Christianson Adoption {Part 4}: Choosing Our Adoption Route

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At this point in our story, it’s the end of February and we know that we are going to adopt. We’ve picked out what car we want and we are looking for the best option/price we can find. I found a home study agency, Triangle Adoption Services, in our town that would allow us to start the paperwork before we decided whether we were adopting domestically or internationally. The home study consisted of LOTS of paperwork (and two, 2-hour visits with a social worker in our home,) so that took lots of nap and preschool time to complete. I had a pretty detailed checklist going– attempting to keep up with everything we needed to do to begin the paper process of our adoption.

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We were really torn on where we wanted to adopt from for several weeks. I had thought that I would adopt internationally for a long time. In fact, adopting an infant from Asia was on my bucket list that I made in high school. In good ‘ole 2003, guys! I found the bucket list a few weeks ago when I was looking for photos for our adoption video.

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Also, proof that I have continued my love for lists.

I follow several orphanages on social media. I receive their quarterly e-mails. For most of my life, I wanted to adopt internationally because I had heard of the great NEED for families for orphans, for those living abroad in orphanages without adequate love and care. Of Chinese daughters being abandoned due to China’s one child policy. (This rumor was going around a long time ago, but I held on to the idea of loving an Asian baby girl that her parents didn’t want solely because she was a girl for a very long time.) In reality, many children in orphanages are well-loved by their caregivers, in orphanages that are doing the best they can with limited resources. Orphanages provide food, care and education for so many. Also, most Chinese parents do not abandon their children because of their gender, but due to complex medical conditions that they cannot care for, financially, themselves. There are also children living in orphanages that are un-adoptable for a variety of reasons. I have learned so much through my adoption education/research and through conversations with other parents that have adopted, both internationally and domestically.

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We looked into adopting from Asian and African countries quite a bit. We talked about South America, specifically Costa Rica (where we honeymooned,) but many of the countries had travel requirements that would not work for us. Tommy can take at MOST two weeks off work for our adoption. There was no way that we could stay for 4-6 weeks (or more) in a foreign country. Even if he could get an extended leave from work, would we take our other three children there as well? We definitely would not leave them for almost 6 weeks with relatives. What about school? The likelihood that our adoption travel fell during summer vacation when they could tag along seemed unlikely. We were very interested in the small, African country Burundi because they had a shorter travel time (just 1 week in Burundi and 1 week in Kenya;) however, Burundi is currently in the middle of a political crisis that has caused hundreds of thousands to flee the country. Those that stayed are unable to feed/provide for their families due to the severe economic depression and dwindling food supplies. We would like to help humanitarian efforts in Burundi, but we also do not want to stay in a country where people are disappearing.

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Plus, we really considered the age gaps and birth order for Noah, Eli and Emry Jane. It’s rare to adopt an infant internationally these days. If we were matched with a child that was around 2 years old at match, how old would they be when he/she was home with us? We were worried about adopting a child so close in age to (or the same age as!) the twins. Even in Burundi, waiting families have to be open to adopting a child up to 36 months old. We wanted to keep Noah the oldest. We also talked about adopting a child between the ages of the twins and Noah, but felt that it would be best for us for our adopted child to be the “baby” in the family, even if they weren’t a newborn baby when they came home to us. The age gaps played a big role in our decision to adopt domestically. The average wait time through domestic infant adoption, in the method we are using (more on that later,) has an average wait time under 12 months. Since we are also open to a baby up to 12 months old that gives the twins a 2-3 year age gap with Baby #4 and a 10+ year age gap for Noah. The six year age gap between the twins and Noah is already hard sometimes– trying to find activities that appeal to both Noah AND the twins is definitely challenging. We bank on things like the pool, park, and beach where there are likely to be other kids Noah’s age to play with. No fair that those twins have a built-in playmate everywhere they go! Just kidding- we absolutely love it! My brother Dalton and I have a 10 year age gap and my sisters Savannah, Alyssa and I (both my half sisters are the same age) have a 14 year age gap. I love my siblings dearly, but we aren’t running in the same life circles. We weren’t very close as children… and it’s kinda hard for a 16 year old to relate to a 31 year old sister with 3 kids. So, we are hoping to minimize the gap between Noah and Baby #4 as much as possible, God-willing.

Part of me loves the idea of another baby in the house. Another baby to snuggle and nurse. The bonding that would come from our older children being able to rock, feed and help take care of their new sibling. I want that bonding for Tommy too. He missed the baby stage completely with Noah. Newborn life with the twins required a lot of time with just Mama because I was ALWAYS feeding them, usually tandem. He needs more baby snuggle time. Part of me also thinks it’s crazy to add a baby to our circus. Guess, I’m a little crazy 😉

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I love that most domestic adoptions are open. As of 2012, 95% of domestic adoptions had some level of openness between adoptive parents and birth parents. I know adoptive moms that have open adoptions and only communicate through their agency with letters and photos to their birth mom. I know adoptive moms on the other end of the spectrum that have regular text/phone conversations, face-time sessions and even visits. I love the idea of having a close relationship with our child’s birth mother (or birth parents.) I think the child would really benefit from a relationship with their birth mother, answers to their medical questions, etc. I know that this relationship will grow and change throughout our child’s lifetime, but we are willing to put in the work. I also feel like we have experience with communicating special events, milestones and general health of a child already through our co-parenting of Noah with Brandon and Jennie. Coming together as Noah’s four parents will always be worth it. Tommy and I  feel the same way about open adoption.

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Love makes a family– and in our case, our mutual love of Noah 🙂

I  also feel a lot of empathy for birth mothers. I know those feelings of panic and denial. To love the child growing inside of you so much, but to feel so unprepared to raise them in the way that you want to. I GET it because I lived it. As I have said before, I did not plan to be pregnant at 21 years old. It rocked me to the core. I was not ready to be a mom. I pray that all mothers are surrounded by love and support during their pregnancies, especially those that are making hard decisions about what would be best for them and their baby. It is not “giving up” or “giving away” AT ALL. It is about giving MORE than just their love, more than they think they are capable of giving right now. Brandon and I chose to parent our child and I cannot imagine my life without Noah, but it was very hard. Yes, it led to so many blessings for all of us– but there were many days that I questioned whether or not I could do it. Whether I could be a “good mother” at 21, whether I could finish college, whether I could still do the things I had “planned” (insert laughter) to do before becoming a mother. I hope that these experiences will help us when we are building our relationship with our child’s birth mother, and that she will feel loved and supported from us through her pregnancy and beyond. And, more importantly, loved and supported by her people (friends, family, birth father, etc.) through all to this as well.

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Me, as a very young and nervous soon-to-be mama… and one of 3 total pictures that I have of me while pregnant with Noah

So, I made a pro/con list for international vs. domestic adoption. (Does this really surprise anyone that REALLY knows me?! Nah.) Tommy and I discussed the list. We thought about those orphanages we had seen in Stuck (a documentary about international adoption.) We talked about having another baby in our home. Then, Tommy asked me, “Wouldn’t doing domestic infant adoption take away from other parents that couldn’t have babies on their own?” We had to discuss the match process for domestic adoption. There are mothers that ask to only be presented with couples that do not or cannot have children. There are mothers that ask to only be presented with families with two or less children. There are mothers that ask to be presented with families that have already adopted a child. There are mothers that are open to be presented with every combination of family. To be matched, the mother has to CHOOSE our family from all the other families that she is presented. She picks our family specifically– our crazy family-of-five circus– for whatever reason(s) she feels make us the best family for her child. We would not be taking away from another couple or another family. We will match with the exact mother and child that God has planned for us.

By mid-March, we were still moving forward with our home study paperwork and I lined up interviews with two adoption consultant companies. Faithful Adoption Consultants (FAC,)  which only consults for domestic infant adoptions, and Christian Adoption Consultants (CAC) that did both international and domestic consulting. On March 14th, Tommy birthday, we went to meet with Pastor Kendrick to discuss our adoption plans with him. It was possible that we might also need a letter of recommendation from him at some point in the process. Our meeting with Pastor Kendrick went great. He was very supportive of our decision to adopt and felt like God would provide for us along the way. The next step was to prepare for our phone interviews with FAC and CAC and officially choose our adoption route (since that would determine aspects of our home study and which consultant we used.) I also started emailing back and forth with one of the CAC consultants, Casey Zaruba, because a friend of Amy’s had used her for their domestic infant adoption and highly recommended her.

Here’s a little excerpt from an email I wrote to Casey about our hearts being torn between international and domestic adoption…

“We met with our pastor yesterday, having his advice/support in this process is very important to us, and on the way there, Tommy (my husband) said that he wasn’t sure that we should not still be considering international adoption. I had just told his mother the day before that I wouldn’t “count out” international adoption because I know that he loves the idea of giving an orphan in a less-developed country a loving family, an excellent education, etc. I forwarded him your emails last night and I know that he is also continuing his other research, looking into agencies, countries to adopt from, etc. When he came home this morning, he said “I think there are too many hoops in international adoption. Too many unknowns.” Plus some of these countries are in active civil wars, like Burundi, and he doesn’t like the idea of us taking our children or even just us to a country that is not safe for travel. My husband is an anesthesiologist and he feels very strongly about doing medical mission work in a few years when he is finished with all his training (currently in training at Duke University.) We agreed that even if we adopt domestically, we can still raise our children to know about other cultures and take them to visit other countries. It may not necessarily be the “birth country” of our 4th child, but our children will all have experiences outside the US where we hope to teach them to serve and love others that are different from us. We strive to do that locally with our current 3 children right now. The biggest factor that keeps us from international adoption is the wait time. Not that we necessarily want a baby “right away” but we know that we will not be in the same place literally in 2 to 4 years. My husband is in his fellowship training at Duke for the next 16 months, but he is already contracted to go back to our home state of TN to work after his training is completely. In 16 months, we will be back home in Knoxville. If we are still waiting for a children at the end of our 16 months in NC, either domestically or internationally, we know that we will have to at least update, if not redo, our home study.”

 

Monday, March 20th was my phone interview with Casey. She was fabulous and answered all of my questions so thoroughly. When we were talking on the phone, I told her about those orphanages I just couldn’t shake from my mind and also about my desire for a baby, for the age gap for our kids. She explained to me that we see the needs of international adoption more than the needs in domestic adoption. The drug and alcohol exposure, homelessness, abuse, mental illness, etc. are more hidden needs here in the US. There is a need for adoptive parents for children born into these situations. One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, always says “it’s not and/or, it’s both.” There is a need for both. There is a need for international adoption, yes. There is a need for domestic adoption too. Both. I felt very connected to Casey and her adoption stories (she has adopted twice through domestic infant adoption) and I knew that I wanted her to be our consultant! That night, Tommy and I had class at church (in preparation to serve in their children’s ministry) and since we already had a sitter, we decided to make it a dinner date too! At dinner, I word-vomitted (I am sure that’s not actually a word, haha) all the things I had talked about and learned from Casey. I talked to him about those “hidden” needs in domestic infant adoption, especially for babies/mamas in hard situations, and we decided after that conversation that domestic infant adoption was the way we wanted to go. We are open to either gender, any race or race combination, mild to moderate medical needs, and drug or alcohol exposure. We do not want to put limits on the child that God has planned for our family, but we also wanted to make sure we could adequately care for their needs and those of Noah, Eli and Emry Jane.

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Our date night, where we decided on domestic infant adoption!

Tommy wanted us to still do that phone interview with FAC before choosing CAC, but I ended up canceling my phone interview with FAC. Eli and Emry Jane’s preschool teacher got a stomach bug and needed me to sub for her at the last minute, at the same time as my scheduled phone interview. I tried to reschedule but FAC did not have another phone interview available for several weeks. Tommy and I decided that we did not want to wait that long to interview with them. Plus, I felt such a strong connection with Casey that we knew Christian Adoption Consultants was the way we wanted to proceed. We submitted our application to CAC on March 23rd. On Friday, March 24th, we turned in our initial home study paperwork to Triangle Adoption Services. The adoption paper process had OFFICIALLY begun…

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Noah was at school so he couldn’t be in our  “home study application submitted!” photo.

To continue reading our adoption story, click {Part 5.}

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