If you've been around for a while then you have probably heard Ashley, our Director of Community Engagement talk about her family's adoption journey, but for National Adoption Month, she was asked to present her amazing story. We're sharing it here with permission.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom.
I’m sure that’s a common trait in families where the girl is the older sibling. When my brother was born I was convinced that he was my real life baby. I started babysitting at 12, and teaching babies how to swim when I was 15. I nannied for a family through college and when I moved home after graduation, I started coaching the beginning level swimmers at IRSC. Babies, toddlers, teenagers, it didn’t matter they were all “my” kids.
I knew immediately when I met my husband that he was going to be an amazing father. In fact, it’s probably one of the things that made me fall for him as quickly as I did. When we met, he was living with his brother and sister in law and their 2 yr old daughter, Olivia, who happened to be her Uncle Bob’s very best friend. That is not an understatement. In fact, I’m pretty sure he told me that unless Livi liked me, there’d be no hope of a future for us. Luckily, I had been winning kids over for most of my life, so I hooked her pretty early.
We knew that we wanted kids and as young couples do, we talked constantly about the traits that our kids would inherit from us. His Irish stubbornness or my Southern charm? Blue eyes? Blonde hair? Isn’t part of the fun of having a child seeing which parent each of their qualities can be attributed to? We certainly thought so. And so, we commenced our plan to have a baby. And let me just say right here that the funny thing about having a plan is that things almost never go according to that plan. But, there we were, basking in the glory of this great plan we had come up with.
Now, I should tell you that I had been diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 17 at which point the doctor mentioned to me that I may one day have difficulty getting pregnant. I should also tell you that almost nothing you tell a 17 year old is retained in their memory for longer than 10 minutes, let alone 10 years. So we tried, and then we tried with help, and then we tried with drugs and doctors and more appointments than I care to remember and sooooooo much frustration.
After almost 5 years of “trying” we were finally faced with the reality that our well intentioned plan might not actually work out.
Our last appointment with our fertility doctor was in West Palm Beach, where we had driven to and from 1,000 times before. The ride home from that visit was silent. Not awkward, not eerie, just…silent. Until my husband said “what now?” and I lost it. I cried five years of tears on the way home that day. Grieving the loss of our ability to be parents. But knowing that we still wanted to be parents.
At least a couple dozen times in those five years someone had mentioned to us something about “just adopting” or fostering kids who were waiting for adoptive homes. We even had a couple of friends who were licensed foster parents or had adopted from foster care. But every single time it came up, my reaction was the same: not for me, not for us, not happening.
So instead, I did what we all do when we encounter a problem: I asked Google. I researched the statistics behind failed adoptions, the cost of adoptions, open adoptions vs. closed adoptions, why you want to choose an adoption agency, international adoption rules, which countries were the best to adopt from, and on and on and on. I was a walking adoption encyclopedia. I talked to everyone we knew who had adopted. I asked all the questions. And still, I wasn’t totally convinced what the best route to take was, but I did know that we still wanted to be parents.
So we decided to pursue a private infant adoption. We hired an agency and an attorney after extensive interviews. They visited our home, they asked about our intentions, they asked us what kind of parents we thought we would be and what kind of discipline we would use in our home and examined every aspect of our lives. We were amazingly matched with a pregnant mom pretty quickly and started making arrangements to welcome a baby into our home. After a handful of trips to Orlando, where this mom lived, and after thousands of dollars spent on agency and attorney fees, our match failed. I started this blog when we started our adoption journey and this is what I wrote when we shared the details of what had happened.
Our adoption match failed. Which in some sense makes me feel like we failed. I think it really was just a bad situation that was getting worse and I’m glad that we got out of it when we did. I don’t really want to get into the details of it all, but suffice it to say, we are heartbroken. For us, for our loss, for this birthmother. But mostly for that sweet baby boy.
Sadly though, in the rough and tumble world of adoption, a story like this one isn’t unfamiliar. Surveying the adoption support Facebook groups I’m in, just about everyone has experienced a failed match, or a failed placement or a failed something. It’s crazy. I don’t know how all those people do it. Or how anyone does it more than once.
We spent the next couple of months grieving the loss of a baby who wasn’t born yet, that we didn’t get to bring home, but ended up in the same place, we still, more desperately now, wanted to be parents.
Maybe foster care?
As I said before, we had a handful of friends who were foster parents, and in working at CSC, I frequently worked with the agencies who licensed foster parents, or handled adoptions from foster care. I knew all of the people, all of the steps that needed to be taken to become licensed foster parents, I knew the ins and out of the system, I knew all of it, I had been sharing it with other people for years. But I never imagined myself in it. Not for me, remember?
But time after time, after each failed attempt at bringing a baby home, our answer was the same: we just wanted kids in our home. It didn’t matter to us where they came from or for how long they were going to be there. We just wanted to be parents.
So we signed up for licensing classes and gave up three Saturdays to get our hours completed. Our instructor was also learning to complete home studies, so she asked if we’d be interested in being her “guinea pig” family and allowing her to complete our home study as well. She promised us an expedited timeline, so of course we said yes.
In our first class, there was an exercise where they gave us each a “situation” and we had to find the “foster parent” who matched that situation. My husband’s situation was a sibling group – which led to some interesting conversation among the group about the importance of keeping sibling groups together and why their bond is sometimes stronger than the bond with their biological parent. My very quiet, stoic husband had more to say about sibling adoption than I could have ever imagined.
The day before our next class I got a call from our instructor, it wasn’t uncommon given the time we were spending getting documents together for our home study – so I wasn’t alarmed until she said “don’t freak out – what I’m about to tell you is a lot” What conversation has ever started that way that ended well?
She explained that a situation had come up that the placement team thought might be a good fit for us, based on Rob’s commentary in class the week before. She knew he felt strongly about keeping siblings together, and this was an opportunity to bring currently separated siblings back under one roof. She said they knew a little about the kids and their situation, but that if we were interested, she’d try to learn more, and obviously, she wanted me to talk everything over with my husband. And then she said, “well, Ashley, there is one catch – there’s three of them.”
My first thoughts were; did she say three? Three of what exactly?
I soaked up as much of the information as I could. 18 months, 3 and 5 years old, two were currently together, one was in a different home, bio mom would very likely have rights terminated sooner than later, but all of that was sort of questionable given the situation.
Hesitantly, I called Rob. Relayed – in what I’m sure was a garbled mess – what I had retained from my previous phone call and then I waited. And he only asked one question: was one of them a boy? And wouldn’t you know it, one of them was.
Just a couple of months later, all three of the kids were under our roof. Mya, Dacia and Ricky were finally back together and we all began adjusting to our new normal. After a very short six months (which is insanely quick in the adoption world) we finalized their adoption in front a court room full of our family and friends. And while that day was amazingly beautiful, the pain and the brokenness that got us there was not lost on me.
Adoption has taught me so much and what I hope to do today, as we celebrate National Adoption Month is to share what I’ve learned with all of you as an adoptive parent.
The first is this: adoption is not for the faint of heart. Countless times on our journey someone said to us “why don’t you just adopt, there are so many kids waiting” – and while part of this is true – there is not much about adopting that is easy. Depending on the road you take to adoption, it can be months, years of waiting, infertility, painful losses, failed adoptions, happy reunification and a whole lot of paperwork. And then, once the adoption is done, things do not automatically become rainbows and unicorns.
My kids have gone through SO much in their young lives – pain and loss that you and I could never imagine –and on most days – you’d never know that. But, they have triggers, and when things around them remind them of their old life, or the way those things made them feel, they react. Not always pleasantly. We have skipped parties because we needed less stimulation, we have learned how to talk (or not talk) about big events because sometimes the anticipation is too much for them to handle and we have learned that hangry is a real actual condition. We have tried multiple therapists and multiple kinds of therapy, diets, oils, food, everything that has ever possibly shown a positive result – we’ve tried it. I know I won’t always have the answer to their problems, or be able to say the words they need to hear, but I can promise that I’m going to work the hardest to get to the bottom of it and that I will learn everything I can that might be able to help support them as they grow.
Another thing that I’ve learned is that words matter. I truly believe that people are inherently good and kind. But when confronted with new situations, people are also ignorant and sometimes that can seem rude. Please don’t ask an adoptive parent if we are afraid if our child’s birth parent is going to take them back. That only happens in Lifetime movies. Even using the words “real” or “natural” when describing a child’s birth parents implies that their adoptive parents are somehow “fake” and “unnatural”. I can assure you that the role my husband I have played in our kids lives is very real and the role of their birth mother is “real” as well. Undervaluing the relationship that we are working so hard to create with our kids only confuses them and creates new challenges for all of us moving forward.
I will also physically cringe if you tell my child “You’re so lucky your parents adopted you”. While the sentiment behind your message is not lost on me, those words can be confusing. Adoption is filled with loss and brokenness, concepts that can be incredibly difficult for children to grasp. Plus, they may not feel lucky to have been abused, taken from their home in the night by a caseworker, put into foster care, had parental rights terminated to them, and waited in foster care until an adoptive family was found.
As an adoptive parent, I assure you that I am very much the lucky one. If you want to compliment my family, please say something like “You have a beautiful family” and leave it at that.
I do have a beautiful family. And like mine, so many families today are made in a variety of ways: naturally, IVF, foster care, adoption, marriage. And while Rob and I never got to see what traits we’d pass down to our kids biologically, what I can tell you is that Ricky has my caring spirit and rarely stops talking. Dacia has every ounce of Rob’s rebelliousness and I call Mya “Little Deb” more often than not because she is the exact same person as my mom. Our family may not “match”, but I know that you don’t have to look like someone to love them.
Adoption is complicated, nuanced and filled with varying perspectives. The only thing I have learned with certainty is that these kids are worth everything.
They are such a gift to this world and I am forever grateful that I get to be their mom.
Happy National Adoption Month. <3