Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ida Goes Home

Rob and I had been trading responsibilities back and forth at night and I was taking the 3:30 wake-up call, while he was taking the 7:30 one.  While sitting in the dark, rocking Ida while she drank her milk, I realized that I really enjoyed it.  I had expected the nighttime feedings to be really awful, but they were actually kind of sweet and peaceful.  After she finished eating, she went right back to sleep.

It still felt really strange to me that she slept as much as she did.  It wasn't anything like what I expected.  Instead of Ida keeping me up with her crying, I kept waking up wondering why she wasn't crying or wondering if maybe time was moving really slowly and she hadn't been sleeping very long after all.  She did wake up at 7:30 and Rob got up to take care of her.

I stayed in bed, but I kept hearing all kinds of noises.  We have a bottle warmer, so technically Rob should have been able to take a bottle out of the refrigerator, pop it in the bottle warmer, and press a button to heat it.  A couple minutes later, he'd be set to go.  But I kept hearing the microwave door open and shut and the buzzer going off.  Ida's hungry little cry was getting a little more urgent, so I decided to go out and see what was going on.  As I walked into the kitchen, I could see Rob with bottles and lids and nipples all over looking kind of frantic.  Meanwhile, Ida was lying on the floor of the kitchen, all wrapped up in her blanket.  "What are you doing?! And why is Ida on the floor?!" I asked.  It turned out that Rob hadn't been able to figure the bottle warmer out, so he had tried to microwave a bottle of milk but he had over-heated it so he had to try a new one.  When he went to test the milk's temperature, he didn't know where to put Ida and the floor seemed like a safer bet than the counter-top, where she might roll off.  I just happened to walk into the kitchen at the one moment when Ida was on the floor!  Poor Rob - trying so hard to be a good dad.

Ida went right back to bed after she was finished and she slept through until about ten o'clock.  Around that time, Maria called to tell us that she had to come get Ida.  We already knew that was going to happen, so it was not a surprise.  We understood.

Rob texted his family and told them that Ida was going back to LeeAnn, but that it was okay because we hadn't attached yet.  Not five minutes later I walked into the nursery and found him sobbing over Ida while he changed her diaper for the last time.  I took over for him and we did our best to make the morning as nice for Ida as we could.

A short time after Maria called me, LeeAnn called.  She hadn't spoken to Maria yet, so she told me that she was sorry about the text from the night before - she felt a lot better and wanted to go forward with the adoption.  I had to tell her that the agency wasn't going to let the adoption go forward.  She asked what we wanted, and I told her that we love Ida and would love to be her parents, but we didn't want to feel like we were stealing her from LeeAnn - we wanted to be in an open adoption with someone who actually wanted to be in one. I understood that it would be a really sad process, but there's sad and then there's the feeling that it's not the right decision.  I told her what Maria and Heather had told us about LeeAnn not talking the way birth parents who are actually going to complete an adoption plan talk.  She told me that she didn't realize that if she said she changed her mind we wouldn't be able to do the adoption and she wanted us to raise Ida.  Right about then, Maria called through on her call waiting, so she hung up with me and took Maria's call.

Moments later, Maria called to let us know that LeeAnn was very upset.  She had told Maria that she didn't want to parent Ida, and that she hadn't understood the agreement. Maria explained that LeeAnn had essentially revoked her consent numerous times, and that just upset LeeAnn more - she insisted she had not. Just before hanging up on her, LeeAnn asked Maria if she was going to try to force her to parent against her will.

We knew that Ida was going back to LeeAnn no matter what, but her reaction was really difficult to deal with.  It was hard to get Ida ready to go back to LeeAnn when LeeAnn was saying she didn't want to parent Ida and we so badly did want to parent her.  We went ahead and got her dressed and packed up, and Maria came to take her back.  It was really sad to put her in her car seat for the last time, buckling her up, and tucking her blanket around her.  I kept over-explaining what we had packed, when she had eaten, when her diaper would need to be changed.  And then we put her in the car, gave her a kiss, hugged Maria, and sobbed as we walked away.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'll See You In the Morning

When we arrived home, I found a great little package my friend Stephanie left me on the front porch.  It had an adorable outfit (perfect for our Thanksgiving dinner plans at another friend's home), a swaddling blanket, a little lovey toy, and a small book.

We changed Ida into her jammies and I sat down with her and the book, I'll See You in the Morning.  Ida was so sweet.  She was lying on her back facing up at me and I was holding the book right under my eyes, facing her, so she could see the pictures but could also see me.  The book had great illustrations for young infants - there's lots of contrast between dark and light.  We read the book all the way through with just one little break in the middle.

At 9:42, my phone buzzed:

"Shannon and Rob, i dont think i can do this."

And that was that.

From Ida's book: I'll be here if you need me.  I'm only steps away.  So close your eyes and go to sleep and dream of a brand-new day.

The Mall

On our way down to the mall where we were supposed to meet up with everyone, we had to decide whether to tell our friends and family that LeeAnn might have been changing her mind.  We had already gotten lots of questions about the birth parents legal standing and how much time they had to relinquish, and since those questions just increase the stress and set up an "us vs. them" dynamic, we decided to keep everything private until things were finalized one way or the other.

We arrived at the mall 30 minutes early and decided to go to a nearby Starbucks, but while there the counselors were in contact with us and let us know they had spoken with LeeAnn and she needed some time to think about what she wanted to do.  They hadn't left their office yet, and since it was the day before Thanksgiving (busiest travel day of the year), their travel time was going to be long.

LeeAnn called us about an hour or so after we were supposed to meet at the mall asking to see Ida.  While it was awkward to go meet up with her while everything was so up in the air, we didn't feel right keeping Ida away from her so we headed over to meet.  When we got there, we all did a really good job of keeping the conversation light and not talking about the big picture of what was going on.  Heather and Maria finally came (it took them until 3:30 to get to our 1:00 meeting!) and Rob and I decided to leave LeeAnn, her dad, Ida, Heather, and Maria talking outside Nordstrom while we wandered the mall.

We hadn't known that Ida was going to be out more than 3-4 hours (including travel time) when we left the house, so when 4:30 rolled around, I started getting really worried about getting Ida changed and fed (she had been out since 11:30 am) and getting home to our dog - she had been in the house since about 7:00 am. I texted Heather and a few minutes later received a text back that we should meet up to talk.

It turned out that LeeAnn had changed her mind several times during their conversation.  At one point, Heather and Maria had come to tell us that Ida was going to go home with LeeAnn, but then LeeAnn called them back and changed her mind.  At the point they met with us, LeeAnn was asking them to continue with the adoption plan but the agency had a lot of concerns about her ability to make the adoption decision.  Their impressions were that LeeAnn was parroting whatever parent she had with her or talking to her at any given time and that she wasn't really making the decision herself.  Additionally, she had waffled more than most birth parents who are going to go through with an adoption.  Heather and Maria told us that they thought there was a lot of risk involved in moving forward and they thought we should really consider how far in we wanted to be.

We thought about it for a few minutes, but we had fallen in love with Ida by then, so I don't think we were capable of saying we didn't want her to come home with us.  I was very concerned about attachment though.  I've learned a lot about infant mental health in my line of work and I wanted Ida to be able to attach to whoever her primary caregiver was going to be sooner rather than later.  The agency was clear that if LeeAnn changed her mind again, they would no longer support the adoption moving forward.  We agreed, and went back to meet with LeeAnn.

Heather explained the agreement.  She told LeeAnn that if she wanted to talk about feeling sad or lonely after Ida went home with us, the agency would be there to counsel her through those feelings.  However, if she expressed a desire to change her mind again, Ida would be going home to her and they would put supports into place for parenting.  They would no longer support the adoption.  LeeAnn indicated she agreed.  We had also asked that LeeAnn contact the counselors directly instead of telling us if she was changing her mind.  It seemed like a big ethical quagmire to have her telling us instead of the counselors when we knew that any statement that she changed her mind would result in Ida being removed from our home.  We made a plan for LeeAnn to visit the next day (Thanksgiving).  I asked her if she wanted to make little hand-print turkey paintings with Ida and maybe take a stroll to our local park. LeeAnn seemed excited about those ideas, and that seemed promising.

Finally, at 6:15, we left the mall.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

First Night Home

I had always said that the first place I would go with a new baby would be straight to the public library to sign up for a library card.  That's not exactly how our trip home went.  We had left the house at 2:00 pm and didn't leave the restaurant until about 9:30 pm.  Since the restaurant had bad reviews on yelp (complaining of mold and porcelain found in the food), I didn't want to order any food while we were there.  So, we ended up going to McDonald's.  I hate going to McDonald's.

While Rob went inside to order food and get me some warm water for Ida's formula, I sat out in the car and took care of Ida.  She was just a little bit fussy, but not too bad.  As soon as we had her bottle going for her, she was a lot happier.  It was definitely a "new mom" moment when Rob asked me if I wanted chicken nuggets (what I normally would have gotten) and I told him that I wanted a cheeseburger instead - I knew I wouldn't be able to manage the dipping sauce in the car while also trying to take care of Ida, but I could hold a cheeseburger in one hand.

When we got home we didn't know quite what to do with ourselves.  We cuddled Ida and took some photos.  We sent some to LeeAnn and then started getting Ida ready for bed.  

Luckily, we had come pretty close to getting picked on another occasion, so we had gone into last-minute placement panic and set up our entire nursery.  We had pretty much everything we needed - crib, changing table, whole nine yards. Instead of using disposable diapers, we had decided we wanted to try cloth diapers.  I read a blog pretty regularly that the wife of a guy I went to law school writes (Life on the Farm) and she had written a pretty compelling post about the benefits and relative manageability of cloth diapering so we decided to try it out.  We had a stack of GroVia hybrid diapers at the ready, and changed Ida into one of them, but left her in the jammies she had come in so she would smell familiar smells instead of everything being new.

LeeAnn had mentioned that Ida seemed to cry a lot at night and she thought it might be colic.  We had purchased Dr. Brown's glass bottles and they are supposed to really help with any digestive issues (something about the air bubbles going up through this blue tube thing in the center of the bottle?) and, after figuring out that Ida wasn't on a consistent formula at LeeAnn's, gave her Enfamil Gentlease to try to help a little more.  Ida took a bottle and then I wrapped her up in a swaddle blanket to rock for a little while. That was when I had that moment everyone talks about when they bring a baby home - I sat there looking at Ida and looking around the nursery and thinking, "I can't believe they actually let me come home with this baby.  It seems like it should be a lot harder to bring home a baby!!" 

One thing we didn't have was a cradle or bassinet to put in our room, so when Ida was getting sleepy, I put her down in her crib, turned out the light, and closed the door.

She went to sleep.

Isn't that crazy??  She went to sleep!  She slept until 3:30 in the morning, woke up and took a bottle and...

Went back to sleep.

I could barely sleep myself and kept wondering why she wasn't keeping us up and crying more.  Every time I woke up, I wondered if only a couple of minutes had passed because I couldn't believe she was sleeping so much.  She was just really, really good.  

In the morning, Rob took our dog out for a walk and I woke Ida up around 7:30 to give her a bottle and start getting ready for our day.  I had to go to work for a few hours to try to give information to other people in my unit about what to do on my cases for the next few months and Rob was going to stay home and take care of Ida.  I set out an outfit for her for the day, cleaned up what I could, and headed out.

At the office, I didn't get anything done.  Everyone was so excited and I spent the whole time telling the story of how Ida had come home to us.  It was really nice to feel like everyone was excited and happy for us.  We had a plan to meet up with LeeAnn again at 1:00 at a mall south of us to let her visit with Ida and go over the open adoption agreement again, and Rob and I had planned for him to come pick me up at 12:00 to make sure we would have enough time to get down there and settled in.  

At 11:55, as I was putting on my coat, LeeAnn called to tell me that she didn't think she was going to be able to go through with the adoption.  I let her know that as far as I was concerned, Ida was her baby until the relinquishment was final and that if she wanted to parent, we would support her in that.  That said, I also told her that we really loved Ida, we were willing to have an extremely open relationship, and if she decided to go forward, we would do everything in our power to make her feel like she had made a good decision.  After laying that out, I told her I thought she should call the adoption counselors and let them know how she was feeling.  On my way out to the car, the counselors called me back and let me know that both Maria and Heather would be coming to our meeting at the mall to try to figure everything out.  

The Chinese Restaurant

There are lots of things that happen in really random places when you're dealing with adoption and even in my line of work with foster care.  After we spent all that time waiting in the strip mall parking lot, we found ourselves pulling up to another strip mall.  With a car seat installed in the back seat of our car (so hopeful!) we pulled up to the Chinese restaurant where we were to be presented with our new daughter.  The restaurant wasn't one of those bustling, busy, cheerful restaurants with a nice Chinese family running the show.  It was the kind where the sign outside is halfway burned out and when you go inside you pass two booths stacked full of cleaning supplies and random clutter before you get to a table where anyone could actually sit.  The lights were making everyone look washed-out and tired.  In the back of the room were a few tables for large groups and that is where we found LeeAnn, Ida, LeeAnn's parents, and the adoption counselor, Heather.

LeeAnn's mom was obviously distraught.  Right off the bat, she came over and started pressuring LeeAnn about the visitation arrangements.  It was really awkward - we were trying to reassure LeeAnn's mom that visitation wasn't going to be a problem, but she wasn't really talking to us at all, she was mostly talking to LeeAnn.  Very quickly she became really emotional, packed up her things and left.  Her partner introduced himself to us, told us that he thought LeeAnn was making the right decision but that it was hard on the family. Then he went after LeeAnn's mom.

LeeAnn subsequently followed them both outside, where her mom was crying and the adoption counselor was trying to manage the situation.  That left us with Ida and LeeAnn's dad, who was downing a few Labatt's (can't blame the guy!) and telling us that LeeAnn *had* to do this, that there was no way she was going to be able to handle Ida on her own.  He had been LeeAnn's primary parent from the time she was seven, but he was going to be leaving soon to move across the country and he kept repeating that he wasn't going to parent another child - that he had already done his work.

This was all very awkward.  Meanwhile, a woman at the table behind us saw me holding Ida and asked how old she was.  I replied, "Three weeks," and she said, "Aww! Congratulations!"  I couldn't think of what to say to that and the first thing out of my mouth was, "Uh, not yet."  Strangest response ever, Shan.  Way to go.

And there we sat under the fluorescent lights, waiting to see what was going to happen next but really just wanting to pack up little Ida and take her home.

Heather eventually rejoined us and asked LeeAnn if she wanted to set up a meeting for the next afternoon to visit with Ida and go through the open adoption agreement.  LeeAnn, whose mother was concerned she wasn't going to get the visitation we had promised, responded that she would rather hash out the open adoption agreement terms right then.  It was getting really late, but I think no one felt like it would be fair to LeeAnn to refuse.  Heather pulled out all the paperwork and we started going through it.

Negotiating an open adoption agreement is harder than I thought it would be.  Heather was deferring to LeeAnn about the terms, but LeeAnn didn't really have a frame of reference to know what was typical for contact provisions.  For example, it's really normal for people to agree to send photos and letters throughout the year.  When you're in the foster care system and the whole process isn't exactly voluntary, the adoptive parents usually agree to some small amount - once or twice per year.  I imagine in private adoptions it is more, but I don't even really know if there's a "normal" or not.  LeeAnn ended up asking for something like 12 per month.  I got kind of freaked out (in Washington, open adoption agreements are legally binding - you have to take them seriously).  LeeAnn ended up pulling it back to seven per month for the first two years and I was hoping it was going to go down for the following three to four years - as Ida got older, she would be changing less quickly and fewer letters and photos would be necessary.  However, when I asked that we reduce from seven per month to five per month at age three, LeeAnn burst into tears.  I felt *horrible*.  I tried to kind of hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay and that she was going to be able to visit all the time so she wasn't going to need that many letters and pictures - she could take her own! But she was not consoled at all.  Finally, I just turned to Heather and said, "Just put it back to seven."

Heather then tried to turn to the visitation provisions.  On the one hand, this was a good move because we wanted to offer a lot of visitation to LeeAnn.  On the other, LeeAnn was just kind of done at that point and said she wanted to go home and meet again the next day to do the rest of the agreement.  So, at about 9:15 pm, with the employees of the restaurant trying to clean up and shut down around us, we packed up our things, changed Ida's diaper, and loaded her into the car.  LeeAnn gave Ida cuddles right before closing the car door, but was standing by her father's truck starting to cry as we pulled away.

No one should ever try to tell me as a blanket statement that birth parents who make adoption plans don't care about their kids.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ida and LeeAnn

On November 16, 2012, I was finishing up a day at work when I received a screening email.  There was a two week old baby girl and the mother was considering adoption.  The mother, LeeAnn, had named the baby Ida (okay, fake names this time around) and wanted her to keep that name.  She wanted to be able to meet the potential adoptive parents and see their home.

After Rob and I called and talked to the agency to clear up a few questions (mainly, "Is LeeAnn nice and pleasant to be around?") we decided we would definitely like to be considered.  We let the agency know and went to bed.

The next morning (Saturday) we received a call around 10:30 am saying that LeeAnn had been presented with eight families and that she had zoned in on our materials right away.  We had some scrapbook elements on our collage pages that were meaningful to her, she liked how our house looked neat and clean, she thought we looked happy and fun, and she liked how educated we were.  She wanted to meet that day.  Rob scrambled to get his work done and get coverage for the later part of his shift, and then we went to the agency to meet LeeAnn.

Normally at these initial meetings, there's no baby involved.  It's rare to have a baby placed at two weeks old.  However, LeeAnn wanted to bring both her mom and her dad to the meeting and that didn't leave anyone to take care of Ida.  So, the whole family, including Ida, came to the meeting.

We spent about two hours at the agency office with LeeAnn kind of firing questions at us.  You could tell she really wanted to make a good decision about her baby and wanted to feel like she had a good grasp of who we were and whether we'd be a good fit.  After that initial meeting, it was decided we would all go to our house so that LeeAnn could see it - it was really important to her to be able to see the home where the baby would live.

It was really strange and nerve-racking  to show LeeAnn and her family around.  Rob and I love our home, but when you put it up against other people in the waiting parent pool, I am sure it seems very small.  We are pretty careful with our financial planning, and one of the decisions we made was to start off with a smaller, very affordable home.  The plan is to pay it off within 15 years and then use it as a rental while moving someplace bigger or even just stay living in it and get a bigger vacation home maybe on Whidbey Island.  Those plans all sound great to us, but when someone is walking around your house assessing whether or not it is good enough for their baby, it's really hard to feel like our little home is good enough!

At the end of the home visit, LeeAnn asked me to hold Ida, which I had not yet done.  She wanted to see if Ida would like me.  Now, keep in mind that Ida was just over two weeks old.  She doesn't really like much outside of some yummy milk, a dry diaper, and some sweet cuddles yet!  It was scary to take her into my arms and I kept thinking, "Just don't cry!!  Don't cry!"  She didn't cry.

On Sunday and Monday the agency was in contact to tell us that LeeAnn had gone home Saturday excited about us as parents for Ida and liking our home, but ultimately woke up on Sunday morning and decided she didn't want to make an adoption plan.  She wanted to parent.  There was still some ambivalence and back-and-forth going on, but we were pretty sure it wasn't going to work out, so I headed off to work on Monday.

On Tuesday, around lunchtime, the agency counselor called again.  LeeAnn had changed her mind again, had signed the relinquishment, and we needed to go to her neighborhood to pick up Ida that afternoon.  We were thrilled!  We ran out to get a car seat, called my office to let them know what was going on, and headed to LeeAnn's neighborhood.  When we got there, they weren't quite ready for us, so we sat in the parking lot of a Ross Dress for Less while waiting for the call to go pick up the baby.

Hours passed, but we finally received the call around 6:00 pm.  We needed to go to a nearby Chinese restaurant to meet up with everyone and that is where we would pick up Ida.

Screening Calls/Emails

One of the forms you fill out when you're moving forward with open adoption is a form that asks you what type of demographics you're comfortable with in the birth family and the baby.  You select ages, races, mental health characteristics, drug and alcohol history, and so forth.  For the mental health and drug and alcohol history, you select whether you are okay with none, mild, moderate, or severe.  It doesn't really matter what Rob and I selected, but this form ends up being important in one of the more interesting parts of the process - screening calls and emails.

A screening call comes in when there is a birth parent who is *just* outside your comfort range.  Let's say you put in that you want a newborn, but they have a baby who is a week old.  It's likely that many people would not rule out a baby of that age.  So, those people who put down "newborn" would receive a call or an email explaining the situation and asking whether they wanted to be considered.

If the potential adoptive parent says yes, then their materials can be presented to the expectant birth parent.  The thing to keep in mind is that even if you receive a screening call and you say yes, that doesn't mean that anything new or exciting is actually happening.  Your profile information is presumably going out all the time to people who fit within your parameters without you even knowing.  The only difference with a screening call is that in those situations you do know.

We have had several screening calls.  One of them was out of the question for a professional reason with my work.  The next one was too far out of our comfort zone.  We said yes to a couple more, but those birth parents selected someone they knew personally or decided to parent.  Then one person decided to place her child in foster care so she could get stabilized and parent herself.  We support all of those decisions - we don't think that just because we are in the pool of hopeful waiting parents that we have any claim on someone else's child.  Each person has to make the choice that is best for them and their family.

And then "Ida" came along.

Open Adoption - First Steps

Earlier in this blog, I made up some nice fake names for everyone.  I'm going back on that and using real names now.  The only time I'll make up a name is to protect someone who may not want their name shared.  So, my husband is Rob, and I am Shannon.

We moved fairly quickly once we changed our plan to adoption.  We had both read "The Kid" by Dan Savage and it really helped us to imagine participating in the process of open adoption.  The agency used by Dan Savage and his family was an agency local to us - Open Adoption and Family Services - and several people we knew were already in the process of pursuing adoptions with that agency.  I believe in their mission of all-options counseling and facilitation of open adoptions, so I felt good about moving forward with them.

The first step was to attend a two day seminar put on by the agency.  The seminar was mainly to educate us about open adoption and what is involved in entering into an open adoption with a birth parent, along with the steps involved in becoming adoptive parents.

After the seminar, a mountain of paperwork awaited us.  We filled out all kinds of forms, got fingerprints taken, background checks run, and wrote autobiographies.  We were assigned to a social worker, Maria, and she came to our home to do a home study over two visits.  Then we started working on our photo collage pages to present to potential birth parents and went through several interviews with Maria.  Finally, on May 1, 2012, we entered the pool.

Life Doesn't Always Play Out The Way You Think It Will

Well, it's been a few years since my last update, and today someone asked me to start writing a blog about our current experiences, and I thought I'd oblige.

First, an update on our 2010 pregnancy:  While the reproductive endocrinologist agreed with the coordinator at his office that my lab results indicated I likely had a multiple pregnancy, when we first saw the heartbeat, there was just one little baby in there.  Unfortunately, four months into our pregnancy I went in for a standard ob/gyn appointment and the doctor couldn't find a heartbeat.  I was diagnosed with a missed miscarriage, and scheduled for a D&C several days later.

Lesson Learned:  When you go in for your ob/gyn appointments, take your partner or a friend if you can.  I was alone at the appointment and it really would have been better to have someone with me.

The day the D&C was scheduled, I took the bus to the hospital (my husband was at work at that hospital that day and I just wanted to take the bus anyway).  That morning, I had started to have some bleeding and some pretty severe cramping.  I was admitted to the hospital and sent to a room to wait my turn downstairs on the surgery floor.  They did knock me out, but before they did I asked them to do genetic testing to find out what happened to the baby.

Important Note:  If you want to know what went wrong, you have to ask for the genetic testing before the D&C.  If you don't, they will likely put the baby into a solution that will prevent them from doing the testing at all.

About two days after the D&C, my husband and I left town for a week and went to Whistler, BC.  This was helpful to us in terms of just having some space away from everything to process what had happened.  Upon our return, I received a call from my ob/gyn letting me know that our baby had been a girl and that she had had Turner's syndrome, a disorder that some children can make it to term with, but most do not.  It felt better to know what had happened and to have the complete "story" of our baby.  I knew there was nothing I had done or could have done differently to change the results.

We still had five embryos left from the IVF process, so we did go through the transfer process for all of those embryos, and none of them took.  We could have gone ahead from the beginning, but we decided to change tacks and move on to adoption.