One more thing out of the way! Woohoo!
This past weekend, we spent all of Friday and Saturday at CSS for our adoption prep classes (and naturally, we took Prof. Puddingstone!⇑). The two day series of classes is a requirement for all adoptive parents working with CSS, to help prepare us for everything from what to expect when meeting a birthmother to what it’s like to parent a child through adoption. Elly and the other girls at the agency did a wonderful job of covering every aspect of this journey.
Friday morning, we arrived around 9am for the start of classes. We were one of six couples that were in attendance, along with several “support people” that many couples had brought along. (As a side note, we are probably about 10 years younger than every other couple we’ve met, at least!)
Friday was devoted mostly to adoption issues as faced by the adoptive parents and the adoptees, as well as the “seven core losses” of adoption and how they are felt on all three sides of of the adoption triad. Something that really stuck out to us was a short story Elly shared with us about the loss the adoptive parents often feel when moving on from the dream of having biological children. I love how well it describes exactly what we, along with so many other people, feel about finding ourselves on a different journey than we had planned.
Have you ever wanted to go to Italy? You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans: Rome, Florence, Venice, a drive along the Amalfi coast. You can’t wait to taste real Italian foods and wines. You learn some handy Italian phrases so that maybe you’ll be able to talk to people. It’s all very exciting, and finally, after months of planning and eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant joyfully announces, “Welcome to Holland!”
“Holland?? Holland??” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? My ticket says Rome. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy. I’m supposed to be in Italy, and now you tell me that the pilot took a detour to Holland?” The flight attendant replies that the plane was always meant to land in Holland, and Holland is where you must stay. You cry, your scream, you huff and puff, but finally you realize you are here to stay. You comfort yourself that at least Holland isn’t a horrible, filthy place; It’s just a different place- slower-paced than Italy, maybe less flashy. You begin to notice it’s beauty and charm, the windmills and tulips, the Rembrandts and Van Goghs.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned, but somehow I got on the wrong plane.”
And the pain of that will never, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. But if you spend your life mourning the trip to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
I’ll probably never stop wondering what it would have been like to see Italy, but I know that we will have just as many great adventures here in Holland. So far, so good!
There were also a few guest speakers that joined us and shared their stories.
The first was a middle aged couple who are just about to finalize the adoption of their baby girl. Their story was unique (as we are quickly finding them all to be!) because their little girl was a “safe delivery.” A safe delivery is a law in Michigan that allows a birth mother to leave her baby at any police station, fire department or hospital if she does not feel she can care for the child. She is not required to leave any identifying information, medical history or explanation. All she needs to do is sign to terminate her rights and walk away, leaving the baby safely in the care of the state. As I understand it, this law was put in place to give women who could not parent the option of leaving their baby in a safe place rather than in a place like a dumpster or an alley.
Anyway, this particular little girl was left in the care of the hospital, who proceed to call CSS so they could find parents for her. When there is a safe delivery, typically that baby is matched with the longest waiting family on CSS’s “waiting family” list who has agreed to accept a safe delivery. Basically what happens is Elly gets in contact with them ASAP, says there was a baby born yesterday (or whenever), do you want her (or him) and you say yes or no. It’s that fast. You go from zero to 100 in an instant. The main issue with this type of match is that you know virtually nothing about the baby. You don’t know (and likely never will know) who his/her birth parents are, you don’t know if there was any substance abuse during the pregnancy, you don’t know any family medical history, you don’t know anything other than what the hospital can tell from the baby himself. This, of course, can simplify the process by eliminating the birth family from the equation, but you lose the chance at having an open adoption, which has so many benefits for the child in the long run…
The next family that joined us was an older couple who adopted their son in an open adoption 20 years ago, back when closed adoptions were the norm. Their son spoke with us an answered question about what it was like growing up in an open adoption and the relationships he developed with his birth family. We keep hearing about all the benefits of open adoption, but it was so great to hear it from a young man who had grown up in that situation. He was clear that he never felt any confusion about who his “real” parents were and was grateful for the opportunity to know his birth family. He talked about having always known that he “grew in Jessica’s tummy” but was never confused about her role in his life. She gave him life and his mother and father gave him a home and a family.
The third guest speakers were a family we had already met when we were still trying to choose our agency. They have a little boy through open adoption and have a great relationship with their son’s birth mother. They were matched with her before she gave birth and were able to develop a relationship with her in that time. After their son was born, she moved to another state but they still keep in touch with her and are planning to visit her soon. They are such a wonderful family and a great example of why open adoption is the way to go.
Other than the guest speakers, we went over a lot of information and learned a lot of new things. We met the pregnancy counselors and they talked about what they experience working with the birth mothers. Elly shared more stories of families she’s worked with and talked more about the process in general.
One very interesting part was the review of the legal process, which we though we had all figured out… Turns out a lot is changing this year when a new law goes into effect in mid-October!
Currently, this is how it works:
When the baby is born, the birth mother signs a temporary transfer of custody. The agency then has 30 days to file for termination of parental rights (they always do it within the first week, because Elly is Superwoman). The adoptive parents take the baby home and wait for the court to set a date for the hearing. That can take anywhere from 3-6 weeks, depending on how fast the court looks at the case. During that time, she can changer her mind at any point and the adoptive parents must return the baby within 24 hours. The birth mother must then attend the hearing and sign the consent to terminate her rights in front of the judge. After that, she no longer has any legal rights as the parent of that child. She does have a 21 day appeal period, during which she can file for an appeal but in order for her rights to be restored, she would have to have some proof that she was tricked or bribed or there was fraud of some sort. Basically, that never really happens. After the termination of birth mother rights, the adoptive family then goes into a 6 month supervision period. During that time, they must have at least two home visits and at 6 months, the adoption is finalized. At that time, the baby’s birth certificate is changed and the adoptive parents are named as the sole parents of that child, just as if he/she had been born to them.
The new process is slightly different.
When the new law takes effect, the birth mother is no longer required to sign the consent to terminate rights in front of a judge. This means that it is not necessary to wait for a hearing date. After the birth, she only needs to wait 72 hours before signing the consent, at which point her rights will be terminated and the supervisory period for the adoptive family will begin. The new law also shortens the supervisory period from 6 months to 3. Basically, the process is being condensed, going from taking 7 or 8 months to only taking about 3 from birth to finalization. That is good news for us, but maybe not so good for the birth mother, who may feel a little more rushed through the process. Hopefully it will all go smoothly. The good news for us it that we can be done with the legal process quickly and can focus on our new baby!