Sunday, May 11, 2014

We Have Some News...

We are NOT pregnant. Lord willing, He may someday allow us to conceive, but that day has not yet come.

I'd also like to wish all mothers a very Happy Mother's Day, including those who are still longing to become a mother. Mother's Day has been a day of sadness for me in recent years because it has served as a reminder that I am not yet a mother.

But today is different. Today, we have some wonderful news to share. News that we are very excited about on this Mother's Day:

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In a previous post, I talked about how we decided to wait until December 2014 to begin researching adoption, unless the Lord moved us to act sooner or later than that date.

Well, I'm not the most patient waiter. (Shocking, I know)

In the fall, I started to research adoption a lot little and long story short, we both felt peace about moving forward with the adoption process.

We have decided on the agency we want to work with, and are in the middle of the application/home study portion of the process. Once approved, they tell us that the "wait time," on average, is 15 months. But averages are averages, so it could be less, and it could be more. We're trusting God with that timing since He always knows best.

If you'd like to hear the longer version of this story, please read on.

Our journey to this moment has been a mixture of so many things: emotion, heartache, hope, conviction, and beautiful transformations in our hearts. All praise and glory belongs to God!

Why Do I Want to Adopt?
If I'm honest, my heart started from a place of "Well, if I can't have a baby biologically, then I guess I will adopt a baby." But it's not as simple as that.

My former view of adoption was that it was a charitable act of kindness. I was definitely one of those people who used to think/say, "Oh that's great of you to do that [rescue that child from certain doom]."

When we first began struggling with infertility, the idea of adopting terrified me. At that time, giving into the idea of adoption would have meant defeat. It would have meant acknowledging my failure as a woman to procreate - surely the very thing I was put on this planet for, right? (I now know that is wrong.)

But God slowly changed both of our hearts.

Our best friends moved to the D/FW area. The wife's parents fostered and adopted three little girls. And yes, little girls. The age difference between my best friend (the youngest of their biological children) and the oldest of the three girls is about 20 years. We've known the wife's parents and these girls for several years now and have visited them somewhat regularly.

The girls used to be shy around us, but as they've seen us more and more, they actually know us by name and still ask about us.

One weekend early in our infertility journey, we visited our best friends who had recently found out they were expecting their first little boy. She had made plans to sky dive, but changed her mind because of her condition. So the husband decided to take her place and go sky diving. It was a big deal, and so the wife's parents and three little girls also came to cheer him on.

The three little girls loved to play with Michael. Michael would spin them, flip them, tickle them, and carry them on his shoulders and they just laughed it up and asked for more. It was precious to see that sight. We felt love towards those girls, and they weren't even close to being considered our children.

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This was taken in June 2011, 6 months into our infertility journey.

On the drive home, we had our first conversation about adoption. The idea of adoption that used to scare us was not being able to love a child that didn't come from our bodies. We both were (and still are) a little squeamish around other people's children. Too often we have been given "the plague" by family and friends' little ones, so we tend to cringe and shy away from their oozing orifices. We used to think it would be the same if we adopted another person's child. (Just to clarify, we are not naive to think that our children will not have oozing orifices, we just don't care to encounter the oozing orifices of children that we are not raising.)

But this first conversation about adoption was driven by the Lord. He had stirred in both of our hearts - independently - that we could absolutely love another's child as we had felt love towards those three little girls who are not in our care.

We talked about how there is so much beauty and redemption in adoption. Those three little girls were each taken from three separate, broken situations. They are now together and being loved and parented by a couple who wants the best for them. They giggle and play and live as if there is no more brokenness in their lives.

Of course, I know that's not the reality. We all have brokenness. But it was the first time we saw that adoption was a wonderful and beautiful example of God's sacrifice for us. He gave His only "biological" Son for our sinful, horrible mankind. He not only gave His Son away, but gave Him away to a fate of torture and death. For me. For you. For us all.

Sometimes, a word as simple as "Wow" is all that can be thought of to express your feeling of something so profound.

Since that first conversation, we continued to hope and pray (and still do) that God would allow us to have biological children. Though our hearts had softened towards the idea of adoption, we had not yet felt the desire to adopt a child ourselves.

But more time passed. And passed. We went through the ups and downs most couples experience with infertility. Diagnostic tests. Frustration at no explanation for why we cannot conceive. Hopelessness. Renewed hope. More hopelessness. Yet more hope. Seeing friend after friend have one or more children. Feeling left behind and forgotten. The difficult decision to accept that you're only hearing silence and "wait" from the Lord. The difficulty of actually waiting! If you've kept up with this blog, you've probably ridden the roller coaster with me. (And I'm so thankful for you!)

Small events fostered more and more discussions about adoption. We met friends who have adopted children and loved hearing their stories. We watched a couple movies, like The Odd Life of Timothy Green and October Baby. October Baby especially moved our hearts toward adoption. Sorry to spoil some of the plot, but the idea that the main character, Hannah, learns that her life was almost ended as a baby by abortion, but God protected her, and brought her to a loving adoptive family, just melted our hearts completely. In the movie, Hannah searches for her birth mother. Eventually she learns that it doesn't matter where she physically originated...all that matters is that she is loved. Loved and wanted by her adoptive family. And loved and wanted by the Almighty God. That her life mattered. That all life matters.

We soon felt the conviction that we both desired to adopt a child someday. But I'll stress the "someday" part. We were still hoping that we could have biological children first, and adopt later. I'm guessing that this idea is pretty common for couples struggling with infertility. I think it partly goes back to my earlier mindset of "Well, if I can't have a baby biologically, then I guess I'll adopt a baby."

But in the fall, we felt conviction that we were wrong to rank order our children like that. It's not about having "real" children first (biological) and then having "other" children later (adoption). We just desire to have...children! We desire to become parents and to build a legacy as a family. Thankfully the Lord helped us sort that out.

But even though our hearts were open to adopting a child whenever He willed, we did not yet feel Him moving us to take action (I'll come back to this shortly, about how we decided to begin the process of adoption).

So as you can see, our hearts have changed so drastically from where they began. We saw the beautiful example of God's sacrifice for us through the idea of adoption.

If I had a son, I could not stand the idea of giving him away. Perhaps it's because I want a child so badly, that if I finally had one, I would cling to him/her all the more.

The idea that a young woman who finds out she is unexpectedly pregnant would still have the courage to give her child to someone else to raise and care's unimaginable to me. Unthinkable. But like God the Father, she would be giving a huge sacrifice for the sake of someone else. For the sake of a childless couple, like us, who desperately wants a child to call our own.

That's really at the heart of why I want to adopt: I want a baby to call my own. I know that's not reality. I've learned that any child I have, either biologically or through adoption, will never truly be mine. He/she will be the Lord's, and I will simply be the steward in charge of nourishing, caring, loving, teaching, and raising said child. But that's what I want. That's the desire of my heart. To finally be able to fulfill that role. I've been longing for a child to call my own for 3 1/2 years. 3 1/2 long years of waiting, hoping, praying, and longing.

My heart went from only wanting a child that came from my body to knowing that I could love a child placed in my care even if he/she did not come from my body.

The flipside to adoption is not only the birth mother's God-like sacrifice of giving up her child to another, but also the redemption that we, as the adoptive parents, would feel. When a person accepts the free gift of grace extended by God - all based on that sacrifice of His Son - that person is redeemed and adopted into His kingdom and called a child of God. He adopts us as His children! So us adopting a child from someone else would likely cause us to feel the heaviness of that birth mother's sacrifice, but also be in awe of the redemption that child will bring to our lives. We are loved so much by Our Father, that He would orchestrate the circumstances to bring this little life into our care and home. He would trust us enough to love and raise this child as our own.

Romans 8:14-17
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Galatians 3:26-28
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 1:3-8
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us.

1 John 3:1-3
1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

I find it remarkable how much the Lord has transformed our hearts. He has taken us both from being lukewarm about having our own biological children, to having the desire to love any child that could be called our own, even if that child did not come from our physical bodies.

Adoption is not about rescuing a child in need from certain doom. It's about expressing the kind of Christ-like love towards another life, and being redeemed by that same Christ-like love in the process. In short, adoption is a very odd mix of both parties being rescued from certain doom. Both parties living and experiencing the kind of redemption that can only come from God.


How We Decided to Begin the Adoption Process
Once we felt peace about adopting a child whenever the Lord called us to, I began my research into the process. There are so many options, that it can be overwhelming at first. And not every option would work for everyone. Just a brief, but not exhaustive, list of options includes: domestic, international, open, semi-open, closed (rare these days), foster-to-adopt, infant adoption, special needs, inter-racial, and varying ages.

So part of our initial research was being honest with ourselves about what we think we can and cannot handle. What we felt peace about and what we did not.

We have a strong desire to raise a newborn. As newly born as possible. Those that know us, know that we are quite different from the norm. We have very different views about child rearing, diet, and lifestyle. So we desire to raise our children - biological or adopted - according to our beliefs. Part of that begins as a newborn. We desire to breastfeed our children instead of giving formula, preferably my breast milk if we can make that happen or bumming breast milk from friends (sorry in advance if you get a creepy email from me asking you for your breast milk - it's for a good cause). I'm sure this topic will one day be a blog post on its own. :)

We also desire to adopt a child of the same ethnicity as our own. That's not to say that we would not be open to adopting inter-racially if God moves us, but at this time, our desire is to adopt a child that could somehow resemble us. Knowing my tendency to make snappy comments when people act insensitively to me, I would not invite a situation where our child would be constantly labeled as adopted while out in public. Here are a couple videos of what I'm talking about:

IF YOU WOULDN'T SAY IT ABOUT A BOOB JOB... from Rain City Church on Vimeo.

Nowadays, open or semi-open adoptions are the most common. The difference is mainly that semi-open still retains some level of privacy between birth parents and adoptive parents, whereas open adoptions encourage an active, continual relationship with the birth parents throughout the child's life. Each adoption situation looks different, and can depend heavily on which agency you choose to work with. We feel most comfortable retaining some level of privacy, leaning more towards semi-open than open.

Searching for the Right Agency to Work With
Once we discussed what we were and were not comfortable with, we started looking into potential agencies to work with. The first agency we looked into was located out of town, which I'll nickname the Big City Agency. We liked the idea of working with an out-of-town agency in order to avoid the awkwardness of possibly running into the birth parents at the grocery store or something. If the birth parents lived in a different city, the chances of that happening would be greatly reduced.

So we read the information packet about adopting through the Big City Agency. But we did not feel at peace in the least. Quite honestly, the tone, rules, and requirements were written in such a way that it made us feel like the Big City Agency is only on the side of the birth parents. They are an open adoption agency, but to an extreme in my opinion.

They require that one parent commit to being a stay-at-home parent full-time until the child turns 18.  While I desire to be a stay-at-home mom for at least half the time, we do not feel comfortable with an agency dictating to us about whether we can or cannot work for the life of the child.

They also require that the adoptive parents use one name that the birth parents give the newborn. Now, that's certainly respectable - they explain their reason for this rule is the importance of a name. We agree completely. That's why we want to be in charge of naming our own children. Our childrens' names are very important to us. We've had at least two names in mind for 9 years now.

And finally, the Big City Agency requires that the adoptive parents send lots of pictures, letters, and updates each month to the birth parents for the first 6 months and then twice a year until age 18. The adoptive parents would also have to agree to meet with the birth parents (with the child present) when the child is 6 or 7 months old, and then meet 2-3 times per year until the child is 18. Furthermore, the adoptive parents would have to agree to give the child whatever the birth parents send to the child throughout the year. Now, again, this is admirable that the Big City Agency seeks to promote such an open adoption situation. But that does not work for all families. And that does not work for our family. Though we will have tremendous respect for the birth parents and their sacrificial choice, we do not want to be obligated to visit with the birth parents for the child's life. We plan to tell our child that he/she is adopted and allow him/her to decide if and when he/she wants to meet the birth parents. We do not want to force those meetings if the child is not comfortable. And again, because we are quite different from the norm in terms of diet and lifestyle, it would be very awkward to feel obligated to give our child whatever the birth mother sends (i.e. the butter-filled cupcakes or the Miley Cyrus music album...cultural and dietary things we do not agree with).

In short, we desire to raise our children. Whether our children are adopted or come from our bodies, we desire to raise them according to our beliefs, and are not ashamed for dogmatically holding that view.

So to say the least, we did not have any peace about adopting through the Big City Agency.

Our next consideration was the Local Agency (my nickname for it). With the Local Agency, there is the potential for the awkward encounter at the store. But we liked what we read in their information packet. They too are an open adoption agency, but are much less "strict" than the Big City Agency, which is a wonderful attribute in our minds. Furthermore, the tone of the information packet was written in a way that made us feel like the Local Agency is on both parties' sides. Like they want what is best for everyone.

They request that one parent commit to staying at home full-time, but if that is not possible, to agree to not work more than 20 hours per week outside of the home (potentially allowing one parent to work full-time, where half of the time the parent works inside the home). This fit much better with us.

The Local Agency does not mention anything about using the name the birth parents give the child, and besides meeting with the birth mother during her pregnancy, there is no requirement to meet with the birth parents again. That allows each adoptive family and birth mother to decide how much contact they desire to have, which is how I think it should be. The Local Agency requires the adoptive parents to send updates during the first 6 months, but the updates are intended for the agency's review. And once the adoption is finalized, that's it, there are no more requirements about maintaining contact.

After we both read the information packet, we felt peace about inquiring more about this agency. But as it turns out, because this agency is local, they have a long waiting list of adoptive families, and only adopt about 8-10 babies per year, meaning that we could potentially have another 2-3 years before becoming parents. Furthermore, the Local Agency was not accepting new adoptive families because they already have so many waiting that have been through the approval process. We felt discouraged by this, but decided to put our names on the contact list in case they began accepting new families.

Finding THE Agency
In the meantime, we re-watched the TV show "Friends." Leave it to God to use Hollywood to move His children to action. For those unfamiliar with the show, two of the main characters, Chandler and Monica, find themselves unable to have biological children. So they decided to adopt, and ended up being matched with a birth mother in Ohio. We had a silly epiphany moment while watching this show that, "Hey, Chandler and Monica live in New York, but they were matched with someone in another state. Maybe we should look at a bigger agency that has access to birth mothers around the U.S., not just in Texas."

This reminded me of an agency (from now on I'll refer to it as the Chosen Agency) I had gotten information about during my initial search, but passed on because of the apparent higher costs. The Chosen Agency was one that some friends had also looked into and during one of our phone conversations, the wife spoke very highly of this agency because they have separate case workers for the adoptive parents and birth parents. This made a lot of sense to me because it's like having two realtors when a home is for sale: it doesn't make sense to have one realtor representing both the buyer and the seller - there is an inherent divided interest.

So I requested more information from the Chosen Agency. The more we read, the more at peace we felt. They have no restrictions on parents working vs. staying home, allowing the parents to decide how to raise their family. They help adoptive parents connect with birth mothers around the U.S. They place approximately 350 babies per year. By working with our own case worker, we would only be matched with a birth mother who wants the same level of openness as we do (semi-open).

We submitted an information sheet requesting to move forward with the Chosen Agency. They approved us, and invited us to attend a pre-adoption orientation on February 21st. It was a little bit of information overload (the orientation was an all-day event), but it was SO helpful and reassuring.

The first part of the morning was spent in a small group with one of the adoptive parent case workers. She walked us through the details of the whole adoption process, and allowed us to ask questions and look at examples of life books (photo books that are shown to potential birth mothers). The afternoon included a tour of their facility (they house birth mothers who have no other living arrangements), information about adoption tax credits, using the internet to build a profile for potential birth mothers (for those who are not in the same city as the Chosen Agency to look at the physical life books), the legal aspects of adopting through their agency, and a very helpful panel of adoptive parents and birth mothers.

My biggest takeaway from this orientation was that a birth mother is looking for a family to place her child with. Her biggest fear is that an adoptive family won't like her, or will judge her. And we felt encouraged to be ourselves (as crazy and leaf-eating hippie-like as we are in reality), because they want to know about the day-to-day aspects, as well as the future dreams, of the family they place their child with.

At the end of this orientation, we had the option of purchasing the full application forms to move forward with their agency (which we did). By submitting the main application form within one month of the orientation, we got a small discount on the total program fee. We have already submitted all of our application materials (medical forms, background checks, references, etc.) for the agency to review. Once approved, they will schedule and conduct the home study. Then we'll build our life books and profiles and we'll be officially waiting for a birth mother to choose us.

The Lord will have to be in complete control of this entire process, and we are faithfully stepping forward, waiting for Him to provide a child according to His plan.

I can't describe how excited I am. For the past 3 1/2 years, we've been what I call passively waiting. Praise be to God, that time of passively waiting was not fruitless. It was definitely required to teach us, mold us, and transform our hearts as I've described.

But now we're getting to move forward one step at a time. We're moving closer to becoming parents. It feels so wonderful, like we're expecting! Thank you, Lord, so much, for leading us through this journey. We're so excited to see what His plan is.

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