Kyle and Ashley

Our family journey

Tag: home study

Welcome to Holland!

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.

Day 1:

imageFriday 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.

Welcome to Holland 

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.”

HollandAnd 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…

IMG_1967The 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!

Choosing our agency

Once we decided that we wanted to pursue adoption, our first step was to choose an agency. There are several of them, most at least an hour drive from here, so we just started doing some research online. We looked around on their websites, read all the reviews we could find, and requested information packets from the ones we liked.

 

Home

We started with Bethany Christian Services, attending their informational meeting in March. They were by far the biggest organization that we looked in to, and had the most requirements (which we didn’t necessarily mind,  but it was worth noting). Next we checked out a small agency in Detroit called Morningstar Adoption Center. We liked that they were smaller and locally based, and had some wonderful reviews. The last agency (and the one we ultimately chose) was Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw. After speaking with the staff at CSS, we decided almost right away that they were the best fit for us but wanted to make sure we covered all the bases.

 

Catholic Social Services Washtenaw CountyWe requested references from each of the three agencies and met with a total of 7 or 8 couples who have adopted recently. We heard so many amazing stories and  we were surprised by how different every single situation was.  Although every couple loved their chosen agency (of course; that’s why they were given to us as references!), we loved that all three couples from CSS just raved about Elly, the adoption case worker whom we had already met with and loved, as well. She was very straight-forward and honest about the process, and she could give an example for nearly every question we had.

 

Some of the other things we considered and asked the agencies were:

  • The average waiting time for adoptive parents
  • How many children were placed each year, on average
  • The number of failed placements each year (when a birth mother decided to parent after being matched)
  • The type of counseling and assistance offered to the birth mother and whether pass-through expenses were allowed (money sent directly from the adoptive parents to the birth mother)
  • The total cost (which was surprisingly different at each agency)
  • The agency’s philosophy on the relationship between us and the birth family
  • The details of the home study

 

Some of the major deciding factors:

  • The expense. We know adoption is always expensive, and we are willing to do what it takes, but we didn’t find anything about Bethany that was better than CSS to make it worth paying double (seriously…we’re talking $12,000 vs. $25,000!). After all, paying more for the services doesn’t mean we get a better baby! Morningstar was pretty similar to CSS on a base level, but there were a lot of extra costs that could come up, and we weren’t comfortable with that. Both Bethany and Morningstar also allow pass-through expenses, which are funds given directly to the birth mother to help support her during her pregnancy. CSS does not normally allow this because it can cause more issues. Most of the assistance the birth mother needs can come from programs such as Medicaid. CSS works to make sure she is taken care of throughout her pregnancy without putting the extra burden and risk on the adoptive parents.
  • The Home Study. The home study process through Bethany is pretty intense; including 30 hours of training, several home visits, multiple interviews, both individual and together and a reference from our pastor along with individual statements of faith. Again, it’s not that we mind any of this; it’s just that the home study is lengthy and invasive no matter what and Bethany’s seemed to be more so than the others. The process at Morningstar felt like the opposite. They didn’t offer any actual training or classes, with the exception of some recommended reading (if requested) and they even give the option of a “rush” home study if you pay the extra fee. Thanks but.. no thanks. We love the idea of being parents sooner rather than later, but we didn’t feel this was something we, or anyone for that matter, should rush through. CSS was right in the middle at a level we feel comfortable with, where we can feel well prepared but not entirely overwhelmed.
  • The drive. Bethany and Morningstar are both about an hour and a half from us, but in opposite directions. The drive to Kalamazoo isn’t terrible, but considering how much we would be required to go back and forth, those miles would add up fast. The drive to Morningstar…was awful. I could happily live out the rest of my life without ever seeing those highway interchanges again. Seriously. So stressful. The plus side there was that we would hardly ever have to actually go to the agency. CSS is located in Ypsilanti, still about an hour drive, but closer than the others, easy to get to and in an area that we are both familiar with.
  • The philosophy. One thing we truly love about CSS is that they are committed to doing what is absolutely best for the child. The general philosophy of the agency is that children should be raised within their birth families. Adoption is an option only when the birth parent feels her family is not a resource. CSS offers pregnancy counseling to all birth mothers and birth fathers, helping them explore all their options so that they are able to make the decision whether or not to parent. Though it doesn’t make her decision any easier, if she does decide to make an adoption plan it prepares her for what to expect when the baby arrives and she is less likely to change her mind when the time comes. The scariest part of the process as the adoptive parents is the chance you take. You can be matched, wait for months and even bring the baby home, but the birth mother has the right to change her mind (for a short period after birth). They say the decision is always made twice, once during counseling and again after the child is born. We will support the decision of the birth mother either way, as I cannot even imagine how difficult it must be for her. At the same time, it would be heartbreaking to have to return a child you thought would be yours. That’s what counseling is for; to help everyone involved to ease the pain of loss.
    As for the other agencies, Bethany seemed to have a good counseling program, though they didn’t go into many details at the informational meeting. Morningstar was the most disappointing on this aspect. It may be that we just didn’t hear much about it, but it didn’t seem like they had much in the way of counseling for the birth family. We felt that their main focus was on the adoptive parents, and that is not what we are looking for. They do offer some counseling to help her make her decision, but they help her to explore all options which include parenting the child, making an adoption plan or aborting the pregnancy. We decided that we are not willing to work with an agency that would counsel a mother to abort her child. We also felt like their philosophy on birth-fathers was too stand-offish. The process may be easier without him involved, but he is 50% of the child’s identity and heritage. It is important for us and mostly, for our child to know who he is.  Morningstar seemed to have the attitude that, if she doesn’t know, all the better. CSS works diligently to identify, locate and involve the birth father. Not only does this give him the opportunity to terminate his rights by choice, removing any possibility of legal action from him after the child is placed, but it gives us information on his family and medical history that we can share with our child.

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Aside from those things, there were several other aspects that went into our choice in agency; Elly even mentioned that we had already done more research than anyone else she’s worked with recently…ha. Apparently most people don’t ask for references… Imagine that! That was our favorite part of the agency search.. We loved, loved, loved meeting with those couples! They had so much insight and advice to offer that was invaluable to someone just beginning the process.

So (in case  you were still wondering) the agency we are working with is Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County!

 

 

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