Friday, January 4, 2008

Haley's Adoption Story, part I

Today Haley and I drove out to a DCFS office to pick up some Christmas packages from her birth mom and a birth aunt. I'm very glad Haley's birth family maintains some contact with her. Every adoption pro I've ever heard of insists that ongoing contact is good for the child. It lets them see their life as an unbroken story of loving families and it prevents them from seeing any scary, dark gaps in their family story. But still--I've felt a bit off kilter since we picked up the packages.

For one thing, the packages from Haley's birth mom stink. Seriously. The teddy bear and pink scarf are out on the back porch airing out. And the uncharitable part of me thinks the gifts are a bit weird. Five pieces of pink, plastic crucifix jewelry from aunt. A creepy china clown from birth mom. Like I said, I really am grateful for the care and effort and love that went into picking out these gifts. But I'm confessing to you that I am so glad that I'm Haley's mom, that this is her family now. As a foster parent, you're supposed to advocate for and support the birth family. You're supposed to hold back from judging the parents' mistakes and work to reunite the family. And I did all that. But now that Haley's mine, I can admit to myself that I think I'm a better mom than her birth mom would have been and I'm so glad she'll grow up here.

Some time ago, Mark's mom asked me to write up the story of our family's journey to adoption, and here it is. It's long, so I'll post it in three parts:

One spring day in 1992, I sat on the grass on the BYU campus with my future husband, Mark. Perhaps fueled by the frantic, celebratory atmosphere of final exams and the warm spring weather, Mark went out on a limb.

“I want to put an idea out there.” He paused dramatically. “You and me making a family.”

I was shocked. After months of dating, this subject had never before been broached between us.
“What about it?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he replied smugly. “I just wanted to put it out there.”

Well, of course, in the few days remaining before we parted for summer break, the idea was discussed. We had a number of “what if” conversations to explore what life would be like if we did marry. Adoption was part of those early conversations.

Mark and I are both the oldest of six siblings. We both spent significant parts of our childhoods caring for younger siblings, and we both feel special bonds of love for our families as a result. It was easy for us to decide that our hypothetical family would include several children. But we also both felt from the beginning that we didn’t necessarily need to have all those children biologically. Adoption was appealing to us as a way of extending our positive family experiences to children born to other families.

We married the following winter, gave birth to our first son two years later, then had two more sons as we struggled through the whirlwind of graduate school. When we had been married for ten years, the time to reconsider adoption seemed right. For the first time, Mark had a regular full-time job. Life seemed more stable and less pinched.

Largely because private adoption is so expensive, we began to investigate foster care and adoption. We quickly learned of the huge challenges and risks of foster care. Children who are raised without appropriate care from loving parents can become so damaged that they do not know how to operate in healthy families. It can take years, and sometimes lifetimes, for such children to abandon the skills they acquired to survive in their unhealthy families and instead learn how to thrive in a loving family. Mark and I loved the family we had and wondered if it was right to risk disturbing it to pursue foster care.

But as our fear and trepidation regarding foster care grew, I had a number of strong spiritual impressions that Heavenly Father intended us to be foster parents. On one occasion, during a sacrament meeting talk on a topic I can no longer remember, I felt the Holy Ghost so strongly that I literally looked around to see if other people could see what felt to me like beam of light penetrating my chest.

Mark and I began the process of licensing as foster parents. We did the paperwork, we found references, we took the classes. Then, because we had moved states within the last five years, we had to wait for a background check from our previous state. Weeks passed. I phoned the licensing office to check on our progress. They told me all we could do was wait until the other state completed our background check at their leisure. Months passed. I made several more phone calls but was always told the same thing. Finally I decided to let the matter rest--it would happen when it happened.

The matter did rest until one Sunday, nine months after we had submitted our application. During a rare moment of quiet in our home of three little boys, I received the distinct impression, “It’s not going to stay like this for long.” All that evening I felt anticipation and tension and impending change, like I was about to take a big trip, or go on a roller coaster. I informed Mark that something was coming. Something big--not bad, but big.

A few weeks later was Thanksgiving. We had traveled to another state to spend the holiday with Mark’s family. The moment I woke up the morning after Thanksgiving, that pending background check weighed heavily on my mind. I felt upset, I felt worried, I felt in turmoil. But what could I do about it? I was in a guest room on a holiday in another state. I firmly told myself to stop fretting, and I promised myself that I would once again call the licensing office on first thing Monday morning when we had returned home.

On Monday morning, I kept my promise. The person on the phone told me that, yes, our background check had been received some time ago. Perhaps to make up for their failure to notify us, she dispatched a licensor to come to our home the very next day to complete our home study--the final step in our licensing process. Our home study was completed on Tuesday. Our foster care license was finalized on Wednesday. On Thursday, our name was presented to a meeting of foster parent advocates and caseworkers, and the next Tuesday, we had our first foster daughter.

To be continued...


  1. I'm so glad you're writing about this. In some ways my family has it easy--there is nothing we could ever do to find our daughter's birth family. But I wonder how Gigi will feel about this as a teenager, an adult, and eventually a mother herself.

  2. Joe read this to the sibs and I as we all sat and chatted last night. It kinda felt like you were here too sharing this story with us. We wish you were really here, but it sure is fun that we can still stay in such close touch.

    And Haley is just an ultra sweet, mega lucky girl.

  3. Haley looks like she is really growing up. Look at that pointy chin instead of the round face!
    Mom A