora looking at the camera!

And now we've got Elise too :)

Uncle Brian was a natural with Cora

Crazy Bird is really crazy!

Uncle Matt, Cora, and a gas station. Yes, this happened.

Not quite sure about this whole stroller thing.

Almost caught the smile on camera! Instead, got the "Magee eyebrow raise".

Post-bath monkey towel!

Uncle Brian and Cora

Hiccups are cute!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Talking about Adoption

I'm never one to shy away from a pedantic discussion about semantics, so I really liked the following passage in one of the open adoption books I'm reading:
Adoption is a process. We advocate that the process be kept distinct from the person who is the adoptee. On the simplest level this means preferring "Betsy was adopted" to "Betsy is an adopted child." The first (Betsy was adopted) correctly describes a single and past event in her life. This is no different from a birthmother proud of the experience of giving birth describing to another, "I had my son by cesarean birth." The same birthmother would not refer to that child after the event as "my cesarean son."

By contrast, "Betsy is an adopted child" or even "Betsy is special because she is adopted" conveys an ongoing significance to the state of being adopted. This is potentially dangerous because of the subtle implication that adopted children are somehow different from natural children who do not have labels attached to them. In addition, if Betsy is described as "special" or "chosen," that means someone is less special or valuable as a person. If Betsy is not a "natural child" that makes her "unnatural" or at least not normal. Do these labels all mean that at one point Betsy was not so special because she was not wanted?

Excerpt from Dear Birthmother by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin, Third Edition, Page 141
This hit home, especially in light of a conversation we just had with my sister-in-law Elise earlier tonight. She expressed the thought that she sometimes was afraid to bring up an adoption-related question or topic because she didn't know the right verbiage for it and was afraid of saying something unintentionally offensive. I can sympathize with that - I feel like we've learned an entirely new vocabulary since we started working with our agency!

I totally get the above quotes from Dear Birthmother, and on the one hand I agree with the sentiment. Our child will be our child, end of story, regardless of how our family is formed. That fact that we will form our family through adoption won't make a difference in how much we love our child, and so describing the fact of the adoption as a discrete event rather than as a characteristic of the child seems right.

On the other hand, the difference between "Betsy was adopted" (as a past tense verb) and "Besty is adopted" (as a present tense verb and adjective) is so slight that I think most people wouldn't even hear the difference. In fact, in the extreme case, the contraction "Betsy's adopted" could really represent either version. Making such a subtle distinction also seems like it's a pretty difficult task, and one we could easily make mistakes on all the time.

Don't you just love semantics?

Alright, that's enough thinking for now - better go off to bed before my head explodes. Next up (hopefully tomorrow) I'll try to post pictures from our visit to Rhode Island with Josh, Elise, and baby Cora!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do You Have a Home Evacuation Plan?

On Monday we have Katie (our counselor from OA&FS) coming to our house for our first home visit. Needless to say, we've been cleaning up like freaks and trying to make sure everything's in tip-top shape! That giant hole our cats clawed out of the sofa? All patched up :)

In addition to just making sure we've cleaned everything up, the agency prepared us by sending along the checklist of things they have to verify for legal reasons. Most are common sense items, such as:
  • The home has safe drinking water.
  • Smoke alarms are in working order and located in every room in which a child sleeps.
  • Swimming pools, wading pools, hot tubs, and other water hazards are inaccessible to children.
All those requirements? We're golden. We had to do a little bit of work for some of them (we didn't actually have a fire extinguisher, for instance), but they generally all made sense. One of them really came out of nowhere, though:
  • The home has a posted home evacuation plan. It will be shared with the child or young adult at the time of placement and will be practiced at least one time every 6 months.
I mean... really? Because it's so difficult to just walk out the door? And we're definitely going to make our newborn do fire drills every six months - I'm sure they'll be really useful. Anyway, this is when it's useful that I'm married to a civil engineer. Brian and CAD to the rescue!

He missed a closet in the bedroom...

I can rest easy now that I know where to go in case of emergency!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Summer's Here!

The baby, that is, not the season.

Our good friends Tatiana and Mike welcomed their daughter Summer back in January, and we were finally able to go and visit them this weekend! Summer's now a whole 2 months old, so we waited far too long for a visit. On the upside, she's aware enough that we were able to capture her attention for at least a few seconds at a time!

Summer came early this year!
Unfortunately, Summer started crying the moment I picked her up. Tatiana was kind enough to teach me her "swinging" trick, so I was able to get her to calm down at least for a bit. And Brian even got her to fall asleep in his arms! We'll be old pros at this in no time flat...