Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why not...

We've told you about why we're adopting.

But we've never told you how we got there.   Grab some coffee, sit back, and spend some time with me now.   So many of you out there have supported us in countless ways (notes, emails, phone calls, hugs, donations, advocacy, etc), it seems only fair to give you the Reader's Digest version of how we've gotten to this point today.

I will throw a couple of disclaimers in right now, however.  In no way am I attempting to speak for every adoptive family out there.  I speak for our family and our experience, alone.  My second disclaimer is tied to that:  we are not a perfect family, and I won't ever try to convince someone that we are.  What we are trying to do is to live as authentic Catholics and follow God's will in our lives.  You may or may not share our religious views, and I completely understand that.  However, they are integral to our family identity, and I cannot remove them from our story.

A couple of months ago, I blogged about the awkward questions that I've been asked when people found out that we were adopting.   At that time, I didn't feel ready to share our entire journey to the point of adopting with everyone.   Recently, more questions have been asked, comments have been made (some directly, some indirectly), and I realize that there's a lot of misunderstanding out there.  That is my fault.  I need to fill in some blanks for our friends, family, and acquaintances.   This is probably going to be a multi-post discussion, but it is a discussion that I feel should probably start before emotion levels get high and feelings are hurt.

You see, this whole "adoption thing" isn't new for us - it's just new to you.  Adoption was a journey that we've discussed since Day One of our relationship - even before we were married.   Both Mike and I felt that adoption was part of God's plan for our lives, and that one day, some day, we would be adopting children.   To be honest, at that time, I thought we would be fostering children, not adopting.  

When our third pregnancy led to medical scares and health issues that needed resolutions before it would be safe for us to get pregnant again, the idea of adoption was brought back to the forefront of our conversations.  We knew that our family was not complete - we were able, financially and emotionally, to care for more children - but we also knew that becoming pregnant (at that time) carried some very serious inherent risks.    The plan had always been to foster and adopt at some point, but considering we started our family while pretty young, we'd always thought that adoptive children would come after our biological children were grown.   After all, we'd be in our mid-40s when our current children would be on their own, and so we'd always imagined that the time to foster or adopt would be quite a bit in the future.

We began to realize that maybe our plans weren't God's plans.  After talking to multiple friends who were adoptive and/or foster parents, and being led to the Reece's Rainbow website over and over again, it became clear that God was leading us down the path of a special needs adoption.  

Both Mike and I had previously known that one day we'd be caring for children with special needs.  All our past work/volunteer experiences had pointed to that direction, and even before starting this journey, we'd discussed what medical needs we felt able to provide for.   With his medical training, and my previous volunteer/employment work, we felt that we were able to care for a child with special needs. 

Over the next few years, we researched as much as we could about adoption.  We talked to anyone who would listen.  We prayed.  We asked questions of multiple agencies, lawyers, and adoptive families.  We read book after book about adoption or about caring for a child with special needs.  Adopting or fostering, at the time, was not a logistical possibility, as we knew we would be moving across state lines (due to Mike's training and subsequent job placement).  Every state has a different adoption procedure to follow, with different requirements, both legal and financial.   It did not make logical sense to start the process in one state, only to be unable to continue it before our move. 

So we waited.  And we read some more.  We crunched numbers.  We contacted agencies, trying to figure out the right timing.  We worked on resolving my health issues, so that we could bring a child home to a healthy family. 

And then we moved to our new home.

This is where it gets really serious.   We found ourselves welcomed into an amazing community, where I could finally become an advocate for people and causes that I am (and have been) extremely passionate about.  One of these causes is the pro-life movement.   As a Catholic, I believe that every human has an inherent dignity purely because they are created in the image and likeness of God.  As someone who values and relies on modern science, I knew that a unique human life began at the moment of conception.  Even the "imperfect" humans that are often aborted have this inherent dignity, and we were finally in a situation where I had the ability to become an active advocate for them.  

Part of this advocacy included lots and lots of research.  It was during this research that I learned that over 90% of all children diagnosed with Down Syndrome while in the womb were aborted.  When Mike and I discussed this fact, we knew that we were being led to care for these children.  Add in the fact that Mike had a relative with Down Syndrome (and subsequent family support), and we had multiple friends with children with Down Syndrome (and therefore, a source of support and help), and it became crystal-clear that this was the direction we were being called to move.

I think the number one question that we are asked, or the number one criticism we receive from others, is in regard to why we are pursuing an international adoption, not domestic.  Well, we've hit the part of our journey that can speak to that question (or critique, depending on who's thinking it).   This was not a decision that we made lightly, which seems to be the assumption that people make about our choice to adopt internationally.

Once we realized that we were going to adopt a child with Down Syndrome, we started making more specific phone calls.  We contacted the state, we contacted Catholic Charities, we contacted private agencies.  They all told us the same thing:  in our county, in our state, all of the adoption agencies work together as a sort of "consortium" for child advocacy and adoption.   Some do not work with certain special needs, but most did handle Down Syndrome adoptions, and they still all work together, advocating for the same children.  In most cases, the only way to adopt a child - no matter the age - would be to foster children first.   With young children of our own in our house, and knowing (realistically), the struggles that an older children within the foster care system could bring into our house, we discerned that fostering/adopting a younger child was what our family needed at this time.

We moved forward with the idea of fostering.   We attended meetings, we had conversations with social workers at the different agencies working with children in our state.   Over and over again, it was stressed to us that we would need to be open to (and supportive of) the main goal of foster care, which is re-unification with the child's biological family.   It took a lot of prayer and discussion, but Mike and I realized that, at this point in time, we could not truly be committed to that goal.   Emotionally, we were not in the place where we could care for a child and work towards reunification with his/her biological parents.   Once we realized this, we knew that it would not be fair to our future foster children to move forward down this path, at this time.  (We're leaving this option open for the future, as our hearts can evolve and change over time). 

We discussed our concerns with the agencies, and friends we'd made along the journey, and were informed that the best option for us was to move towards a private adoption, instead of an adoption through the state.  So we started researching this avenue.

It turns out that this is a lot easier said than done.  You see, there are over a million women alone in the United States who are seeking a child to adopt.  However, in recent years, less than 1% of all children born were placed for adoption in the United States.  Using those statistics, in 2003 there were only 14, 000 children placed for adoption.   In our national foster care system in 2009, there were approximately 114,000 children available for adoption across the country, a small percentage of which were available in our state.   Our state's system, however, made it very hard to move solely towards adoption of those children (like I discussed above), unless that child was much older.  The facts were glaringly clear:  there were many more adoptive parents out there than available/waiting children.

It was pretty clear that the only ways that we could adopt a child with Down Syndrome domestically would be to put ourselves on a registry as potential adoptive parents (which would require things to help "sell" our family to a birth mother), or to know someone personally that would name us specifically as the adoptive parent of her child.

One night, once again, a friend sent me a link to Reece's Rainbow.  This friend, knowing what we were trying to discern, sent us this link.   We learned that there are over 1.5 million children in Eastern Europe ALONE who were waiting for a forever family.   3.5 million in Asia.   Seven hundred thousand in Russia alone.  The numbers were mind-boggling.   These were children who were already abandoned, living in an orphanage, being fed and diapered on a time-table, not on demand.   Many of them had medical needs that we could very easily provide for here in the United States.

And then I read about places like Pleven.  And I saw news reports like this one.   I read about children who were purposefully fed the bare minimum of a sludge-like milk product so that they would not die...but would not grow.   I saw 9 year olds who weighed less than all of my children did at 1 year old.  I saw children as young as five in adult mental institutions, merely because their society did not want them.  We saw children on registries, with photo listings and cute little write-ups trying to convince a potential adoptive parent to bring them home.   Instead of trying to convince a birth mother we were the perfect family for her child, we saw children begging, begging,  for a family to come home to.

And then Mike and I saw a little boy who needed a home.   His face shouted out from the computer screen, calling our names.   Our hearts stopped beating.   We saw a little boy who had already survived one round of leukemia, and had been made a ward of the state, and did not have a home.  He had a hospital bed to call his own, and that had been his home for the past two years.  We saw a little boy who needed a Mommy and a Daddy, and we knew that we were his Mommy and Daddy.

I'll be completely honest here.  We'd never really considered adopting from an Asian country.  We'd always thought that we were going to adopt domestically, and the idea of an international adoption hadn't really crossed our mind until that moment.   But once we saw Peter, we knew....he was a child with an inherent dignity and worth and God wanted us to love him for being him

The second-most question or critique we receive is about the cost of our adoption.  "How dare we fundraise and ask people to give us money to bring home a child from another country when there are so many here that need homes?"  is usually what it is phrased as.   I've already discussed how there aren't nearly as many children available for adoption in our home state as is assumed, and that we were unable to foster children at this point.   That left a private domestic adoption, and we were shocked to find out that it would actually cost twice as much, on average,  to adopt a domestic child as it would to bring our Peter home, especially if it was not a "we-already-know-the-birth-mother" kind of adoption.  Adoption is expensive, no matter whether domestic or international, it appeared.

So why fundraise?   Well, because it is expensive, and once Peter comes home,we will have even more medical bills and treatments that will be necessary for him to live a healthy life.  And Peter, with his inherent dignity and worth, deserves to be loved and cared for by his family:  us.   Our hearts long for a little boy that we've never met, but yet we've known all our lives.   Our child is half a world away from us, and we are doing everything in our power to bring him home as quickly as possible.

But that takes money.  Lots of money, apparently, and we are swallowing our pride and humbling ourselves in order to ask for that financial support.   A little boy is not being tucked in by his Mommy and Daddy at night right now.  He doesn't have his own bedroom, or his brothers to play with.   He isn't eating his dinner at a family table in the evenings.   He's not going on family vacations with parents who love him.  Instead, he is sitting in a hospital bed, waiting patiently, while his Mommy and Daddy do everything in their power - including asking for financial support from family and friends, new and old - to bring him to the bedroom they've prepared for him, to his big brothers who have already used their allowance to buy him books and toys in that bedroom, to bring him home

And we've been amazed to discover that these friends and family members - and their friends and family members - are rallying behind our cause.   So many people out there hear the call of the orphan, and are stepping forward.  For some, this takes the shape of adopting a child into their own families (both internationally and domestically).  For others, this call is answered in providing financial support or advocacy.  Neither is better than the other, but both are integral in bringing children home to families. 

So, I suppose that's it.  The "long" version of our story.  How we got to this point.  Why we are pursuing an international adoption.   Why we are asking for money.  I hope that clears up some of the questions and misconceptions or incorrect assumptions about our journey to Peter.  I'm sure that some of you may still not agree with our decisions,  but that's okay.  International adoption may never be a part of your story....but it has become a part of ours.  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said, "Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."  We can all work to end this poverty of love, and there are many ways to do that.   Not one journey will look exactly like another.   

This is our journey.  This is our call to love.  This is our journey to Peter, who is and always was the rock upon which our family has been built. 


  1. This is perfect and beautiful. May I use it as a guest post on OR one day next week?

  2. Thanks for sharing! There are so many things in your story similar to ours and now we are both adopting sweet little boys from HK with DS and in remission :) Not everyone gets it but that isn't what matters. Once that little boy is in your arms you will see! It is such a leap of faith but so wonderful in the end. Our little Mia is such a gift from God and we are so blessed to be going back for our little guy :) Good luck getting through the process, it is hard and stressful at times but so worth it!