Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Autobiography of Jessica Lifshitz

As part of the paperwork that we have to complete before we can have our next meeting with our adoption counselor, Carla and I each have to write an autobiography that provides answers to a very long list of questions.  I decided to try starting mine today and while I think I have only answered about 1/8 of the questions, I have already written three pages.  I cannot believe that anyone is going to be able to read what I am writing without falling asleep from boredom.  My life is just not that interesting and yet I seem to have a whole lot to say about it.  Like most things, I am probably way over-thinking this thing and probably don't need to be writing half as much as I am actually writing.  But that's just not how I do things. Why say what you have to say in ten words when you can use fifty words to say the same thing.  I am pretty sure that if I were to grade my own writing as a teacher, I would point out a whole lot of places where I have said the same thing multiple times in different words.  I am pretty sure I have taught the kids that they should never do that.  Oh well!

I am going to walk away from it for a bit and try again in a few hours.  If this is only the start of the paperwork, I cannot even begin to imagine how long it is all going to take.

I will keep you all posted on the progress.  I just needed to take a break!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adoption 101

Carla and I arrived at The Cradle twenty minutes early (which is actually cutting it close for us) for our Adoption 101 all day class.  We were going to spend the day (from 8:30 until 4:30) with other couples beginning the adoption process with The Cradle.  Though we were not thrilled at the idea of spending our entire Saturday in our first adoption class, we were excited and anxious to get the day started.  We were clearly the first ones there and walked into the room where we would be spending the day, totally unsure of what to expect.  The women who were leading the class greeted us with smiles and warmth and we started to relax just a bit.

For those of you who know us, you know that Carla and I don't particularly thrive in situations where we have to make small talk with strangers.  So as people started to file in, we kept ourselves occupied by looking through the binder that we were given and by giggling amongst ourselves (something that we ARE particularly good at).  I expected to feel some strange competition with the people who we were sitting in this class with.  After all, these are going to be the other couples on the waiting list with us.  It's hard not to think about if they will get picked before us and if someone will choose them over us.  But in all honesty, I didn't feel any competition.  Instead, I felt comforted to be surrounded by other people who were in the same place as us. Other people who had the same fears and worries that we did.  Other people who could really empathize with what we were going through.

The day started with a tour of the building, including the on-site nursery.  The Cradle is the only adoption agency in the country with an on-site nursery (which is pretty amazing).  The nursery is a place where babies can go while final decisions are being made.  If a baby is born and the mother contacts The Cradle, they still require her to go through several weeks of options counseling to make sure that adoption is the right choice for her.  Instead of placing a baby with a family and then having to take the baby back if the mother changes her mind, the babies are placed in The Cradle nursery.  That way, the birth mother has the time and space she needs to make the best decision for her and the baby and the adoptive parents don't have the baby in their home just to have to take the baby back if a change of heart occurs.  It is a pretty wonderful system.  Yesterday, there were four babies in the nursery.  There are trained nurses on call 24 hours a day and a two year waiting list to be a volunteer baby cuddler!

Anyway, after the tour, things finally got started.  The first activity we did was pretty powerful and set the tone for the rest of the day.  We were asked to take something of value that we had on us, that would fit in the palm of our hands.  Though it took me a minute to figure out what on earth I could use, I quickly saw Carla taking off her wedding ring and figured that was what they had in mind.  Sure enough, most people chose to use their wedding ring.  Anyway, we were split into two groups: group A and Group B.  Carla and I were in group A.  Group A was told to place the object of importance in a basket that was passed around.  We were told to keep our eyes straight ahead while each person in group B was then asked to pick one of our items out of the basket.  Now, I knew this was just an exercise and I knew that we would get our objects back, but I still had quite a bit of anxiety that someone was holding onto my wedding ring and I had no idea who it was.  Once everyone had picked a new item, four of the people with items were asked to show what they had.  I got to see who had my wedding ring and I oddly felt a little bit better about it.  The whole idea was to show us what it was like to be the one giving up something special, what it was like to be the one with the special item, what it was like to not know who had your special item, and the instant connection that was formed when you knew who had your special item.  We then discussed how these feelings could be applied to the adoption situation.  It helped us to build empathy for the birthmother, helped us to see the benefits of an open adoption, and helped us to see how much emotion was involved in the whole process.  It was a really great way to start the day.

The next part of the morning required us to talk about our fears and concerns in starting this process.  It was amazing how quickly everyone opened up and I soon found myself explaining to a room full of strangers how scary it was to be a same-sex couple opening ourselves up to other people's judgements and prejudices.  I talked about our fears of not being accepted as possible parents by some birthmothers or their families.  As I finished sharing our fears, a man across the room loudly said to the whole room, "Well, I hope you know that you are accepted here with us."  It was such a kind gesture.  Such a genuine sentiment and it meant so much to both of us.  It was the first time, of many, that I found myself trying to hold back tears during the day.

The rest of the day was filled with many more exercises, speakers, videos, and discussions.  We heard from an adult adoptee from Peru, a gay man who had adopted a child with his partner, and two other families who had adopted children one as a domestic adoption and one as an international adoption.  It was an emotional day and helped us to think through a lot of the issues surrounding adoption.  There was a whole section dedicated to multicultural families which really helped me to see some of this issues that I had not thought about in terms of multicultural families. So many things were brought up throughout the day that I just hadn't thought about before and I appreciated the opportunity to start thinking of the many things that are involved with the adoption process.

I am not sure what exactly caused the switch in me, but at some point during the day I began to find more peace with this process.  I started to have more faith in it.  I came to believe that though we would probably have to wait a pretty long time, there was going to be a birthmother who came along and chose us as the ones she wanted to raise her child.  Again, I don't know what it was that made me feel better, but by the end of the day I really believed that this was going to happen for us.  This was going to be the way that we added a child to our family.  Up until yesterday, I was just not convinced that this was really going to work, that we would ever be chosen.  And at some point during the long day yesterday, I came to believe that it was going to work.  That we would be chosen.  That the right child would find us.  And that is what I took away from Adoption 101.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Initial Consultation

With each new step of this adoption journey comes new emotions that I sometimes feel ill equipped to explain to others.  Nothing could be more true of what we experienced this past Friday when we had our initial consultation with the woman who will be our adoption counselor throughout this process. 

We met our counselor, Dori, at the offices of our adoption agency at 8:00 in the morning on Friday.  She came to the door to let us in and I could immediately feel the warmth that emanated from the small woman.  She led us into a comfortable room and left Carla and I alone for a few moments while she finished some things up in her office.  The room was filled with pictures of children, stuffed animals, and toys for kids and it could not have been a less threatening environment.  However, Carla and I sat there in a high state of anxiety as we waited for this first meeting to begin.  We had no idea what to expect.  We had no idea what Dori would think of us.  We had no idea what the goals for this meeting were.  And so, we were left to wonder and worry. 

Finally, Dori came in and for the next three hours, the three of us sat around the small, round table and attempted to get to know each other and better understand the process that was about to begin.  It’s hard to remember all that took place over the three-hour long meeting.  We began with a discussion of who Carla and I were.  What we did for a living, how we came to be where we were, and what our relationship was like.  It is so hard to explain to someone who has never met you, who you are as individuals and as a couple.  But we did our best and I believe that the love between us was obvious to her.   

Then Dori asked about our families.  In detail.  We were not totally prepared for the types of questions that she asked, but it helped us to realize that in this process, nothing is off limits.  It is intrusive and personal and we now understand that it has to be.  We must be ready to share everything.  So we did. 

And then Dori began to tell us about the process.  What I appreciated most about her was her kind honesty.  She was very clear that this is not an easy process.  She was very clear that with the current state of international adoption, domestic adoption has become even more difficult.  It is more challenging to adopt a child from a foreign country today because of the current changes in adoption laws in other countries.  Therefore, there is a higher demand for domestic adoptions, which in turn leads to longer wait times (an average wait time of 18 months).  All of that, I could handle with little emotional response. 

But then, Dori began to talk about what it was like for a same-sex couple trying to adopt.  And that is when my emotions hit hard.  There are realities of this world that I know and I understand.  However, much of my life is sheltered from those realities.  I have a family who is unbelievably accepting and supportive.  I have friends who love both Carla and me for exactly who we are.  As a teacher, I work in a school that is surprisingly open and supportive.  I am able to be out with the full support of my administration, my colleagues, my students, and their parents (to the point that my class threw me a wedding shower before I went to Vermont to marry Carla).  I am very lucky.  So I don’t often have to confront the realties of how same sex couples are viewed.  But the truth is, we are a minority. The truth is that not everyone in this world is comfortable with two women raising a child. And the truth is that even those who are comfortable with the idea, still may not imagine two women when they think of the family they would like to choose to raise the child they are creating an adoption plan for.  And so, it is more difficult for two women to be chosen by a birth mother.  And there is nothing we can do about that.  That was the reality that Dori explained to us and that was the moment of the meeting where I felt most scared and most unsure about this process. 

But I have to say.  That was just a moment.  There were many other moments where I felt so sure that this was the right process for us.  And that was the feeling that I walked away with.  I fell more in love with this particular agency and more in love with the idea of open adoption.  I was excited by the fact that Dori gave us some next steps to take.  She gave us, what she called, “The famous green binder.”  This binder was filled with paperwork and checklists and all sorts of other things that will get us through the beginning phase of the adoption process known as the home study.  So there was a lot to be excited about.  For me, it was just that amidst all the excitement was this reality that for some birthmothers, Carla and I would never be considered just because we are two women.  No matter how loving we might seem or how much care we put into crafting the perfect image of a stable family, there are some people who would never see anything other than a lesbian couple who are not fit to raise a child.  And no matter how I try to reassure myself or how others try to reassure me, that just hurts. 

And yet, I still look ahead with excitement.  Next Saturday, Carla and I will be attending an all day class called “Adoption 101.”  After that, we will start writing our autobiographies for the adoption agency.  We will start to have difficult conversations about what types of mental illness, physical illness, and drug and alcohol abuse we are willing to consider in the birthmother.  We will start to talk about what issues we are willing to consider in the child himself.  And we will start to list out for the agency how much money we make and how much money we spend in a month.  Truly, no detail goes unobserved.  Once these documents are done, there are more meetings to be had, more classes to take, and much more paperwork to fill out.  And I truly look forward to all of it. 

So with this first meeting over, I can look ahead with a lot of excitement and some fears as well.  I take comfort in knowing that I am surrounded by support.  I take comfort in knowing that I have a wonderful partner to go through this process with.  And I take comfort in knowing that we have found a wonderful agency and a wonderful adoption counselor to guide us through all of it.  And for now, all of that makes this process seem a lot more manageable and a lot less scary. 

(Don't be alarmed when this exact same post appears on my It's Conceivable blog. I wrote it to be posted there, but wanted to be able to share with you all first :) )