Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 Adoption Bloggers Interview Project

This year has been a challenging year for us and we had been finding it very difficult to write for our blog. So when the 2013 Adoption Bloggers Interview Project came up in October, my first thought was no way. It might be good to read everyone's interviews, but what would I say? After all, we only had 2 posts for the whole year at that point. I wondered if our blog could even be part of the project since it was so sparse. Then my interview partner from last year asked me about it and encouraged me. So I reconsidered and signed up. And I'm glad I did. Not only did I get to meet someone new, but I also got back into writing for our blog.

This year I was paired with Cassandra Sines, mother of 3 adopted children with special needs. Her youngest is 3 years old and her oldest is 11. She started blogging about her experiences several years ago before she adopted her 3rd child. Her blog includes her journey to adopt her youngest son as well as the challenges, triumphs, disappointments, and joys she's experienced throughout her children's many tests, diagnoses, and treatments. The name of Cassandra's blog is Life with Three Special Needs Children


1. You've been blogging for a long time (since 2008). What prompted you to start your blog? What keeps you motivated to continue writing through the years and the many challenges your family has faced?

I started blogging as a way to write out my feelings with respect to as to what we were going through our children at the time, but also wanted to share with others what we were going through with hopes that it would help them if they were in similar situations. I really feel that God blessed Tony and I with special needs children for the purpose of sharing our struggle with other families to help them.

2. It must often be difficult to find time to write for your blog with all that do you for your family. Is there a particular time of day that works best for you to write? Any suggestions for making time to write?

Yes, it is difficult to find time to write. Usually when I do have something I want to write, I generally do it after the kids go to bed. I really do not have any specific suggestions about making time to write, as I haven’t really been putting the time into my blog that I would like. The last few years have been very chaotic and stressful for our family and it seems that there is not a lot of time to do a lot of things that that I want to do.

3. I noticed you began to review books on your blog a couple of years of ago. What inspired you to start reviewing books? Are there any books you'd really like to review, but haven't gotten the chance?

I started reviewing books to make myself find the time to read. Having three kids with special needs there isn’t a lot of time for “me” time. A lot of people kept stressing to me that I needed to find time for me. I really enjoy reading and had missed it. I had other friends that did reviews and figured that if I had “deadlines” that would force me to read I would be taking some time for me as well as adding content to my blog at the same time. I can’t say that there is anything that I have not had a chance to read that I haven’t because I am pretty selective as to what I review, based on the type of book and also based on the timing of when the review needs to be written and what is going on in our family at the time.

4. Knowing all that you know now, what would you go back and tell yourself when you were first learning that your oldest child had special needs? Do you have any advice for other parents first learning that their child has special needs?

Stay strong!!! And rely on God as He is not going to give me more than I can handle. I would also make sure I always find a way to take more time for me and make sure to take care of myself! I have always put everything I have into making sure my children’s needs were met, that I have not always taken care of myself. The one thing that I have realized just recently is that I cannot take care of my children effectively if I am not taking care of myself.

The only other advice I would have to give to any other parents who are learning of a special needs diagnosis, keep your marriage a priority!

5. You mention several times in your blog how much you hate waiting, and yet you've had to wait lots of times for various reasons over the years. There was the wait before matching with your older son's birthmother, waiting to finalize the adoption for your younger son, and of course lots of waiting for doctor's appointments and test results over the years. How do you manage all this waiting, what keeps you going?

Yes, I am not a very patient waiter. However, waiting is a necessary evil. What has kept me going is my faith in God and knowing that He has a purpose in the waiting and He is working things out for His good and perfect purpose. (Even if the answer is not what I want it to be!) But I also keep going because there is no other option. I cannot give up because ultimately I have to keep going for my kids and keep fighting for them to receive all the help that they essentially need.

6. I noticed that animals come up several times in your blog. There was an early post about a service dog for your older son and then there were posts about hippotherapy (therapy aided by a horse) for both of your sons. Where did you first learn about hippotherapy? Do animals continue to play a role in your children's lives?

I learned about hippotherapy through a support group at our church that my husband and I lead at our church. One of the members of our church contacted me to tell me about her hippotherapy organization that she runs at her home and came and shared at one of our meetings. My oldest started attending at the next session she offered. Then my youngest, when he was old enough (when he turned 2), he started attending and has been attending ever since. My youngest just completed his fourth session and is doing FABULOUS! It is amazing to watch him interact with the horse and how much more effective the occupational therapy he receives while on the horse is. Most of the time he doesn’t even realize that he is at therapy!!!! 

7. Parents' Hope Network was mentioned in one of your posts and I gather it's a project you were starting with your husband to help other families with special needs children. Have you continued this project and if so, could you tell us more about it?

Yes, Parents’ Hope Network is something my husband and I have started to help families with special needs children. One thing that we had a hard time finding was resources when our children were first diagnosed and we do not want other families to have that same difficulty. It is our desire to use this organization as a clearinghouse of resource information so that parents have a one-stop shop of information. However, with the difficulties we have had lately with our daughter, this endeavor has had to be placed on the backburner. We are hoping that things are able to get rolling again soon.

8. We know from your blog that you are devoted to your family and that you love cooking and reading. What other interests do you have? Would you ever blog about them?

Those are really my main interests. I would really love to volunteer either with a hospital or with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), which works with foster children. Just right now I do not have the time to be able to do that.

9. You and your husband used 2 different methods for adopting your 3 children, working with a private agency for the first and the foster care system for the second and third. What surprised you the most about each path?

What surprised me the most was how much easier adopting from foster care was. I’m not sure if it was because we had adopted previously and they were able to use our home study from our first adoption and just update it for our second, or if we knew what to expect, but adopting from the state foster care system seemed much easier and lot less stressful the first time. Our youngest’s adoption was a little more stressful, only because we had fostered him and there was a slight hiccup. Once we were able to overcome the hiccup, it was smooth sailing and we were able to finalize after the normal waiting and paperwork shuffle!

10. Are there any other blogs, websites, or resources you've found particularly helpful along your journey and would recommend to other families looking to adopt or families with children that have special needs?

When we first started our adoption process, blogs weren’t really active, it was more forums where I found most of my information. I used adoption.com mostly for support. After my two oldest were diagnosed, I spent a lot of time at the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation’s (now Balanced Mind Foundation) website, where they also have online support groups, one group which is specifically for adoptive families.


If you're interested in the questions I was asked and my answers, then check out Cassandra's interview of me here

And now for some thank you's. The first thank you goes to Cassandra for participating as my partner for this year's project. I know she has a lot going on her in life with her 3 children and I'm grateful she found the time to participate as my partner for this project. It was good to have met her online and I appreciate hearing her perspective on adoption. 

A huge thank you goes to Heather Schade who once again organized over 100 bloggers into pairs for our interviews and kept us on track. This year had an extra layer of complexity in that participants were divided into 3 groups. The first two groups posted interviews on November 12th and November 19th. Cassandra and I are part of the last group posting today, November 26th

And I'd like to thank Melinda, my interview partner from last year's project. We've kept in touch since then and she's made waiting to adopt and blogging about it much easier to bear. I'm glad to know her and very much appreciate her encouraging me to participate in the project this year. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Opa! Celebrating family and love!

This has been a month filled with fun times, family get-togethers and a couple of anniversaries, and we haven’t even gotten to Thanksgiving yet! 

The first of those fun times was Halloween. Mitch had to work that evening, but Susan was able to visit with our cousin Beth and her three sons. While the twins were a little young to fully appreciate trick-or-treating, their big brother enjoyed going door to door, and Susan really liked being able to spend time with all of them on that special night. Hopefully next year, we’ll have our own little pumpkin to dress up with!

A few days later we celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. Instead of going away for a few days, like we did last year, we decided to celebrate at our local happiest place on earth, and made a day of it at Disneyland. We didn’t get soaked on Grizzly River this time, but we did speed down the roads of Radiator Springs in Cars Land and then enjoyed a couple of mint juleps in New Orleans Square. This fun day was topped off with a visit to our favorite Indian restaurant for a romantic dinner for two. 

Susan received her partner assignment for this year’s Open Adoption Blogger Interview Project, and spent some time reading her partner’s blog and coming up with a list of questions for her. We will have that interview here in just a few days, so keep an eye out for it!

Last weekend, we had the chance to get together with a big part of our extended family. Mitch’s aunt and uncle who live nearby were having a visit from one of their sons and his wife and daughters. Since they live in Europe and don’t visit that often, a giant family brunch was organized, bringing together three generations of our family in one place. The good times (and the mimosas) flowed as about 30 of us gathered on a sunny Sunday morning by the sea. It was wonderful to be part of such a happy time and to see so many young members of the family playing together. It wasn’t Thanksgiving yet, but we felt that kind of love and connection, and we are very thankful that we are part of such a community of loving people. That is what we want to share with a child someday.

At the beginning of this post, I said there were a couple of anniversaries this month. Our wedding anniversary was the first and happier one. The second is the monthly anniversary of our wait. It's now officially 31 months that we have been waiting to adopt and unlike our wedding anniversary, it's not cause for celebration. It isn’t an anniversary we ever thought we’d have to face. We keep working hard to get our message out there, and we’re still hoping for the best, but 31 months is a long time. We want to stop waiting and start being parents. This month has reminded us how much love there is in our family. Now we want to share it w
ith our child.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

An Even Longer Haul

A year ago we wrote a post titled The Long Haul about what then seemed like a long wait to adopt a baby. In that post we said, "We've been traveling on a much longer road then we could have possibly imagined." A year later we're still traveling on that same road. It's clear that the road is even longer than it was then and our imaginations are stretched to visualize just how long this road could possibly be. This road has go someplace, right? 

That's a tricky question. We often hear that everyone who's qualified will eventually adopt, even if it takes a long time. We hear that we just have to hang in there. Our agency has told us this many times as have many other people. And yet, we know from the experiences of others that the wait can stretch beyond what works for them. So they end their adoption journey and make a choice to take their lives in a different direction. 

We recently heard that a couple adopted a baby after waiting almost 9 years. They're a real couple, we've met them. And yes, you read right, that's 9 years!!! It's awesome that things finally worked out for them, but waiting for 9 years? That's a long time and it scares us that our own road might stretch out into the distance that long. I'll grant that most people don't wait almost 9 years, either because they have far better luck or they don't possess the incredible patience and tenacity it takes to hope and wait for so long. That said, many waits to adopt do stretch on for 3, 4, or more years. And after all, for us waiting 9 years would mean waiting another 6.5 years and not starting our family until 2019!!! Just imagine all the things that will be different in all our lives by then!

I go back and look that post I wrote a year ago, trying to remember exactly where I was in our journey when I wrote it. I'm trying to remember if I really considered that we might still be waiting a year later and I don't believe I did. I don't know if it occurred to me or not, but I'm sure I thought things would be different by now, either because we had adopted or because we had significantly changed our direction. It didn't seem possible that we would be on the same flat, endless stretch of highway that we've traveled on for miles and miles.

Of course we did hit a very curvy stretch of road for a while there when we matched and then unmatched. We could see our destination right in front of us when we matched, though we knew it was in the distance and we had a bit more traveling to do. And then it vanished when our match failed. Our destination is still out there, but it's really hard to see right now. In fact, it's been a while since we've caught sight of it. Waiting sucks, we said this last year and we'll say it again because it does. 

Much of 2013 has been about our weariness as travelers on this road. Sure, we distract ourselves with trips to Disneyland and other fun places and enjoy our time together as much as we can. Despite all our best efforts, we know we're waiting and it still sucks. Even harder, some of the changes this year have been difficult as all the rest of life goes on around us. Looking back on that post from last year, I see we shared some really good tips and we'd share them again because they have helped us.

The advice from #3 about budgeting and saving money helped us greatly when it came time to redo our adoption letter early this year and pay for more printing. It also helped when we matched and found ourselves paying a non-refundable match fee and some of M from Florida's living expenses.  The good news is that the match fee is only paid once so we don't have to pay it next time we match, but it's almost time to print more letters and incur some other expenses in order to continue our journey. The path we chose to travel certainly has not been cheap. That's something we wish we had realized and accepted before we set off, but that's a topic for another post.

I'm also particularly struck by our advice from #5 and #7. It's been a real struggle to stay engaged with life since our failed match, but it is sound advice and is slowly starting to help. While it still feels strange after our failed match, it no longer feels like we are taking baby steps when we get ourselves out there. Engaging with the world has helped, and though we wanted to disappear after that failed match, I'm glad we didn't. And supporting each other has made all the difference. As Winnie the Pooh says, "It's so much friendlier with two." We've always agreed and the long journey we're on proves it all the more. I couldn't do all this without Mitch by my side and I know he feels the same way. We're so lucky to have each other and travel this life together, especially when the road stretches out in front of us for miles with no end in sight. None of us knows what the future holds, but Mitch and I can say that we made the best decision of our lives when we got married. We'll be celebrating that decision with our 6th anniversary this weekend!