Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Choose an Adoption Agency, Part I

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun by writing this post; after all, we are towards the beginning of our adoption journey. However, I have seen a number of blog posts recently which made my heart ache, because couples have been poorly served by their adoption agencies. No one deserves this, particularly infertiles who have already been repeatedly traumatized on their journeys to parenthood. So I've put together these posts in the hopes that future prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) can avoid further heartache and trauma.

1. Why use an adoption agency?

Many couples do not use an adoption agency at all. Instead, they network to find birthparents and then use lawyers to handle the legal transfer of parental rights. I do not recommend this. An honest and ethical agency can help you avoid minefields.

Case in point: I recently read the heartbreaking story of a couple who found an expectant mother, flew to her city for the birth, met the baby in the nursery, fed him, changed his diapers, took him back to where they were staying and parented him for two weeks. Then their lawyer called. The birthmom wanted her baby back.

But there's a catch here: The mother had never signed the TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) papers. The baby did not legally belong to the adoptive parents. Not only was there nothing they could do, but there's a word for taking a child with whom you have no legal relationship. It begins with a "k".

An ethical adoption agency would have both protected both the mother and the PAPs by insisting that the PAPs not cultivate a relationship with the baby before the papers had been signed. Perhaps there are adoption attorneys who would do the same thing, but an attorney's primary responsibility is to handle paperwork, not review best adoption practices with PAPs.

Another factor is cost. I was stunned to learn that adoption attorney's can charge as much as $30,000 per adoption! From what I've seen, many agencies charge less and give you more.

An ethical agency will also offer counseling and post-placement support to birthmothers (see #3 below).

2. Does the agency have a religious affiliation? Is the religious affiliation the same as yours?

If the agency has a religious affiliation that is not your own BEWARE. There are agencies which require all PAPs to sign a "statement of faith" which you may or may not share. (For example, a very large Christian organization here in the US requires PAPs to sign a statement of faith which Catholics cannot sign.)

If you are considering a religious agency, bring up your (different) religion in the first phone call. "We're _________. Do you work with ________ couples?" Also, make sure that the denomination of the adoption agency does not have a record of problems with your denomination. You do not want to encounter any discrimination from your adoption agency once you have signed up with them, as it could involve an extended wait.

I hate to point out particular denominations, but evangelical Christians have a reputation for thinking that no one is saved except fellow evangelicals. If you were evangelical, would you want to adopt children to parents who were bound for hell? No, you would not.

3. What support services does the agency have for mothers, both before and after placement?

Every time I hear a blogger complaining that an adoption agency "only cares about birthmothers," I roll my eyes. Keep in mind that as PAPs, you are the most powerful member in the adoption triad. I know you don't feel this way. I know that you feel that you are powerless because your body can't do what everyone else's body can. But you are the ones who have tens of thousands of dollars that you can spend on this adoption. You're the one who can provide a child a stable safe home and myriad educational and economic opportunities. Women who are even considering making an adoption plan have none of this. You are not the one who is facing the painful choice of either parenting a child without the financial or emotional resources to do so, or placing her in the care of complete strangers, where you may not ever see her again.

If an adoption agency can be trusted to be fair and just to the vulnerable women who are not paying them, then they are more likely to be fair and just to you. The reverse is also true.

If an agency doesn't have much support for birthmothers, especially post-placement counseling, I would think twice about signing up with them.

These women are entrusting us with the most precious thing in the world. The least we can do is make sure they have the support they need during the most difficult times of their lives.

4. What is the agency's reputation?

This is tricky, because it involves digging up dirt on agencies on-line. Most agencies have at least a few negative reviews. Read the content of the reviews and try to ascertain whether the complaints are 1) consistent with one another and 2) reasonable. Pay no attention if the reviewer is complaining, "They only care about birthmothers." Or "They didn't return my non-returnable applications materials." (Yes, this is an actual quote.)

But if review after review alleges that the agency mistreats birthmothers, be very, very careful about proceeding. If the agency pressures or coerces mothers into placing their babies, this is not the kind of agency you want involved with your family.

You can also post a query on on-line adoption forums. Many of these websites have a policy against gossiping about particular agencies, but you can ask that people who have used the agencies in question respond to you via private message or email. Again, take everything you learn with a grain of salt.

Next up: Wait Times, Fee Schedules, and Home Studies

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Manifold Updates

My longest ever absence from this blog was born not out of sorrow or trauma, but out of simply being overwhelmed by all the adoption-related stuff. In addition, I have been doing a ton of writing at work lately. Most days, all I do is write all day long. This has completely sapped my writing energy. I rarely work on Sundays, but the very last thing I want to do on my one day off is MORE WRITING.

But my two loyal readers probably wouldn't mind an update, so here it is:

1) Homestudy: We are done with our part of the homestudy, but we are waiting for a police clearance from Washington, DC, which is about to run out of money due to the shut down. So basically, though we filled out the form two months ago, our homestudy has been delayed indefinitely due to forces beyond our control.

2) Adoption Profile: I have finished a draft of this. I need to send it to our neighbor the graphic designer for feedback, but I'm so depressed by the whole endeavor that I can't manage to. DH and I simply aren't picture people. We didn't even own a camera until we bought one specifically to take pictures for our profile. We have hardly any pictures of us, other than the ones we took specifically for the profile. There is nothing to be done about the fact that we have limited photos, but the reality depresses me and makes me self-conscious nonetheless.

And...things have been difficult in our marriage recently. Being married is a funny thing, isn't it. The moment you say your vows, bitching to your girlfriends about how your boyfriend is always late, talks too much, doesn't do enough housework, etc. becomes an act of disloyalty. So I end up feeling like mine is the only marriage with so much strife. Which is why I like complaining about this on my blog, because I KNOW ya'll don't have perfect marriages.

The Adoption Profile itself has been causing a lot of the fights, along with DH's continued underemployment. DH told me that he would take care of the profile, being unemployed and all. Plus, I am visually incompetent and the thought of choosing fonts and background colors makes me feel exhausted and overwhelmed.

But I ended up doing most of the work, because it turns out that DH isn't all that great with software and spent two weeks trying to create the profile on iStudio, the worst publishing software EVER. I switched the whole thing to MS Powerpoint and worked on it every night after coming home from work, which, I believe I've mentioned before, has been completely sapping my writing energy.

So, in the event that you were unemployed, dear reader, would you, after your dear wife came home exhausted on Friday evening, cooked you both dinner and then plunked herself down in front of the computer to finish the profile, repeatedly moan about having poor, low-quality photographers? When your dear wife, in tears, begged you--BEGGED you--not to keep repeating that because she found it demoralizing to finish the profile while you kept reminding her of the difficulty of the task, would you get angry, storm off, and NAP ON THE COUCH WHILE SHE FINISHED THE PROFILE HERSELF???? And then, after a night in which you found yourself with the bed to yourself, because your dear wife had taken refuge in the guest bedroom, would you then proceed to point out to her all the ways in which SHE mishandled the situation? 

In other news, for the second year in a row, I will be taking the cats to the vet because DH "forgot" to get their vaccinations updated, even though we must get this taken care of for our homestudy to remain valid. Did I mention that he's unemployed and that now I must take time off work to get the cats vaccinated?

I'm still sleeping in the guest bedroom, and will be for the foreseeable future.