Friday, September 26, 2014

RH II: We're pregnant

Kate and I are pregnant and today we went kid shopping for an awesome boy or girl to take home with us. 

Yesterday, our home study was finally approved. The director had already signed off on the 16-page home study a month before (according to the date of her signature), and we went in to read the study and sign off on it. On average, it takes 9 months from a home study approval to "placement" of a child in our home. So...Kate and I are pregnant!

Reading the home study was odd, but that was expected. The home study is an in-depth account of who you are individually, together, and with your immediate family. Most of it was a basic accounting of our childhoods, what we do in our free time, and our personal history. Some of it was fun to read (our social worker called me "well dressed"), some of it needed to be corrected (Kate liked horseback riding because she was drawn to the people, not to the horses originally), and some of it we just had to get through. Most people read through the home study in 30 minutes, but we spent two hours correcting grammar, spelling, and finessing statements that didn't seem authentic in their original form. 
By the time we finished approving the home study, the office was already closed, so we returned today to look at kids' profiles.

Every foster care youth who is interested in adoption has a one or two page profile, which describes them - their health, their interests, their academic success - and their family and why they're in foster care. The profiles are inconsistent. Some counties provide lots of individualized information. Other county social workers are tired at their job, I think. Some of the profiles had the exact same text as others, washing away the child's uniqueness.

Each geographic region is put together, and we only looked at the Bay Area and Sacramento folders. We are looking for a child who is 5 to 16, curious, and smart, with limited medical issues. Technically, a lot of children meet these criteria, but I found it easy to say "no," harder to say "yes." 

Today, I said no to children who: were connected to their church, liked football (but not playing outside), wanted a male role model, or simply weren't interested in any of the things we like to do.

We said yes to four profiles: a 16 year old queer teenager who wanted a home to support him as he continued to discover himself; a 8 and 5 year old sibling set, two girls who were resilient, playful, and smart; an 11 year old who looked shockingly like Kate as a child, with a huge smile, her tongue sticking out at you, who loves to play with chalk and do arts & crafts; and an 11 year old who spoke to us despite the social worker's terrible description, her kindness and creativeness leaping off the page. 

At this point, saying "yes" means that our new social worker will send our one page profile (similar to the kids' profiles) and our 16 page home study to the social workers of these five kids. The child's social worker will then say yes or no. If no, that's not the kid for us. If yes, then there's a disclosure meeting.

A disclosure meeting is between us, our social workers, and the kid's social worker. The kid's social worker tells us everything they know about the kiddo. This would include grades, behavioral problems, why the kid was put in foster care, the likelihood of parental reunification (if any), other siblings, known family members, and anything else the social worker knows about the kid.

After the disclosure meeting, we go home and consult our friends and family and decide if this is the child for us. We do not get to meet the child before we say yes, and once we say yes, we have to be all in.

Rosh Hashanah is a holiday reminding us of our powerlessness - we do not choose major moments in our lives. We do not chose our birth, our parents, our death. Rosh Hashanah is also a celebration of our choices. We choose what we do between these points. Rosh Hashanah is a time to reflect on the past year's choices, forgive yourself and others, and spiritually prepare for the year before you.

Ultimately, we are powerless to who our child is. We can choose aspects of our child, we can choose one child over another, but these are artificial choices. Our child will become who they are, despite our due diligence research and social workers' assurances. In this choice, I am both powerful - I say yes and no - and powerless - I know I should expect the unexpected.

Rosh Hashanah is also referred to Ha'rat Olam, the pregnancy of the world, ripe with possibilities. The year has just begun, and there is so much to look forward to in the months ahead. Kate and I are pregnant.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rosh HaShanah: Reflection on the Adoption Process Thus Far

Thus far, the adoption process has meant a lot of paperwork, expose of all the skeletons in our closets, and - mostly - waiting. We  have been in this process for 10 months. If we had been pregnant, our child would be born by now.

But we weren't pregnant. December marked the beginning of our adoption quest, it's the "trying" phase for many bio parents. It doesn't guarantee a pregnancy or a child. In that way, we're still ahead of the curve. In general, a fertile couple has a good chance of getting pregnant within a year. But not all couples are "fertile" and not all couples get pregnant. And not all pregnancies last. With adoption, the "trying" phase lasts a long time, but once we get "pregnant," once we find our kid, that process lasts weeks, months. And then it's the next step, the actual adoption, that will take months, years. 

We have been on the precipice of "search" for months - MONTHS - now. Maybe this is a test of our parenting skills - patience, strong communication skills, advocating for our needs. Maybe these moments are just a small glimpse of the world to come. 

Our home study is still not done. The "matching event" was rescheduled for October and the home study deadline vanished with it. The bureaucracy of an agency that's supposed to help us cut through the bureaucracy is starting to fray at my nerves. The unresponsive social workers who tell us deadlines they never meet makes me feel like I can't trust them to be my advocate. 

We have a new social worker, our third one since we started this process. First, there was the "intake" social worker - the initial screening where they documented our home, our animals, our non-human trafficking jobs. Second, was the "home study" social worker. She asked us invasive personal questions and mundane ones, some of them so sad you just want to cry. (Will you feed your child at the table with you? Will he or she get to eat the same food as you? Will you lock your child in his or her room? How will you punish your child?) Our third social worker will lead us through search and help us find the child for us. She is the agency director - the only person in the entire agency who has quickly responded to my questions. 

It makes me nervous that the agency director is our social worker. Are we so unique we need the biggest guns around? Did we set off red flags? I'm sure it's not us, but it raises my anxieties all the same. But I'm grateful it's her. I'm grateful that I can trust her to tell us when the deadline won't be met, instead of just letting it lazily pass us by. I trust her to be our advocate, and to help pair us with a child who is right for us and our family.

There's an email chain that Social Worker II started weeks ago that's titled "You are in search!" The email is a lie, enthusiasm for something not yet occurring. Maybe their computers say we're in search, but we haven't signed our home study. We haven't searched for our child. We're still waiting. First for them to assign us a search social worker, then for that social worker's schedule to free up for us to look at the home study and sign off on it. Then we'll be in search. Then we can start "kid shopping" as I like to call it.

Tonight begins Rosh HaShanah, a start to a new Jewish new year. Rosh HaShanah represents a new start, but also reminds you of the previous years transgressions. You will be inscribed in the book of life on Yom Kippur, so make these last few days count, apologize and be thoughtful in these days of continued reflection.

On Rosh HaShanah we will sign our home study. We will inscribe ourselves in the family book, committing ourselves to a new year full of family - new and old. 

This year, 5774, I did things both wrong and right. I am a fallible human being. I hope that in 5775 my wrongs look different and new - that I don't make the same mistake twice, and that I have the opportunity to make mistakes with my kid(s)...because we'll have kids?! I am excited to see what the future brings.

Love y'all,

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ki Teitzei: Is it okay to benefit from lost children?

In this week’s parsha, we are told to return a lost item. In the Talmud, we are instructed that we’re not just to return the item that was found, but also the bounty that such an item created. For instance, someone left some chickens in your home. These chickens multiplied and produced eggs. You sell these chickens and eggs and buy a more expensive goat. When the person returns for the lost chickens, you give them the goat.

I find much in this week’s parsha troubling. This too troubles me, especially in the context of adoption. The child we’re to adopt will not be lost – their parents didn’t just accidentally misplace them – but they will have lost their family. What do we owe those biological parents who granted us this wonderful gift? What do we owe the other foster parents who nurtured the child and helped develop them into who they are today? How can we ever pay the universe back for the gift of parenthood?

In essence, I feel guilty for profiting from someone else’s tragedy. This child, this great gift, can only come from a broken home (otherwise they wouldn’t be in the foster care system). I feel guilty for the joy of parenthood when it can only be achieved by a broken family.

We are on the cusp of the next step. Our home study will be approved shortly and on Sunday, September 14 we get to meet foster children. About every six months there is a “matching event,” in which foster-adopt parents meet with foster children who are ready for adoption.  Next Sunday, we’re going to learn how to drum with 9-17 year olds waiting to be adopted, and I can’t wait.

I’m not expecting to meet our child there, but the possibility itself is exhilarating. More likely, we’re now starting a more arduous and anxiety-producing process of identifying our child, which will transform into an even more arduous and even more anxiety-producing process of adopting him or her. All made possible by the child’s tragedy.

Childhood trauma made me the strong-willed, resourceful, efficient, and thoughtful person I am today. I think experiencing trauma makes a human being stronger and can help a person cultivate gratitude and sustaining justice work. Maybe the abundance from tragedy, from a child who has lost their family, goes to the child themselves. Maybe it makes them stronger and helps them become a better person. Maybe we don’t find the child, but the child finds our family, and together we get to nurture each other to make a better world.  Which would mean that there's nothing to return - what was a lost child is now a family, found among lots of loving family.