seminar


I realized the other day that this journal has been long (sometimes very very long) in information about specific events, or emotional issues, or weird people sitting next to me at the fingerprint office, or things of that nature, but we’ve never really taken the time to give people a good idea of what the process looks like.

Here, then, is the high-level overview of the whole process, including how far along the path we already are:

  1. Decide to adopt Done!
  2. Decide on an adoption “path” (domestic/international, open/closed, infant/child, etc) Done!
  3. Find an agency to work with Done!
  4. Our agency’s specific steps
    1. Attend the informational seminar in Portland Done!
    2. Submit paperwork, fingerprints, documents, etc Done!
    3. Meet with counselor for Intake interview Tomorrow!
    4. Homestudy process – in-home interviews with counselor (2-4 months)
    5. More paperwork – biographies, photo collages, letters of recommendation, etc. (2-4 months, simultaneous with step 4)
    6. Preparing our home and lives (2-4 months, simultaneous but nearer the end of with steps 4 & 5)
    7. Jumping in the pool! (Early next year?)
    8. Waiting for the call… biting our fingernails… obsessively checking our voicemails… (could be 3 weeks… could be 3 years.)
    9. The call!
    10. Meeting the birthmother and making sure that this is the right fit (This “usually” happens 3 months before the birth, and can take a few appointments before everyone is comfortable. It could, however, happen in just a couple of hours, if the birthmother first contacts the agency after the birth and the process is accelerated.)
    11. Mediation – establishing agreements, attending any additional counseling, figuring out details. (Shortly after step 10.)
    12. Birth!
    13. Legal stuff that I probably should have been paying more attention to during the seminar, but I dismissed as “I know I’ll forget this, so I’ll study it again when we’re closer to the date” (Few days, most likely)
    14. Baby time!

So! That’s a rough outline of the process. Obviously, the only things set in stone so far are the very first steps (deciding to adopt and the adoption method we’ve chosen), and it could turn out that when we meet our counselor tomorrow, it just feels like a bad fit, either from their perspective or from ours, and we’ll have to start again at step 3 again. (I actually had a bad dream the other night in which Betsy and I were at a restaurant, and our waitress recognized us and let us know that the whole adoption community was abuzz about how angry our counselor was after finding “that little website of yours”.) But based on the information I’ve gotten from them so far, I’m feeling pretty comfortable that we’ll be able to work together pretty well.

So, we’re on to the next step tomorrow – the intake interview with our new counselor, who will be our guide the rest of the way. Wish us luck!

Before we all left for the day on Monday, one of the Portland couples suggested that we meet for breakfast the next morning. So at 8am, we made our way to the Grand Central Bakery near the mall.

We hadn’t had much of a chance to talk with any of the other participants on Monday, so this was really our first chance to “meet” them. The group ended up being somewhat small – the Portland couple, the two guys from Seattle, the single woman and the two of us – but this was just the right size, as we all got a chance to talk to each other. The conversation was gloriously mundane – a few people brought up their reactions to the seminar yesterday, and we talked about that briefly, but for the most part, we just talked about our hometowns, hobbies, favorite places to vacation, etc. After a half-day of heavy duty adoption talk yesterday, and another full day looming ahead of us, it was nice to talk about nothing.

The morning’s seminar… well, let’s put it this way. When I sat down to write this post, I had to pull out our literature and find a copy of the schedule to remind me of what we talked about. Compared to the meeting of the birthmothers, or the grief worksheets, or the video presentation, or anything like that from Monday, the Tuesday morning session was very… ordinary. How the application process works. What their philosophy is. How the choosing process works. What to expect as far as paperwork, and fees, and legal guidelines, etc, etc. All of this information is amazingly valuable, to be sure, but Betsy and I had just finished reading several books on the topic, and were pretty well-read on the literature of OA&FS itself, and it all seemed old hat to me. I’m a seasoned adoption pro at this point – I’ve read books! More than one, in fact! Stop wasting my time, and just hand me a kid – I’m ready to go.

However, there was something that occurred that morning that I found to be very reassuring – I got to see the panic in the other couples’ eyes when we started talking about fees. At some point in the future, I’ll write a longer post about the cost of adoption (in appropriately vague terms), but long story short, that’s the number one issue causing me to freak out right now. Going through emotional rollercoasters? I’m a pretty even-keeled guy, and I’ll give a shot. Raising kids? There’s tons to learn, but I’m looking forward to that, too. Filling out reams of paperwork? Hey, we just bought a house in the spring – my signature hand is well exercised. But emptying our life savings, and THEN starting to pay for child-raising expenses? Gulp.

And worst of all, the books that we’ve been reading really seem to gloss over this point. They talk all day long about the emotional costs and the time investments, but there’s a stereotype that the birthmother is placing her child with you because you can provide every material want or desire the child could ever have. And, unless our child has very modest material wants and desires, that ain’t gonna be the case in our house.

Getting a chance to see other people start to worry about this issue, and see the high level of intensity with which people tried to drill into exactly what fees are applicable when, what risks are involved and what programs are available to lessen these costs, helped reassure me that we’re in a very similar place with a lot of these other couples. Our youth might have us a little behind the others, but it’s going to be tough for us all.

At lunch, no one took the initiative to organize a group outing, so Betsy and I set off on our own. About 3-4 blocks from the center, we ran into the two guys from Seattle. They had heard of a good Mexican place, and wanted to check it out, and invited us along. We piled into their car, programmed the address into their navigation system, and started driving. The restaurant ended up being a lot further away than expected – about 10 minutes each way on a 90 minute lunch break. But the distance ended up not being too bad, the food was worth the trip, and the company was good to have. The guys ended up being a lot of fun to hang out with – we had noticed similar things during the seminar and got to compare notes about some of those, we got to talk about some similar interests, and one of them works today in the school district I attended 20 years ago. Best of all, they had a similarly irreverent outlook on the whole process, telling jokes about the process that probably would have earned them some sour looks among the more serious members of the crowd. (Pointing at the pregnant belly of a close female friend and asking “do you want that? If not, we’ll take it.” is the kind of thing that might not be appreciated by certain personalities.)

Back at the seminar after lunch, we talked a little bit more about the intake process, and passed around other people’s copies of the “family profile” that we and our adoption counselor would be making together. Truth be told, it’s a pretty impressive file – Dear Birthparent letters (think of a cover letter for the most important job ever – a quick one-page letter with photos) , photo collages, individual auto-biographies from each person, a 10-page report on everything from the couple’s relationship and emotional issues to their decorative style – truth be told, I’m not entirely sure that I’m interesting enough to warrant a document of such depth. I’m just glad that the 10-page report is written up by the adoption counselor, because I’d be grasping at straws to fill content near the end. (Okay, okay, so I said “truth be told” in the previous sentence, so I suppose I have to be honest here. OF COURSE I think I’m interesting enough to warrant a 10-page report – heck, they could write 100 pages just on how humble and modest I am and it’d be the most fascinating book ever. But there’s still something intimidating about it, nonetheless.)

We got some very basic graphic design/marketing advice on how to write up the one-page Dear Birthparent letter to “put your best foot forward” and make the prospective birthmother want to read more about your profile. I immediately started thinking about how I’d put it together – wouldn’t it be awesome to abandon the traditional letter format, and turn it into a comic book instead? Or what if we Photoshopped ourselves into various unrealistic situations (on the moon, winning the olympics, etc) to show how hilarious we are? I think it’s probably a very good thing that Betsy is going to be working on this with me, because if I were left up to my own devices, I’d probably stay up all night, drinking pot after pot of coffee and ultimately turning in a DVD with an animated version of me jumping up and down saying “pick me! pick me!” in a robot voice. (Hmmm… that definitely would get people’s attention, though – wonder what animation software I can find…)

One of the cofounders of OA&FS is an attorney specializing in adoptions, and he stopped by near the end of the afternoon to answer any questions we had. I’m glad that other people had questions, and intelligent ones at that, because at this point in the process, my brain was fried. When I was in college, I learned to recognize when my brain had reached the information saturation point, and when it was useless to keep studying. I had passed that point several hours ago, so while the attorney was extremely nice and intelligent and had great stuff to say, none of it really sunk in. So many of the questions had to deal with fringe situations and unlikely cases, and I figured that I’ll learn that stuff when and if I need to, and I’ll follow the normal process until then.

One final video presentation finished off the seminar, a film of a panel of adopted children (now in their teens) talking about their experience. Good information, but again, nothing earth-shatteringly new or different from the books I had read about similar topics. I was mostly worrying about the traffic out of town at that point, as we were going to be hitting the road at rush hour.

After the video ended, we all said our goodbyes, and exchanged some contact information. No one wanted to stick around too much longer, though, and we all hit the road. Fortunately, thanks to Portland’s carpool lanes, the traffic was a piece of cake, and our car made it back home once again, keeping on rolling along the highways despite its old age.

At the time I write this, it’s been almost exactly a week since we returned from the seminar. We have a packet of forms to fill out, but we’ve been making some steady work on those over the past week. We’ve got a few medical history forms that Betsy and I are going to need to solicit some help from our parents on, and I need to research specifics on my company’s insurance plan, but we’re hoping to have that all done by the end of the weekend. We’ll keep you posted, but there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be submitting our initial application by this time next week.

We arrived at the seminar about 15 minutes before it started to find an empty room. We knew that if we were the first people in the room, we’d be in charge of making small talk with the next people to come in, and the people after that… instead, we turned around and ducked back out before anyone else could see. The seminar was being held in an office building connected by a skybridge to the Lloyd Center shopping mall, and we spent the next 10 minutes sitting in chairs on the skybridge, watching every couple that walked past, trying to guess who would be in the room with us and who was just shopping.

We made our way back into the room a few minutes before the seminar started, and looked around the room. There were a total of 14 people in the room, including us – 4 other husband/wife pairs, a pair of guys, a single woman and the seminar leader. As expected, we appeared to be the youngest couple, but the age range wasn’t as dramatic as I feared – 3 of the couples looked roughly the age of my sister and brother-in-law, and the others not significantly older than that. As the seminar started, everyone went around the room and introduced themselves, and the room ended up being a mix of teachers and accountants, carpenters and lawyers, tattooed and clean-cut, Portland residents (4) and Western Washington residents (9), bright red tennis shoes and College Inn sweatshirts, reserved, intense, gregarious, shy… a wide range of personalities in the group.

After the first opening remarks, the seminar immediately started going into “exploring the impact of infertility” and unpacking the related grief. It was interesting to hear how the presenter took great pains to define infertility as the general inability to have children for whatever reason – whether they be medical concerns, the lack of a partner with which to parent, or simply due to the fact that neither you nor your partner has ovaries. We were given a grief worksheet that to fill out with information about our specific path to the seminar that day, how we felt about it, signs of unprocessed grief, etc, and we spent some time working through the worksheets, and then… well, then we just put the worksheets away and moved on to the next step. The massively intense group therapy session of sobbing and rending of garments I had been expecting simply didn’t materialize. To be honest, I felt a little cheated. I had been anticipating the deeply awkward experience of watching a virtual stranger’s soul searching, and it never happened! We didn’t even go over the grief worksheet with our partners, and I was actually quite interested to discuss mine with Betsy’s. (We’ll probably end up talking about it in private – we would have already, but we’ve both been a bit worn out since returning).

So, one of my great fears for the seminar was already over – we had tabulated our grief, given it a score, and apparently that was all we needed to do. Grief conquered! Go us!

After the break, though, my second big fear was coming up – meeting two birthmothers who had placed their child for adoption. I braced myself, and tried to put on my most non-judgmental, non-catty thinking cap before they came in. I told myself that I wouldn’t allow myself to notice their irresponsible way of talking, or the promiscuous way they sat in a chair, or the cheap and tawdry way they said hello to us. I wouldn’t think any thoughts like that about them.

And then they walked in, and we met two of the most charming young women I’ve ever met. And everything clicked for me – an unplanned pregnancy isn’t the result of irresponsibility, or promiscuity, or any of the stereotypes that have accompanied it for years. There will be some couples who exercised some pretty poor decision making at the time, certainly, but there will also be some couples who took the right steps and just got caught by the statistics. Teen mothers, sure, but also married couples who just can’t handle another child at the time. I’ve had a number of friends who have experienced an unexpected pregnancy, and they are remarkable people who I have a deep respect for – they were simply caught by surprise by the situation.

I had been thinking about this all wrong. The unifying characteristic of birthmothers isn’t any of the negative stereotypes – instead, the one thing that ties birthmothers together is that they have all made one of the most difficult, most mature, most loving decisions a human being could ever be asked to make – to sacrifice their own happiness and desire to parent to instead provide their child with the resources needed to grow up happy and healthy.

I had been fearing my child would be inheriting genes of poor moral fiber – instead, I realized they would most certainly inherit genes of great wisdom and compassion. I had feared that they would be born from an irresponsible woman – instead, the birthmother was making one of the most responsible decisions she could. It felt so obvious after I thought about it – one’s character is not measured on one’s ability to avoid problems, but on how one reacts and deals with the consequences.

Certainly the birthmothers will be human, some very human indeed, and the birthfathers in these situations are often (but not always) less responsible than one would wish for. But my fears about meeting our eventual birthmother were put largely at ease. Besides, I just told the story in the last blog post of making my future wife drink water from a used yogurt container while we were still very much in the dating process and I was trying to woo her – I think the Nuture side of the “good decision making” is perhaps a more immediate concern than the Nature side anyway.

The meeting concluded with a video presentation – screen after screen of text from a baby telling us his thoughts and wishes for the adoption, all accompanied by profoundly wimpy music. It was as cheesy as it sounds, and yes, of course, I teared up several times. Shut up, you weren’t there.

After the meeting, Betsy and I drove down to Adam and Amber’s house, about 2 miles from the seminar site. It was great to get to see them again – Portland needs to stop enticing all of the cool people to move down to it. We went out to dinner with them, talked a lot, wandered around the neighborhood, came back and watched a movie, and fell asleep on their couches, exhausted, getting ready for day 2 of the seminar.

Sunday afternoon, Betsy and I loaded up the car and set off for Portland, with a brace of CDs, a bag of string cheese, and a backseat full of sleeping bags and clothes. The drive itself was uneventful – a straight shot down I-5 during light traffic, and a car that merrily chugged down the road and kept pace with all of its newer cousins driving alongside it.

As we drove, we talked about everything that was making us nervous about the seminar. For me, the biggest fear was about having to watch old people cry. The vision I had was of a room full of people 15-20 years older than us, more my parents’ peers than ours, and of being in the awkward situation of having to listen to them agonize about the decades of trying and the thousands of dollars spent on infertility treatments, especially since we were young and reached clarity about our family-starting path relatively quickly. The idea of watching a couple in their late-40s with mascara running down the wife’s cheeks as she sobs, the husband with red eyes valiantly trying to hold back while comforting her… it just sounded really awkward. I don’t mean to diminish the pain of someone who would be in a situation like that, because the emotions would certainly be running high and they’d have every right to grieve about it, but I wouldn’t really be able to relate and it’d just be… uncomfortable.

Fortunately, we had some time still before we had to confront the seminar – it wasn’t scheduled to start until 1pm on Monday, and we pulled into Portland around 9pm on Sunday, rain drizzling down on everything. The street signs were dark, and the map hard to read, and we ended up driving around in circles for a little bit before parking across the street from our friend Jay’s apartment. We knocked on his door, and he opened it up and gave us each a huge hug.

Before I go on, let me give you a little bit of background about Betsy and I. While we certainly each have our own aesthetic preferences (I tend to enjoy more modern styles, Betsy often looks towards more classic/rustic pieces), we have enough in common that we’ve been able to create a fairly cohesive decor in our home – an updated take on the American cottage, with hand-built furniture, weathered paint, and lots of exposed wood throughout the house.

Jay, on the other hand, has chosen to go in a different direction with the decoration of his home – a direction that I would title Complete Squalor. His decor choices evoke the atmosphere of a local garbage collection site with an emphasis on elements from the Pabst design school. His carefully curated collection of feline feces added both a distinct visual and olfactory impact to the washroom, and his carpets playfully hinted that one should be wary of removing one’s shoes unless one was particularly fond of tetanus.

(To be fair, I’ll point out a few things – one, Jay reports that he had cleaned the apartment, and that his roommates had trashed it when he went out of town for the weekend. He had only been back in the apartment for a few hours when we came over. Two, Jay is one of the sweetest guys you’d ever have the chance to meet, and that’s way more important to me than housekeeping skills – I was truly glad to get to see him again.

And third, I hardly have room to talk. My first few places after I moved away from home were complete disasters. When Betsy and I first started dating, I was living on my own in a rented room in the basement of a house. I only had one or two glasses to drink out of, and one evening, I hadn’t been expecting her to come over, and so neither of them were clean (if memory serves, I hadn’t used them in several days, and they were crusty and/or mold-filled). When she wanted a glass of water, the best I could offer was to wash out a yogurt cup (which was less crusty at the time) and have her drink water out of that. So, while our house may be in good upkeep today, I certainly have no room to talk about other people’s housekeeping.)

We went out to Red Robin for dinner and conversations, and we spent a long (but nowhere near long enough) time catching up. We went back to the apartment, and Jay pulled out the futon for us, and we ended up watching The Bourne Ultimatum, which was surprisingly excellent (we hadn’t seen any of the previous). We fell asleep and tossed and turned restlessly, dreaming of what the seminar was going to be like.

The next morning, we had a few hours to kill, so we headed downtown to wander around a little bit. A latte at a coffee shop, idly browsing through Borders, hearts filled with lust at Williams-Sonoma (you should have seen the stove they had there…) – the morning was pretty uneventful. However, on the ride back to the seminar site, we sat behind a girl and a guy. Based on their conversations and their clothes, I could tell that they were either currently living on the streets, or close to that level. The conversation was very similar to those that I’ve heard many times before from the kids who hang out on Broadway or on the Ave in Seattle – who was sleeping with who, who needed to get their butt kicked, who had gotten drunk the night before, etc, etc.

As I listened, snidely judging them in my head the entire time, it dawned on me that a woman like this could very easily be the birthmother we end up working with. I started thinking about it more and more, and I realized that that bothered me pretty substantially – if the pregnancy was unplanned, the birthmother is probably someone who is irresponsible and doesn’t think things through before acting. I started dreading the idea of having someone like that pass on the genetic material for my child. The issue of not getting a chance to pass on my own genes became very real for the first time. I knew that I was being self-righteous, and judgmental, and that every person in the world is a beautiful flower filled with light and joy – but man, I didn’t want no crazy woman without no common sense in my family! I kept shifting back and forth between “I should love and respect everyone” and “but what if I don’t? what then?”.

The seminar had a lot to teach me before I was ready to move on to the next step…

We’re back from the seminar. I’d like to thank Adam & Amber, Jay, Simon & Garfunkel, Portland’s carpool lanes, our hard-working little car, The Magnetic Fields, Grand Central Bakery and plenty of coffee for making sure that our trip was a success.

I’ll turn the seminar experience into a series of posts – watch for the first one tonight.