May 17, 2013

Adoptive Parents Making Big Changes
An Interview with Jamie & Donna

When I began this blog, I was aware of the potential of severe criticism. That's why it took me so long to get here. I was afraid. I'll admit it.  I knew I had a lot to lose (possibly family, friends, and more) and I wanted to walk carefully and prayerfully in speaking what was on my heart.

Photo Credit: OneWayStock, Flickr
Although the positive feedback has been overwhelming  there have been days that are discouraging.  On those rare occasions, God is faithful to bring someone along to let me know I need to keep going. The person I'm introducing on the blog today is one of those people.

Jamie and his wife Donna are adoptive parents who used to have very different ideas about adoption than they do today. Then, they began to read certain blogs, and well...the rest is history! A lot of changes have been made in their home, in just the past few months. 

There were a number of times Jamie wrote me a note and said, "I want to encourage you to keep going, because you're making a difference for people like us." When I started out, I had a desire to reach adoptees as well as give Christians a new perspective. I was surprised that some adoptive parents started reading, and reached out to me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be one of the people who would play a part in helping some of them develop a new approach. My heart has been encouraged over the past five months as Jamie has shared with me the steps he and Donna are taking.
After Jamie gives an introduction I will ask him a few questions. He will also be available in the comment section to interact with. 

 Note: Jamie and Donna are their real names. We have changed the children's names out of respect for the children's privacy.


Photo Credit: SyncHealth, Creative Commons

Who I Am: A Christian man in his forties. I am a husband. I am a father of five children. I am also an engineer (not a writer).

Who Donna is: She is a Christian woman of indeterminate age (you understand). She is a wife. She is the mother of our five children. She is a housewife who loves to play tennis.

How did we come to adopt two wonderful little girls? 

Here is the somewhat short version of our story:

I (Jamie) always wanted a daughter. I don’t know for sure why, but I always wanted to experience the daddy/daughter relationship. Needless to say, we had three boys. We decided to stop there rather than have four boys.

 We still wanted a daughter though. After praying about it some and talking to our boys, we starting looking into international adoption about 7.5 years ago. We decided to pursue adopting from China because it pretty much guaranteed that we would get a girl. Due to various issues, this did not work out. We were disappointed (and so were our older two boys).

We settled into our routines, our boys got older, and Donna started taking classes with the idea of going to nursing school. Life was on cruise control. Donna got all of her pre-requisites done and applied to nursing school. She then waited over a year without getting in. Her sister suggested just checking the want ads for something to do (the boys were all in school now). She saw an ad for a foster-care agency and signed us up for classes. (She asked me after.) It felt right.

We went through the classes and did our home study with the intent of doing foster-adopt. The home study was interesting and invasive. During the process we decided that we wanted sisters that were younger than our youngest son (figured that sisters wouldn’t seemed so threatened moving into a house dominated by boys). Three and six seemed like the perfect age.

Shortly after getting certified as foster parents, we had two little girls (ages 3 and 6) stay with us on a four night respite when their foster family had to go out of town. We fell in love with them. It was a great visit. They got along well with our sons. We really bonded. When it came time for them to leave, it was really sad (for them and us). We made many inquiries about the girls after they left. We later found that they were probably going to be moved to an adoptive placement. Our home study was considered, and their county worker did a two hour interview with us. After nine months of not seeing the girls, they were permanently placed with us. We finalized the adoption one year later.

Photo Credit: JessieLion, Flickr

There is more to the story than what I have shared. It was an emotional rollercoaster. There was a lot of uncertainty. Trying to make myself pray for the girls to get the best placement for them, but crying because I missed them so much. I barely slept for the three nights after they left. Every time we went to a training night I would hope to see them, but they were never there. 

About us: 

We started off the process as a family of five. We are very proud of our boys. Our oldest is an honor student in high school who loves drama and participates in medieval fighting. Our second son is an honor student in junior high who rides a unicycle. (Need I say more?) Our youngest son also does well academically, but his passion is more about building things. 

We are Christians, and we are active in a local non-denominational church.

We looked into international adoption at one point, but it didn’t work out. Domestic infant adoption didn’t seem like an option to us at all. It is too expensive, and families with multiple children already are discouraged from pursuing it. 

About the girls: 

Ashlynn and Brianna are the oldest and youngest of a 4 child sibling group that was placed in foster care. They have two brothers that are between them in age. Due to difficulties placing four children, they were eventually placed in different homes with court mandated sibling visits. Ashlynn is very athletic and social. Brianna has hugs for everyone, and she knows how to turn on the cute (like no one this daddy has ever met before). You would never guess that they had been in foster care for four years by the time our adoption finalized. 

Questions from Deanna:

Jamie, through our interactions, I have learned that you and Donna have taken a more open approach in your family regarding adoption. Was it always this way? 

There was only one area where we have always been open. We have always made an effort to have Ashlynn and Brianna see their brothers every two to four weeks. It can be difficult at times, but we know how important it is to them.

No, it was not always this way. I would say that I started with the same attitude of many adoptive parents. I wanted the girls to be mine without any contact to their birth (This is an intentional choice of words. The idea of first or original parent had not yet been introduced to me.) parents or family.  I had no intention of reaching out to their parents in any way.

We told the girls from the start that we would help them search when they turned eighteen, but that was as far as we were willing to commit. I think that getting the girls placed with us through foster care may have contributed to fear with regards to their birth/first/original (pretend I used the one that you prefer) parents.

We had limited contact with one of their grandparents via their county social worker. This had been ongoing from before they were placed with us; therefore, we couldn’t sever they tie without really being the bad guys. After the adoption was finalized, I got a PO Box so that the contact could continue without her knowing our address or city of residence.

For those of you that may think of us as completely horrible at this point, we just didn’t understand. People need to hear the truth (often many times).

We were never the type to tell them that they should be grateful. We always let them miss their parents. We always told them that their life was not how things were supposed to be. We cuddled with them when they cried themselves to sleep. 

When you began to change your approach, what brought that about? 

There have been a few different influences that caused us to change our approach. I started reading foster and adoptee blogs last October. It really opened my eyes. I read about kids growing up in foster care.  I have to put in a plug for this blog. It’s pretty raw, but it is a must read for anyone doing foster care).

I read about adult adoptees that had no relationship with their adoptive parents due to the lies and secrets. I read Amanda’s blog, The Declassified Adoptee. Then, I found your blog in January or so. There seem to be as many perspectives as there are adoptees, but it became obvious that what I learned growing up did not match the reality. I shared what I read with Donna, and we discussed it. We wanted to raise healthy daughters regardless of our egos. (Donna has corrected me. This should say “my ego”.)

I don’t know how I ended up on these sites. I think it was in an effort to understand my older daughter (Ashlynn). At the age of eight, she was adamant that her last name not be changed as part of the adoption. Her county social worker had never seen that in an eight year old before. We didn’t push it, but we did talk about options with her. In the end she decided to keep a copy of her OBC and hyphenate her last name. We were thrilled with that outcome.

One incident in particular pushed us towards opening up our adoption more. It wasn’t uncommon for Ashlynn to cry as she went to sleep because she missed her mom and dad. This night was a little different. I asked her what was wrong and her response was, “Now that we’re adopted, can we see our grandma?” How as a loving parent can you say no to that? 

What are some of the changes you have made? 

Well that conversation with Ashlynn started another conversation with Donna about arranging to see their grandma. We exchanged a few letters and then emails with their grandma. Through this we were able to arrange to meet during Christmas break just over five months ago. We decided on the drive there that we would stay for at least 2 hours. It went so well that we stayed over 5 hours instead. We also got to meet their half-sister that was adopted by their grandma as a baby. It was wonderful. We have since had a zoo trip that included Ashlynn and Brianna's brothers and the brothers’ foster family. The plan is to meet all together every three or four months.

The other thing that we have done is to set up a Facebook page where we can share pictures of the girls (and their brothers) with their family. We first reached out to their mother. We were rewarded with over 20 photos of the girls and their brothers that were on her Facebook. Now the girls have a photo album with baby, toddler, and family pictures. She thanked us for sharing how her children were doing; she was glad to know that they were doing well.

 Just a couple weeks ago, we got a friend request from their father. He has not commented or sent any messages, but I know he has enjoyed the pictures. One of his close friends sent a message saying how they had looked at the pictures together.

Ashlynn especially wants to see her parents. We don’t know for sure when that will happen. Donna and I have discussed it some, but we don’t yet have a timeline for when it will occur. We don’t have this all figured out. Give us time. 

How have your girls responded to the changes? 

Ashlynn and Brianna  love that they get to see their grandma and older sister. It is really hard on Brianna when we leave, but I think it will get easier over time. Ashlynn does better with it; she is content because she knows that she will see them again.

They love the photos. Brianna doesn’t even really remember her mother, but she kissed her in each of the pictures the day that we first showed them the pictures. 

What have you and Donna learned most in this process? 

I think that Ashlynn and Brianna feel freer to bond with our family when they aren’t forced to choose. My ego doesn’t want to share their love, but that isn’t how it really works. How can they love me fully when they are forced to deny the love that they feel for their parents? I think the answer is that they can’t. Children should not be forced to make those choices.

We have also found that more regular visits planned in advance make our daughters feel more secure. They don’t have to get anxious about seeing their brothers when it is already on the calendar. 

What would you like to share with other adoptive parents? 

I would like to qualify this answer first. There are cases with foster adoption where it is not safe to be in contact with members of the child’s original family. I am not speaking to those situations. The child and your family must be safe.

I would like to remind adoptive parents (especially those that adopt from foster care) that they signed up for all of this. They may not have realized it at the time. They may have been misled into thinking that there would be no attachment type issues. All of that is irrelevant now. The child is now part of their family, and they have to do what is best for the child.

If at all possible, reach out to your child’s original family. I know it can be an inconvenience. Sibling and family visits can also be a constant reminder that your child is different; of course, even if you don’t remind them, your child is still different (and they know it).