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September 16, 2018

The Roller Coaster Ride of the Adoption Process

Being adoptive parents is fulfilling and rewarding. My wife and I have two adopted sons. We have no biologic children. So being adoptive parents is all we know. Now that both boys are over 18, I thought I share our experiences of what it is like being adoptive parents and the roller coaster ride of the adoption process.

the adoption processBeing an adoptive parent is nothing more —- —- than being a parent. There are some potential issues that adoptive individuals struggle with that adoptive parents need to be sensitive to, but it it still about being a parent in the end. At some point you quit thinking of your kids as adoptive kids and simply think of them as your kids.

Raising our boys I don’t think has been any more or less challenging than what most parents experience. I do think being an adoptive parent has one advantage and two motivators.

I have to believe it is easier to be more objective assessing your kid’s strength and weaknesses as an adoptive parent than it would be if you have biologic children. As an adoptive parent you have no preconceived bias. Adoptive children start off as blank slate, at least they did in our minds.

We didn’t think, “He’s going to be a doctor.” Or, “He is going to be a teacher” based on our genetic background and interests. Nor, have we ever said, “He must get that bad habit from you.”

I mainly looked at it from this perspective. We are here to help this child prepare for life, help them identify their interests, passions, strengths, and weaknesses, and then put them in the best position to become the person they are destined to become.

I tried to really assess our sons’ passions and strengths and observed them with wonderment and without judgement. You have no idea what you are getting with an adoptive child – and I know that is true even with biologic children, but biologic children typically enter the world with some parental expectations.

It has been fun watching our boys grow up, and have them take us to where they are supposed to go. I hope that makes sense. We did not groom them to take over a family business. We did not try to mold them into something we once wanted for ourselves, or encourage them to go down a certain career path or dictate their interests. We made no attempt to live our lives vicariously through theirs. We did try very hard, though, to expose them to many different interests and life experiences as we could.

Neither of our two boys have much interest in sports like I do, though the younger one has baseball and tennis ability. He asked not too long ago, “Dad are you disappointed that David and I don’t care for sports, and that David is a geek and I’m a gear head?”

I responded to him, “I am not disappointed at all. Adopting you was never about us, and what we wanted. It was about you, and what you wanted.”

They have chosen somewhat different career paths than many young adults and I give them credit for thinking somewhat outside of the box.

the adoption processThe older one just returned to the United States after spending a gap year in Denmark through United Planet where  he helped Danish teenagers with their English speaking skills. He loves language, loves culture, loves people, loves to travel, loves to laugh, loves to see others have fun, and is studying hospitality in college.

The younger one loves cars, loves to work with his hands, loves precision, loves anything that goes fast, loves to seek thrills, and is going into the automotive industry and as of this writing has begun to look at RallyCross racing as a career possibility. My wife has concerns about that, but I think it is perfect for him. He is enrolled in a college co-op program with Honda.

Here his is audition video for the Hoonigan Race Team.

What are the two motivators with adoption? One is the birth mother. Two women have given us their child. They have entrusted us with their child and when you keep that in mind you want to do a great job. You don’t want to disappoint the birth mother. I do frequently think of their birth mothers and wonder if they would be pleased with how we raised our/their children.

The second motivator is the expense of adoption motivates you to be the best parent you can.  You do think of your kids a little like an investment – and you want it to be a good investment that needs to be nurtured if it is to payoff. You don’t spend a lot of money on adoption to not have a positive influence on their lives. Plus, like anything else that costs money, you take better care of it and don’t take if for granted like you might if it were free.

When both boys tell us that they know they are better off because we adopted them, you get a unique feeling that you are just not going to get with biologic children.

The Adoption Process

The adoption process can be a roller-coaster. There are definitely up and downs.

We used the same adoption agency in Dallas, Texas where we were living for both of our adoptions. This agency came recommended by three people independent of one another including my wife’s gyn. Unfortunately, they are no longer in business after 25 plus years

Texas happens to be a very pro-adoptive parent state. They have so many children that need to be placed that the state removed some legal obstacles to adoption in Texas. Both our boys were adopted locally from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The agency we used primarly did, and encouraged semi-open adoptions which is what we did. Most of its adoptions involved newborns but it did some older children, too.

I won’t go into the differences in the types of adoptions but here is a link that discusses the main differences between closed, semi-open, and open adoptions.

Our adoptions were semi-open. Semi-open means there is an exchange of information between adoptive parents and birth mother but last names are kept confidential, though in our experience hospital staff tends to be careless keeping names confidential. Many times prospective parents and birth mothers will meet in person before the birth of the child arranged through the adoption agency. .

We were required by the adoption agency to send photos at Christmas and the child’s birthday for the first five years along with a letter updating the birth mom. All of this went to the agency and the agency would only forward it to the birth mom if she requested it. One of our birth moms requested the information all five years. The other stopped requesting it after the first year. Here is a link that goes over the advantages of semi-open adoptions. We are very pleased we went the semi-open route.

The Roller Coaster

We were considered for nine potential adoptions. There were two that went through to completion. Three became failed placements when both birth moms decided to keep the baby after the baby was born. That actually happens with some frequency. We turned down two potential adoptions because of extensive drug use and mental health issues in the birth moms. And, we were rejected twice by birth moms; one did not care for our religion and the other wanted to give her baby to a childless couple. At the time, we already had our first son.

The ninth prospective adoption occurred after we already had our two sons and ended up being a failed placement. Not having that one go to completion was the one that was most disappointing for reasons I will go into later. Interestingly, we had no plans to adopt a third child but were approached by the adoption agency for this particular placement.

Though we knew we could be rejected by a birth mother, we did not think it would actually happened. But, it did and was kind of weird when it happened. My wife and I looked at each other said, “Wow, we were rejected. Who wouldn’t want us?” And, then we chuckled.

So that’s the roller coaster.

The failed placements I call adoptive miscarriages. Adoptive mothers go through much the same grieving that they would if they had a true miscarriage. But, we looked at this way. That baby was not meant for us. And, we really can’t imagine our lives without the two boys we have.

The second failed placement occurred on a beautiful Sunday in early October in north Texas. I was getting the car ready putting in our other son’s car seat as we were about to leave to go to the hospital to take the newborn home. But, the phone rang and my wife came out to the garage and said, “Stop! She decided to keep the baby.”

So instead of taking home a baby we went to the famous Texas State Fair as we figured life marches on. While at the fair we received a call from the agency about another prospective adoption which we ultimately declined once we obtained more information.

That’s how the ups and down work and how quickly they vacillate.

The roller coaster ride continues after the baby is born, too. Birth mom’s can change their minds in the hospital but have to be off pain meds for 48 hours. That happened three times to us – where the birth mom changed her mind.

Then after you take the child home you go through a probationary period that in Texas was six months. During that time there are home visits by a counselor/social worker, we were required to submit regular updates on the health of the child, outcome of doctor visits, developmental milestones achieved, personality traits that were evolving and more. You could potentially have the child taken from you during the probationary period, but that rarely happens we were told.

Then you go to court, say “yes” to a bunch of questions, judge hits his gavel on the desk, and the child is finally legally yours. Kind of anti-climatic.

There is actually a home visit/study (at least required under Texas law) before you even get a child. Part of it includes a safety check of your house and then several questions related to why you want to adopt, what are your expectations for the child, what form of discipline to you expect to use, etc. I was quite impressed with the home visit and the questions we were asked should probably be asked of any couple considering having children.

Our Roller Coaster Ride

Our roller coaster ride went like this.

  • Failed placement
  • Successful placement
  • We were rejected
  • We declined
  • We were rejected
  • Failed placement
  • We declined
  • Successful placement
  • Failed placement

As long as you stay with the adoptive process you are going to get a child. That’s all you need to keep in mind as a prospective adoptive parent. With our agency, if you experienced a failed placement you were considered quickly for any upcoming adoptions.

the adoption process

Adoption Application

Before anything started we filled out a lengthy application  including a detailed financial statement. The application includes questions you might expect like reasons for adopting, whether or not you have any biologic children, your professions, your religion, and then the most important part.  What kind of child are you willing to accept?  How you answer this really sets the tone for how fast you might move up the waiting list.

If you are willing to accept a special needs child or all African-American child you will move up the list quickly. If you only would consider an all white child you may be waiting a year or longer. Most babies being put up for adoption in Texas were of mixed race with half Caucasian-half Hispanic being the most common, but half Caucasian-half Asian fairly common, as well as all Hispanic.

We then assembled a photo album and biographic summary that the agency would provide to birth mothers.

We did not wait long on the list. We never waited more than four months to move up the list with any of the nine potential placements for which were considered. In fact, with the first potential placement we were notified that we were under consideration within two months of completing the adoption application.

Both our sons are half Causcasian – half Hispanic, or so we thought.  It turns out that one is 20% Native American according to Ancestry.com. On occasions I will call him “chief” as he seems to like it. Having that genetic technology I think is helpful for adoptive individuals by providing them with additional information about their origins.

Being Chosen

The adoption process is a two way street when it comes to open and semi-open adoptions. Both birth mothers and prospective adoptive parents have to be comfortable with the other party.

Some birth mothers have a very specific profile they desire of adoptive parents; race criteria, education criteria, religion criteria, and more. Most birth moms want their child to go to an educated couple and they want the child to have the best chance for happiness and success.

Based on the desired parent profile the birth mother wanted and the profiles of prospective adoptive parents the agency would forward the photo albums and biographies of usually three couples from which the birth mother would choose the parents. If you were one of the three couples under consideration you received information on the birth mother including medical history and any known history of the birth fathers (usually none). If there was something you did not like you could declined any further consideration.

In reviewing the medical information we were advised to look at our own family medical histories to serve as a reference point. Some adoptive parents want a squeaky clean medical history and that is just not going to happen. In two cases we declined to go any further due to extensive mental health issues in one birth mother and extensive drug use in another. It was simply a personal choice on our end, in part, because neither of those scenarios would occur if we were to have biologic children of our own based on our own histories and family history.

As much as possible we wanted a scenario that would most resemble that of having our own biologic children.

Once parents are chosen, the agency encouraged birth mothers and the chosen couple to meet in person in the presence of one of its social workers. Some birth mothers had no interest in meeting. In the four cases where we neither were rejected or we declined we met three of the four birth mothers.

Meeting them was actually very informative, helpful, and insightful. After the meeting with the first birth mother with whom we were matched I told my wife, “She is going to keep the baby.” And, she did.

Anything goes in terms of questions either party wants to ask.  I would describe our two birth mothers as being very solid grounded women. One was well educated, and while the other only completed high school she seemed to be street smart savvy. She already had three sons and enjoyed being a mother.

We have found the fact the birth mothers chose us to be helpful as we have been able to use that to our advantage. “Hey, your birth mom picked us to be your parents. If you like your life, you have her to thank.” Or, if we have to discipline them. “It was for times like this that your birth mom picked us to be your parents.” Or, something along those lines.

Birth Moms

You probably have an impression or an image in your head of the typical woman who gives up her child for adoption. I can tell you your impression is probably wrong. Women from every demographic give up their child for adoption. Married women, single women, professional women, jailed women, teenage girls, wealthy women, poor women, white women, black women, Hispanic women, Asian women … you get the point.

I have developed great respect for these birth mothers. And, they really deserve far more credit than society gives them.

It is really convenient to leave work at lunch and get an abortion these days. It is much more challenging to carry the pregnancy to term knowing people are talking behind your back about the quality of a woman you may be. One of our birth moms avoided her own father (Baptist minister) once she started to show and did not see him until after she delivered our son.

Plus, I think in the end, adoption may be harder on the birth moms than the child. I am sure birth moms frequently wonder if they did the right thing, and I’m sure they wonder what has happened to their child. They wonder if the child will understand the reason for placing them and forgive or thank them.

While many adoptive individuals talk openly about being adopted, you don’t hear too many birth moms openly admit to other soccer moms or co-workers at the drinking fountain that they gave a child up for adoption. I think birth moms carry a heavier emotional load that they keep largely to themselves. There is more of a stigma for women who put a child up for an adoption than there is for an individual who is adopted.

I once had a patient who was about 35 years old and was getting ready to meet his birth mom in California for the first time. He was part of a closed adoption where it is extremely hard to get information about birth parents.

I saw him 4-6 weeks later and asked how his visit went. He said, “I had no expectations. All I wanted to do was look her in the eyes and say ‘thank you’ and I could tell it meant everything to her for me to say that to her. For the longest time I’ve wanted to thank her. I have had a wonderful life and I have her to thank for that. Now I can move on.”

It is our hope that our two boys will feel compelled to do the same with their birth moms. We have told them they will not hurt our feelings if they later contact and even develop a relationship with their birth moms, nor would we feel betrayed by them.

Our Birth Mothers

We met both our birth mothers and their stories were nearly identical. Now these are two different women. Both were 23 years old at the time. Both were married. Both had other kids; one had two and the other had three. One worked, one stayed at home. Both were separated from their husbands when they became pregnant outside of their marriages. Both were trying to work things out with their husbands and felt it best to place their child for adoption. Both of them were more than capable enough to raise an additional child if they wanted to.

We also met one of the husbands (not the father of the child) of the birth mothers.

the adoption processThe Delivery

Not only did we meet the birth mothers, we were in the delivery room for the births of both our sons, which I have to say is kind of strange. With the delivery of our first son the obstetrician even asked if I wanted to deliver the baby, which I felt was inappropriate on his end to ask without consulting with the birth mom. Plus, doing so would have made me feel more like a “baby snatcher” than the being in the delivery room already makes you feel. So I declined.

After our first son was born, the nurses cleaned him up, gave him to the birth mom to hold for a few minutes, took the baby from her arms, and gave the baby to us, and wheeled her out of the room as if to say “Your job is done, now get out of here.” You almost feel like you are stealing something.

The second boy’s delivery had a little more excitement. The birth mom was induced but just wasn’t progressing as quickly as anticipated. We had a baby sitter at our house watching the other boy and she needed to leave at a certain time. So I left the hospital so she could leave our house. I wasn’t home more than a minute or two when my wife called saying, “He’s here! And, he is sooo cute.” So I missed that delivery but so did the obstetrician. Our second son was delivered by the nurse with assistance from my wife.

Half and Full Siblings

Two years after the birth of our second son we received a call from the adoption agency informing us our second son’s birth mother was pregnant again by the our son’s birth father and would we want to adopt the baby who would be a full sibling to our second son. We said “yes” and became very excited about having a third child and having two children who be biologically related.

But, guess what happened? This birth mom had four sons (three plus our son). Her fifth child was a girl and she decided to keep her. Again, illustrating the ups and downs of the adoption process. So that was the ninth potential adoption we considered.

One thing that can cause stress for adopted individuals is wondering and even knowing that they half siblings and even full siblings that may not even know that the adopted child even exists. That has to be hard on an adopted person, “They don’t even know I exist.”

Our one son has a full sibling sister who probably doesn’t even know she has a full sibling brother. It is also a concern when they start dating. “Could this person be a half-sibling or full-sibling I’m dating?” Though the odds of that would be remote, the worry it may cause is real.

Identity

Many adopted children have identity issues. “Who am I, really?” They may feel that their life with adopted parents to be a “lie.” Maybe more than general population they are trying to “find themselves.”

My response to individuals trying to “find themselves”, whether they be adopted or not, is this. “You find yourself by becoming the person you want to become. So work on that.”

To a large degree it doesn’t matter who you were or where you began. Determine who you want to become and then work on becoming that person. In the process of becoming who you want to become, the answers to “finding myself” will be better revealed.

Some may disagree with that philosophy, but I think too much time is spent trying to find answers to the past which you cannot change rather than focusing on the now and future. The future unveils the past – it’s one of life’s many paradoxes.

The following comes from Rainer Maria Rilke.  Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, ……..Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

You find yourself by becoming the person you want to become. Live in the moment. Live your way to the answers. Just live!

Why

And, of course, the big question adoptive children ask is “why” especially as in our case where the birth mothers had other children that they kept. “Why did she not want me?”

Our first son’s birth mother actually told us what to say. “I am sure the day will come when he will ask ‘why’ and here is what you say, ‘I did not think I could give you the life you deserve.'”  How can you not respect a birth mother like this?

We have been told adopted girls struggle with these types of issues more than the boys especially when adopted women start having children of their own.

Cost of Adoption

First, when you adopt a child you are buying a child. You can sugarcoat it any way you want, but in the end you are buying a kid.

The adoption costs can vary greatly. In general, the more you pay, the more you get. You are paying for information (medical histories and backgrounds of birth parents), you are paying for prenatal care and counseling of birth mother, you are paying for medical costs, and you are paying for, and as much you may not want to hear, but you are paying for quality of child (desirability). The more you pay, the more likely you will get a child desirable to you.

The agency we used provided extensive counseling to birth mothers. The agency’s social workers were superb and tireless in their efforts to make the birth mothers comfortable with placing their child for adoption. The agency even had apartments they would put birth moms in for any number of reasons and for whatever length of time needed.

Our adoptions took place in 1998 and 2000. Adoption costs then ran from as low as $1,000 to $26,000 per adoption. The upper end got you everything I mentioned above. The low end might get you a crack baby abandoned on the steps of a church with no information. And, then everything in between those scenarios for the middle cost range.

In addition to the adoption fee, which may or may not include medical costs, there was a state mandated home study for all adoptions and the State of Texas set that fee which was $1,700.

The adoption fee of the agency we used included medical costs which they ear marked at $10,000. The actual medical costs were frequently less if an uncomplicated delivery. The $10,000 was a potential tax deduction if you qualified for one under medical expenses. We liked the idea of having a single adoption fee that included medical expenses as medical expenses can be quite high if there were a complication if you were paying for medical expenses separately. So that’s one thing prospective adoptive parents need to consider.

International adoptions frequently cost less but most countries require adoptive parents to be in the country for 2-4 weeks. We did not consider that for two reasons. Being self employed, if I’m not in the medical office, I’m not being paid. So financially an international adoption in the end would have been more expensive for us when you consider lost income, travel expenses, and adoption fees. Also, we have heard that in some countries/cases you have to “grease the palms” of bureauocratic agents to move the adoption process along.

Secondly, we really liked the idea of getting the baby right out of the “chute” which is not possible with international adoptions. Most babies from overseas are at least nine months old before they get placed, if not two to three years old, and they have not been living in nice environments. We wanted to care for the child ourselves as early as possible – again we wanted to replicate a scenario of having our own biologic children.

Consider Adoption

There are so many children of all ages in need of adoptive parents. If you already have your 2.2 children of your own and you think you might want a third child I encourage you to consider adoption. The nice thing about that is you can tailor the makeup of your family –  and finally get that daughter or son you always wanted.

And, for those couples unable to have children know this. If you go through the adoption process you will eventually get the child meant for you. Just hang in there. You will be glad you did.

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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