homestudy


So, been waiting on the edge of your seat since our last post? Wondering when we’re going to finally be in the pool?

Well, so have we.

The plan was to be in the pool by the end of last week. We sent in all of our material on Thursday, and some of it had to go down to Portland, so we weren’t surprised when we hadn’t received a confirmation call by Friday. By Monday and Tuesday, though, we were starting to get a bit anxious. Finally, we got an email from our counselor, who let us know that she had forgotten about some work on the back-end that still needed to happen, and that she was now looking at April 11th as the official “pool entry date”. So as of right now, we’ve got our swimsuits on, googles in place, ready to dive on in – and we’re just waiting for the whistle to sound.

Of course, getting in the pool might end up being anti-climactic. Once we’re in, the only immediate change is that both of us will suddenly be a LOT more jumpy whenever our phone rings. (Have you ever been annoyed by the fact that I’ll forget to charge my cell phone for days at a time, or that I don’t check my voicemails immediately? You’re going to be really happy when we’re in the pool. No guarantees on how long it will take for me to return calls, but at least you’ll know I’ll have listened to the message.)

There’s a whole new to-do list in front of us, though. If we were to get the call right now telling us to come down to the hospital, we’d be in complete chaos trying to figure out what we need to do and get ready for. Dan Savage wrote in his book that there’s nothing a child needs in their first week that can’t be bought on the way home from the hospital (other than a car seat), and while that’s reassuring, it’d be nice to have a few things in place and ready to go. I also deal with stress and confusion by making lists, so I have to put a few of those together to make myself feel better.

So we’re spending the next few weeks getting our ducks in a row. Like trying to figure out how the car seat fits in the car – not something you want to try for the first time with “The Call” adrenaline running through your system. Or finding a pediatrician – again, it’s hard to be objective with interview questions when you are holding a feverish baby in your arms already. And we started to put together a list of what to take with us if we need to take an urgent road trip down to Oregon – even down to which CDs to bring with us, because I know I’d be staring at our collection with blank, panicky eyes if I waited to the last minute to make that choice.

We should have plenty of time to make these decisions, of course. The average wait time for our agency is 10.5 months in the pool, and only 24% of placements are last minute – the majority of “first meetings” with the adoptive parents and birth parents is somewhere near the start of the third trimester. While it’s entirely possible that we could be in the pool for 2 weeks before a last minute placement, and have a child in our home before the start of May, that’s extremely unlikely, and we could end up waiting a couple years or more – we’d be very fortunate to have a child in our home before the start of 2009.

Even though I know it could end up being a while, there’s part of me that keeps clinging to the idea of a very short wait time. It’s hard to get a sense objectively of how our Homestudy material turned out – my hope is that we did a good job of showing how totally awesome Betsy is and what a fantastically amazing mom she will be, and that we sufficiently explained that her husband Goofus has the best of intentions and that his oddity is mostly benign.

Beyond that, we do have some “advantages” based on who we are. Those could be meaningless – all it takes is one lotto ticket to win – but we do get a few extra tickets to scratch just based on the fact that we are young, healthy, religious and heterosexual. It gives me a weird sense of guilt to think about that, though, as we’ve met some great potential parents already who don’t fit into those categories, and I don’t really like being given “better chances” just based on who we are and our backgrounds. But that’s just the reality of it, I suppose.

It’s hard to say when it will happen, though. I know Betsy tends to assume that we’ll be waiting for quite a while, where I can’t keep my mind from fixating on the stories I read of the one or two month waits. Both of us tend to picture ourselves adopting through a last-minute placement, but that’s the minority of cases. And it’s like the dating world – since so much depends on the chance thing that makes two people click, there’s no way of knowing how long it’ll take for the right person to show up, even if you have all the “advantages” in the world.
However long we wait in the pool, though, it’ll be the right amount of time. If we do get a call in the next month for a last-minute placement, that’ll be the right time. If we’re still waiting in the pool 3 years from now – it’ll be tough, but that’ll be the right timing as well.

I just want to hurry up and get waiting already.

When we started the adoption process, one of the questions that naturally popped up (along with closed vs open, domestic vs international, etc) was if we were open and ready to adopt transracially. And my considered-for-a-whole-20-seconds answer was, duh! of course we’re ready! Well, in the admirable and amazing way our agency has of doing everything, they make folks really consider what they think and put it to paper. One is encouraged to read specific books on transracial adoption and raising multiracial children, and talk to other parents who have adopted transracially.

Amidst all this reserach, I was driving home from work and listening to NPR. February 1st was the anniversary of the Woolworth’s Sit-In, so they asked one of the four men who participated to relate his experience. I was brought near tears by how scary that must have been, and how brave they were for doing it anyway. And I thought about how I’ve maybe been judged for having pink hair or wearing black, brown and navy blue in the same outfit, but never discriminated against in the way people of color were or are.

While race may not matter inside the four walls of your own house, it sadly does outside in the real world. The “ready to adopt transracially?” is really a number of questions rolled into one:

- are we as parents ready for the comments and assumptions people will make when we’re out with our child who may be of a different ethnicity than us? that we’re not their parents or that they’re not our child?

- are we prepared for dealing with the comments that people make to our child? will we be able to prepare our child with a healthy self-esteem to deal with and deflect such comments?

- can we step outside of our comfort zone to find resources for our child to grow into their ethnic identity?

- are we ready to deal with not only a) parenting, b) adoption, c) open adoption, d) open adoption of a child who may be of a different ethnicity, but e) all of the above?

It may be really challenging, scary, awkward, and life-stretching, but after much percolation (which I won’t go into at this time, but we’re happy to discuss), we think we’re ready for it. Carefully considered this time, the answer is still, “Yes. We’ll do our best.”

*Long, deep exhalation*

Okay. We’ve finished all of our Christmas shopping, Betsy is busy putting the finishing touches on her final home-made project, parties have been attended, cookies eaten, trees decorated, advent calendars progressed, and we’re just about ready to lay back and close out the year with friends and family.

It’s been interesting this year to think about the idea that this could very well be our last Christmas with only two people in the family. Which of the traditions from our families will we teach young Eelfang? Which of the new traditions we’ve developed will we carry on when we’re dealing with the extra complexity of having a young child participate? What music will be part of their life? (I have to admit that I’m really excited about the idea that our child will grow up with Sufjan Stevens as a major part of their holiday memories.)

This year has been a little more crazy than most, though, as we’ve been working through the homestudy process in December in parallel with our Christmas preparations. We submitted the necessary paperwork in the first week of December, and by the end of that week, we had our appointments scheduled. Normally, they try to spread the meetings across 3-4 weeks, but due to the holiday schedule and my work schedule, we had them back-to-back-to-back-to-back – a meeting in our house with both of us on Fri, 12/14, a meeting in her office with Todd alone on Tues, 12/18, a meeting with Betsy on Wed, 12/19 and another in-house couple meeting on Thurs, 12/20.

When people hear “homestudy”, I think there is a tendency to assume that the interviewer is checking out the house to make sure it’s baby-proof, or critically examining the structure of the house to make sure that it has no termites or fire hazards or dust on any of the bookshelves, or ensuring that the wall on the art is classy enough for a baby with refined tastes and sensibilities. In fact, the homestudy itself isn’t really an “evaluation” session, and unless there are some major issues in your family that have not yet been discussed, there’s little chance of “failing”.

(Every agency is different, of course, and we do know of people who didn’t pass – while there were extenuating circumstances in that situation, and the social worker assigned was nowhere near as professional and kind as our counselor is, it still made us a bit nervous, despite what I just said in the previous paragraph.)

Instead, the homestudy is designed to give the counselor a more intimate sense of who you are and what your life is like, aiding her in being able to describe you to a potential birthmother who wants to know more about where her child will be placed. The counselor takes all of the notes from these meetings and writes a 12-15 page “homestudy report” that is given to interested birthmothers, and the report gets down to really specific details in an attempt to build a picture in the birthmothers’ mind that they can then mentally put their child in.

The first visit was really easy. We had spent the previous week cleaning the house, weeding the garden, sweeping the steps and doing everything else we could think of, so the house was looking very nice. Our counselor immediately started gushing about how cute the house was and how our style matched hers, so I felt pretty comfortable right off the bat. The meeting ended up feeling more like we were being interviewed for People magazine or something along those lines – what’s a typical day like for you? What do you like to eat for breakfast? Who wakes up first? How often do you see your friends? What are they like? What color would you call this couch, so that I can accurately describe it in my write-up? Can you show me your house, and tell me about all of the interesting things in it? In short, it was a 2 1/2 hour meeting in which we just talked all about ourselves and how cool we are. I can handle that.

Early next week, I had my one-on-one with the counselor at her office. The intensity ramped up a little bit on this one – how would you describe your personality? How do you build relationships with people? What was your childhood like? How did you meet Betsy, and what do you like most about her? I definitely had to think more about the questions here. I’d guess that some of the questions were asked just to make me think about it, rather than for the answer – with Betsy and I both admitting to a fairly high level of shyness and difficulty with small talk, I think she wanted us to sit down and think through our process of building relationships and opening lines of communication with people. This meeting also lasted about 2 1/2 hours, and while it made me think more, it still didn’t stress me out too much.

On Thursday, we met back at our house again (this time less immaculately cleaned) for another group meeting. The third was definitely the most intense of all – what are your religious beliefs, and how did you come to them? What is your parenting philosophy? How do you deal with conflict? What were your parents like – what did you like about their style, and what would you change? Betsy and I have spent a fair amount of time talking about different issues and ways we want to raise our child, and we talk about our values and priorities pretty frequently, so we were fairly prepared for some of the questions, but we had never sat down and thought of an actual “parenting philosophy”. I tend to be inherently distrustful anyway of something dogmatic enough to be called a “philosophy” when applied to something as dynamic and complicated as kids, and especially trying to set a philosophy in stone right now with my current (lack of) parenting experience. But we do definitely have our sets of beliefs and values, and we were able to stutter through enough of these to cobble together something resembling a unified theory.

With the week of meetings clustered so close together, and the intensity of the last meeting, I felt exhausted by the end of the last one. It was (and is) nice, though, to know that we’ve finished all of those meetings, and we don’t have to do any further ones in the immediate future.

So what’s next?

With the homestudy meetings done, our counselor has to write the homestudy report. At 10-15 pages, peer-reviewed inside the agency, and a full workload of other clients, it’ll probably take her until mid-February to complete that.

For us, we’re writing further revisions to our auto-biographies until it is something that both us and our counselor are happy with. We also need to put together a one-page “Dear Birthmother” letter to serve as our foot in the door to entice birthmothers to read our auto-bios and the homestudy, and we need to put together a photo collage to be included in that homestudy packet (if you see us walking around with our camera more frequently than normal, that’s why.)

All in all, we’re hoping to get everything written and put together somewhere between the end of February and mid-March. At which point, we’ll pay another fee and get into the pool, and officially be in the waiting period.

It’s been a while since you’ve posted any pictures in here, and you mentioned a Christmas tree up at the top of this post.

Well, if you insist…

Us and our very first Christmas tree as a couple.

Betsy bought a couple spools of ribbon and tied bows all over our tree. Very pretty…

…whereas the traditions coming from my family are a little more grotesque. Front and center in our tree is the infamous pinecone duck – an ugly ornament which my family grew to love over the years (well, at least I grew to love it… although every time I came home from college, it had accidentally been placed in the very back of the tree.)

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.