Elaine: Jack and I have been married since 1995. Our situation was a little different than a straight fertility issue, since I have a medical condition that makes it very dangerous for me to be pregnant. In effect, it’s another form of infertility. At first, we were going back and forth about whether we wanted to adopt or even if we wanted to have kids at all. We didn’t want to adopt only because we felt like it was the only way out; we really wanted to feel like it was the BEST way. We waffled for about a year, and then we just kind of knew that we had to get the process started and maybe it would just feel right. And sure enough, the minute we started, we knew we were on the right track.
I always tell people that our adoption process was kind of like a pregnancy. Pregnancy isn’t that fun – it’s physically and emotionally challenging; it’s another set of worries and joys.
Jack: The first time we heard about AAI was through a work-sponsored benefits program called LifeWorks. We rang them up to ask about the adoption process, and they recommended some people to talk to. One of them was AAI. We also got hooked up with the adoption support group AKA, Adoption Knowledge Advocates, here in Austin, and through them we met some folks who were both considering AAI as an agency and some who had already gone through the process and had a successful adoptions through AAI.
When we first talked to AAI, we knew very little about open adoption. We read a bunch of books and found a bunch of good Web sites. We also had a great social worker, Janie Cravens, here in Austin. Through a combination of AKA, AAI and talking to people, we got up to speed.
The important thing for us was the people part of the agency. We wanted to get to know them, and know how long they’d been there, and what their strengths and weaknesses were. We’d spoken with two or three other agencies and gotten their paperwork and introductory packet. After we talked to AAI on the phone, we went to one of their get-to-know-you seminars.
Elaine: For me, the most intimidating part was the getting started and getting the paperwork in. We got the first paperwork from AAI in August, and it took until April for us to turn it in. There were some periods when I just had to put it down because I was still dealing with my grief at that point. It was this huge transition that I thought I had made, but I really hadn’t finished making it yet. I was still dealing with the fact that we were going to adopt. Doing the paperwork made it real, and it helped us to let go and move forward.
Jack: Our homestudy was great, mostly because we had a great social worker. She talked to both of us together and then each of us individually. I was surprised about the depth of background material, not just in the homestudy but in the paperwork in general. It covered every part of our lives, everything from financial history, to have to ever been arrested, to what was your relationship with your parents growing up, to what religion will you raise this child, to how do you feel about discipline. It felt like a little bit of an intrusion in the beginning, but then we realized how important it all is.
Elaine: When we were answering all those questions, it was almost like Jack and I were going through mini-therapy or something. It brought up so many issues, and I’m so glad they were raised and resolved before we ever had a child. The homestudy brought up so many things that we had never discussed, and going through that was hard. Once we got through, I felt so much more sure of myself and of Jack, and I knew that we were ready to do this.
Jack: The last part of the paperwork was the Dear Birth Mother letter. That was fun to put together because it was basically like a brochure of our life. We put a bunch of pictures of us, our house and our relatives, and we wrote a letter that was about a page and a half. We wrote the letter together and we tried to include things that would be relevant to a birth mom we’d never met before who was 7-months pregnant. In retrospect, it was really good for us to put the letter together, and it helped us know who we really are.
We felt good about the packet when we sent it off. Sure, we were nervous about the whole process, and nervous about getting hooked up with a birth mom and how that would work. When you do get matched up with a birth mom, you’re trying to make some decisions based on very little information and off your gut, and that kind of makes you nervous, and then, going out and meeting birth moms is a very scary thing for everyone involved. I’m sure itÕs stressful for birth moms to meet prospective adoptive parents, too.
We completed all of our paperwork in February of 1999, and our placement with our daughter happened March 31, 2000. In the meantime, we met with about seven different birth moms. I think we were kind of unique in the number of ups and downs that we had. There were three cases that we walked away from, three where the birth mothers changed their minds, and one where we got our daughter.
The cases where we changed our mind were all different. I guess the only similar thing about them was that they just didn’t feel right. About three weeks after we sent in our profile, we got our first call from a birth mom. She wanted her child to be raised with a more stereotypically “American family,” but we didn’t feel comfortable with her placement.
There was another case in North Texas where we went up and met the birth mom and the man we thought was her husband. Weird things happened over the two-day period when we were there, and we just felt like they were lying to us. We just weren’t comfortable with the situation.
We also had birth mothers who changed their minds. We got matched with a young birth mom who already had a little boy. She was single and had decided to place. We spent about four months being very involved with this pregnancy. We went to a number of doctor’s appointments, and we provided a lot of support for the birth mom. She changed her mind and decided to parent right after the baby was born. That was a four-month up-and-down rollercoaster.
The second time a birth mom changed her mind, it happened a lot quicker. The birth mom wanted to place the baby up for adoption, and she picked AAI as her agency. When we got the call, she had already had the baby. We dropped everything and drove up to meet her in the hospital. We got to meet her and hold the baby, and we got to know her a little bit. Then we went back to the hotel to give her some time, and we had planned to meet back up around dinnertime. That afternoon, she changed her mind and decided to parent.
Elaine: When a mother chose to parent, we reminded ourselves that we didn’t want a child whose parents really didn’t want to give him up. We wanted the birth mom to be really sure that she wanted to place. Yes, it was disappointing to us, but we knew that we were asking to be the recipient of a gift. Those moms deserve respect for even considering adoption, especially with an agency that does open adoption.
A big lesson for us was learning to step back and move on. The sooner we stepped away and looked for the silver lining, the easier it was to see it. And it got even easier as time went on. I justified all those situations as time that we spent learning about ourselves. Jack and I learned so much about how we handle disappointments, and it made me feel so much stronger about ourselves as a couple. We both helped each other out. When one person was down, the other would say, “Look, this wasn’t meant to be.” We relied on each other a lot.
Jack: It was really tough to keep going after all that. It’s really devastating to get your hopes up and then to have the rug pulled out from under you. You try to prepare yourself for doing it all over again and getting matched up again, and you have to try to keep your wits about you. The folks at AAI were great in terms of working with us and recognizing some of our concerns. They understood what we were going through, and we spent a lot of time on the phone with them. They were great people to work with.
About two weeks after we had had that match fall through, we got another call from AAI about a match. AAI had just hooked up with a birth mom in North Texas. They had done their case study and had presented her with some profiles, and she had selected us as someone she wanted to talk with. But, the baby was born early, and so she went to a foster home when she was only eight days old.
That was the point when AAI called us. Since the baby was going to be placed through AAI, they moved her to a foster home in San Antonio. The home where she stayed is really cool; it’s run by these grandparents who feel it’s their life mission to take care of kids. They’ve helped over 100 infants in the custody of the state, either when there were problems, the baby was up for adoption, etc. Our daughter ended up staying with them for 10 days.
In the meantime, we flew up to North Texas to meet the birth mom. She brought a girlfriend along and we had lunch. At first, we weren’t sure what to talk about, but we found some common ground and had a good lunch. All of us were nervous. After lunch, we went to the mall and went shopping. When we got home, we had our placement on March 31 at AAI. It worked out great.
Morgan is just a fantastic little girl in all respects. We’re just so proud of her and we love her to death. We had fairly steady contact with her birth mom through the first nine months or so, although it’s tapered off since then. AAI has a minimum number of pictures that they want you to agree to send for the first six months, and we sent at least that many, if not more.
As far as advice for prospective adoptive parents, what worked for us was talking to a lot of people, voicing questions and concerns, and reading everything we could get our hands on. Get to know the core people at your agency, and know what they stand for. That really helped us to get over that question mark about what open adoption was.
Elaine: All I know is that even though it seemed like a long and hairy road to get to the right match, it’s been worth it. Having Morgan is just fantastic; it’s just great. To anyone else, I’d say don’t expect it to be easy, but at the end of the day, you kind of forget all that hassle and pain that you went through.
Jack: The other advice I’d offer is: Trust your instincts. You’re going to have lots of ups and downs, and nothing will ever be perfect, because no way of forming a family is exactly perfect, whether you’re adopting or having a baby naturally. With adoption, there are always going to be things out of your control, which makes adoption a lot like life. Also, it’s amazing how fast all those concerns and ups and downs get behind you after you’ve had a couple of months of sleep deprivation and a couple thousand dirty diapers behind you. After that, it’s all about raising kids.