Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Real soon!"

In one of my favorite movies of all time, the cult classic, "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension," the leader of the evil Red Lectroids exhorts his minions as they attempt to escape Earth:
Lord John Whorfin: Where are we going?
Red Lectroid Minions: Planet 10!
Lord John Whorfin: When?
Red Lectroid Minions: Real soon!
I feel like we're living that right now as Jennifer and I finished speaking with B, a friend of a friend, this afternoon, except that our version goes more along the lines of:
What the hell are we doing?
Adopting a kid!
Real soon!
B and her husband used the domestic placement agency that's been on the top of our list, the Adoption Network Law Center, and with only a few minor issues, had an extremely positive experience. Most notable was how fast it all went. Two months after completing the paperwork, they were offered a placement and accepted and one month later had their newborn daughter in their arms. This is a tremendous difference from the lengthy waits from other agencies or on the international side of things. After our conversation with B, Jenn walked into the living room and blurted out, "Holy crap! We could have a kid really soon!"

Yep, that's a fair assessment. At this rate, if we complete all of our paperwork, get the home study completed, and rob a few banks for the funds (ha ha, just kidding...gulp), it's not at all unreasonable to think that we could at least have a placement by Christmastime and welcome Plus One to the family in early 2010.

So say it with me...
What the hell are we doing?
Adopting a kid!
Real soon!


We may be a bit closer to identifying the next piece of the puzzle. In one of those "small world" moments, we learned that close acquaintances of Jennifer's best friend G adopted two children through the same domestic agency that is currently the leader on our list. Conveniently, Jenn met them at G's wedding and after a quick flurry of e-mails, they've graciously (and apparently enthusiastically) agreed to talk to us this weekend about their experience.

I'm a firm believer in using consumer review sites like Epinions as a resource when it comes to making a purchasing decision. While we haven't found anything similar for adoption agencies, we have discovered that the broad network of adoptive families is, by and large, a very open one when it comes to sharing information with people like us who are just at the start. Agency marketing materials are all well and good but having a chance to speak with people who worked with that agency (and aren't necessarily on the agency's "approved customer testimonial list") is absolutely invaluable.

More to come following our conversation later today...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

How to choose?

While we are probably 85-90% certain that we'll choose to pursue a domestic adoption, it's not yet set in stone. Following her post on domestic vs. international adoptions, Jennifer received some wonderful comments on her blog from folks around the country with words of encouragement and wisdom, including some speaking very highly of international adoptions.

Personally, I'm finding that making that choice is tremendously difficult as I swing back and forth with each new piece of information to plunk itself on our kitchen table. Truthfully, there's a 6-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other feel to it.

We find the international adoption route appealing because of the sense that once the adoption is complete, it's over and done with, leaving little if any chance that someone from our Plus One's birth family would appear in the future. Friends and family members have successfully completed international adoptions and have no regrets. On the other hand, international adoptions leave us with little in the way of health or family information for our Plus One, a fact that I admit does frighten me a bit. Even with the aid of adoption doctors specializing in this area, it strikes me as a nerve-wracking prospect to agree to bring a child into our family on the basis of two sketchy pages of health information, a photo or two, and, if you're lucky, a brief video.

Domestic adoptions seem to offer the opposite -- more health and family background so you have a better idea of what to expect but also some level of contact with the birth mother and possibly the birth father based on how open the adoption is. In our conversation with one adoption center, they described the 50-page application a birth mother needs to fill out to be accepted into their program. That seems pretty overwhelming -- I'd have trouble coming up with 50 pages of health information on me! But that means, from the perspective of prospective adoptive parents, that we'd have much more information to go on, not only when making the choice about accepting a placement but also about the future health and well-being of our Plus One. Our friends K and D, who adopted two wonderful girls domestically, speak very highly of the process and of the fact that they met both of the birth mothers, a sentiment shared by other bloggers and writers.

However, I know that the flip side -- the re-emergence of a birth parent in the future -- can be a tremendously disruptive experience for the child (or young adult) and the adoptive parents. Do I want to risk putting my child through that? Do I want to risk putting Jennifer and me through that? At the same time, I believe that our pasts are so much a part of who we become. Yes, our family history will belong to our child and I hope she revels in it but with an international adoption, we wouldn't be able to share the story of her birth parents should she want to know at some point. An old friend of Jennifer's was adopted from South Korea and spent frustrating and ultimately fruitless years in her 20s trying to find her connections in her birth country.

It's a daunting prospect, like choosing our child's name. It's fraught with challenges and benefits that will profoundly affect the life and future of our family. How does one choose?

Putting some skin in the game

Tomorrow morning we take our next significant step in the adoption process as we submit our application to our agency of choice for a home study along with a non-refundable check. After two months of discussions, online searches, research, and more, we're putting some skin in the game and officially getting things rolling.

While we'd work with a different agency for placement, provided we go domestically, we're looking forward to working with Alliance for Children to conduct the initial assessment as well as the pre-adoption paperwork. And if we do elect to pursue an international adoption, they're well positioned in the countries of interest.

It feels good to be taking concrete action.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Say it with me now...practice practice practice.

I think that's the overarching mission of our cats right now -- to give us as much practice as possible in the art of parenting and living with interrupted nights' sleep before we ever get around to having Plus One join our family.

19-year old Annabel, also known as the Grey Bullet, routinely starts howling at 4AM every night. It's not that she's hungry. It's not that she's hurt. Basically, she's awake and wants attention. Plus, if she crouches at the head of the stairs, the reverberations down the stairwell are positively operatic. So I roll out of bed, shuffle down the hall, scoop her up, and carry her back to bed where she immediately falls asleep.

And then there's 15-year old Cecilia, who thankfully doesn't do too much besides be grumpy, with the notable exception of last evening when she walked into our family room with a decidedly awkward gait. As I turned to watch her, she promptly put her butt down on the tile, lifted her hind legs, and started scootching across the floor using her front legs, all the while with a look on her face that clearly said "I have lost all dignity and it really sucks." Needless to say, Jennifer and I got to enjoy a quick preview of the "Mom! Dad! Wipe my butt!" syndrome and all with a pissed-off and humiliated cat squirming for escape.

All of this reflects the experiences our friends with children have been oh so eager to share in recent weeks. There's the story about how F coated her father J with milk puke just as their bus was arriving at Logan Airport for a 3-hour flight to the midwest. Last weekend, a new friend proceeded to bring us up to speed on various pee- and poo-related incidents that occurred with her young son both in and out of the car during drives to and from Pennsylvania. I've lost track of the tales of things that end up in your hair, in your lap, in your mouth, on the walls, etc. Of course, the coda to all of these stories is that "It's absolutely worth it." That's what everyone has told us and I believe them. I'm just going to try and keep my mouth shut.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Welcome to the start of the journey

When my wife Jennifer informed me that, after 8 years of marriage and many hours of discussion, that she was ready to expand our family and pursue an adoption, the research began in earnest.

Books -- some purchased by us, others handed off by friends and family who had adopted children -- began to pile up on the kitchen table and nightstands. Websites were Googled and bookmarked. We began to have the first of many conversations with professionals in the field, adoptive parents, and friends who were adopted. Jennifer promptly ID'd multiple blogs written by moms about their experience either with adoptions or just as parents.

I tried to do the same thing but ran into an interesting little problem -- I couldn't find any blogs by prospective adoptive fathers.

Actually, that's not quite true. I found a number of adoption blogs written by guys but virtually all of them were (or are being) written by gay men about their quest to adopt children. I applaud their efforts and wholeheartedly believe that gay and lesbian couples should have every right to adopt but after reading some of these blogs, I was feeling a bit left out. Where were the hetero married guys who wanted to document their quest to adopt a child, grumble about the paperwork and bureaucratic hoops, and celebrate the addition to their family? Of course, that idea might simply fly in the face of the stereotypical hetero male concept, I suppose.

Something needed to be done.

I first wrote about the start of our adoption journey on my other blog, "Walks in the Marsh". However, it was a conversation with a friend, as she inquired how our adoption effort was going, that inspired "150 Steps." When asked about our progress, I started to explain all the things we were doing and still had to do before giving up and saying, "If the adoption process has 150 steps, we're on step 6." Since it's going to take some time to walk those additional steps, I thought I'd keep a record of our progress so our hoped-for "Plus One" will know how hard we worked to bring her into our family.

Here it is.

Eenie meenie miny moe...

This post was originally published on "Walks in the Marsh" on June 14, 2009

How do you figure out which adoption agency is the one you want to work with?

When we were thinking about an international adoption, it seemed pretty straightforward -- we knew a number of people who had successfully adopted children from different countries. Plus, certain agencies specialize in certain countries. Therefore, we just needed to figure out the country we'd be interested in, talk to the people we knew who might have dealt with agencies supporting that country, and then interview a few agencies to decide who we wanted to work with to find a child for our family.

It got a bit more complicated when we shifted our view toward a domestic adoption. We only know one couple who adopted domestically (twice and very successfully) and they spoke very highly of their experience with their agency. However, my call to the agency revealed that we weren't going to be a good fit due to the agency's Board of Directors-mandated mission to place children in Christian households. With a non-practicing Jew and a never-practicing Catholic/Protestant/Unitarian/Episcopalian/who-knows-what making up our loving household, I think we'd have trouble qualifying. But hey, that's cool and no hard feelings. There are plenty of other agencies out there.

And there are. And that's the challenge. Because we simply need a Rhode Island-licensed agency to conduct the home study and help with paper work, we have the option to work with any agency in any state for the actual placement. However, a simple Google search for "domestic adoption agencies" reveals 2,200+ hits. Using one of the general adoption resource sites, we find 399 domestic agencies. How on earth do we choose? Part of me just wants to print out the list and just start throwing darts to see which ones I hit. I've held off on doing this as I'm not very good at darts so I might miss them all, which would bring our adoption journey to a confused halt.

We've started to talk to a few and it's been an eye-opening experience. Jennifer highlighted one such call in a recent "In the present moment mom" blog entry. Eventually we'll figure out which one to work with but while there will hopefully be some level of comfort and confidence in the agency, part of me feels like it will simply be the result of a wild-assed guess. Of course, while WAGs are fine from time to time, it's not exactly my preferred basis for adding a child to our family.

Plus One

This post was originally published on "Walks in the Marsh" on June 6, 2009

Things may be changing in our lives at some point in the future. My wife, Jennifer and I have decided to upgrade to Family Plus One by starting the journey toward adopting a baby. Over the course of our 8-year (and counting) marriage, family has occasionally been a topic of discussion but it always came down to two differing opinions -- I hoped to have one, Jenn leaned more toward the "nope, not gonna happen" side of the spectrum. As a result, it was something of a shock when, as my birthday gift, she told me that she was ready to consider it. Wow, things really do change when you hit 40!

Since that particular barrier fell, she has thrown herself into the process wholeheartedly, debating baby names, coming home with baby user manuals, and launching her own blog to record the journey. It's quite a change and in all honesty, one that I'd given up expecting to ever see.

Now the research into the adoption process is well underway, initial inquiries have been made, interviews have been had with a few agencies, and the smelling salts are always at hand to help rouse me to consciousness when the dollars start getting discussed. At times I feel like Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride" as, under stress from the costs of his daughter's wedding, he stands in the supermarket tearing bags of hot dog buns apart so he can buy just the number he needs. Want to specify a particular gender? Certainly we can do that for you, sir! It will just be another $5,800. Would you care to look at the menu of options one more time? Thank you and come again.

Unlike hot dog buns, of course, setting out to add that long-hoped-for Plus One is not the time to pinch pennies. Instead, it's a time for long, serious discussions about what we hope our family will be, how we will raise our child, and what it means for our future. We look ahead toward our jobs, our goals for the years ahead, our plans for the house, and everything now revolves around someone we don't know yet, like a player to be named later but in diapers, and it's extraordinary.

When I told my father our plans, he replied "It will be most important thing you'll ever do." I expect he's right, which raises all sorts of pressure to get it right. Like any parents, I'm sure there will be plenty of times that we don't but hopefully, the times we do get it right will matter far more in the long run. After all, I want my child to think his parents are pretty cool, just like I do my folks. That seems like a worthwhile goal to shoot for.