open adoption


January brought a visit from Aria! We went to the children’s museum, the Seattle aquarium, visited our wonderful counselor from the adoption agency, and hosted both sets of grandparents for meals. Other than that, it was just “play play play snacks snacks play play…” (as Seth likes to say when you ask how he spends his days). It was such a wonderful visit.

playing Santa
playing Santa

(We’ve been playing Santa for about a month straight. This version of it was to hide gifts – crayons & such – inside play dough and then cut it out with scissors to open the present.)

Wrecking ball
playing Wrecking Ball

Aquarium
at the aquarium

On the pier
two amazing people

Hey, remember back in January, when we were writing up a multi-part blog extravaganza about Christmas and Seth’s birthday? And do you remember how we just kinda stopped in the middle of telling that story? Even though the MOST AWESOME part of the story hadn’t been recorded yet?

Yeah, we’re bad bloggers. :(

It’s been too long to try to recreate the day-by-day action, but here’s the important stuff.

  • Aria and Ethan came up to visit! They stayed at our house for about a week. It was awesome having them up here, and the highlight of our holiday season.
  • We had a small family birthday party for Seth! We’re still planning on making his half-birthday the day where we really celebrate him with friends and well-wishers, but for his first “true” birthday, we had to do something.
  • Seth’s birthday cake was a harvest cake (zucchini, beets, and carrots) with a goat-cheese frosting. Because we are hippies, you see. It was delicious – even my squash-hating Dad enjoyed it.

Okay, now for the pictures!

Toddler and birthmother playing

Toddler and birthfather playing

Group picture at Pike Place Market near brass pig

Harvest cake with goat cheese frosting

Birthday boy being fed by grandpa

Birthfamily portrait

Todd and I belong to (read: lurk) a Yahoo group comprised of waiting and adoptive families through our adoption agency. Today someone posted a link to an agency that does something called embryo adoption. I was intrigued and checked out the link to the agency (nightlight.org), then another site with general information on embryo adoption (embryoadoption.org).

Long story short, couples who have frozen embryos left over from fertility treatment can choose to place them with an adoptive family (as opposed to keeping them frozen for use later, destroy them, or donate them to stem-cell research), and then the adoptive mom sees if she can carry the embryo(s) through a full pregnancy. Nightlight also says their adoptions are open, in that the genetic family chooses the adoptive family, and then they all choose their level of contact.

Whoa!! I gotta say, I can hardly stop thinking about it–not in a “This is for us!” way, necessarily, but in a “I didn’t know this existed! How does it work? This is both similar to and exactly the opposite of surrogate situations!” kind of way. Did you know about this?

I’ve compiled a collection of the most important posts from the adoption process on one page for easy reading, available on Our Adoption Story. Feel free to point friends or family who may be considering adoption to that link, or give them our email addresses to send questions to.

We are now in possession of Seth’s birth certificate! I almost said “finally,” but it actually came quicker than I was expecting…

I hope I’m getting the following behind-the-scenes stuff correct: When Baby is born, they issue an original birth certificate to the parents. Aria and Ethan were both given copies of Seth’s soon after his birth. Meanwhile, because Seth was adopted, as adoptive parents, we had to wait until the adoption was finalized. Following the finalization, the original BC is sealed (except by court order), and our lawyer filed to get a new birth certificate issued (and the new one becomes part of the public record). We then got a postcard from California a few months later saying, “It’ll be a while; we’re deep in debt.” So I was pretty surprised when a couple months after that, it came in the mail!

And even though I knew this would be the case, I was a little weirded out that there is no mention of Aria and Ethan on his new birth certificate. It simply lists me as the mother, and Todd as the father. In closed adoptions, adoptive- and birth-parents wouldn’t know each other’s names – especially last names, and of course the government processes all amended birth certificates the same. But still, strange that the government would lock a part of Seth’s past in the vault. Fortunately, we know the whole story, and are so happy that Aria and Ethan and their families and friends are part of Seth’s and Todd’s and my present and future as well.

And now we get to visit Canada, too!

Openness rules, yo.
Openness rules, yo.

A quick little shout out to Scott & Bobby: We hope you two are busy doing much more exciting things tonight than reading this here blog…but either way, prayers of peace, love and perfect timing comin’ atcha!

So, about a month ago, I said we were going to have an interview “tomorrow” with our new counselor, and I’ve been leaving you hanging ever since then.  My apologies to those who have been waiting with baited breath.  This post will probably be relatively short (by my standards, at least), and maybe it will help motivate me to write more frequently if it doesn’t take two hours to write.

Betsy had been acting nervous for the week leading up to the interview – visions of being dissuaded from being adoptive parents, or being rejected outright, or being chased from the office by a mob with pitchforks and torches.  This was the first step in the countless evaluations and interviews that we’ll be put through, and Betsy was afraid that we would trip and fall on our faces right out of the gate.

For me, I’m not nearly humble enough to worry about being rejected.  I imagined a scenario in which we’d walk in, introduce ourselves, and our counselor would say something to the effect of  “Oh, you’re Todd and Betsy?  We’ve all heard the legends about you, and we’ve been waiting for this day since the agency was founded.  Let’s dispense with the formalities – we have a stockroom full of babies in the back, and you can just take your pick and bring one home today.”

The day of the meeting, though, I was back down to earth, and quite nervous about the whole thing.  I still felt pretty confident that we would be great parents, and that we were well-spoken enough to convey our awesomeness, but still… it was an interview for the most important job I’ll ever have.  No matter how qualified an applicant we might think we are, there’s always going to be a lot of nervousness.

In the office, we were introduced to our counselor and brought into her office.  Betsy immediately asked what the stakes were – was there any chance of us being rejected at the end of the day?  Our counselor assured us that they almost never rejected someone outright.  They may recommend that the couple spend more time considering the issues and talking with the counselor before moving forward, but rejection was rare; and, if there was a chance of rejection, we would probably already know in the back of our minds that this wasn’t the right decision for the time.

From there, we spent about 2 1/2 hours talking.   We covered topics such as our reactions to the seminar, how we chose open adoption, the other adoption options we had considered, what openness meant to us, our thoughts on the grief inherent in the process, financial concerns, how we had decided to start a family,
how we had announced our plans to our friends and family… in short, we recited the text of this blog to our counselor.  We did cover some new topics, and I tried to rephrase or rethink things I had already written to avoid just parroting what I had already thought, but I have to admit, writing things out in here was the best prep for the interview I could have done and it made it way easier.

Our counselor was extremely nice, and I’m looking forward to working with her over the next few months.  She was quite perceptive, describing facets of my personality to me in ways I had never considered and showing a lot of insight for someone who had known us for only an hour or two.  We left the meeting with some homework to do, and we’ll be meeting back with her as soon as all of that is done.

Okay – I just wrote another 2 paragraphs, and realized I was starting to head down the path of another long story.  As promised to myself at the start of this post, I’ll keep this one short.  I’ll finish up the other story shortly, and try to get it up here in the next few days.

The latest news: After sending in our first round of paperwork last Tuesday, I received a call at work today from someone at the agency. My heart instantly started racing, but all she was calling about was to clarify my home phone number. I somehow put Todd’s first three digits and my last three as my phone number. D’oh! If there were a “Would they be good parents? Well sure, they know their own phone number!” test, I would have flunked it for us. But if they don’t kick us out for that, we will get contacted again within the next week or two to schedule an interview.

In other goings-on, I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality. No, not of the hotel laundry, meals and cleaning variety (although there already is a bit of that around here, and will no doubt triple when we have a family of three +), but rather specifically making our lives and hearts a hospitable place.

I recently finished two books that have been fueling my thoughts. The first is Another Place at the Table by Kathy Harrison. She’s mom to six (three biological and three adopted), and has been a foster parent to more than one hundred children. I’ve long since wanted to be a foster parent, but reading this book scared me straight! Foster parenting is tough work of unsung, even scorned, heroes, and Harrison’s experiences are heartbreaking. How could I think I’m even close to ready to deal with the kind of stuff she did? But then, as I read further, my thoughts flip-flopped back into even more of a steely resolve that foster parenting is something I feel called to *eventually* do. One thing Harrison said has cottoned to my brain; she says, in so many words, that if the only thing she accomplishes is to make a child in her care feel loved and safe while in her home, she has done her job as a foster parent.

This idea was lodged further when I picked up Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen. Part two of his “three movements” is to move from a spirit of hostility to hospitality. How does one do this, Henri? I asked. Well, Betsy, he said (also in so many words), you have to create a space in your life for people to feel loved and safe. One does this by creating an empty, yet inviting, open space for them to come into. By empty, he means for us to empty our minds of judgmental thoughts, of how things ought to be, how people are supposed to be and act. If our minds are full of ideas of all the ways those things ought to be, we close off our openness to accept people as they are.

And here comes the dovetail into adoption: if we are to fully welcome a new child into our family, and indeed, a whole ‘nother family into our family, we need to be open. And empty–in the best possible meaning of the word. We need to learn to practice hospitality, in both the cleaning-cooking sense, and even more in the sense of making the people (very young, and older too) who come into our lives feel safe and secure that we’ll love them, exactly as they are…

So, at this point in the story (mid June), we’d read a handful of books, and gone to one meeting that was informative, but which didn’t feel like the right “fit” for us. We were still in middle of trying to figure out where we stood on the big five questions of adoption, and so far there had been no ray of light beaming down from the sky illuminating any single path. We needed more information.

Betsy did some research online to find a listing of a bunch of local agencies, and checked out the websites of all of the agencies listed on there, looking for ones that caught our eye and (most importantly) had an informational meeting that we could sign up for. As we went through the listings, the sites started to blend together – soft-focus pictures of infants, happy thoughts about bundles of joy, and very vague language about the actual process itself.

One of the sites was very different, though. Instead of warm, dreamy pictures of beautiful people holding their beautiful babies, we saw real people – a listing of the candidates waiting for a child to be placed with them. Instead of optimistic promises of a speedy process, we saw actual statistics (and if you know me, you know how excited I was to see that). And instead of painting a picture of mindless bliss and dreams come true, we saw the site clearly discuss and address the fears and concerns about open adoption.

But, wow, those fears and concerns… I had had some vague misgivings about the concept of open adoption, but I hadn’t yet put in enough time thinking about it to really understand what I was worried about. On the website was a nicely organized, easy-to-read list of exactly what I should (and would) be worrying about. Jealousy, last-minute disruptions, attempts to reclaim the child, split loyalties – all of the nightmare scenarios started to pop up, and the idea of hiding away in a nice, safe closed adoption started sounding more and more appealing. They wouldn’t have to write this stuff on the website if they weren’t legitimate fears, right? I mean, you don’t see a toaster manufacturer trying to defuse fears about the toaster spontaneously combusting and setting the house on fire because such a thing never happens – you only have to fight fears that are legitimate. (Although now I know what’s going to keep me awake all night tonight… maybe I should unplug the toaster before I go to bed. And stick it in a bucket of water.)

It was time to get more information – learn more about the benefits, get more information about the risks, and understand the process a bit better. Betsy and I called in and signed up for a meeting, and attended during the first week of June.

This time around, the nerves weren’t as bad as with our first meeting. We’d been to meetings before, we knew the process – we were seasoned veterans after that first session. Or, at the very least, we weren’t about to run away and hide in the bushes to avoid showing up. This meeting was in downtown Seattle, rather than in Renton like the first one was. This seems like a meaningless distinction, but for some reason, it was somewhat comforting to me – I’ve been a devoted Seattlite for past 9 years, and I felt like a big-city interloper when we drove out to the suburbs to the first meeting. This time, we could ride the bus and walk to the meeting, which is what our lifestyle is geared around, and it felt almost more “authentic” to talk about adding a child to our family when we were being ourselves in transportation choice.

We waited patiently outside the building for the meeting to start, sneaking the occasional glance at the other people sitting around the entrance – were they here for the meeting too? Or are they just here to meet a friend after work? The meeting facilitator came down and let us all into the building, and sure enough, all of the other people waiting outside were coming to the meeting with us. There were 5 couples there that night, and 3 of the 10 people were female. We’ve since found out that this is one of the few agencies in the city that would allow a ratio like that – definitely more of a progressive atmosphere than some of the other agencies we had looked at.

The meeting itself was pretty straight-forward – we spent a little bit of time introducing ourselves, the coordinator talked about the structure of their program specifically, a little bit about the legal requirements of Washington state, about her personal experiences, and talked a lot about the concept of open adoption itself.

So, what is open adoption?

Open adoption, in its simplest form, means that the birthparents and the adoptive parents know who each other are – full names and everything. In this specific program, this means that the birthparents choose the adoptive parents out of a pool based on an introduction letter/scrapbook the adoptive parents put together, and begin forming the relationship early – ideally, while the birthmother is still pregnant (there are some last-minute in-hospital adoptions, but this is less than 25% of them). After the birth, the birthparents remain in contact with the adoptive parents and the child, and becomes like a good family friend or a relative.

Remember in one of my recent posts, how I mentioned that Betsy and I are somewhat shy, and not particularly skilled at things like small talk? And now the plan is to form an intimate relationship with a complete stranger, with only a few months time? Oy.

But as I thought about it more, I kept coming to the same conclusions. It’s indisputable that this is healthier for the birthparents than the old system of “pretend your pregnancy never happened”, and the bulk of the evidence collected so far (this is a relatively new concept, after all) indicates that children are much healthier when they have a chance to interact directly with all of the important people in their life and when they can get honest, straight-from-the-source answers when they have their inevitable questions about “why”. In our marriage, we’ve put in a lot of work at confronting tough questions and discussing them openly rather than trying to hide them away or trying to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, and I’ve tried to advise my friends to use similar tactics of honesty and vulnerability to solve problems instead of putting up emotional shields.

As I contemplated the idea of open adoption, I kept asking myself the same question – would I be able to look my child in the eyes ten years from now, and tell them that I chose to not let their birthmother be a part of their lives because I was feeling shy? Or because I felt there was potential emotional risk? If I wanted the values I intend to raise my kid with to be true, I had to take the first step in being open and caring about others in the adoption process.

Once that fifth question (“open or closed?”) had become clear to me, the rest of the steps were obvious. I felt a level of comfort with OA&FS that I hadn’t felt with any other agency I had read about or visited, and they were definitely well-equipped to fit our needs. Unfortunately, the concept of open adoption precludes an international adoption, but that just made the decision process that much easier. I talked about it after the meeting with Betsy, and we were on the same page – this was the right path, and this was the right agency to work with.

The next step in their adoption path is to attend a two day seminar – they hold them quarterly in Seattle, or monthly in Portland. Unfortunately, the next available seminar in Seattle wouldn’t be until November, and it was June when we were making these decisions. Slightly better, but still not great, Portland had an opening in September – specifically, September 17th and 18th. We signed up for that seminar and will be down there next week.

After that meeting, we started letting our friends and families know about our adoption plans, and we officially launched this blog. And that pretty much brings us up to the current day. A few more books, sneaking peeks at the mountain of paperwork that awaits us after next week’s seminar, and a lot of anticip…