Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Adoption and Navigating Through Unknown History

 

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A recent trip to a pediatrician’s office for a routine check up for my now second grader prompted a familiar question. 

“What do you know about your daughter’s birth parents?“

Any information I have will be shared with my daughter according to her best interests and already has been to a certain extent, but suffice to say, it’s limited. 

A minor symptom can prompt a doctor to speculate something that sounds to me like, “It could be a pimple, OR, it could be a rare, potentially fatal disease because…”

Here it comes. 

“… we really don’t know without the birth history.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a health care professional reiterate those stinging words, I’d be able to retire early.  While it’s always said with good intentions, it’s a jabbing reminder of one of my downfalls as an adoptive parent; one I have no control over, but something I’m lacking in nonetheless. 

To be clear, I do have medical records charting her early years in an orphanage in India. But what I don’t have is the medical history of her birth parents. 

This is something to ponder during the adoption process. In my experience, adoption agencies tout the obvious benefits of having that information when they champion open, domestic adoptions; i.e., an adoption that takes places here in the United States (domestic) and includes some on-going contact, to varying degrees, between the birth parents and the adopted child in his or her new home (open). In contrast, a closed adoption does not include continued contact after the adoption is finalized. 

There’s been growing interest in modern society in tracing our ancestry. This translates into DNA web sites and in adoption circles, there are more social media outlets to reconnect adoptees with long lost birth parents. It seems everyone wants to know their history. 

When those connections are made and it’s rewarding for all parties, that’s fantastic. 

It’s not unusual for parents in international adoptions to have zero information about their child’s background. 

And you know what, that’s ok too. 

That’s not to say I’m shrugging off the value of medical history. On the contrary, of course I’d welcome whatever information available that can contribute to a child’s upbringing.  But I’ve learned NOT having that background doesn’t take as big a toll on parenting as you might imagine. 

I have been to several pediatricians for various reasons in recent years. I’m fortunate that my daughter is healthy overall and like any parent, I pray that continues. 

The more I hear it, the more the line, “we really don’t know without the birth history” loses impact on me. Of course in response to certain symptoms, it’s an entirely valid concern. In other cases, I’m on guard that it could be an easy excuse to rack up insurance bills on genetic testing that may or may not be necessary. 

I entered into this process fully aware of how unaware I would be in the years to follow. While I’m curious about her birth parents, I feel confident my ignorance in this area doesn’t really make a difference in terms of how I parent. 

The past doesn’t always dictate the future. The truth is, NO parent knows what’s in store for their child. When it comes to health, wealth, employment, relationships, etc., even birth history only gets you so far. 

If I knew, for instance, that she had a tall birth mom with diabetes and a birth dad who was athletic and good at math, but suffered from allergies, would it change anything? Not at all. 

In response to any illness, I will always get my daughter the best medical care I can provide as it’s needed. Whether you birthed your child, adopted him or her knowing birth history or entered into a blind adoption, you would do the same. 

As I write this, my little angel is strumming her new guitar. She flips back and forth between the two songs she knows the words to: “Let It Go” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Never mind, that Christmas is months away. Never mind, that it sounds like, well, a seven year old who picked up a guitar for the first time. 

I’m not thinking about whether she comes from a musically-inclined birth line, instead I’m thinking it may be time for guitar lessons. 

Regardless of what I DON’T know, I watch in awe as she grows and blossoms into the darling young lady that she is, with little thought to her genetics. 

Maybe the reason her past is seemingly insignificant is because I feel in large part, both of our lives truly started when we came together. 

This is what I DO know about her birth parents: 

I know she was loved enough that they wanted her to have an opportunity at a better life. 

I’ve read varying estimates that range between two million and 18 million homeless children in India.  These are not the ones in orphanages, but rather street kids who wander around and are easy prey for pimps and all kinds of criminals. Wrap your mind around that. 

Millions of children.  

My daughter’s birth parents are to be applauded for making an incredible sacrifice.  They wanted to guarantee her a shot at a better life, even if it meant giving her up. 

Isn’t that the most important thing to know?

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms, Uncategorized

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

2013 will not go down in my personal history book as my favorite year. As I detailed in my previous blog, I went through a string of unfortunate events, all while struggling through the adoption process with no prospects surfacing.

 

By July, I had landed two new jobs — which no doubt were a blessing from above– but they kept me extremely busy as I tried to prove financial stability as a prospective adoptive parent. In hindsight, maybe it was the perfect distraction I needed.

 

By Christmas time, I was exhausted after working seven days a week for several months straight. It was in December that I got a call from the adoption counselor I was working with at the international placement agency. No, she didn’t find me a “match,” which was the news I was hoping to hear. Just the opposite. She expressed newfound concern about me finding a child.

 

As it was explained to me, the adoption counselors have access to a secured database which has profiles of all the children in India who are eligible for adoption. It refreshes with new faces every two weeks. She had been searching to find me a match since spring — with no luck.

 

The only criteria I had was that I wanted a toddler or little girl, as healthy as possible. Unlike many other potential parents, I was not setting my sights on landing a newborn, as I knew this would greatly limit my match potential. On the other hand, I capped the age limit at five, because I was also warned about the lengthy waiting process after a match was made. It could take up to a year or more before you are cleared to travel to India to assume physical custody.

 

After months of searching the database, not a single child matched my criteria. This seemed to make zero sense, as I had heard orphanages in India were packed with children who needed homes. At this point, India had just opened its doors to allow foreigners to adopt earlier in the year and I’m guessing a lot of children got caught up in red tape as the process was changing.

 

I was heartsick yet again.

 

She went on to explain that she would continue to search every two weeks and in the meantime, she suggested I try another avenue. Ethiopia was also open to single parent adoptions. If I went on a waiting list to adopt from there, I could potentially get matched with a child in about a year. That was the average wait time for a match from Ethiopia and the length of time before you were allowed to assume physical custody after the match was much shorter than India’s.

 

While I was pleased to hear I might have an option somewhere else, this also meant starting all over to a certain extent, fulfilling paperwork requirements to adopt from Ethiopia, if and when I got an acceptable match.

 

It was a lot to digest. Most notably, something felt off. I had envisioned a little girl from India as my daughter for so long, it was hard to shake. My heart was set on this imaginary little person who already had taken on an identity. I don’t know where this vision came from, but it felt so real. It was crushing to hear the counselor say she didn’t know if my vision would come true. I felt like I was losing someone whom I never even met.

 

“I don’t want a whole year to go by with no match for you from India and THEN you decide to try Ethiopia,” she cautioned. “This way, you can already be on the waiting list for Ethiopia, so if a match comes up from there, you can say yes or no.”

 

Not exactly true. I knew darn well how hard it would be to say, “no” to any prospective match after years of longing for a child of my own. My prayer at this time was that God present me with the right match —  the first time around. I was very worried I’d be presented with a potential match I wasn’t sure was right for me, whether from India, Ethiopia or wherever, and that I’d have to make a tough decision.

 

The counselor was being very practical and looking out for my best interests. This was a good backup plan. I knew I would have a child some day…perhaps my instincts about the specifics of where she was born were wrong?

 

But even as I signed the papers to go on a waiting list to adopt from Ethiopia, something told me it was never going to happen. I would love my child no matter where he or she was born, but I knew in my heart I wouldn’t get a match from Ethiopia, even if it sounded more plausible to the adoption counselor. This was yet another case when I simply did not believe what I was being told. For whatever reason, I could not shake the idea of my imagined daughter in India.

 

The holidays were especially rough for me that year. I heard nothing more about any prospects. I replayed the counselor’s stinging words in my head over and over, “I don’t want a whole year to go by without a match for you from India,” but it wouldn’t sink it. I still believed it would happen. There are some moments in life that are totally out of your control and you just have to trust whatever happens is meant to be.  This was one of those moments.

 

Then the miracle started to unfold.

 

Less than two months after I was advised to seek a “Plan B,” I got my very first glimpse at my daughter’s picture… and she was exactly as I imagined. In early February of 2014, my counselor contacted me with the most exciting (and to her, surprising) news. She had located a potential match for me in the India database. The little girl I’ll call “Angel” in this blog was three years old and appeared relatively healthy.  The counselor wanted me to take a look at her picture and medical history and to report back if I was interested.

 

I couldn’t open my email fast enough. All of these thoughts were rushing through my head about what I would find in that attachment. I was excited, yet terrified something would feel off, or cause concern, and I’d have to think about it and make a decision. What if I said “yes” to the first potential match I received and it caused me to always wonder about what other matches I missed out on later? What if I said “no” and there were no other matches? My mind was racing.

 

As my index finger nervously tapped on the attachment, her face appeared and my heart just about burst.  It was HER.  I just knew it. The little girl I had in my heart… now  her face was finally, fully revealed. No decision making necessary. Angel was mine and I knew that in an instant. This, despite her baby picture with a runny nose, pout and crumpled brows that seemed to say, “Where are you, Mommy?! What’s taking you so long?!”

 

She seemed sweet, yet spunky. Adorable, yet unpolished. Curious. Expressive. Smart and a little sassy. It’s amazing how much you can gleam from a single photograph. It all fit with what I had felt in my heart from day one of this journey, as the vision of my daughter was slowly coming to fruition.

 

I called my family and the consensus was unanimous, “Yep, she’s a Carlson!” Everyone had the exact same reaction. We chuckled at her crinkled little eyebrows and were just ecstatic with the latest turn of events — to finally be able to see this beautiful little girl who we all knew was meant to be in our family.

 

The medical records revealed she had suffered from multiple ear infections and there was concern about minor hearing loss in one ear. She was also anemic, which is common in all the orphanages. For these very small reasons, she was labeled “special needs” and released for international adoption. For the record, my daughter has no significant hearing problems and doctors here have deemed her perfectly healthy.

 

I knew, without hesitation, this sudden match that seemed to fall into my lap out of nowhere, was my God-given daughter.  And just as I had prayed for, I was presented with the right match — on the first time around.

 

#Gratitude.

 

But even though it already felt like she was mine in every way, I wouldn’t be able to hold her in my arms for a very long time…

 

To see past blogs, click here: www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com

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SingleMoms

It’s a Long Road to India…

After a rough start on my adoption journey, I finally felt my prayers had been answered with doors opening to adopt from India. In what appeared to be miraculous timing, the U.S. State Department had updated its international adoption web site, lifting India’s restrictions on new applications from prospective parents in foreign countries. Yet, I would soon find out I still had some roadblocks and obstacles ahead.

Most adoption journeys are a veritable roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Mine was no exception.

I immediately began researching U.S. placement agencies which handled Indian adoptions. I called one of the most widely advertised agencies first, but did not get the rosy picture I envisioned. A counselor, who seemed very knowledgable and had clearly been handling Indian adoptions for several years, warned me it was unlikely I would be able to adopt a young, healthy child. The reason being, she explained, was that priority was given to adoptive parents within India, or at least of Indian descent. I have no Indian in my background.

Most countries follow that same precedent and reserve the healthiest children for prospective adoptive parents within their own culture. I had heard that before, and understood it, but I still believed it would happen for me.

She asked me what type of child I was open to adopt. For months, my mind kept giving me a picture of a cute, dark-haired little girl. I couldn’t see her face, but in my heart I knew she was in India. I told the adoption counselor I was open to adopting a toddler or little girl, probably up to the age of around 5. It’s not that I didn’t want a newborn, but it’s just not what I pictured. Plus, I figured this would greatly improve my chances since most adoptive parents seek infants.

Her response surprised me.

“You need to start thinking about adopting a much older child, maybe around 12 or 13,” she said. “And be open to severe disabilities. The wider you open your umbrella, the better chance you’ll be able to adopt.” She reminded me that India was only accepting foreign applications for children considered “special needs.”

Mind you, I would love my child unconditionally, regardless of any challenges he or she faced, and regardless at what age I was able to adopt him or her. However, as a single parent with a demanding job, this did not sound like an ideal scenario. More importantly, my instincts were telling me not to believe her. I knew I had a healthy, toddler girl out there and I had to find her.

I ended up signing in with another, much smaller international adoption placement agency based out of Colorado. They were honest and upfront enough to admit they hadn’t done Indian adoptions in years past and were just starting the process. Their lack of experience didn’t scare me away. They never promised me I’d get matched with a healthy child, or guaranteed anything. I simply clicked with the counsellors over the phone and went with my gut.

This is how I also zeroed in on the counselor and local adoption agency that handled my home studies. I still work with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois every few months for post adoption follow up reports.

So much of my adoption journey was a pure leap of faith. Somehow, I weeded out a lot of negativity that could’ve stopped me in my tracks multiple times. I kept my eyes on the prize and followed my instincts. It seems surprising to think about it now. It sounds like a simple case of wishful thinking and ignoring things I didn’t want to hear. The truth is, for some reason I can’t explain, I believed in my heart I had a little girl I had to get to in India…and I knew she was healthy. My first taste of a “mother’s instinct,” I suppose.

I have since come to the conclusion that perhaps some healthy children in orphanages around the world are labeled “special needs” in order to facilitate the process of getting them through the system to find homes in other countries.

Another very important point to keep in mind: something as simple as anemia can result in an child being labeled “special needs.” Sadly, many prospective parents may be scared off from adopting these children, not realizing that all they need is a nutritious diet and iron rich foods to reverse the anemia and by all other means, they’re healthy children!

My goal here is to clear up some misperceptions about international adoption. While it is true the most “perfect,” healthy newborns available for adoption are reserved for adoptive families within their own country, there are many other “very close to perfect” children without parents who are also available — many more than couples within their own country are willing or able to adopt.

In places like India, the number of children without families to take care of them is staggering. The poverty is so extreme, many children are living on the street.

Just this week, I covered the story of a baby abandoned at a hospital in Chicago. Police were searching for the parents. The baby was wrapped up in blankets, the umbilical chord still attached. A newborn baby girl. Fortunately, it was a warm night out and the baby was fine. It certainly wasn’t the first time I covered this type of story in my reporting career, but in the wake of my travels to South Asia, the irony struck me that this was a big news story here.

In India, it’s commonplace for children to be surrendered. Well meaning parents who often can’t afford them, drop off their babies at RIPAs (Recognized Indian Placement Agency), which would be the equivalent of what we would call an orphanage in the U.S. These are the more fortunate kids. Their parents cared enough to get them to a place where they’d be guaranteed shelter, food and a chance at a better life if they can get adopted.

I just had my nine month post visit from a social worker following up on the adoption of my (“perfect,” 🙂 by the way) little girl. This is a counselor I’ve worked with for years and greatly admire. I’m eternally grateful to her for the role she played in helping me bring my daughter home.

I learned the sad news that LSSI is cutting its adoption program and all of those associated with this branch are being let go. She explained there are two reasons for this. 1. The state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for months due to a political stalemate and as a result, their funding is depleted. 2. International adoption, overall, is on the decline.

Why would fewer people be adopting internationally right now?

My mind darts back to the original adoption agency I worked with, where I was discouraged from adopting overseas….and then, the first counselor I spoke with specifically regarding India, and her ominous warning about what I should expect. I encountered many players in this scenario, all perpetuating the myth that virtually no healthy children were available. The system is complicated, negativity abounds and misconceptions prevail, sometimes even generated by people who seem to be “in the know.”

Mine isn’t the only happy ending story. While the laws have changed in recent years, I’m pleased to say I have come to know multiple parents, like me, who shared the same joyful outcome after adopting internationally.

I can’t help but wonder how many prospective parents out there explored international adoption and gave up…not realizing they could’ve also had a happy ending.

I also wonder about how many children out there may have come close to finding a family…but didn’t.

Next Blog:
More unexpected twists and turns before I get “matched.”

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SingleMoms

When One Door Closes…

…another one opens. We’ve all heard that before, but the beginning of my adoption journey is a perfect example of how true that is.

Near the end of 2012, I had dedicated myself to this life changing decision to adopt a child, but I spent the next few months hitting roadblocks at the most well known adoption agencies in the Chicago area. One after another, telling me it was highly unlikely I would get picked by a birth mother because single parents weren’t considered desirable.

After licking my wounds, it was time to explore other options. As I mentioned in my last blog, I had previously looked into foreign adoptions and foster care but found little hope of success there either. I specifically checked on adopting from India, but they were not accepting applications from prospective adoptive parents overseas.

With the odds against me for a domestic adoption, I decided to re-explore the international route. Countries that follow the Hague convention rules have all developed their own list of criteria for whom they will allow to adopt. They require things; like, a certain age range for adoptive parents, there are residency restrictions, health specifications, minimum income, how many children are allowed in the home and marital status.

I was surprised and disappointed to learn just how many countries would only consider adopting to married couples.

The decision to go it alone, which had felt so liberating, was turning into my biggest obstacle – no matter where I tried to adopt from.

One afternoon during this challenging time, I got a phone call from my sister. Her voice sounded inappropriately excited relative to my glum mood. She was passing along a message from her friend who suggested I try to adopt from India. Her sweet friend, of Indian origin, was discussing the sad state of all the homeless children encountered  during recent travels. That killed me. Frustrated, I told my sister that I had previously looked into India and they were not accepting foreign applications.

I don’t know what made me check again. What seemed to be a split second decision to surf the web changed my life.

My sister’s friend didn’t know this when she made her suggestion, but India had just reopened its doors to overseas applicants DAYS before. She had no insight into international adoption regulations, but was simply passing along what struck her heart. Had she not brought it up, it’s doubtful I would’ve pursued it because I didn’t think it was an option.

Additionally, consider this: India lifted its stay on foreign adoptions LESS THAN THREE WEEKS after I received a gut wrenching blow when I was “released” by another adoption agency that decided I wouldn’t find success there.

Furthermore, India was one of just a handful of countries I explored that allowed single parent adoption.

Two cliches ring true. Timing is everything and there’s no such thing as coincidence.

My fascination with India was actually piqued shortly before my daughter was born. I love to look back and marvel at where I was, and where my daughter was, at any given time before we met. A few years prior, while recovering from a breakup I found solace in yoga. I started attending regular classes, workshops and reading books about its origins. Suddenly, India was on my radar. Other “yogis” I talked to kept mentioning their travels to India. It seemed like I went decades without paying that much attention and suddenly everywhere I turned I was hearing or reading about India. I developed an intense curiosity and admiration.

Something clicked inside me when I saw the alert posted on the U.S. State Department’s web site about the change in status for Indian adoptions. I knew the little girl that I automatically kept picturing in my head was there.

However, the notice also indicated they were only allowing children classified as “special needs” to be adopted overseas. This didn’t deter me in the least. For some reason, I didn’t believe it. It wouldn’t have made a difference in my decision, but for the record, my daughter is healthy and not considered special needs.

This was just the beginning of my miracle slowly unfolding.

***India has since opened its doors to foreigners for adoption of all children available, not just those classified as “special needs.” Changes in the requirements and status of active foreign adoptions are updated frequently. For the latest information, check:

www.travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en.html

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