Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pre-Adoption Seminar, Day 1: Andy's Take

It was a great first day at the pre-adoption seminar! We spent about 5 hours there, and covered a lot of material. Today was the more "emotions" day of the seminar, focusing a lot on any grief that adoptive families might bring along with them and the concerns that crop up when they're determining whether openness in adoption is right for them. But more on that in a moment, for now I want to talk about all the other people there with us!

Our facilitator for the day was a woman from OA&FS named Katie, and she led the session for a total of 6 and a half couples. (One woman was there without her partner, who had a conflict and had attended the seminar a week before in Portland.) I was really surprised to see that there were only two straight couples - the remaining nine of us were all gay couples. Most of us were from the Seattle area, although there was one couple from Milwaukee and another from Washington DC.

It was really fantastic to meet so many other people who are going through more or less the exact same thing that we are, and to share in the whole experience with them. Going into the session, it was easy to think of them (and all the other waiting families at Open Adopt) as our competition. It's amazing how just a few hours of talking and sharing as a group can change that mindset for me. I mean, yes, it's true that birth families will pick adoptive families from a pool, and it's possible that any of these couples could be picked instead of us. But hearing all their stories (and telling our own) created a bond between us all that I really wasn't expecting. I'm already anticipating the joyful feelings we'll have when we see any of "our group" being placed with a child!

A lot of the day was spent processing feelings of grief that often come along with starting the adoption process. For straight couples, it's often very difficult because they're only choosing adoption after more "natural" methods have proven unsuccessful for them. While that was the case for some of the people there, it's definitely not true for us. (If you need me to explain, just send me an e-mail :) ) In fact, during one of the exercises, we broke into two smaller groups - ours was made up of 7 gays. So we didn't talk about grief over infertility so much as we griped about the lack of control we would have through a lot of the adoption process. After all, we effectively have to invite a stranger into our home to come and judge whether it will be fit for children - what straight couple has to do that before they get pregnant?

All in all, though, it was still useful to process a lot of the emotional baggage that everyone brought along with them. Whether it was the more traditional grief over infertility, anxiousness about the lack of control, anger at not being able to have biological children, or anything else, I think it helped us all appreciate where everyone was coming from. And I loved Liz's take on things: "After so many years of trying not to get pregnant, it's really frustrating to learn that I can't!"

Tomorrow we go back for a full day-long session. It's apparently less about the emotional aspect of adoption, and more about the gritty details of how the process will work. Should be interesting!

Pre-Adoption Seminar, Day 1: Brian's Take

As Andy posted earlier, today has been a day of leaps forward for us!  Weeks back, we chose our agency: Open Adoption & Family Services.  After that point, we've been waiting for this next big milestone. With the seminar being a half-day, we spent part of our morning getting fingerprinted for our FBI background checks. 

On one side, it was fun to fill out our cards and be fingerprinted.  I spent time checking out my fingerprints and comparing them to the poster of various fingerprint types on the wall while Andy was getting printed.  (Yes, I'm a dork like that!) 

On the other side, it was a reminder that the adoption process can feel rigid and demanding when you know a pair of 16 year olds can get to the same point with an accident in the back of a pickup truck.  Of course, we're happy to jump through a few hoops to someday welcome a child into our family.  In the meantime, if you're reading this and know you just had an accident in the back of a pickup us!  :)

After getting fingerprinted and a quick lunch, it was time to head to the seminar.  We weren't completely sure what to expect.  However, we did know we were looking forward to it and the opportunity to meet several other adoptive parents going through the same process as us.  Upon arriving, we walked in carrying our Starbucks cups and saw two other couples and the speaker, Katie, also sporting drinks from Starbucks.  (Warning: Pacific Northwest stereotype!) 

After everyone arrived and gave their introductions, it was intriguing to look at our group as a whole.  We had 7.5 couples (one couple split their scheduling between two different seminars).  Of those couples, six of us were same-sex couples and two were heterosexual couples.  While we expected another gay/lesbian couple or two, we didn't expect that there would be so many!  Of the couples there, three already had one child and were looking to adopt a second.  Overall, it was a really fun group and we're looking forward to getting to know them better tomorrow and in the future.

Today's seminar focused heavily on dealing with emotions, grief, and the path towards choosing adoption.  Luckily for us, we didn't have a whole lot of emotions to process on this front as we've already accepted not being able to have children on our own.  For me, the real highlight of the day was getting to meet two actual birthmothers.  Both ends of the spectrum were covered as Carrie's 18 year old son is about to graduate high school while Amanda's son was born less than a year ago. 

Being able to hear (and not just read) a story directly from a birthmother was an invaluable experience as it felt real and engaging.  Carrie had told her story many times before and she was able to provide an eloquent and detailed summary of her journey as a birthmother.  With Amanda, I really felt for her as this was her first time telling her story to a group of adoptive parents.  Together, they both had tons of great advice and provided heartfelt perspectives.  If we're lucky, we'll be selected by a great birthmother that shares many of their caring, sweet, and admirable characteristics.

Tomorrow/Day 2 is a day I'm really looking forward to.  Being an engineer, I'm all about the details.  Amongst everything we'll cover is the fully detailed process of adoption in all its nuts and bolts glory.  Just like today, we'll be posting a fun set of highlights about Day 2.  Depending on how detailed things are, new posts for the second day should come up sometime between tomorrow night and Sunday.

Thanks for reading and we hope you're enjoying the story of our journey through adoption as much as we are!

It's Seminar Day!

Today we go to Open Adopt's pre-adoption seminar. It's a half-day today, and all day tomorrow. Exciting to be officially starting down this road with them!

Of course, before that starts we're going to get our fingerprints taken for the requisite FBI background check. And apparently the place taking the prints is also a one-stop shop for applying for the "coveted Utah Concealed Firearm Permit". I'm sure this will be interesting.

Anyway, more updates about the seminar later this week!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Open Question: What Opportunities and Values Do You Want for Your Kids?

We're working on filling out a bunch of paperwork for our adoption application, and one of the forms will be used to give birth mothers more information about our family. It includes this question:

What opportunities, experiences and values do you plan to offer your child(ren)?

Now there's a difficult question to answer in just a couple sentences! But I thought I'd turn around and pose the question to all of you: how would you succinctly sum up the opportunities, experiences, and values that you want for your children?

We're looking forward to reading responses from all of you, including anyone who has kids, wants kids, or just has something to say :)

Update 2/29:
Some responses we got via Facebook:

Aaron: Lots of walks; the occasional wheat-free, corn-free treat; the occasional highly treasured, stolen sock (as long as it's not actually eaten); sun-soaked spots on the couch and floor in which to rest; visits by beloved friends and family

John: I would want my child to know empathy, to be able to see the world from another's perspective. In order to live on a crowded planet, it helps to not be inflexible, to not always have to be right. The best way I know how to learn empathy? Global travel and reading. Lots of reading.

Tyler: Family structure, support, and above all unconditional love; appreciation of good food shared with good friends; travel and exposure to other cultures; sense of humor; music; and a solid moral foundation (kindness, manners, and the like). I'm probably forgetting something. Keegan says it's cheating to get others to answer your app questions ;).

Michael: If we were to have children I would want them to grow up with a close connection to family, to value what they have more than what they want, and to instill in them a sense of wonder about the world.

Book Review: The Kid

The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant
by Dan Savage
Find it on Amazon
What a great book!

Full disclosure: I had actually read this book already a few years back, and I'm a big fan of Dan Savage to begin with. So I was more than a little biased towards liking this book before I began reading it this time around. That said, I was surprised at how much the story resonated with me; whereas the last time I read it the book was just a fun memoir, this time I saw a lot in there that I could definitely identify with!

In fact, it's a bit strange how closely this narrative seems to fit our current situation. There's of course the easy parallel of two gay men adopting a child together, but more strangely they actually used the same agency (Open Adopt & Family Services) that we're working with now. A lot of what Dan Savage wrote about the way he experienced the entire process seems to mirror exactly many of the conversations Brian and I have had so far.

So instead of focusing on how similar our experiences feel to what's in this book, I want to quickly mention a few of the major things that I think are going to be different about our journey. (After all, if you want to find out more, you can just read the book anyway!) The events in the book took place about 15 years ago, so some things have changed since then:
  1. At the time that Dan Savage and his boyfriend Terry Miller adopted their son, OA&FS had not successfully placed children with any gay couples. In that way, they were really blazing a completely new trail in creating their family. We're much luckier, in that gay couples now make up a huge portion of the families that OA&FS works with, and adopting as gay men is not going to be as much a hurdle for us as it was for them.
  2. Open adoption as a concept was still much newer when they adopted, and it wasn't anywhere near as commonplace as it is nowadays. I'll admit that openness in adoptions is still not entirely the norm by any means, but it seems that at least within adoption circles it's becoming much more of a recommended practice. One of these days on the blog, Brian or I will get around to writing a bit more about openness in adoption and what that means, since it's something we've been learning a lot about!
  3. We won't get a placement in just 2 weeks like they did!* After they entered the pool of waiting families, Dan and Terry were chosen by a birth mother after only about two weeks. Now Brian and I are definitely excited to have kids, but if we're preparing for an average 14-month wait, 2 weeks would probably catch us off guard.
Despite some of those differences, which mainly seemed due to the fact that 15 years have passed since the book's events, it still felt very applicable to what Brian and I will be dealing with in the coming months. I'd definitely recommend this book as a good read for anyone interested in finding out more about adoption, open adoption, or gay parenting, or really for anyone just looking for a fun, quick read.

*Okay, it's technically possible that we will. But with adoptive families waiting an average of 14 months for a placement, it's highly unlikely.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jazzy and Jeremiah

Even though we're still pretty early on in this process, it's never too soon to start expanding our network of friends who are building their families through adoption! We met Tyler and Keegan a couple years ago through a mutual friend, although we didn't know at the time that they were even thinking about adoption. Lo and behold, this past autumn they ended up with two beautiful children from the foster system in their home! This past Saturday we had a chance to stop by, chat with them, play with the kids, and generally be inspired by this adoption success story.

Jasmine (Jazzy) and Jeremiah
What cute little kids! I had lots of fun building blocks with them, tickling Jazzy's feet, and apparently usurping their dads' authority by letting Jazzy sit in Jeremiah's chair. (I swear I didn't know she wasn't allowed there!) I even got to read Jazzy's bedtime story by her own special request, although her attention span made it hard to find out what actually happened to Goldilocks by the end of the story :)

Tyler and Keegan also introduced us to another couple they know, Steve and Aaron. Steve and Aaron are actually working with the same adoption agency as us, and they're just a few months ahead of us in their journey. It's really useful to be able to talk to some people who've gone through all the steps that we're now taking and can offer their experiences as guidance. And even though we have a ways to go, I'm glad that we're starting now to make connections with other gay families. I have no doubt we'll meet many straight adoptive families as well, but I want to make sure that our children have examples of other gay families so they don't feel too "different".

Anyway, we had a fantastic time! Tyler and Keegan, thanks for inviting us over - your kids are adorable, and it was great to spend time with all of you!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Marriage and Family

With current events this past week, I wanted to use this weekend's post to delve into their importance for us.  On Monday, our governor signed into law a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington.  Shortly afterwards, New Jersey's legislature voted to approve same-sex marriage as well.  Friday, Maryland took a leap forward with an unexpected vote in support of marriage too.  While all of this is momentous, I'm going to try to sidestep the political element of these events because this is actually an adoption blog.  (Crazy!)

Naturally, we are on the path to adoption because we, as two men, can not have kids on our own.  However, I really believe that it is important for our family to represent what all families strive to be, a loving, stable, and happy family.  When people love each other in our society, they get married.  We think it's important to be married because it shows our commitment to each other and our children.  Marriage is a lifelong commitment - just like adoption.

In July of 2010, Andy and I got married.  While we use the term "married," we have technically been in a domestic partnership.  As we tend to forge our own path a lot of times, using the term marriage felt right.  We also knew that there would be a time in the future when marriage equality would become a reality for us.  With some luck, our first child will be able to be welcomed into a household with married parents which is truly exciting!

Our wedding photos are by Amelia Soper Photography. Can't recommend her highly enough!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Morning

Nothing says "Saturday morning" to me like pancakes, sausage, and filling out adoption homestudy forms!

A week and a half until the pre-adoption seminar, and it's our goal to have as many of these forms done as possible!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How Common Is Adoption?

One of the things I've been struck by since we began this process is how many people we already know who have been involved in adoptions. I can think of exactly one person I knew in grade school who was adopted, and two more in college. Three individuals out of the entire set of people I've ever met is a really small proportion. Granted, I would've assumed that there were more people I didn't know about, but I never thought it would be a large part of the general population.

In the past few weeks and months, I've been amazed at how many notes we've received from family and friends about the role adoption has played in their lives. Most have been just quick messages of support, but even that's been enough; it astounded me to find out just how many people I actually know who were adopted, have adopted, or have placed children for adoption.

It occurred to me that I didn't know how common adoption was in the US, statistically speaking. Wikipedia to the rescue! According to their page on adoption, the ratio of adoptions to live births in the US is approximately 3 to 100. So around 3 of every 100 people are adopted... wow! When you factor in not just adoptees but also their adoptive and birth families, that's a lot of people who are connected to adoption. It's certainly a lot more than I would have ever guessed.

I know that we won't be making a "traditional" family, and I'm sure that there will be many unique challenges. But it's heartening to know that our future child will be in some very good company as an adoptee!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

They Weren't Kidding...

...when they said there'd be a lot of paperwork!

And these are only the subset of forms that could be e-mailed and that we can start on before doing the pre-adoption seminar. More to come!

At least I have something to keep me busy now :)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Picking Our Agency, Part 4: The Decision

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

As soon as we left the meeting with OA&FS, both Brian and I knew that it was time to make a decision. We had been telling ourselves to wait to decide on anything until we'd gone to info sessions for both agencies; now that we'd been to both, the time had come.

Open Adopt's session ended at 8:30pm, so it was still relatively early. I knew that if we went home it would be easy to be distracted by any number of things and procrastinate the decision, so I suggested we go to the nearby Caffe Ladro instead. Once there, I decreed that we had to make a decision between the two agencies before leaving.

In true Brian/Andy fashion, neither one of us wanted to state our preference without first knowing what the other wanted. (This makes going out to dinner a huge production: "Where do you want to go eat?" is always followed by "I don't care, where do you want to go eat?") After some initial back and forth, though, Brian indicated that he liked Open Adopt better than Amara, mainly because with Open Adopt we would be guaranteed an infant placement. Surprisingly (to me, at least), Brian seemed pretty solid in this decision, despite his initial equivocation.

Open Adopt and Amara are similar agencies in many ways, and so I tried to focus on what made them different. Both agencies facilitate infant adoptions, but Amara only does so after the prospective adoptive families are already in their foster-to-adopt program. Because of that, the majority of Amara's adoption placements end up coming from the foster system, not from their relinquished infant program. The other major difference is financial. The cost for an infant placement with either agency is roughly comparable; for foster placements, however, the fees are significantly less.

So, it's time for a little tangent here. Brian and I very much want to adopt an infant, especially as our first child. We've never been parents before, obviously, and we want to experience parenting in the fullest way that we possibly can. And like any new parents, we want to have a happy and healthy baby. Is that selfish? Probably. But who wouldn't want that for their child?

Children in the foster system are there for a reason: abuse and/or neglect must be significant enough for the state to begin termination of the birth parents' rights. That is not a low bar. Many children in this system have significant issues to work through. Additionally, due to the time it takes for the state to go through all the available options before removing children, foster children are often significantly older than infants or toddlers by the time they are "legally free" (that's agency/legal speak for "available to be adopted").

It's very easy in this process to want to save the world. There are many children languishing in foster care who need permanent homes. By saying that we want to adopt an infant whose birth parents voluntarily decided to place their child for adoption, it feels like we're rejecting those children who are in foster care. And I guess when it comes down to it, we are. There's a weird amount of guilt associated with stating that so baldly. I have to keep reminding myself that our goal here is to create our own family, not to singlehandedly rescue all of Washington state's foster children, and that it's okay for us to have that goal. I have a feeling that this tension is going to be a recurring theme for me.

Anyway, back to our agency decision. As you can probably guess from that sidebar, I was coming down on the side of Open Adopt as well. Going with Open Adopt would ensure that we were placed with an infant, and at the end of the day the financial difference is well worth it to us. Brian got there a little faster than I did, but in the end we separately came to that same conclusion.

So, what next? Now that we had decided to work with Open Adopt, we knew that the first step in their intake process is for us to attend their Pre-Adoption Seminar. Just that evening at their informational session, we learned that they hold the seminar monthly in Portland, but only once every two months in Seattle; and the next seminar in Seattle only had one spot left!

Signing up for the Pre-Adoption Seminar
As soon as we decided to go with Open Adopt, Brian wanted to call right away to claim that single remaining spot. Never mind that it was long after their office was closed - he wasn't going to risk that spot going to any of those other couples we had just met! He called and got their 24-hour answering service (which mainly exists for any birth mothers who are calling in with a crisis), so he left a message asking to register for the Seattle seminar.

(I have to laugh at how anxious Brian got about getting that last spot. The next morning, when they hadn't called him back by 9am, he was already on the phone again to make sure they had got our message! They had. Brian's normally the more relaxed and easy-going out of the two of us, so this was fun for me to watch.)

I was nervous going into Caffe Ladro, but once we made the actual decision I got a little giddy. I went up to the counter to get coffee and a croissant, and the conversation went like this:
Barista: So how's your evening going?
Andy: Great, we're adopting a baby!
Barista: Oh! Umm... congratulations?
He was very nice and seemed genuinely happy for us -- just probably didn't expect that news at 9:00pm on a Tuesday from a total stranger!

Anyway, now we're signed up and ready to go with Open Adoption & Family Services! Our next step with them of course is to go to their seminar, which is at the end of February. We've been warned that the home study following the seminar will require tons of paperwork, and I wish we could get started early. Since that's not possible, I'll be filling my time reading whatever I can get my hands on regarding adoption, open adoption, parenting, and the like.