Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Five Years, So Happy Together

It was five years ago this month that we joined our lives together.

Earlier this month we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We took our own advice from our recent post about The Long Haul and filled a weekend trip with some things we’ve never done before, along with a few things we always enjoy and want to do again. The weather was warm, like it was on the day we married, and we took a short trip south to San Diego County to celebrate our five years together. It wasn’t exactly London and Paris, where we went on our honeymoon, but it was nice.

The traditional gift for the fifth anniversary is wood, and so, we gave ourselves the chance to see some wood up close and in its fall finery on our trip. Julian is a tiny town in northern San Diego County known for its Old West feel and its apple crop. You might know Julian as the home of one of the stores on the Bead Shop Hop, but there is a lot more to this town than beads.

High up in the mountains, the palm and eucalyptus trees give way to oaks and pines. A walk through town, even on a fairly warm day, brings the scent of wood stoves and fallen leaves. And everywhere you look, Julian presents its apples. It seems like every other storefront along the main road sells apple pies, apple cider, apple turnovers, apple donuts, candy apples and even bushel baskets of fresh local apples. You really can’t visit without trying at least one of these apple delights, and we were no exception, enjoying some apple crisp and a piece of apple-pumpkin pie.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend. It was wonderful to get a chance to spend time together away from the buzz of daily life and it gave us a chance to reflect on our relationship and our life so far as a married couple. Five years seems like both a long time and like no time at all.  If you read our recent post about our adoption journey, you know how much can happen in a few years. While the last five years have been busy in so many ways and there have been a lot of changes, there are some things that haven’t changed a bit since we officially joined our lives together on that November day in 2007.

For one thing, we still love doing things together, whether it’s something big like a multi-day road trip, or something small like a trip to the mall for birthday cards. If you follow us on Facebook, you know we do a lot of stuff together. We feel that the time we spend with each other is precious, and we want to make the most of it.

When we got married, we made a vow to support each other no matter what. At the time, we didn’t think our lives together would involve a long road to become parents, but it has. We started our plan to grow our family almost right after we got married so it's been nearly five years for that too. Trying to become parents has been much more difficult than we imagined. While isn't always easy to face the stress and frustration that our wait to adopt brings, being together makes it better and we try every day to live up to our vows and support each other. Certainly some days are are better than others and some are tougher, but we make it through through all of them, and always side by side.

During these five years our love for each other has deepened and grown.  We’re closer now than we’ve ever been before. As we face challenges in our lives, whether related to the adoption or not, our bonds grow stronger. Waiting to adopt has brought us much closer together. It keeps us engaged with each other and our lives and the world around us. Our connection continues to strengthen through our travels and challenges. Whatever comes our way, good or bad, fun or trying, we know we’re a team.

You know what they say about first comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes the baby carriage. Five years into our marriage, we are happy and grateful that we've have each other and our love and marriage, but we're still hoping for the baby carriage. We had a lot of fun during our trip, as we always do. We always enjoy spending our time together and like exploring Southern California, whether it’s a quick visit to Disneyland or the Getty Villa or a weekend away in San Diego. We know we'll always want to spend time together, but we also know that no matter how good a time we have doing these things, a smile on the face of our child will make good times even better.  Someday, we will have a child to share our life with and we can't wait!  That will be a wonderful time, and our love will grow even more when we are parents. Traveling together gives us strength and comfort as we wait for that happy day.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is just a few days away and in some ways it's really tough. As you know, we've been waiting a lot longer than we anticipated to become a family. While we love the holidays, we admit that it is a bit painful to face the prospect of another Thanksgiving and possibly even another Christmas without a baby girl or boy sharing our lives and the holidays with us. We were certain that 2012 would be the year for "pass the baby" at Thanksgiving dinner. We really looked forward to choosing at least one "Baby's first Christmas" ornament and enjoying Christmas lights with a little person. That said, it's a very special time of year and we don't want to lose sight of all the good in our lives just because we are looking for more. We look around us and know we are very lucky and there is plenty to appreciate. This post is about our gratitude this Thanksgiving, both as a couple and as individuals.

Together we are very grateful for all the good in our lives. We are so lucky to share our lives together. While we may not be rich in money, we are rich in love, safety, comfort, opportunity, knowledge, and experience. We are very fortunate that the resources necessary to pursue our dream of becoming a family through open adoption have come our way as we needed them. We are also blessed by literally hundreds of people who have lent their support to our adoption efforts. We appreciate everyone who has helped us along our journey and we are thankful for all the kindnesses that have been shared with us, both great and small. Some folks have been with us from the beginning, others have just recently come on board. There are many people who have liked us on Facebook whom we have never met, and others are among our oldest friends. All of you have made the hard times a bit easier and we thank you. 

We've each also been thinking about what we are particularly grateful for this Thanksgiving. Mitch says...

  • I am most grateful for my wonderful wife Susan. She is kind, smart, and loving, and she helps me be a better person than I ever could have been on my own. Anything I do, I would rather do with her. Anywhere I go, I would rather go with her. I consider myself very lucky to have her in my life, and I am more thankful for her presence than for anything else in the world. 
  • I am also grateful for the rich cultural scene on offer in Southern California. My life has been enriched beyond measure by the myriad of museums, libraries, theaters, zoos and festivals here. 
  • I have been able to enjoy all these things because of the excellent education I received. From elementary school to college, I had several teachers who fed and nurtured my sense of wonder and curiosity. I am particularly grateful for Mr. O’Malley, the principal at HB Lawrence Elementary School, Mr. Fitzgerald, my 9th grade History and Latin teacher, my 12th grade English teacher Ms. Jonkers, and Drs Walter Denny, Yvonne Haddad and Roland Sarti at the University of Massachusetts. 
  • I’m thankful for the many parks, trails, beaches, and open spaces here in Orange County and around the area. Outside is one of my favorite places, and the weather here makes it easy to go there. I’m glad I’m able to hike in the hills, explore the coast, and see it all from a big orange balloon. 
  • Lastly, I’m grateful for my wonderful wife Susan. I know I put her first on this list, but she’s the world to me, and she’s always in my heart, so I’m putting her on the list again. Anyone would be lucky to have someone as special in their lives. I hope you do, and I’m beyond grateful that I do. 

And Susan says...

  • I am so grateful for my husband Mitch, who is the most important person in my life. I am incredibly lucky we are together and share our lives. I am thankful every day for his unconditional love, the warmth of his enormous heart, and his kind, gentle spirit. 
  • I am thankful we have the opportunity to have a stable, healthy, comfortable life filled with love and many good things.
  • I am also thankful for the freedom to be myself and pursue my hopes and dreams. 
  • I appreciate all the lessons I've learned in life, both in and out of school. Some of them haven't been easy, but I am thankful for them nonetheless. I am lucky that many people have shared their wisdom with me throughout my life. I am grateful to all the people who have helped me grow and become a better person.
  • I am thankful for all the local adventures and fun experiences we've had during our wait. The wait will never be easy, but it's definitely better when I can see great works of art, take a good road trip, or be a kid again at Disneyland.

We wish you and yours the best this holiday season. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2012 Adoption Bloggers Interview Project

The Open Adoption Bloggers site is a great resource for different perspectives on adoption. We discovered it in October 2011 a few months before we even started blogging. Once we had written a few posts in 2012, we submitted our blog to their blogroll. We've been tempted to join in every time we've seen one of their roundtable prompts, but we always wind up chickening out. However, this October we saw calls to participate in the 2012 Adoption Bloggers Interview Project and Susan decided it was time to get involved so she signed up.

Before we get started on the interview, I want to say thank you to two women involved in this project. The first is Heather Schade who blogs at Production, Not Reproduction and is the caretaker for Open Adoption Bloggers. She's done an amazing job of coordinating over 100 participants for this year's project and keeping us on schedule. The second is my interview partner, Melinda Oklamchak who blogs at He's our heart; She's our hero. Melinda is a very kind person and is so organized. She kept us both on track as we exchanged emails and our questions & answers. I'm so happy to be part of this project and I appreciate everything they did to make this happen. Thank you both!

Melinda, Noah, and Joe - happy to become a family in 2012! 

Melinda and her husband adopted their son earlier this year. She started her blog during her wait and has continued to blog about life as a new mom. I was very lucky to be matched with Melinda and thoroughly appreciated reading her blog. Melinda knows how difficult it can be to wait to adopt. I was very moved by her story and related to it as our own wait continues. My hope is always renewed when I hear about new families formed through adoption and I was glad to see their journey worked out. 

This project was very interesting because while Melinda and I have things in common, we both blog very differently. Her blog is focused on feelings, while our blog tends to be a lot of thoughts and details about us and our experiences, without a lot of feelings. I am grateful for the different perspective I got from my interview partner and her blog.  Now enough of the introduction, it's time for the interview!

1. Congratulations on adopting your son Noah earlier this year. What’s the best thing so far about being a parent? What’s the most surprising thing?

Everything, on both accounts! No honestly the best thing is just the love, I have never known such unconditional love in such a sort time. I have had instant love for my niece and nephew but this is so different. And it is not just the love we have for him but the love he has for us. I think the most surprising thing is how fast my momma bear kicked in, I didn’t expect it to happen that quickly, to bond with him that fast. I knew the second I saw him being born my life was never going to be the same and then when the consent papers were signed I was proven right. Also how fast they grow. It seems like yesterday that he was born and now we are just 3 short months from his 1st birthday.

2. It looks like you started blogging about a year into your wait to adopt. What inspired you to start blogging at that point? Did you find it helped to blog during the wait?

It was about a year after we started the paper work and we had been on the waiting list for about 6 or 7 months at that point. We met a couple at a training session and she and I became friends instantly and she told me about her blog. I thought it was a great idea and way to keep family and friends posted on what was going on. Before I realized it I have started to write about my feelings during the process and not just what was going on. For me it helped to just be able to write about what was going on and therapeutic just to get it off my chest, to be able to say what I was feeling. You can talk to family and friends but unless they have walked in these foot steps we are all walking in they don’t know, they don’t understand. They can love you and support you but they don’t understand.

3. Is Noah’s birthmother D, aware of your blog? Did she read it before making her decision to place Noah with you and your husband?

No; not that I am aware of. That is something I would have to ask her. I really don’t think it was something she read before making her decision. She did find us on a website but it did not have our blog on it and there was no way to connect the two.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you've faced so far with open adoption? 

When she was still pregnant with Noah it was being involved with EVERYTHING that was going on in her life. Midnight phone calls and just everything. I will say she never wavered in her wanting to place him but there was still so much other stuff I didn’t talk about out of respect for her. Now it is the lack of contact or I should say the back and forth. After we left Las Vegas I think she was hurting, we were parenting a new born and just adjusting to our new life. She has made a lot of life changes and there are peaks and valleys in our relationship but all relationships are work and take time.

5. I saw in your blog that you would like to be more active as a source of information and support for those waiting to adopt. What advice would you give waiting families, especially if they have been waiting more than a year? 

Be pro active in your journey. For many months we just sort of went with the flow of things taking for granted that our agency would be doing all they could. And maybe to them they did but for us it wasn’t enough. Get your information out there, network, network, and network! List your profile on any on-line site you can. Send your homestudy to any agencies that will take it and have it on file without charging you. Ask attorneys, medical offices at colleges any place you can think of to keep your information on file. I know doing it that way you open yourself up to scams so you have to be cautions but you also need to make things happen for yourself.

6. You recently decided to move your blog from WordPress to Blogger. Can you tell me a bit more about that decision? Was it easy to move your blog or were there any challenges? 

The same friend I mentioned earlier had some give always on her blog I asked her about it and she said that she just got emails when she reached a certain amount of “traffic”, you cannot do that on wordpress. I want to become more active and thought that would be a cool added bonus to have. It was an easy process and took like maybe 15 minutes to move all my old posts over and start to blog. It was much easier than I thought it would be to be honest.

7. I noticed a couple of fundraisers mentioned in your blog and I’m curious how those worked. Can you tell me a bit more about them? Do you have any advice for waiting families who might be considering fundraising efforts of their own? 

In the area we live in basket parties are a big fundraiser for pretty much everyone. People put together theme baskets and donate them, also try to get much bigger items, like tickets to a local ball game, amusement party, large gift card amounts and you charge extra for those (get a roll of like 50/50 tickets and sale them 3 tickets for $5.) Also sale 50/50 tickets. You then charge a fee to get in and you get a sheet of tickets with 25 chances on them, (you can get the tickets on line). The object is to have a lot of baskets and nice baskets (tell people who donate you would like the baskets to be worth say $30). They are a lot of work but if done right they can be a big success. I know of several other fundraisers other families have had as well.

The advice I have is just ask, you never know who is willing to help. When we planned our first one I thought no one will want to help they won’t want to come. You will be surprised, I have people I hadn’t talked to in years call to offer help, and we have over 200 people at the 1st event. Just have faith in it all.

Anyone can email me and I help them with information I can. My email is on my blog.

8. Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently on your journey to adopt?

Part of me wants to say I would not change a thing because I have the most perfect little boy. What I have told people before if we do it again I would do things different like a live and learn type of thing. I would not get locked in with 1 agency and pay them a bunch of money up front. I would also get my homestudy done by independent place so I had control over it. That way we would have had more freedom as to what we could do. We were in the position we couldn’t be shown for some situations at other places I had networked with because we didn’t have our original homestudy. Also when we did have to use another agency to match with Noah’s birth mother we lost A LOT of money and couldn’t get a refund of it. I know that is a choice we made but I still struggle with how some places can do that and live with it.

I do need to state that is OUR personal experience, we have friends who used the same facility we used and loved them and some have even listed with them the 2nd time. Our experience was different, way different.

9. Were there any adoption blogs, websites, or other online resources you found helpful on your journey and would recommend to waiting families? 

I would say just research and find some blogs you connect with. There were 3 I followed and 2 of them I still do, plus several others but during the wait it was;

Jess at Her Womb, Our Hearts (she has since closed her blog since the adoption of her 2 children)

Rebekah at Heart Cries and Meg at God Will Fill This Nest.

I have also read the book about adoption in the 60’s and 70’s and it was a big eye opener for me to want to work hard to have a relationship with Noah’s birth family.

Curious about Susan's answers? You can check out Melinda's blog for her interview with Susan. There's also many more interviews to read from the current and past Adoption Bloggers Interview Projects at the links below.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Long Haul

Find new things to do when you're on the long haul.
We got annual passes to Disneyland!

Our adoption journey has become quite the long haul. It's been 18 months since we first began and there's no way to know when we'll get to our destination. We've been traveling on a much longer road then we could have possibly imagined. If you read our last post about our adoption journey, you got to see everything we've encountered on the road so far. 

Of course, the journey seemed simple and short enough when we first began. We were certain we would have adopted within 6 months of going live with our agency. At first, the wait was bliss. We were thrilled to be done with paperwork and our adoption letter. The future was full of possibility and we were excited about this. Strange as it sounds we actually were happy to be newly waiting. We figured it offered us a chance to get some projects done and have a few last adventures before we became parents.

Clearly it didn't happen for us to match so quickly. We hit the 6 month mark a year ago in October 2011. There had been no contacts and no sign that the waiting would end anytime soon. While we didn't want more paperwork, the thrill of having so much time to ourselves quickly grew old. We soon realized that the honeymoon on our adoption wait was over. It started to sink in that we could be waiting a long time before our adoption hopes became a reality. Now October 2012 is over. We're looking at things a year later and realizing just how long this haul has become.

And let's face it, waiting sucks. We're not really a nation that waits gracefully. In fact it's rare for 21st century Americans to have to wait for much of anything at all. So many things in our lives are instant to get, to find out, to send and receive, that it feels like a real challenge to be patient and just wait. Many days we struggle to stay positive and hopeful when the wait stretches on as long as this one has for us.

We've learned several things during our wait. While we're still waiting, have challenges, and certainly don't have all the answers, there are some things we've learned along the way. The advice we would offer to those newly waiting on an adoption journey is to hope for the best, a short wait, but be prepared for the long haul if the wait is longer than expected.

And, we've even got some tips for handling the long haul.

1. Start thinking about photos for your adoption letter as soon as you realize you want to adopt. This is especially important if you're not in to taking a lot of photos (like us). And make sure they're good. You don't want favorite photos for your letter rejected because one or both of you wore a hat, sunglasses, ended up with your eyes closed, didn't smile, or were in bad lighting. More photos give you more options for your letter and make the process easier.

2. Keep taking photos. You're going to need them. Even if you choose not to use social media such as Facebook or Pinterest, you'll want new photos if your wait extends to the point where you need to redesign and update your letter. Besides, it is nice to have photos from good times together. You even can do what we did and make a photo book for your future child so they can see what your life was like during the wait.

3. Keep budgeting and saving money for adoption costs. The money helps once you realize that LiveScan renewals, physicals, letter printing, advertising, etc. are recurring costs during a long wait.

4. Find support with people who are going through the adoption process too. There are local groups to meet in person as well as many online communities. They are great places to express your feelings and get new ideas from people who know what you're going through. We participate in both our agency's support group and the Resolve adoption group for Southern California.

5. Stay engaged with life. Do the things that make you happy. Keep current on your interests and local events.

6. Do new things. Have fun. And always have a pen and paper handy so you can jot down new ideas for your outreach efforts. Sometimes the best ideas happen at the top of a roller coaster.

7. Support each other. Remember the person you're sharing your life with. You chose to be with them because you love them and you're going to want them in your life no matter what happens at the end of your adoption journey.

8. Stay open to new adoption networking ideas. When you first start waiting it's hard to network in every possible way, especially when you're enjoying the honeymoon of the newly waiting. However, as the wait goes on you'll want to look for new ways to keep your message fresh and connect with people.

9. Try not to second guess yourselves. It's really easy to feel bad when you go a long time without any contacts or the contacts you get don't work out. There's always going to be part of you that wonders what you could have done differently, but it's important to keep this in check. Sometimes there may be constructive things you learn that help influence future decisions for the better, but it doesn't help to beat up on yourselves for the choices you made.

10 Don't obsess over every decision, but do take time to truly consider choices that you'll have to live with during the wait. It's worth taking extra time with choices that go into print, such as your letter, or can't easily be changed, such as the address of your website. However, you don't need to spend 30 minutes trying to compose a tweet or Facebook status for an update. Go ahead and like the baby animal picture!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Our Adoption Journey

Here we're at the LA Times Festival of Books a couple of weeks after our wait began.
 Ah, the bliss of the newly waiting... 

What has our adoption journey looked like? You may remember we wrote a three part series on our story as a couple and said we'd write more about adoption in another post. Well, here it is. In this post we'll look at the road we're traveling on to become parents through adoption. You'll see this is a bit of a long post, but it's also been a long journey.

Summer 2009 - We kept trying to get pregnant, but started to realize that it wasn't working out. Adoption had always been something we discussed and we began to think about it more as the summer went on. We started reaching out to family and friends and through them met new friends who were in the process of adoption or had already adopted. Susan also went to a meeting of the original Resolve adoption support group here in Southern California. While meeting two other women to talk about adoption really inspired Susan, unfortunately it turned out to be the first and only meeting of that original group.

December 2009 - The Resolve adoption support group reformed under a different leader. We were inspired by the successful adoption stories we heard at that meeting and started to really think about how adoption was more consistent with us and our values than continuing to pursue the options reproductive science offered. We went to the first meeting of the new group and have been going as often as we can ever since.

March 2010 - Concluded that despite our best efforts we were probably not going to be able to conceive a child. Researched adoption agencies and planned meetings with two in Southern California.

May 1, 2010 - Attended IAC's orientation session in Orange County, California. We began to understand the nature of open adoption and found that it really appealed to us rather than fostering or international adoption. We discussed what adoption with IAC would look like and how the process would work. The next step with IAC was their weekend intensive, but you sign your contract with them that weekend and we needed a little more time before we were ready to commit.

July 30-31, 2010 - Went on the IAC's weekend intensive which is a mini crash course on many aspects of adoption. Signed our contract with IAC and learned about the steps we would need to take to get our home study done.

August 2010 - Began the challenge of completing the home study questionnaires and written autobiographies required for our home study interview. We each needed to answer 24 questions about our childhood, adolescence, and teenage years in the autobiographies we wrote.

Fall 2010 - Completed our home study questionnaires and autobiographies. Then moved on to all the other paperwork including getting DMV records, physicals, LiveScan fingerprints for the FBI and Department of Justice, letters of recommendation, and more. (Thank you again to MC, AI, and PB for helping us out with those letters.) Read two IAC required books, "Children Of Open Adoption And Their Families" and "Inside Transracial Adoption". The first is required for all waiting parents, the second was our choice from a list of about 10 elective books.

November 2010 - A whirlwind of obsessive housecleaning ultimately concludes in a successful home study.

December 2010 - We realize our home study is done, but our adoption letter isn't. We try to hunker down and get the letter done, only to realize that it's harder than we thought and the holidays aren't a great time for the project. The letter with its 1000 words of text and 12 or so photos takes much longer than we planned. The challenge is made even more difficult when we realize we have very few photos that will work for the letter. (We never really took a lot of photos before this process.) We soldier on through the letter process for 4 months despite many obstacles including the absurd struggle of trying to design a letter using Publisher 2000 on a Windows 7 computer.

January 2011 - IAC introduced an online course which was required for those couples open to transracial adoption so we took a short break from the adoption letter to complete this course.

March 2011 - Started our Facebook page and continued to work on getting our adoption letter approved.

April 2011 - Adoption letter approved and printed. Completed online adoption profile on IAC's website iHeartAdoption.org and went "live" with IAC as a waiting family.

August 2011 - Updated FBI LiveScan Fingerprints

January 2012 - Took a serious look at our outreach efforts to find a match. We realized we needed to do much more and created our own website and blog.

March 2012 - Went to our doctor to update our physicals. Expanded our online outreach efforts to include Pinterest and Twitter. Met with our adoption coordinator to update our home study and discuss what the next steps were at our one year mark.

April 2012 - 12 months of waiting. Added to IAC's last minute hospital list. Signed up for an online profile at America Adopts as another way to get our message out online. Ordered more printed copies of our adoption letter.

June 2012 - We began advertising on Facebook at the suggestion of our IAC coordinator. We've been advertising on both Facebook and Google ever since.

July 2012 - Went on a short trip to Las Vegas after realizing that not only had it been 8 years since we were there, but also that we needed new adventures if we were going to stay sane during our wait. The Las Vegas trip was the first step of doing different things for us while we wait. We let ourselves go "fair crazy" with passes to the OC Fair this year and we just got annual passes to Disneyland. We going to continue to look for fun things to do during our wait, either that we've never done before or that we haven't done in a while.

September 2012 - Updated FBI LiveScan fingerprints.

October 2012 - 18 months of waiting. Received and completed IAC paperwork for their task force which allows us to receive extra advice and assistance with our journey. Starting to prepare to update our adoption letter, hopefully before we need to order more printed copies. Still mulling the prospect of creating a YouTube video to help get our message out.

Please keep in mind that every adoption story is different. While there are many common points we share with other waiting parents, there are parts of our journey that are unique. Many prospective parents complete items on this timeline much quicker than we did and many wait for a lot less time than us. We don't want to scare anyone off with our timeline, but we've also tried to detail events as realistically as possible. In retrospect there are several things we'd probably do differently and it's easy to see ways we could have streamlined some of the process now that we have the benefit of hindsight. We also have some thoughts and even some tips on preparing for what we call "the long haul". Stay tuned for our next post.