November is National Adoption Month.

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I've recently discovered the r house blog and have been enjoying reading it.  It is a blog writen by the adoptive mom of two beautiful children from open adoptions.  She writes about the joys and hadships of her own two adoptions and she has scads of information and links about adoptions in general.  Yesterday she posted a beautiful video about adoption.  You should go look at it.  I refuse to steal her thunder.

The r house blog has lots of stories about birth moms and adoptive moms and the adoption process.  I've been reluctant to post much about our adoption because our paperwork was hung up in Interstate Compact for so very long and I worried that if the wrong sot of person saw that our paperwork was dragging, we could be challenged or something.  I realize that that was probably a bit of paranoia on my part but it certainly didn't hurt to be quiet and now that Maxx's adoption is finaly final and I'm more than just his "legal guardian" I feel that I have the right to say a bit more.  Mrs R would probably say that I have a responsibility!

So here it is - the whole long story - because no adoption story is as simple as "we decided we needed more kids so we went out and adopted some." 

The story starts way back in 1984 when a Young Man looked at a new Young Woman across a crowded foyer at Church.  25 years is a long time to remember something as simple as a glance but you're just going to have to trust me when I tell you that it was The defining moment of my youth.  Boys had ogled me before but none had looked at me with the recognition and respect that was present in Bryan's gaze at that moment.

Now you expect me to tell you how, having been struck by love at (almost) first sight, I spent the rest of my teen years devotedly attending dances and holding hands with said Young Man, working diligently at my education while waiting for him to return from his Mission and marrying him in the Temple the minute he returned. 

I wish.

We did date for a while and we & all of our friends fully expected the above scenario for a while.  From the age of 14 to 16, I spent a lot of time mooning about, imagining becoming the mother of a houseful of beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed boys - just like him - with a couple of darker daughters like me thrown in to liven up the mix.  But when my parent's marriage finally fell apart, so did I.  I ditched the one person who always took me seriously and treated me with love and respect and went on a series of emotional rampages through the remainder of my highschool years and well into young adulthood.   I wreaked my own brand of havoc in the lives of several boys and allowed them to wreak havoc in mine.  With few exceptions, my romantic relationships at that time were characterized by doubt, disrespect, emotional neediness, drama and low expectations.  Sad.  Pitiful, really.

I was living in Tucson, attending U of A as a Creative Writing major, working a great job at This End Up, where I would soon become manager of my own store and engaged to be married to a decent man who was almost completely incompatible with me when I started having nightmares.  You know the kind of dreams I'm talking about - walking down the aisle in a torn and dirty paper wedding dress while your mother shakes her head and sobs.  I woke up a lot in the middle of the night, not knowing where I was.  Around that time, my fiance and I went to see L.A. Story.  I was marveling at the magical scene where Steve Martin and Victoria Tennant wander through a garden as children holding hands when it suddenly struck me that I had felt that kind of intense,  miraculous kinship with another human being.  I wanted to stand up and shout "Hallelujah!"

My fiance beside me snickered derisively.

It was late April but I couldn't focus enough to complete the semester.  I took incompletes in all my classes and asked my boss for two weeks off.  I booked a flight home to clear my head.  Why on earth was I about to marry a man who obviously didn't believe in true love?   Why would I commit to spending my life with a person who didn't inspire that kind of intense wonderment in me?  Had I really felt that powerfully about someone else at 14 or was I just romanticisizing my first crush?  Where on earth was my life headed and what was I to do about it?   I thought that if I could get away for a little while, I could sort things out.

Bryan stopped by to see me while I was home.  We spent 5 days together.  I cried all the way back to Tucson.  I quit my job, dropped out of school, handed back my diamond (and have never wanted another useless, bloody trinket like it) and headed home.   Bryan and I were married on New Year's eve.

About a year and a half in, we decided that we were ready to start on that housefull of kids we had always fantasized about.  Bryan came from a family with 6 children who came in  2 groups of 3 siblings around the same age.  I am 5 years older than my sister and our brother is 15 months younger than her.  They got to be kids and teens together while I more or less grew up alone - terrorized by thing one and thing two.   It seemed like such a fun idea to have a big family with a bunch of kids around the same age who could play together and support each other the way Bryan's sibling and my brother & sister did but that I missed out on.  

Our Molly Bryn came along exactly when we wanted her to and I had NEVER been happier or healthier in my life than when I was pregnant with her.  I've always struggled with my hormonal balance (endometriosis and estrogen dominance)   Pregnancy was bliss!

Molly was a great baby.  Happy, fun, intelligent and communicative.  She had my eyes and Bryan's mouth and I fell in love with her immediately.  Bryan was in grad school when she was born getting his MST and I was finishing my undergrad work so we decided to wait a little while before trying to have another.  When Molly was 11 months old, I experienced an ectopic pregnancy in spite of our efforts to not get pregnant.  It was a terrifying and physically devastating ordeal.  I was breastfeeding and we had been very careful (we thought) so no one, not even my doctor at first, had any clue why I was bleeding so much or in such horific pain.  I had a one in a million ectopic.  The pregnancy had attached outside my tubes and it took two surgeries for my doctor to find and heal the site.

The next 3 or 4 years were terrible.  I was slammed into a post-partum/post-surgical depression that lasted well over a year.  I had several more surgeries for endometriosis, which was made worse by the ectopic and trauma of blood and surgery in my abdominal cavity.  Eventually I lost one tube and ovary, struggled with all kinds of medical approaches to deal with the pain of endometriosis and surgical adhesions, gained a bunch of weight because even walking was too painful for a long time and finally got my pain issues sorted out with time and some herbal treatments.   By this time, Molly was 5.  Except for post surgery, we had not been trying not to get pregnant.  We were getting discouraged.

Bryan was hired at BOCES and was given excellent health benefits.  How exciting!  Maybe we would be able to seek some help with fertility. . . . .

NYS does not mandate that insurance plans cover any sort of fertility treatment. 

Years passed.  Nothing.  We thought about adoption.  In fact, during one General Conference for the Church, the Prophet spoke about adoption and I felt a strong confirmation that this was a principle that would apply in my life.  We had no idea how we could afford it, though.  Teachers in Upstate NY may have great health benefits (for now) but are in the 16th percentile nationwide for pay scale with their level of education.  Pretty pitiful.   We applied to become Foster Parents, hoping to adopt an infant or a very young child who needed a family through the Foster Care System.  We attended classes.  The more classes we attended, the more clear it became that this option was not right for us right then. 

At that time, St. Lawrence County really needed homes for teens and family groups with ages ranging mostly from 7-16.  Over 90% of the kids coming into the system at the time had experienced some sort of sexual trauma and/or were proven sexual predators themselves.  Bryan's program was full of kids who were either in or should have been in the Foster Care system.  As much as Bryan (and I) loved and had compassion for the kinds of kids he was working with, he saw that Foster Parents spent a huge chunk of their time every day and every week driving the kids around, taking them to appointments with caseworkers, birth families and counsellors.  Many of his kids were only in their Foster Homes at night to sleep because their afternoons and weekends were so packed with Social Services requirements.   Case workers teaching the class indicated that the circumstances and requirements for the children Bryan was familiar with were not unusual for Foster Children and the distances between agencies and professionals can lead to hours of driving time every week.  There would be lots of appointments and lots of interaction and likely interference from Birth Families.  There can be no promises for adoption in Foster Care because the first goal is to heal the Birth Family.  Parental Rights are only terminated when it becomes clear that healing is impossible.

As one caseworker said in class.  "If you are here to adopt, remember that in order for your dream to come true, someone else's has to fall apart."  

We knew that any new child added to our family had to be
1.) safe to spend time with our still very young and innocent daughter
2.) kids that we would be free to raise - not clients that we would transport to meetings and apointments.

We still think that Foster Care is a worthy and worthwhile service.  We might look at it again some day.  If Molly had never been born, I'm sure we wuld have forged ahead and become great foster parents but our family was not and is not yet ready for that sort of sacrifice. 

We applied to LDSFS for adoption, knowing that it was a long shot here in the East, living in such a rural area but also recognizing that it was the only possible affordable solution.  LDS Family Services charges for adoption placement based upon a family's income.  They recognize that a humble family can raise good, happy children just as well as a wealthy family can.  An LDSFS adoption runs between $4,000 and $10,000, much of the costs are subsidized by the Church.

We agonized over our family profile, which photos should we present to birth moms?  How could we make our family look the best?  We agonized over our preferences - would we accept a child with disabilities?  What kind of diasbilities?  Would we accept a child of rape?  What about a child from a different racial background?  Were were open to contact from birth parents? 

Those were all difficult decisions in their own way.  For instance, Molly Bryn totally wanted a brown baby brother and I didn't care what color my next baby might turn out to be but we still had long discussions about the possible realities of an all white family raising a child of mixed race in the mostly homogenous and sometimes bigoted backwaters of Upstate NY.  People can and will be mean.  How would we handle that?

We finished our paperwork and sat back to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  I was Relief Society President in my Branch at Church at the time.  Two unmarried women (one not in my unit) came to me during that time when they discovered that they were pregnant.  They wanted to raise their babies themselves and wanted my advice.  That was very difficult.  I really didn't feel that it was appropriate for me to use my position as RSP to say "the Church says that unwed mothers should consider adoption if marriage and a stable family are not likely and I need a baby so get ready to hand it over, Sista!"  

Instead, I hugged the girls, encouraged them to see their Bishops, made sure they were seeing a doctor for pre-natal care and testified that adoption is a beautiful option, too.  And I went home from each meeting feeling a little bit bitter in my heart that these women were fertile and I was not and wondering why was it ME who had to be called on to counsel the women of the branch at this time of fertility for everyone else? 

We waited.  We updated our information and recertified.  We waited.  Molly turned 9 then 10 then 11.

I started experiencing endo symptoms again after many years mostly pain free.  I had a new doctor, a very skilled surgeon, who decided that I needed surgery and he determined that he would investigate my remaining tube while he was working on me.   The surgery was sucessful, it took care of the pain and other problems I was experiening AND cleaned my tube so that my fertility might be able to be restored.  I took several courses of Clomid because that was somethig our budget could afford even without insurance paying anything.  We hoped, we prayed, we had lots of fun doing everything we could to make a miracle.

Nothing happened except a resurgence of my hypersensitivity to any sort of possible pregnancy symptoms.  I was going crazy.

Finally, we had a discussion.   It sounded something like this, "We can be happy with just the three of us.  Molly is a great kid and there are things that we could do as a family of three that are a lot more difficult with babies and small kids.  We are getting a bit old to raise babies.  (I was past 35 and would have been categorized as an "elderly mother" had I conceived)  It will be sort of sad that we didn't get to raise more children, but let's just go ahead and let our certification expire."

We had made a decision.  It was liberating.  And heartbreaking.  But it meant that I could stop holding my breath.  I was devastated (and still am to a certain degre) that I had never been able to bear that blue eyed baby boy I had been dreaming about since I was 14.  But I could finally stop holding my breath.

So I began taking my little business a bit more seriously and started making peace in my heart with my barrenness. One day not a week later the phone rang.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up.  I knew who was on the ther end of the line and I knew what he was calling about.

There was a birth mom in a neighboring state with a 20 month old boy.  She was very young.  She and the birth father had married and tried to raise the baby but their marriage fell apart.  It didn't take her long to figure out that raising her son as a single mom wasn't fair to the baby and it wasn't fair to her.  The baby had been premature and had some developmental delays as well as a strong family history of ADHD, she was concerned about his future education and she chose us because of Bryan's experience working with special needs teens.  Were we interested in meeting her and the boy?

And so Maxx came into our lives.  Someday when I have the energy, I'll write about the bureaucratic bologna that held Maxx's finilazation up for 3 YEARS but I'm still too exhausted from that to confront it again.

Molly and I stayed in one of Maxx's grandparent's homes with him until we were allowed to bring him home to NYS.  Molly turned 12 while we were waiting.  You never saw a more pitiful 12th birthday party!   Thankfully, our lawyer was able to find some loopholes making us Maxx's legal guardians and allowing us to bring him home before Interstate Compact cleared.

Let me say a few words about Toddler adoption.  It ain't easy.

For the first 8 months or so I felt like an unpaid nanny.  Children adopted as Toddlers often have atachment issues and it is crucial that a strong attachment is formed with the adoptive family as soon as possible.  This means that when the going gets rough, you can't just dump the kid for a weekend somewhere and take off for a break.  Here I was stuck with a toddler who was sick all the time (he's allergic to everything) not even close to potty trained, is an incredibly picky eater and who didn't interact the way I had hoped he would.  He didn't look, smell or act like family and it was very hard at first to really love him.  Friends on adoption forums assured me that this was normal, that it can take months or even years to fall in love with an adopted toddler. 

I had to constantly remind myelf  "The baby is greiving and frightened.  He needs to learn to trust that you will always be there.  He needs to learn that You will be the one to feed him, keep him warm, and not beat him when he cries and is naughty.   He needs to learn how to have fun with you and how to communicate appropriately.  You have to teach him."  I cannot tell you how many times the spirit whispered to me "Maxx is missing his birth mother." or "Maxx is afraid that you will leave him alone."  or "Maxx is greiving for his birth family." or "Maxx does not understand that he is safe here."  over and over those first couple of years. 

One of the most profoundly sad things that happened early on with Maxx was the day I found his old pacifier in a box of his stuff while we were staying at his grandparents' house.  They had taken over for birth mom once she had made the decision to place him with us. They cared for him for about a month, during which time they  weaned him off his binky.   He had been fussy and miserable all day the day I found it and I thought "Hey, I'm into regression - let him have it back."  and I handed the pacifier to him.  He took it in his hands and grinned a huge grin, took a deep breath and went to put it in his mouth.  But then, before the binky got to his lips, his face curled up with great sadness and he started to bawl.  He cried and cried hopelessly, deep racking sobs for more than an hour and I was so heartbroken for him - this poor small person, who had inexplicably lost his mommy and was left all alone with this strange, sometimes grumpy lady who didn't look or smell or act like family. 

Molly and I clung to him all that day and we got through it but it wasn't the end of our mission to attach.  He attached to Molly before he atached to either Bryan or I.  They fight just like siblings now but for the first several months, she was the go-to girl, our little Mother in Israel, helping Maxx feel safe and happy. 

It has been had to figure out exactly what Maxx needs in terms of both tenderness and discipline to help him feel safe.  No book can realy prepare a parent for that - we have had to listen to the Spirit and trust that we are getting the right instructions.  We have had to stand firm on some of our adaptive childrearing decisions with friends or family members who think we're a little bonkers for doing things the way we do.  But it has paid off.  I remember the first time Maxx allowed himself to relax into my arms after months of sitting rigid on my lap and not making eye contact.   The first time he fell asleep in my lap was like magic.  Many children adopted as toddlers NEVER fall asleep in their adoptive parents' arms.  I had not ever expected it but when it happened, it was beautiful and right.

I know that there will always be a tiny little boy who misses his first Mommy inside Maxx.  There will always be a younger woman inside me who is sad that she can't bear more babies.  But that's O.K.  Maxx and I have room for them.  They comfort each other prety well.


Anonymous said...

this is a beautiful post. thanks for sharing such intimate details of your life and adoption. God bless

Marisa said...

Wow, that was a beautiful post. I'm blown away. Thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...


as tears roll down my eyes you are one of the strongest women I know and a wonderful mother. thank you so much for sharing this with us.


Molly said...

I loved reading this. Even though I've been here to observe the process, it has been from a distance and it was moving for me to read the whole story laid out from the beginning. I'm so glad you guys had and continue to have the courage to undertake such a huge task- and blessing. I sure love that boy!

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