This is the second part of a 3-part series about our family’s journey through adoption.
Part 1 of our family’s adoption story was a 2,000-word description of the two-year process that we went through before even deciding to proceed with adoption. My purpose in laying all of this out was not to bore readers silly, but to make it clear that this was not a simple or spontaneous decision: It was slow and filled with false starts, doubts, and frustration.
Once Erick and I decided to pursue adoption, we began a long journey of small steps. Our mantra during this time was, “Let’s just do the next right thing.” (This was several years before “Do the Next Right Thing” became a copyrighted earworm via the Disney film Frozen 2.)
The first thing to do was to sign up with an adoption agency. Erick felt very strongly that we should try to adopt a child within Vermont, so that we could have a local impact in our home state. Vermont is a small state, with few adoptions: In 2018 there were 859 total adoptions in Vermont, the third lowest of all 50 states (only North Dakota and Wyoming had fewer.) So, without much to choose from, we met with an adoption counselor at a Vermont agency.
At this particular agency, prospective adoptive families work with an adoption counselor in order to become approved for child placement. Birth parents work with an options counselor in order to discern whether adoption is the best choice for them, and to choose an adoptive family. All adoptions are “open,” which means that, although some privacy is respected, adoptive and birth parents are known to each other. There is a whole spectrum of possible post-adoption contact, but when we signed up with this agency we agreed to provide the birth parents of any child we might adopt an annual update with photos for 18 years, and at least one in-person visit. Open adoptions are now widely considered to be the healthiest scenario for adopted children, so we were happy to agree to this.
Applying to adopt a child is a serious business that shines a light into every crevice of your family –as it should. More than once I thought, “My goodness, if this process was required of anyone who wanted to have a child, we’d have many fewer children!”
We had to get fingerprinted, have our backgrounds checked, and release our DMV records. We had to provide our financial records. We had to obtain three letters of reference. We had to fill out a questionnaire that asked detailed questions about our upbringings, our families of origin, our marriage, and our childrearing philosophy. If we wanted to consider transracial adoption (in our case, a child who wasn’t either White or Asian) – and we did – we had to spend at least 8 hours reading or watching videos on the subject. We had to fill out a “key sheet” — a terrifying document that listed every possible physical or mental condition that might come with our adopted child, including race, age, disability, parental behaviors — and check which ones we were willing to accept.
We began the process in November 2017; we completed the paperwork in March 2018. Then we had an in-person interview with our adoption counselor to review our answers. Our home visit took place in June 2018, during which our adoption counselor came to our house to see the physical space and to interview our biological children. Finally, we had to compile a photo album of our family and write a letter to the birth parents – any birth parents who might be considering us; this was what birth parents would use to determine whether our family was the right home for their child.
In August 2018, we were notified that our home study was complete: We were cleared to adopt a child. At this point, the next right thing was to wait.
So, we waited. We waited and waited. Over the next 13 months, we received three calls about potential adoptions, but all of them were in states outside Vermont. Our adoption agency has a reciprocal relationship with several other agencies, but interstate adoption would have required us to travel to another state and stay there until the legal paperwork was completed – a stay of between 2-4 weeks, in most cases. This did not work well for a family with four homeschooled children, and at the time (pre-COVID-19) Erick’s teaching job could not be performed remotely. So, we had to let these opportunities pass us by.
As the months stretched out, my old doubts returned. I must have heard wrong – again. If we were supposed to be doing this, why were the years passing without anything happening?
Finally, despair set in. Vermont IS such a small state, with so few adoptions. And anyway, what birth parent would choose US, a family that already has four biological children? There was no way.
Erick, as usual, was less emotional and more philosophical.
“Well, we’ve made ourselves available,” he’d say, shrugging. “There’s nothing more we can do; it’s all up to God now.”
But I felt like adoption was receding into the haze.
Around this time, our daughters, who hadn’t mentioned adoption throughout the months of silence, suddenly started asking when their new sibling would arrive. All four of them – even the ones who hadn’t been enthusiastic at first – agreed: “We need a new baby in the house!”
I’d force a smile and parrot Erick: “It’s all up to God now.” It was painful.
Then, one afternoon in mid-September 2019, my cell phone rang as I was dropping our daughters off at a field hockey practice.
To be continued.