Guest blogger, Stephanie King Strickland- a kindred spirit with a heart for adoption/foster care and a powerful story to tell this National Adoption Month! Read and share!
When I was asked to be a guest blogger on Positive Adoption, I thought of all the topics I could talk about: attachment, building relationships with first families, foster/adopt, transracial adoption – all topics that are very close to my heart. I could write books on all of the topics. But, then I thought about what I looked for when I was starting the adoption process. I thought about what I wanted to read while I was waiting for my babies to come home, and while I was knee-high in paperwork. I wanted to read about other people’s experiences. I wanted to hear the good and the bad. I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone. So, in honor of National Adoption month, I will share my family’s story.
I’m very open about our adoption, and I’m always eager to talk about it to anyone who will listen. The one thing I don’t talk about to most people while I am talking with them about our experience is how we were led to adoption in the first place. It’s a shadowy world that I don’t visit often anymore: infertility.
I had to have a hysterectomy at the age of 19 due to some unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances with my health. Of course, this left me completely infertile. I was devastated. I hid it well enough. As far as anyone else knew, I was sure about the future, and I knew that I would have a family one way or another. But, the mean thing about infertility is that it digs deep down into the furthest parts of you and hollows you out. Some days, even breathing seemed like a chore. Infertility is so debilitating sometimes. I would find myself crying at random moments, or when I saw baby shoes at Target, or when I got into new relationships (because my infertility would become my partner’s infertility if we were to marry). My faith wavered a lot at that time in my life. I didn’t understand it, and I was angry. I was hurt. I was in no way ready to be a mother at 19, but learning that it may never be a possibility at all broke my heart. I began mourning. I grieved babies I would never see. I grieved pregnancy, morning sickness, and swollen ankles.
When I was little, I was fascinated by adoption, and I always wanted to adopt at some point, but knowing that was my only option scared me. I worried about money. I worried about connections and attachment. I worried about waiting. I was afraid that I would always be second place. Suddenly, a world that I had always admired was a scary place that I didn’t know anything about. So I started researching. I read every blog I could find on adoption. I read books. I watched youtube videos. I researched agencies. I was still scared, but over time, that fear began to melt away.
Fast forward to our first adoption: My husband and I had been married for a few years and decided to go ahead and begin the process. At the time, I was not interested in foster care. I didn’t know as much about it, and I was worried that I couldn’t handle it. So, we went to Children’s Home Society and talked to them about starting the process. Their preference is that the parents they work with be willing to do foster care, but they will still do the home study and post placement visits for adoption through other agencies. The first thing we had to do was take PRIDE training, which was one or two nights a week for a few weeks. And, we had to fill out TONS of paperwork. My husband didn’t care for the paperwork part, but I was so eager to have a baby that I devoured that paperwork and had it finished in a couple days. We had to answer tons of questions about ourselves, get references, write biographies, have background checks, etc. In addition to the paperwork and PRIDE training, we had to also get CPR and first aid certified and CPI certified (physical restraint). To say I was upset about all the hoops we had to jump through is an understatement. While we were completing our training, etc. my sister got pregnant at the age of 18. I was so upset that she could have a baby at such a young age with no requirement of parenting classes, background checks, etc. That’s the ugly side of infertility. It made me bitter for awhile.
We began the whole process in October of 2009, but initially we were just investigating things and asking questions. In December of 2009, we contacted Adoption Network Law Center, a national agency that facilitates infant adoptions across the country. We started filling out their massive piles of paperwork to get our profiles activated. Our profiles went live at the end of February, and our baby’s first mom picked us less than a week later. She was pregnant, and we were told she knew the gender and asked if we’d like to know. Of course we did, and that’s when we found out we were going to have a daughter. They told us all the information they could about the first mom and made sure we were willing to proceed. We agreed, and then we were put on a match call with her. She is so sweet, and we were so excited to hear her voice. She lives in another state, so we planned a time that we could come visit her before the baby was born. We visited her in May, and then we went back in July for the birth. We got to hold our daughter as soon as she was born.
As soon as I talked to our daughter’s first mom for the first time, I knew that I would be okay with an open adoption. I wanted my daughter to know where she came from. I wanted everyone to be at peace. And, I realized that it’s totally possible for a child to love more than one set of parents, just like it’s possible for a parent to love more than one child.
After our daughter’s adoption was finalized, I thought I might be able to handle foster care, because I felt more empathy and compassion for our daughter’s first mother than I could have ever expected. We waited until she was a year old, and then we began fostering. We stipulated at the time that we were only interested in younger children, because we weren’t sure if we were ready to handle teens or older kids, since we were new parents. Our first foster son arrived in October of 2011, and we were happy to have him. He was three, and he was something special. He was smart and loving. He fit right in. We learned more and more about his story while he was with us, and we also witnessed his parents making massive strides. They were fighting for him, and they were working so hard. I found myself rooting for them. We talked to them regularly, over the phone, at visits, etc. They were going above and beyond what they had to do, and we couldn’t have been happier. It was so easy to see him go back home, because it was clear he was loved and cared for. I hadn’t expected that. Of course I was sad to see him go. I loved him. But, it was my love for him that made it easy.
After he went home in May of 2012, we took a very short break due to a move. Then, in August 2012, we were placed with our sons. We didn’t know all the particulars of their story, but it was clear they had been neglected. The youngest had turned one the day before he arrived at our home, and he couldn’t even sit up. He was so little. He wore size 3 month clothing. And he didn’t smile or know how to eat anything but a bottle. And his brother was behind developmentally as well. But, after some socialization and love, they started to blossom. The baby was sitting up by September and walking by the end of the year. He was smiling and playing and laughing. And now, both boys are completely on target developmentally. Their first parents relinquished their rights to the boys early in 2013, and we began the adoption process. We keep in touch with them via letters and pictures, but the judge did not require that. We do it because we want to. That connection is so important, in my opinion.
After the boys’ adoption, we planned to foster/adopt an older child. But, we were going to wait until next year. However, in August, I was informed about a set of twins. They are our sons’ biological brothers. We don’t know what will happen with this case, but we are cherishing our time with them.
It isn’t always easy, and every case is a little different. But it’s an exciting, fulfilling journey that has taught me so much about myself. It has also helped me view the world a little differently. Adoption healed the heart infertility had shattered.