Adoption

National Review: IRS targeting adoptive parents for audit

There are a ton of partisan landmines in the controversy of the IRS targeting groups with certain political leanings – and I’m purposely choosing to tip-toe around those.
Last year when I wrote to support extending the adoption tax credit, I mentioned in passing that claiming the adoption tax credit all but guarantees an audit.
I had no idea how right I was.
The numbers cited here (90% were asked for more info, and 69% were audited) are astounding, appalling, and hopefully a call for action.

While it absolutely sucks that adoptive parents have to face yet another layer of scrutiny not known by most families, fear not – if it is one thing adoptive parent know, it is how to fill out a form.

The Social Stigma of Adoption

During the various adoption classes and trainings we did, we came to understand how adoption is a beautiful thing built on a foundation of loss.  The birth mother feels loss over placing her child.  The adoptee feels loss over a lack of identity or not knowing their biological family.  The adoptive parents often know the loss of infertility.

I feel as if I understand the losses that everybody in our two adoptions feels.  However, I tend to look at loss mostly from my perspective, which is rather rosy.  I have long accepted that my wife and I will never have a biological child, and I am perfectly fine with that.  Our children are amazing – smart, beautiful, vibrant little beings that make me happy beyond words.  I truly believe my wife and I could not have produced anything as wonderful as our two kiddos.  So I tend to forget about the other two sides of our adoption triangle and any pain they might be feeling.

I may be over my loss, and I’m naive enough to think that we can provide enough love and support to cushion whatever loss our kids may feel as their comprehension of their journeys to our home evolves.  But do I really understand what our birth mothers went through?

Sure, I can vocalize the pain they must feel over knowing that they have not seen their beautiful children in person since birth.  I can try to understand what it must be like to go through life – being with their other children, hearing a baby cry, seeing their C-section scar, or any of the thousand moments in the day where they are reminded that the life they brought into this world is (for differing reasons) not currently in their life.

It is a pain that I cannot understand, a loss that I will never know, an ache that (presumably) never goes away.  I am grateful beyond words these women chose adoption and chose us to parent their children.

But is another part of the story that I had never ever considered; one that makes me love and appreciate these women even more:  the social stigma they must face.  The judgment (silent, vocal, or implied) from everyone you know.

I recently read a very interesting piece in the Washington Post entitled “A Mother’s Day plea to stop equating adoption with abandonment“. It really opened my eyes.

I clicked on the piece expecting a rant against an all-too-common adoption phrase:  “gave up for adoption”*.

*I hate that phrase.  Despise it.  It makes the hair on my neck stand up and wakes up the protective Papa Bear inside me.  Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – “gave up” on my babies.  Not their birth moms, not their biological families, nor anybody else.  Say that about my kids, and you may “give up” on breathing for a while.

A belated Birth Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful birth moms out there, and especially to two amazing women who will always be special to us.

But while “gave up” is mentioned in the piece, it is a small component in the bigger message.

The loss a birth mom faces can sometimes pale in comparison to the social stigma they face for placing their child for adoption.  The author even asserts that for some women, aborting an unplanned pregnancy can have less impact than placing a child for adoption.

Think about it:  there is a woman at work, at school, at church, in your family, wherever.  You can tell that she is pregnant, even if you think she’s trying to hide it.  You hear that she’s gone into labor and delivered a healthy child.  Then one day, she is back but little is said publicly about where the baby went.

You would judge her.

You would think she was a slut for getting knocked up, or she’s a bad person because she couldn’t take care of her baby, or she has betrayed religious tenets you hold dear.

You would ask why.  Why couldn’t she raise baby?  Why did she have to “give up” this child?  Why is she such a bad mom?  Why?

You may not say or intentionally do anything, but you would likely judge her for placing her baby for adoption.  Or make negative assumptions.

Hell, I am a two-time adoptive father.  I owe an overwhelming debt of gratitude to our two birth moms.  And I can honestly tell you that I have made some negative judgments about birth moms (especially the one who lied to us in our failed adoption).

Simply put:  the social stigma our birth mothers faced is something that I (as an adoptive father) have failed to comprehend, or even acknowledge.

And that is what makes birth moms so amazing.  When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, they could take the “easy” way out and abort.  Few people would know, and they would not have to endure nine months of judgment, and a lifetime of whispers about how she “gave up” a baby.  Imagine the strength, the love, and conviction needed to make an adoption plan, especially in the face of such social stigma.

The solution is simple:  as a society, we readjust our mindset on birth moms.  They are not pariahs incapable of parenting.  They love their children and want the best possible life for them.  The author says it best:

“A woman’s decision to carry a baby to term knowing that she will not reap the fruits of motherhood should be treated as an act of bravery and selflessness — the ultimate standards of good motherhood.”

I agree.

*   *   *

Update…The WordPress Daily Prompt for 5/14/2013 is about unconditional love.  I definitely think the love birth moms have for their children qualifies.

I’ll Wait Forever

Author’s note:  This post is partially inspired by a writing prompt on openadoptionbloggers.com.  The prompt was simply to “Write about open adoption and time.” 

It also presents a good opportunity to share a song from one of my favorite bands.  Stick with me…hopefully it will all make sense in the end.

*   *   *

Whenever we have shared news with family, friends, and co-workers about being in an adoption process (i.e. somewhere between filling out that first form and when we see our child for the first time), the conversation inevitably turns to time*.

“When?”

“How long?”

This makes sense as adoption does not track time on the same clock as traditional pregnancy.  The path of the adoptive parent (foster, domestic, international, etc.) along with a plethora of other factors all play a role in speeding or slowing the adoption clock.  If you don’t know somebody who has been through adoption, it’s tough to understand why some adoptions take weeks and others take years.

*The cynical side of me thinks these conversations gravitate to time so easily because time questions are much safer than the questions people really want to ask:  “Why?”  and “How much?”  But I’m getting off track…

Time.

Ask most adoptive parents about time, and they’ll tell you about The Wait.  The Wait is the stretch of time between reaching the summit of Mount Paperwork and the tearful bliss of Gotcha Day.  The Wait can be a few days or multiple years.  The Wait is rarely in any hurry.

Nine months seem like a long time to wait for a baby, but with traditional pregnancy you have a date that you can point to.  A date you can circle on the calendar and count down to.  A date you (and your employer) can plan around.  People in The Wait do not have the luxury.  The Wait hates planners.

For most people, The Wait sucks.  Yes, there are lots of adoptions that take far less than nine months, but you usually have no idea of that going in.  The Wait loves to keep you guessing.  For both of our adoptions, we entered into The Wait with a vague timetable of “anywhere between six and twelve months” before we would be matched*

*Okay….before we go too much farther, I need to have full disclosure.  This is not going to be easy for some of you to read, but if I’m going to post this on an Open Adoption blog site, I need to be open.  Here goes:

Our “wait” between the time our agency sent out our profiles (i.e. when we were considered waiting) and the phone call letting us know about a potential match with our daughter can be easily measured in days.  That you could count on one hand.  Even if you only had four fingers on that hand.

Yep, our profiles went out on the Friday before Memorial Day (2009) and I received the call from our agency on the day after Memorial Day.  It’s okay if you want to hate us – I’m pretty sure I would be insanely jealous with hate if we had spent years living with The Wait.  If it helps, I had emergency back surgery before we could take placement…but that’s another story for another day.

There is no secret formula for surviving The Wait.  Our agency encouraged us to consider ourselves “paper pregnant” and go through the mental and physical processes (baby showers, nesting, preparing a nursery, etc.) to get ready for our child’s arrival.  For the most part, that is what we did throughout the process as my wife (correctly) assumed that we would be matched early.

But what if our long weekend of a wait had truly stretched into The Wait?  Do you try to put The Wait in your pocket and go on living your life?  I can see how detaching yourself from the stress and uncertainty of The Wait could be a viable survival tactic to avoid the anticipation and anxiety from consuming you.  Or is The Wait always there?  Some days it lurks in a corner, just barely visible, while other days it stands squarely on your chest?  I just don’t know.

I think we can all agree that The Wait sucks for most adoptive parents, but my opinion is that it is even worse for parents adopting internationally.  First, there is all of the bureaucratic red tape that exists between two countries.  Second comes the anxiety over the country itself – will it be free from war, disease, natural disaster, or governmental instability.

But the worst part would have to be accepting a match to a child and (depending on the country/program) receiving a picture or some video of your child.  Then you must wait another six months before you can hold him in your arms.  That is just The Wait being cruel.

So for those of you currently in the midst of The Wait, or for those who remember how fun it was, I’d like to share a song that I wish would have been around when we were going through the process.  It’s called “I’ll Wait Forever”.

The song is by The Nadas, a longtime indie band from Des Moines, IA, and appears on their new album Lovejoy Revival.  To the best of my knowledge, nobody in the band has an adoption tie, and judging by the other tracks on Lovejoy, the song was not intended with an adoption slant.  Yet, every time I listen to “I’ll Wait Forever”, I cannot help by think of our two waits, and how the end results were worth every agonizing second.

I’ll wait forever.
‘Til you come true.

I’ll wait forever.
For you.

One Year Ago This Weekend

One year ago this weekend, things sucked for us.

A lot.

The Super Bowl of Adoption

Author’s note:  I’m a little late to the party on this, but I wanted to share my two cents…

As part of the non-stop hype and build up to last week’s Super Bowl, media members from all over the country explore every conceivable story angle on the players – especially those in starring roles, such as San Fransisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  Kaepernick is a pretty interesting story:  not widely recruited out of high school, becomes a star QB and helps boost Nevada football to respectability.  Gets drafted by the 49’ers and takes over the starting job midway through the season, helping to ignite the team, leading them to the Super Bowl.  Kaepernick was also adopted by white parents, adding another level to his already unique story.

Although progress is being made, adoption is still a rather mysterious subject for a lot of folks.  Add in the layers of open adoption (where the adoptee has some level of contact/relationship with their birth family) and transracial adoption (my wife and I are white; our children are not) and it definitely makes for an interesting angle for the hundreds of media members looking for something new to report/write/talk about*.

*As an aside, Kaepernick was not the only transracial adoptee playing in the Super Bowl.  Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher was also adopted by a white family, but his story (or at least a Hollywood version of it) has already been told in the Sandra Bullock movie The Blind Side.

One of the questions Kaepernick was asked during the Super Bowl media day was if he was in contact with his birth parents.  Kaepernick was placed for adoption by a 19 year old woman, who knew that she would not be able to adequately provide for him.  He said that he had not been in recent contact with her (she had sent a letter for his 18th birthday), nor did he have a desire to do so.

This is where ESPN columnist Rick Reilly comes in.  Reilly adopted one of his daughters from Korea, and in a recent column he related a personal story of how his daughter reunited with her birth mom and biological siblings during trips to Korea.  According to Reilly, the experience has been very positive for his daughter.  Terrific.  I am a big believer in open adoption.  And hearing about positive and healthy relationships between adopted children and their biological family makes me happy.

But then Reilly expresses confusion over why Kaepernick refuses to meet with his birth mom.  He cannot understand why Kaepernick is not behaving like other adopted kids who are “crazy curious about their birth parents”.  Reilly offers a pet theory for why Kaepernick does not want contact:  Reilly thinks that a relationship between Kaepernick and his birth mom would be disrespectful to his adoptive parents.  Maybe he’s right.  Maybe he’s not.

*A side note – the other thing about Reilly’s piece that drove me up a wall was his use of “gave him up” to describe the birth mother’s decision to place her son for adoption.  I’ve never met Colin Kaepernick’s birth mom, but I can guarantee that she did not “give up” on him, and to imply that any birth mother “gives up” on their child is insulting to the birth mom and the child.  If you use a variation of “give up” when talking about somebody who was adopted, please stop.

But here’s the thing:  Colin Kaepernick gets to choose what level of contact, if any, he has with his birth family.  He gets to decide if he is “crazy curious” about the woman who carried him for nine months before making what was likely an impossibly hard decision.  He gets to decide how he processes and handles that loss.  And he definitely gets to decide if he discusses all of this in front of the national media before the biggest game of his career.

Look:  I hope that Kaepernick can have a strong relationship with his birth mom, just as I want my own adopted children to have good relationships with their birth families.  I’m very proud of the relationship we have built with my daughter’s birth grandma, great-grandma, and half-sister.  And we continue to make every effort to establish a better relationship with our son’s birth parents – when they are ready, we will be readily oblige.  While they are young, we will do everything in our power to establish those relationships, develop them, and always ensure they are positive and beneficial for our children.

But I acknowledge that a time will come where the decision to maintain or break contact will no longer be mine.  I’ll certainly encourage them to maintain some level of communication, but if they choose to break contact, I’ll listen to them, try to understand their reasoning, and respect their decision.  And I won’t have a lot of patience for outsiders like Reilly who tell my kids how to live their lives.

Adoption in America

I came across a very interesting adoption infographic today that I wanted to share:

From the USC School of Social Work (via msw.usc.edu)

(source:  http://msw.usc.edu/mswusc-blog/adoption-infographic/)

A couple of comments and things that stood out to me:

  • I’m not a fan of their use of “orphan” to describe the children who are adopted.  While their usage is technically accurate – at least from a legal perspective – when most people think of orphans, they think of children whose parents have died.  I have never considered my two adopted children to be “orphans” because their birth parents are all living.
  • I’m a little surprised that the overwhelmingly majority of adoptive parents (75%) are white.
  • I wonder if same-sex couples were placed in the married or unmarried couple section in the adoptive parents pie chart.
  • I’d love to know more about single men who have adopted.  Are they going through the foster system, agencies, or what?  I have a strange suspicion that trying to adopt as a single male would be harder than being a single woman, unmarried (hetero) couple, or a gay/lesbian couple.
  • Wow.  Look at the orphan numbers in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Just…wow.
  • I’d like to see the numbers on adoptive parents who experienced a failed adoption prior to placement.  I’ve always heard it is around 1 in 3, but hard numbers would be interesting.
  • I’d also like to see the number of open adoptions, especially among U.S. children.  The increase in open adoption has been a game changer, and I think it is a part of the reason why adoptions have increased 15% since 1990.

The Party of the Year

I just attended a very exclusive, V.I.P.-only*, late night blowout party.

Even though I’m 15 years removed from college, it is refreshing to see that some things never change in the after-hours party scene:
Party All Night (Sleep All Day)

  • The lighting was dim.
  • There was talk of getting out a bottle of the good stuff.
  • Some of the other guests were already cashed out for the night.
  • The odds are good that somebody will lose their pants.
  • I caught myself looking a clock, wondering “what am I doing up at this hour?”.
  • At one point, that guy who doesn’t say much was staggering around in circles.
  • A foul smell and/or a mysterious wet patch was discovered.
  • Which led to finding some nasty mess that needed to be cleaned up ASAP.
  • You end up slowly rocking back and forth with a little cutie in  your arms.
  • The success or failure of your night is determined by what time you go to bed.

There were a couple of notable differences between tonight’s blowout bash and the ones I attended in my college days.  Specifically, tonight it was just me and my 10 month old son.  He had pooped out of his jammies, so I got to clean him up, change him, put a new sheet on the crib, and get him back to sleep before I could consider going to bed.

*Yep, “V.I.P.” stood for Very Important Parent.  Sneaky little bugger, aren’t I?  I’m pretty damn clever at 1:30 am.

As I held my boy and started to rock him back to sleep, he looked right at me with his big brown inquisitive eyes.  I was a little afraid that the clean-up process had woken him up, and I was going to have to launch the 14-step “Get Baby To Sleep” battle plan.

Instead, he laid his head down on my shoulder, and did one of my absolute favorite things:  he exhaled and sank his body onto me, half hugging me, and half falling asleep in my arms.

And I knew this party beat all of the parties I attended back in college – even if I did get poop on my fingers.

Four More Years, But A Life Long Lesson

Today is the inauguration of President Obama’s second term in office.  For a sizable chunk of the country (including a vast majority of my Big Red home state*), the start of Obama’s second four years in the White House is a cause for trepidation, not celebration.

*How deeply Republican is Nebraska?  In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney won 92 of the 93 counties in the state.  In 43 of those 93 counties, Romney received over 75% of the vote.  The lone victory for Obama came in tiny Thurston County, where Obama won by 308 votes.  In Nebraska, Obama yard signs were about as common as folks flying Texas Longhorns flags on fall Saturdays – you could do it, but it’s a great way to alienate your friends and neighbors.

But setting aside the President’s politics, I am thrilled to see him get another four years.  Why?  It’s not because I’m a card-carrying liberal or have a strong connection to any of his policies.  The reason is much more personal.

We adopted both of our children through an agency in Florida.  My son is African-American, and we believe our daughter’s birth father is black.  We know that the color of their skin is going to stand out here – it does almost every time we leave the house – and there will come a day when they are treated differently because of their skin.  I know that some day they will have doubts on what they can achieve, or if the color of their beautiful skin will be a hinderance to their hopes and dreams.

When those moments occur, I will remind them that for the first four and eight years of their lives, a black man was the President of the United States of America.  And with the proper motivation, dedication, and passion there is absolutely nothing they cannot accomplish.

For me, having a positive role model like Obama for my children trumps any concerns my fellow citizens may have about his policies and views.

Some Children Left Behind

In recognition of National Adoption Day, I’d like to share some sobering numbers about my beloved home state of Nebraska:

In 2010 in the state of Nebraska:

  • 4,301 children were in foster care.
  • 1,033 of those children were waiting for placement with a permanent family.
  • 275 children turned 18 and aged out of the foster care system without a permanent family (28,000 nationally).

All of this in a state that claims to be “The Good Life”.

Definitely, those numbers are quite sad.  But I’d like to draw your attention to that last bullet about the 275 kids who aged out of the system.  Even though it is the smallest number, it should be the most depressing.

These 275 kids are now essentially alone in the world, without the family support structure that most of us take for granted.  Think about it:  Where are these kids going to go next week for Thanksgiving, while we enjoy time together with our families?  Who will celebrate Christmas with them?  Who walks them down the aisle at their wedding?  When they have good news, need support, or advice on life, who do they call or lean on?

Yes, by government standards, they are 18 year-old men and women, and therefore should be able to survive just fine in the world.  However, it has been shown that kids who age out of the foster care system have a greater risk of homelessness, substance abuse, and crime than their peers who have some sort of family structure.

We can, and should do better.

Obviously, the biggest thing that can be done is to look into becoming a foster or adoptive parent – especially for older children, sibling groups, and minorities.  You can learn more on the Nebraska Health & Human Services website: www.dhhs.ne.gov/adoptionkids

Look – I am not suggesting that everyone who reads this should go out and become a foster parent or adopt a child.  Adoption and foster parenting are not for everyone.  The adoption process can be lengthy, costly, and frustrating in several areas.  Others have preconceived notions and misplaced fears over how foster and adopted kids will connect with their family.  And many think that they are not a “good enough” parent to foster or adopt (but strangely, it’s okay for these “inferior” parents to screw up their biological children).

Fortunately, the good folks at the Ad Council have a humorous* response for you:

*Humorous, and also very correct.  As an adoptive parent, I can assure that even though I can bake a good batch of cookies, I am miles from being a perfect parent, but my two beautiful children don’t seem to mind.

Adoption may not be for everyone.  But, there are many ways that we can all help:

  • In addition to (or instead of) financial contributions, many of the above organizations will gladly accept donations of time, talents, and other goods and services.  For the kids who at risk for aging out of the foster care system, mentoring programs (such as Teammates) can make a huge difference.  Call and ask how you can help – even if it is an hour a month.
  • Call or email your U.S. Congressman and Senators and ask them to support and/or co-sponsor H.R. 4373 and S.3616,an extension of the adoption tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of 2012.  This important tax credit makes adopt more affordable for many worthy families.  Click here for more info about the expiration of these important credits.
  • Ask your employer to add adoption benefits to their benefits package (or expand what they already have).  Adoption benefits help to level the playing field between biological and adoptive parents.  Common benefits include paid time off and stipends to help defray adoption expenses.  Adoption benefits are a win-win for companies (relatively low-cost to implement, but are great for P.R. and recruiting) as well as employees (very family friendly).
  • If you support any pro-life groups, make sure they are including support for adoption in their agenda.  Because while reducing/limiting/ending abortion is a noble goal, birth mothers will still need options for unplanned pregnancies.  The pro-life groups (especially here in Nebraska) carry a lot of political clout, so they need to leverage some of their might to make adoption more accessible and affordable.

If you have questions about adoption (the process, the costs, etc) and do not know where to turn for answers, feel free to shoot me an email (feitcanwrite@hotmail.com).  I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to share our experiences and advice, as well as pay back the grear information we received when we were first starting out.

Keep Calm and…

Ever since the London Olympics this summer, the “Keep Calm” posters (based upon a WWII-era propaganda poster) have been all the rage.

With a pretty simple template, everybody and their mother has their own version of the meme.  Frankly, I think the majority of them are rather stupid, but to each their own.

But as a parent who has adopted twice, this one really hits the nail on the head.

Yep. That pretty much describes the adoption process (image via: wondermentetc.com)

I’m re-posting* this from wondermentetc.com, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite adoption reads.  The author adopted a beautiful little guy from Africa and her perspective and empathy for all sides of the adoption triad (birth mother, child, adoptive family) is a standard I aspire to achieve.  Highly recommended.

*”Re-posting” being a fancy blogging term for “stealing your work, but with a citation.”

This poster really speaks to me.  Adoption can be a long, stressful, process where the only certainty is uncertainty (along with more paperwork).

For us, many of the forms we filled out felt like rude inconveniences designed to constantly remind us that the only way infertile folks like us could start a family was by jumping through a bunch of ridiculous hoops (immunization records for the cat?  Really?) and proving things (physical and mental health, job stability, financial well-being, lack of criminal record, that we were legally married, etc.) that people like OctoMom and Honey Boo-Boo’s mom never had to worry about.

Throughout the mountains of paperwork we completed, we tried to remind ourselves that the stacks of papers were a necessary evil, as the primary concern of everybody involved – us, the birth family, the adoption agency, and the numerous governmental agencies – was to ensure the child is safe, secure, and gets the best parent(s) possible.

But it sure would have been nice to reference this poster while we were going through the process.

%d bloggers like this: