Adoption Made Us Family: Adoption Day 2016

Today is National Adoption Day, bringing awareness to the great need for adoptive families in America, but all I can say is adoption made us a family.

I have yet to find words that do this journey justice. Because it is a journey, not just a destination.

This week I was watching the new Michael Weatherly drama Bull. The episode featured a woman who went into surgery expecting to come out with her ability to carry a child restored, but had to have an emergency hysterectomy instead.

I almost couldn’t watch the episode.

My first reproductive surgery was supposed to make it possible for me to carry a child, but instead I learned that I would most likely never get pregnant and should have had a hysterectomy during that initial procedure. Less than a year later, I ended up having a total hysterectomy when I no longer could ignore how drastically it was affecting my health.

While the health benefits of the hysterectomy finally allowed me to lead a more normal life, losing my ability to ever experience pregnancy and have children was devastating. Sometimes, those emotions are still very raw.

The vision of the family I dreamed of as a young woman would never come to be.

I will never know how it feels to look at a miniature version of my husband and myself, created in our love.

Adoption doesn't erase the hurts of infertility. But is its own rainbow miracle too. Click To Tweet

Adopting doesn’t heal that specific grief.

Adopting after infertility might be similar to the experience of having a rainbow baby (a child born after a miscarriage or still birth). This new life is precious and celebrated, but doesn’t replace what was lost.

I never lost a specific child, but had my heart broken over all the images of my children I had carried in my head and heart.

But the Bull episode ended with one of the main characters walking up to the woman saying, “There is more than one way to make a family. I’m adopted and I can’t thank my parents enough for giving me a family and this life. Adoption is just another way.”

And I was crying ugly tears for no reason at all.

Because adoption did make us a family.

I’ve written about how God has used adoption in my life several times.

But this year, I’m really struck by how God used adoption to make us a family. He took two people who had both had their hopes and ideas of family shattered by divorce and created a new family through this adoption.

It is a beautiful picture of second chances and redemption for all of us.

Today is National Adoption Day, bringing awareness to the great need for adoptive families in America, but all I can say is adoption made us a family.

Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Despite all we did to make a mess of our lives, God’s mercies are new EVERY morning. He brought us through the adoption process so perfectly, moment by moment was orchestrated by Him.

Each of our lives are changed through adding this little girl to our family.

My husband’s boys from his first marriage have their only little sister. My husband got to have another chance to be present for the very young years that he mostly missed with his boys due to military deployments.

Adoption made us a family. It gave our dreams a second chance. #NationalAdoptionDay Click To Tweet

and I get to be a mom.

Being a mom is like the old Peace Corps slogan: The toughest job you’ll ever love.

There are moments I feel completely wrung out, ready to dissolve into a puddle of frustrated tears, but I can’t imagine my life without her in it. Becoming a mother fundamentally changed my perception of my place in this world, my relationship with God, and the concept of what my legacy might be.

Mom: Toughest job you'll ever LOVE! Are you up for it? #NationalAdoptionDay Click To Tweet
This Adoption Day wasn’t picture perfect.

We scrambled to fit in an extra school day in preparation for a trip next week. We struggled through how many dimes can you trade for 18 nickels until we were both ready to quit, cry, and just carry credit cards.

Then we raced out the door to see the Budweiser Clydesdale team. Because HORSES and 6 year old girls. Running to buy a toy for the Salvation Army toy drive, I accidentally stole a soda and had to go back to pay for it on the way home after driving 30 minutes in the dark on a low tire. My husband shot one deer in the woods today but executed another via his truck on the way home, damaging his truck and doubling the butchering this evening.

Such is life.

But this is family, doing ups and downs, working hard to challenge the chaos in this world.

It’s learning how to best love this family we chose to commit to.

And there is a reason God says we’re adopted into His kingdom as co-heirs with Jesus Christ. He sets the precedent for chosen, adopted, brotherhood.

There is something special about being chosen, being loved by daily decision, being adopted . . . because it makes us family.

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National Adoption Day 2015 – My Starfish

I always hope that I’m going to have something inspirational ready to post on National Adoption Day, but here it is, and I don’t know what to say this year except being an adoptive mom makes me .  .  .

a mom, maybe not the same kind of mom as someone else, but the one I was meant to be.

Having a biological child was never possible for me, and I’ve grieved that loss. Yet, I realize now, that if I had, I wouldn’t have the daughter I do today. And she is perfect, sometimes perfectly rotten, perfectly loud, a perfect disaster, but my perfect starfish child.

Sometimes, raising just this one child feels like a drop in the bucket compared to the millions hurting in this world. But God didn’t ask me to save the world, He asked me to raise this child, and I’m reminded of the starfish story, the one about the little girl throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean. She couldn’t save them all, but she didn’t stop trying because her efforts mattered to ‘this one’.I didn't rescue her, she rescued me. She is my starfish and I am hers. This National Adoption Day we soak up our time together, knowing it is just a season.

Sometimes, I hear my daughter say “Mommy” and it sounds false, too good to be true, too fragile with all the extra dynamics of adoption and biology and legality.

But it is true. For today, I am her mom, her only mom. I guess that is what I wanted to say. She is mine. We are really family. Sometimes though, I think we forget our real place in the equation, when we talk about our kids being ours.

I have had to share all my children. My three children from my previous marriage called me mom, but we shared custody. We share my two current stepsons with their mother and stepdad. Now, we share this child with a biological family that may someday be in her life, and with God who adopted her before we did.

Sharing children is difficult and challenging for all sorts of reasons, but entirely beautiful because I’ve learned that these children are mine only in the sense that I’ve been put into their lives for a time, and what I do with that time is mine to claim responsibility over.

For me, the fact that she is only mine through God’s plan has made a huge difference in my parenting. I’m only borrowing her. God plucked her off the beach into my hand for a season. I’ve been given this window to reach into her life and be her mom. That’s it. Temporary.

When people tell me how lucky she is to have me as her mom I feel like a fraud. Don’t they know how selfishly I wanted to be a mom? She didn’t just fall into my lap. It was hours of copying paperwork, weeks of gathering documents, months of preparing our home for a study and a baby we might never get, years of saving money, and decades waiting to be a mom.

Even the starfish allusion, implies that I’m somehow saving her, but like to think we’re part of saving each other. I like it because it reminds me how powerfully one life can matter to another, how much responsibility I’ve been graciously given. She changed me. Watching her relate to me made me see myself in relation to God so clearly.

And just like that, I’m like every other mother, nothing about being a mother was what I expected. I didn’t expect to love this much. I didn’t expect it would change me this much. I didn’t expect that being a mom would break my heart into a million pieces daily and yet be what my heart beats for. I really didn’t expect how mothering would bring me to the feet of the Father.

I’m so thankful I’m His adopted starfish, as she is mine.

Just Another Day – Waiting with Hope

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Waiting with hope for answers to prayer can be the toughest challenge of our lives. But what does the day before your miracle look like? Just another day.

After a long cold winter, maybe I’m just ready for some sunshine, but I usually come to this special day on the calendar seeking HOPE, and found this sweet promise in my devotional this morning.

Waiting with Hope - Surely there is a future, and your HOPE will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:18 What does the day before a miracle look like? Just Another Day/Heaven Not Harvard

This verse was so encouraging in my present circumstance, praying for the salvation of several people especially precious to me.

I’m trying to live faithfully, knowing I can’t fast forward and see how this all turns out, only God knows if He is moving in their hearts.

Psalm 119:30 ESV “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.”

Living my witness despite challenges is just part of the Christian mission on this side of heaven.

I’m trying to embrace the maturity and strength being built in me through obedience, but I’ll confess I struggle with hope some days, without seeing any visible results.

I pray alone. I read my bible alone. And I wait alone, wondering if God knows how desperately I long to share these moments with them. Is He really listening?

And then I get a gentle reminder of the hope He has planned for us.

I opened my Time Hop app to see what was happening in my life on today’s date over the past several years. As I scrolled through the images, I realized today’s date: March 23.

I looked at my Facebook update from 2010 and thought, Wow, I didn’t know that my entire life was going to change in just 24 hours.

It was just another day.

Waiting with hope for answers to prayer can be the toughest challenge of our lives. But what does the day before your miracle look like? Just another day.

I didn’t know it was the last day before an answer to prayer.

What does the day before a miracle look like? Just Another Day - Waiting with Hope. Click To Tweet

I had been praying since my teens to someday become a mother. After years struggling with infertility, a necessary hysterectomy had ended my hopes of ever giving birth, but we were pursuing adoption.

March 23, 2010, we were on the adoption agency waiting list, praying to be chosen by a birth family, wondering if it would ever happen.

It was just another day.

But the next morning, my miracle happened! We had been matched with our birth mother and a baby girl was on the way.

Hope is having joy while waiting for answers, for miracles. But what does the day before your miracle look like? No sneak preview! It's Just Another Day!

I will treasure the joy of that moment forever.

But this post isn’t really about our adoption, it is about the day before an answer comes.

I went to work; I read the newspaper and longingly watched a friend prepare for her baby’s imminent arrival. It was just another day.

I had no sneak preview that this was the last day of waiting.

God answered my prayers when He was ready and beyond all our hopes. Our daughter has been a cherished blessing. She is beautiful and sassy and precocious and rotten and wonderful, and I’m blessed way more than I deserve.

But on today’s date in 2010, I didn’t know she existed or that I would be celebrating Mother’s Day just a few weeks later with a brand new baby.

An answer felt 100 years away.

In some ways, it was a day of tremendous sadness. I had been asked by several people if we had heard anything from the agency yet. We had no idea if any end was in sight.

Hope is faith in the things unseen, trusting while waiting not knowing how this story will end. Click To Tweet

I came home from work and cried. Praying passionately, I gave it over to God and asked him to bless our waiting, asked him to bless our lives with the right child or no child if that was His plan.

I surrendered to obedience. Like I must continue to do today with this new hope and prayer.

2 Chronicles 31:21 ESV “And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.”

God will prosper (maybe in unexpected ways) the obedient service of my life, seeking God with all my heart. He will be my hope while I wait for his answers.

Because waiting for God’s answers is really trusting Him.

And I can look back and know He had a perfect plan every step of the way, all for my good, and He knows how this story ends.

Today is just another day, but tomorrow .  .  .

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Adoption – The Cost

Adoption costs are part of the journey many avoid discussing. However, few people are truly aware of or prepared for the adoption costs.

Families come to adoption in various ways, after long infertility battles or even as the way to grow their family by choice, or desire to give a family to a child in foster care. This is only our story and experience.

Seven years ago today, we officially started our adoption journey with our first conversation with an adoption facilitator and our first sticker shock.

I went from excited to defeated in one call, but we had a plan.

We don’t want to think about the costs. It seems vulgar to assign a monetary value to a person.

Discussing #adoptioncosts is hard, but being prepared is priceless if you're planning to adopt. Click To Tweet

But the expenses don’t pay for a baby, they pay for all the necessary parts of funding an agency or court fees, etc. and understanding these expenses can mean having the option to adopt or not having the resources when your heart is ready.

Adoption costs are part of the journey many avoid discussing. Families come to adoption in various ways. This is only our story and experience.

Adoption costs vary depending on the adoption route.

Some are nearly free or just legal fees, which generally run a couple thousand dollars (foster to adopt or private adoption of a family member’s or friend’s child).

Some are less expensive, through state or public agencies or the adoption of a minority or impaired child (mentally, physically, health impairments, etc.) in which the state assists with the costs.

The (potentially) quickest (but costliest) method of adoption is the one we pursued, private agency.

We chose a non-profit agency, but the agency still has employees and maintains several offices across the country with overhead expenses.

Our adoption costs from 2010

Rates change yearly, and some agencies have a sliding scale depending on salary.

Home study – $1500 for the first visit and subsequent two visits post placement. About $250 baby-proofing for the home study.

$ 500 – application fee (one agency had a $150 fee just to get the application)

$6000 – retainer due when accepted as clients

$10,000 – Agency fee due prior to placement. We paid this AT the hospital.

$4,610 – Birth mother living expenses for end of pregnancy (6-9 months)

$1830 – birth mother expenses postpartum (one month to recover)

$1000 – travel expenses for agency (we lived in same state as agency and birth mother, these could have been much higher)

$6320 – anticipated legal costs (ours turned out to be $1850 higher)

Total – $31,760 plus all the little fees and costs here and there.

Attaining certain documents and fingerprinting cost several hundred dollars.  We spent a  $110 on our profile booklet.

We spent another $250 for website advertising of us as a “Waiting Family” plus various hotel/travel living expenses while the baby was in the NICU.

Total adoption costs for us ended up at around $36,000.

Depending on your family’s financial situation, this may not be an overwhelming expense, but as a teacher and soldier, our budget definitely needed some adjusting.

It took years of discipline, of living below our means to save the money. We lived very frugally, eliminated all unnecessary debt and still had to borrow $6000 from my mom.

Saving for an adoption took sacrifice, but so does parenting #AdoptionCosts #PricelessBlessings Click To Tweet

I didn’t buy new underwear for a really long time, much less new shoes.

Sacrifice is definitely part of the parenting equation anyhow!

For my first birthday as a mom, I gave myself a high chair for our daughter. For Christmas I got a vacuum and was SUPER excited.

That’s how you know you’re a grown up.

Saving up on a modest income can be challenging.

My best recommendation is to pay off your cars, even if you have to trade down to eliminate payments. Cut as many unnecessary expenses as possible.

If you are able to wait, then it’s a good to be debt free, have a savings account, before you start saving toward an adoption. Being financially secure when the baby comes is priceless. We used Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.

If necessary, adoption loans exist, and you could pay back a loan using the adoption tax credit from your taxes, which was $13,170 in 2010.

Saving money has never been easier than when I knew the goal was a beautiful baby. Yet, it took quite a bit of dedication and combined commitment as a couple to save the money.

But we can’t put a price tag on our wonderfully precious daughter because somethings are just priceless.

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Dear Birthmom,

Have you ever had a letter you wanted to write, but knew you could never send it? It would be too real, too raw, too vulnerable? What about talk to someone who is out of your life? Sometimes, I have so many things I’d like to say specifically to our daughter’s birthmom due to our unique circumstances. This is not a letter to any birthmom. I will share that letter soon.

Today is National Adoption Day and my spunky lil’ punkin woke up ready for Christmas. She has been a bright light all morning. She told us that to feel the Christmas spirit you have to stretch your arms out wide, take a deep breath, and spin. It is mornings like this that make me feel so blessed to have a chance to mother this tiny tornado, and wish I could talk to her birth mother.Christmas Spirt

Every year as soon as the first signs of spring appear, I start mentally preparing to write her birthday update to our birthmom; I carefully craft the letters and select perfect pictures to tell the story of her year. The first few letters came easily, I was just so grateful for this gift of an amazing child. But this last year I struggled more than usual. I always keep the letters light, warm, and open, but I have things I wish I could say to her.

Dear Birth Mother,

I haven’t heard from you since she was still in the NICU, the day you planned to come back to see her one more time, but never called and never answered a call or email again. How did you walk out of that hospital without her? She has your ears, you know.The first time I saw her yawn, I could see your mouth in hers.

She’ll lay in bed with me in the mornings and tell me her dreams. Her dreams of being a bear trainer and a circus clown, and I’m awed by your sacrifice that built my family. I want to call you or send a picture right that minute, hoping to catch the way joy sparkles in her with my clumsy iPhone camera. But just like my phone’s lousy ability to capture the truth of her beauty, a picture wouldn’t capture her spirit either. Although this video is one of my favorites.

Sometimes, I’m really angry with you. You put cocaine into her tiny body, and I couldn’t stop you. While they scanned for brain damage, I held her tiny head, frantic for her. Despite being premature and some early breathing difficulties, she seems alright, but tiny signs make me wonder. We can’t know the future battles she may face due to the alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs.

I also don’t understand not wanting to know her. I have emailed a few times, willing to keep communication open. Not one reply. There are moments that I feel like a mother is the one person who can celebrate all the tiny, insignificant, earth-shattering, wonderful things she does. Then, I wonder if you would understand, if you have that mothering instinct at all?

Or if that instinct is what encouraged you to give her away? Because you did bring her into the world. You gave her life. Not every woman would make that choice.

Maybe you’ve never answered an email because a single word to me would open a floodgate of regret. Maybe you have a hole in your heart, shaped just her size. I don’t want to remind you what you’ve lost. That’s why I stopped emailing so long ago.

Every time she calls me “Mommy” my heart wants to burst. The other day we were talking about her adoption and if babies remembering being born. I asked if she remembered her “real” mom. I don’t know why that word came out of my mouth, because I always use “birth” mom to describe you. Maybe it still doesn’t seem possible that she is mine. But, you know what, she looked right at me and said, “You’re my real mom.” And I am. I’ve been branded in snot, puke, poop, and hugs. I’ve played dress up and tea party, and had to discipline her when watching her chubby cheeks stained with tears was breaking my heart. I’m as real as it gets, but you’re still a part of her, too.

I try not to worry about how she’ll feel in the future. I don’t know if she’ll be more than curious, but I do know she will always have a hole in her heart for the people who gave her away. I pray I’m doing my job so well, it will be only a tiny thimble space of emptiness that won’t ever bother her. But I wonder if she’ll ever come looking for you. Will she turn toward your family, aching to know why you gave her away. Part of me doesn’t want her to need you, but I want to be OK with her loving you, too. Our hearts aren’t limited in how many people we can love.

I tell her that God always meant her for our family, that she grew in my heart as part of His plan for her. Yet, during those teen years, will she ever yell, “You’re not my real mom!” at me? I pray that she doesn’t ever feel like that, or even if she does, we’ll both know she didn’t really mean it.

Dear BirthmomToday is just another Saturday, even though we know it’s National Adoption Day. And I’m celebrating her and our family. Daddy made traditional Belgian waffles, so delicious they didn’t even need syrup. We’re gonna stay in our jammies until lunch time.

We’re having a pillow fight. We’ve never had one before. I handed her the pillow and walloped her. Her eyes got wide with surprise, she was allowed to hit me? Then the laughter started to bubble up bursting into huge giggles, dissolving into giant guffaws as we bashed and bonked, great reckless pillow fun.

And you’re missing it. You’ll never know how her tiny, baby chuckles could fill a whole room with laughter. You’ll never see her jaw drop in amazement when she learns something new.

When I write to you each year, I worry over ever word, wanting you to be happy you chose us to raise her, wanting you to agree that I’ve been the best mom I could be for her, but I worry you’ll judge her height and weight and wonder if I’ve been feeding her too much junk food. I worry that you’ll hate her haircut or the mural I painstakingly painted on her bedroom wall. I wonder if you’d approve of the deep faith she is developing. Then I think, you gave her up because you couldn’t take care of you, should your opinion matter to me? Two seconds later, I hope you’re doing alright and are making better choices.

And I have times, I wonder if letting her go left a huge hole in your heart, if there is anything I could say that would make it hurt less, feel better. You did the right thing. She has a stable home, a family that adores her, and close friends who practically live at our house.

She will ask lots of questions in the future, I’m sure. I know my feelings will change too. So for right now, this minute, I’m grateful but wonder if you know what you’re missing.