Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Five Children We Didn't Take Home

It occurred to me that maybe I should explain the subtitle of this blog, “Inspired by the process, the children and the lessons learned.”  I think it’s mostly self-explanatory, but I wanted to share with you why I used "children" as a plural form, and not just "child", beings we only have one child.  If you read my post about our first adoption that failed, then you might think it’s just referring to these two special children.  But there are more children that have been a part of this process, and that I often think about and wonder how they are doing.

 If you haven’t been through the adoption process (and especially through social services) you may think that the process goes something like this:  You finish your application and then one day, you get a call telling you to come get your baby.  You go get your baby and go home to your new life.  I’m sure that does happen with some adoptions, but through social services, it can be quite different.  You might be surprised to know that we actually turned down five different children before we accepted D.  Often, I think people assume that we are so desperate for a child, that when the call comes in, we jump.  And maybe losing our little Isaac affected that spontaneity a little bit, as he was the first placement call we ever had, and we did jump at the chance to take him home.  But after being burned, the next calls that came in required a lot more thought and reasoning as to what would be right for us.  It is hard to jump in when you know the reality is that you might not get to keep this child.  But to keep a long story a little shorter, I want to tell you about the five sweet children that came before D.  (I have left out their names here for privacy—you never know who might know them!).

 1. Almost a year to the day of losing little Isaac, we got a call about a baby boy who had been removed from his home and was being put into a concurrent planning adoption.  I wanted him so much.  I had really wanted a baby boy to fill the void of losing Isaac.  But, something the social worker said scared us.  His mother had almost lost his older sister to adoption because of her drug use and her unwillingness to comply with what the county was requiring.  And then, at the last possible time, she pulled it together and got her girl back.  And even though that girl was no longer in her mother’s care (her grandmother had guardianship) the county judged each case individually, and she would have the same opportunity with this little boy.  Our social worker said something like “I just want to warn you that we think this adoption will go through, but this mother might be slow out of the gate and then pull it together at the last minute.”  “Slow out of the gate.”  That has stuck with me to this day.  There wasn’t even a question.  John and I said no, knowing we could just not handle another rollercoaster ride like we had before.

 2.  Just a couple of weeks later, we got a call about an 18 month old little girl.  It was the morning of Christmas Eve 2008 when we went in for the telling (the telling is where you meet with the social workers and they tell you everything they know about the child, and then you decide if you want to move forward).  On paper, this looked like a perfect match, and I still can’t tell you why we didn’t take her.  The parents’ rights had been terminated.  It was zero risk.  But, it didn’t feel right.  John and I looked at each other and just both knew it wasn’t the child for us.  It was a shock for me, as I had so desperately wanted a child, and had hoped one would have already come in the year after we lost Isaac.  But, she wasn’t ours.  We knew she belonged in to someone else.

 3.  In March, I was in L.A. working on a project, when right in the middle of it, with the worst timing possible, came the call for a safe surrender baby girl.  She had been dropped off at the hospital and we could pick her up the next day from the hospital.  I wanted her so badly!  I called John and we had several conversations over the course of the next few hours.  We had to make a decision fast, as she was an emergency placement.  Ann gave us until the next morning.  I tried my hardest to talk John into it, but he wouldn’t have it.  In hindsight, I can understand and sympathize, but I was so upset at the time.  And I was a few hours away, so we couldn’t discuss it face to face (which might have been a blessing!).  He just felt it was too risky.  In California, safe surrender moms get a bracelet with their baby’s information on it, and they have a window of time to come back and change their minds.  And even if the paperwork gets filed to terminate the rights, I’ve been told that until it’s all final, that they have a good chance of being able to get that baby back.  And with an unknown father, who might become aware of his baby being born in the near future, there were just too many risks for John.  I made him call Ann and tell her we weren’t taking her.  I was too heartbroken to make the call.  We worked through it, but it was one of the bigger arguments we’d had in a while.

 4. & 5.  The last two kids were a sibling group we were offered the same month D was born, unbeknownst to us.  It was May, and we got the call about a 1 ½ year old little girl and her 2 ½ year old brother.  I was really excited at the opportunity for two!  I mean, let’s just get on with building our family already!  Oddly enough, even with the risks, John and I were both immediately on board and excited.  They had been in the system for a year after being removed from their home because of domestic issues, and their accessibility to drugs.  The father was in prison, and I don’t remember what was going on with the mother.  We did the telling and saw their sweet little pictures.  We were given the weekend to decide, and one of the things you are required to do before deciding to move forward is talk to the child’s (or childrens’) foster mom so you are fully aware of their current state and any difficulties they may be having.  Well, to condense the story, the foster mom told us she didn’t think the children’s grandparents were aware they would be going up for adoption and that there might be a problem there.  So, we addressed this issue with the social worker, who in turn did some research and found out that there was some planning in place by family members to place these kids with a friend, should they ever be placed for adoption.  It was a big mess, so we pulled out until it was all sorted out.  They told us that if they came back up for adoption after everything was sorted out, that we would be the first couple they called, but for now, we were back on the list again.  We were pretty sad about it.  I was really excited to welcome two kids home, even though I knew it would be a challenge, to say the least.  But it wasn’t meant to be.

About six weeks later, at the beginning of July, we got THE call—the one that would ultimately give us our sweet little boy.  Seven children later (including our little Isaac) we finally got to keep one—the one meant for us.  I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and even though we didn’t take these five kids, I know even having the chance to think about them and their circumstances blessed our lives in some way.  I still think about all six of those sweet, innocent children, all caught in some kind of craziness that never was their fault.  I wonder what their lives are like today, and wish the best for them.  I hope we don’t have to wait through six more children before we get the next one, but if we do, I know we’ll learn great lessons from them, too.

****ADDENDUM***  This addition to this post was inspired by Kristina's comment below.  One of the things that comes with being open about adopting is the regular "offers" to take a baby.  Sometimes it's a birthmother's well-meaning friend or family member, or someone that just hears about a situation, but I'm not sure I can even remember how many times someone contacted us about taking a baby and it fell through every time.  I know it's a difficult decision for birthmothers, but it is also difficult being on the other end thinking you are going to get a baby, and then suddenly the rug is ripped out from under you at the last minute.  I learned quickly to be cautiously optimistic.  I always expressed interest, but knowing how many of these never come to fruition, I learned to not even get excited.  I would just say, "let me know when the baby arrives and they are signing the papers."  We had a sister of a coworker, friends of friends, a phone call with a birthmother the day she gave birth swearing we were the ones and less than 24 hours later a family member had taken her and we never heard from anyone again.  We had one that wanted us to come to the doctor's visits and be a part of everything, but we had just lost our first baby and I had reason to suspect she wasn't all that sure about this decision, so a few months after saying we would wait until later in the process, we never heard anything else again (I'm pretty sure she kept that baby).  We had friends with more distant connections to a birthmother....oh, if I had a dollar for every time someone was absolutely sure we were getting that baby....well, I'd have a little extra spending cash.  So, I suppose it's not just the baby we lost and the five we didn't get to take home for different reasons--there are more babies out there who taught us lessons and were a part of this process.  At least a dozen, and if I stopped and really thought about it, probably more.  Patience is a virtue, right?  I still try to be optimistic, but sometimes it's hard to not get annoyed when someone is so sure that a baby is coming to us and just can't understand why we aren't thrilled.  They will continue to insist it will happen and want us to get excited.  Believe me, when it happens, no body will be more excited than I will be, but I can't live on the edge of those emotions 24/7, so I hope you will understand if I temper my excitement until the baby is in my arms and the papers are signed.  And then I can afford to break down and cry with happiness.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Would you design your child if you could?

I would never have thought to pick out his
specific looks and I'm
glad you get what you get.
There has been some controversy in the last several years over medical technology that could allow for “designer babies”—babies whose parents may at some point have the ability to choose all aspects of their physical bodies.  If this ever comes to full fruition, and is available to the masses, I wonder how many people will actually take advantage of it.  On one hand, I can understand a woman who has had four girls and desperately wants to have a son using that technology.  I can understand parents who want to avoid having a child with a physical defect or debilitating disease or a genetic disorder.  I understand the desire to have some control in different aspects of our lives.  But on the other hand, I wonder if we have fully considered the ramifications of a Bruce Almighty-esque power in which we, with our short-sighted mortal eyes, forget to consider the long-term effects, dare I say blessings, of coping with, and learning from experiences we might not have chosen.  I know girls that grew up going to church with a down syndrome girl, and I wonder if they would now, as adults, be as caring and compassionate towards those with disabilities (or anyone for that matter) if they had not grown up with her.
Front of the San Diego County Adoptions
application form.
The last thing we had to do before we got back on the list to adopt was to fill out a form, stating what we would and would not accept in a child.  It is an overwhelming task to sit down and check off boxes and fill in blanks making choices about a child that you would not have to, or get to make if you were birthing a child yourself.  I’ve included the front and back of these forms here.  (I've erased our answers, as I feel our choices are personal.)

Back of the San Diego County Adoptions
application form.
On one hand, you want to be open to all children who need parents.  On the other hand, you have a current life to consider.  What is your lifestyle?  Are you physically active?  Do you like to travel a lot?  Do you have the financial security to aid in dealing with a special needs child?  Even though there is a lot of assistance from the county, it won’t cover all the expenses.  Do you have the needs of other children in the home to consider?  After you sort through your own life, then there is the list of medical/behavioral/developmental issues to face.  You answer yes or no, and then are allowed to make notes in the comment section—“mild” or “functioning well” or some other disclaimer to your yes or no answer.  And then there are the list of substances to which this child might have been exposed.  What substance is acceptable?  And what degree of exposure?  And background issues, like if a birth parent had a mental illness or if there had been abuse of any kind.  And how open are you to continuing contact with the birth parents?  Birth grand-parents? Siblings?  And finally, your social worker makes a little note about you, assessing your needs, desires and any other information that will help them to make a good match.  Whew!  
One thing to note is that the county is required to note every little possibility about that child.  For example, if that newborn experiences one seizure, which could have been brought on by a premature delivery or drug exposure, they are required to make a check in the Epilepsy box in their file, noting that they could possibly be epileptic.  Or if they were drooling more than normal, a possible Cerebral Palsy note might be made.  Any little thing has to be recorded in the interest of full disclosure, which I totally understand.  But you can see how that might cause that child, who might actually be perfectly healthy, to be delayed in being placed because there are too many red flags.  Unfortunately, people do return kids during the adoption process, and sometimes, after it’s over, so full disclosure must be made to try to minimize these occurances.

The interesting dichotomy is this.  After we went over all of this in a class once, and we all pondered on what our choices might be and how a birthparent’s mental health might affect our child down the road, the teacher asked this question.  “If I was to tell you a newborn baby had just been safely surrendered at the hospital, how many of you would take him/her?”  Every hand in the room went up.  And yet, with that child, we knew absolutely nothing about their medical or family or drug exposure history.  At least with a child that comes with a large file of information, we have a large file of information.  With that safe surrender child, we don’t even have a name.  And yet, after picking through all the possibilities and being very particular about each aspect of what we would and wouldn't take, we all jumped at the chance to take a newborn without one shred of information.  Maybe it's not fear of the unknown.  Maybe fear of the known is worse.
A common sight--D getting air!
He's teaching me to be fearless.
(A recent photo of him at Sea World)
When I look at my sweet little boy, with his jet black hair, and beautiful skin, and his strong, stocky little body that never seems to wear out, and his funny sense of humor, and his obsession with all things transportation, I know that I’m looking at the tip of the iceberg.  Ninety percent of his life is not showing yet.  I don’t know if he will die tomorrow.   I don’t know if he will get childhood cancer, or have gross motor delays or sustain brain damage when he is twelve and never speak again, or become paralyzed in a bike accident at eight and never walk again.  I don’t know if he will become addicted to drugs as a teenager, or be diagnosed with bipolar disorder or wind up homeless or wind up in prison.  I’m hoping for the best.  I’m doing all I can to protect him and teach him right from wrong and leave no doubt in his mind that I love him, but there are no guarantees.  But, if any of those things happens, will I regret it?  Or will I send him back?  Would you ask that of a biological mother?  Of course not.  I say if you are faced with those choices, make the best, most educated ones you can, and then never look back.  Never, ever look back.

(As always, I love feedback/thoughts!  If you want to read more, check out the list to the right of the most popular posts, including ethnicity in adoption and things not to say to someone who is in the process of adopting.)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

It ain't over til it's over: The harsh reality of waiting to finalize

I once made a comment about how I might not have to go through nine months of pregnancy and the delivery and all that, but that I had my own frustrations with the adoption process.  A sympathetic friend of mine said something like, “yes, but at least when you birth a baby you know it’s yours.”  And let me just say, that is one of the wonderful benefits of physically birthing a child.  The image in this post is a document we had to sign the day we took D home (Sorry it’s a bad copy—I’ve transcribed it at the bottom of this post if you can’t read it—D’s birth name is blotted out for privacy purposes).  We sat across the table from our wonderful social worker, Ann, filled with excitement at the prospect of picking up our little baby from the transition center that day.  I have to say, signing this document put a slight damper on the event!  First, let me explain a little about D’s placement.  He was what is called “concurrent planning”.  That means that when a child is removed from his parent(s), and there is significant reason to believe he won’t be able to be reunified, then he is placed via concurrent planning into an adoptive home, bypassing traditional foster care.  Now, in California, a child has to be in your home for a minimum of six months before finalization can occur, no matter what the situation, so everyone who adopts is also licensed for foster care, because technically you are foster parents during that time.  However, there is a difference between people who go into it as foster parents, and those of us who are strictly in it to adopt.  I don’t take foster kids right now.  The only placement I will get is one we intend to adopt.  But, as a concurrent planning placement, it is a little riskier because you go into it knowing the parents haven’t relinquished rights, but because of past experiences (either they have lost other children to adoption because they wouldn’t complete the requirements to reunify, or they have a bad drug problem, or have not shown signs of complying, etc.).  I was told more than 80% of concurrent planning adoptions are adopted.  It is a little riskier, but it is also about the best chance of winding up with an infant.  My point is that we knew the risk, but we also went into this absolutely as an adoption—he was ours in my mind the moment I got the phone call.  The county saw us as his prospective adoptive parents.  However, when we had to sit down at the table and sign this document, my heart started pounding and a little of that fear I felt in losing our first placement, Isaac, began to inch up my throat.  John and I were required to read this out loud to Ann, like a couple of school children being disciplined for some crime we’d committed.  I know that it is just the state policy, but that’s how it felt.  If you want a little exercise in how it feels to not know what’s going to happen, read this document out loud and put your name and your child’s name(s) in the spaces and think about what that would mean—to know there is a chance (a one in five chance) you would have to give them back.  After we finished, we just sat there for a minute in the quiet, reminded that this process was far from over.  It would be 14 months before we could breathe a sigh of relief.  Raising kids is hard enough, no matter how much you want it.  Sometimes it’s hard to set aside the anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen, and focus 100% on bonding with your child.  But when you pick that baby up and take him home, it becomes impossible to not throw caution to the wind and just go for it.  
(Click here to read about our previous failed adoption)

Concurrent Planning Agreement

I/We Martin John Scharpf and Susan Scharpf understand that (D—not his birth name) a dependent child of the Juvenile Court, has not been freed for adoption and is being placed in my/our home as a foster child.

At this time, I understand that I am a foster parent first and foremost.  I/we will cooperate fully and foremost with the reunification process.  Including facilitating visits with the birth parent(s).  Failure to facilitate reunification may result in removal of the child from my/our home.

If the Juvenile Court orders the child to be returned to the birth parents, I/we will assist in transitioning the child to the birth parent(s).

Based on the available information provided to me/us regarding this child’s health/social history, it is my/our intent to adopt this child if the child is freed for adoption through relinquishment by the birth parent(s) or termination of parental rights through the Juvenile Court,

Concurrent planning has been explained to me by San Diego Health and Human Services Agency and I/we accept the conditions listed above.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A child lives here (finally)

I went in to my little boy's bedroom today to try to wake him up from his extra-long nap, and this was the scene.  Most people would probably think about how messy his room is.  But, I teared up, and went for the camera.  Trains and tracks, a ball, an Elmo, his tricycle that is supposed to be outside, and several other random things were strewn about, and in the middle of the room sat his little bed, with a fast-growing sturdy little boy sprawled across it sideways, one leg hanging off, sawing logs.  I had to snap a picture.  Maybe in someone else’s eyes this is a messy room, but in my eyes, a room cluttered with toys says "a child lives here." 

One wonderful thing about spending seventeen years of your life trying to have a child is that when it finally happens, you find joy in some of the things that others find annoying or repetitive or mundane.  I'm sure if I'd spent that seventeen years cleaning up after kids, I would probably feel the same way.  But I didn't, and I don't.  There was a time when I really wondered if a child would ever live in my home and splash in my bathtub and run through my house with all the gusto of a charging elephant.  And, when our first adoption failed, and our sweet baby boy was returned to his birthfather, whatever glimmer of hope I had left faded even more.  I knew it was in God’s hands, and that I had done everything I could do, and that if it was going to happen, it would happen, and if not, then it wouldn’t.  Sometimes it’s hard knowing you can’t do anything else about it, and sometimes it’s a relief that you’ve done all you can and it’s out of your hands.  Either way, it is a long and difficult lesson in patience.  But it’s oh so worth it.  It’s been two and half years since our little guy rode home with us for the first time.  I still often leave his toys spread across the yard as if documenting the fun we had that day.  In my mind I can see the dotted lines connecting his random path from bike to sandbox to balls to the bushes, over the rocks, up to the deck and back to the bike like an old Family Circle comic, and I smile at the crazy randomness of little kids.  And instead of cleaning everything up and getting back to the grown-up yard it was before, I leave everything untouched, and listen to those toys reassuring me that “yes, a child finally lives here.  You’re long-awaited child lives here.”

 (If you want to read about our failed adoption mentioned here, check out my post "Giving my baby back.  The Worst Day of my Life.")