Saturday, March 15, 2014

First Referral-A-Versary

It was one year ago that we were notified of a referral of a 7-month Ethiopian boy.  That boy has become our son in the last year and has brought us incredible joy.  

Thinking back to where we were as a family a year ago seems almost like another life. Despite being on the list for so long (and on the top of the list for so long) we had no idea that we were that close to getting the ‘call.’  It was a crazy time for us—we were super busy with work, life and fun and for the first time in our three year process, my guard was down and I wasn’t expecting any news. 

I have written here about our experience of getting the call but a year later I want to write a bit more about how my perspective has changed. 

Much is written about what it is like to get the ‘call’ but I think some adoptive blogs do a disservice when they romanticize this experience.  I use the term romanticize as an approximation because I don’t know how else to state it.  In general, I think personal blogs tend to focus on the idealized version of a life because it’s hard or complicated to put yourself out there in a public forum. 

I am as guilty of this practice and can’t almost chart a direct correlation between my own blogging frequency and my attitude towards what is going on personally. When I am heavy or uncertain regarding a private situation, the deeper thoughts tend to quiet my silly and playful side.  My mind is consumed with things that I may not want to be public and hence I don’t have a lot of blog chatter.   

That said, I do want to be a little more transparent about our experience with the referral because I think it may help other families.  I find a lot of support and insight from reading other adoption blogs and want to share our experience in case some other family finds comfort in it.

The Story:

Matt and I both got the information in different locations but waited until we were together to look at the photos of the sweet boy that would become ours.   The first twenty-four hours were dizzying and incredibly joyful.  We decided to make the news public and even shared two bottles of champagne- one with our friends who were there when we got the pictures and one with Matt’s parents much later that night.   I didn’t sleep much that night, even waking up several times to pull the picture of our little guy up on my phone. 

For those of you who haven’t been through the Ethiopian adoption process, generally you receive a referral which is a little like a profile.  It has some pictures, health information, relevant background information etc.   After receipt of the profile you have the ability to ask a list of clarifying questions, which can range from developmental milestones, more details about their background or any personality characteristics you think might be helpful.  Ultimately through this dialogue and exchange of information you make a decision to say yes or no.  For me, it was true that I felt an instant pull to the above picture and some divine belief that this was the child for me.  However, I did have a lot of questions as my head started to counter whatever was going on in my heart.

I was caught off guard with three things at this point. 

1.     I wasn’t expecting any stress related to this process. It’s incredibly emotional on a variety of fronts.  The exhilaration that comes from possibly having a baby, the fear of suddenly seeing him as a real person, the realization of the gravity of the situation, the commitment you are making to raising him and the hope that you will honor his life by raising him to the best of your abilities.  Yes, you do feel an instant bond with the picture you have now printed and probably already framed.  I don’t want to discount the joy of the experience but it is also a very serious time as well.

2.     How much faith it would take to either say yes or no.  You don’t get all your questions answered.  In my mind, it’s appropriately a tough decision.  I liken it to making a marriage based on the profile.  You are making a life-long commitment to a vulnerable little person.  In our case, we were also thinking about Deirdre and James in how we were altering our family dynamic. 

Our agency was phenomenal in this area—our caseworker in particular was very metered and fair about how she has seen families go through this process and I felt much more at ease because of her guidance and support. 

She was very clear about what sorts of things are appropriate to the culture. For example, we asked to have them take a picture of Simon smiling.  She countered and said, yes we can ask however it isn’t in Ethiopian culture to have children smile in photos and we probably wouldn’t receive that picture.  However, it didn’t mean that he didn’t ever smile. . . they just weren’t going to send that photo.  Also we asked for a description of his personality and we were told that he was ‘a typical baby.’  Given my nature, I would have liked more of these details but I understood the limitations of the communication and cultural differences and felt supported by our agency in making a big decision.  There was no pressure one-way or the other and we were guided many times to trust our instincts.

3.     People will react but maybe not in the way you expect.    For the most part people were awesome.  We did receive a number of people who made comments about how great it was that we were saving a baby or how generous we were which can make you feel a little awkward.  Yes, we did feel called to adoption but it doesn’t qualify you for sainthood!  You receive many, many rewards from the joy of raising a child!   

One standout comment came while we were still in the referral process.  I mentioned how the process was advancing and about how we were asking some clarifying questions and someone responded by asking: "well, there’s no way you wouldn’t love that child is there?" A couple things come to mind—one declarative, sweeping statements like that make my skin crawl.  Two, this is a very grave decision and one that needs to involve both the head and the heart.  It is easy to get swept up in the emotion (romance) of adoption but I would advise families or singles that enter into the crazy world of adoption to be cautious with wearing their heart on their sleeve.  I found my confidence really shaken by letting someone question my capacity to love despite the fact that I know being honest about what Matt and I felt comfortable with over a lifetime was the right decision.   I love my children greatly and I think to the point that it clouds my analytical mind.  Matt was more balanced during this phase . . . so a follow up bit of advice: marry Matt.  It really works.

I have a hard time not applauding most of the people in our lives though—most folks were amazing, asking us the details, not shying away from the beauty and the hardship.   (We are even thankful for the folks who said silly things as they did so with the best intentions.) We are continually thankful for the grace of our people during what ended up being an emotional rollercoaster!

I write all this and yet really this is about Simon and his incredible story.  We started with a picture of beautiful baby and one year later we have a son who bounces around our house, plays tunnel through our legs, says hi and bye and points to his hair, nose, ears and is the primary instigator in the Fitzpatrick screaming contest.   

It really is an incredible experience and one that we are thrilled with the outcome.   Adoption is about making a leap and I am so glad that our leap landed us all in a soft place.  I am writing a lot about the fear, faith excitement and this overwhelming bag of emotions that we were swirling in a year ago so that others can share the experience.  Adoption in our case has been purely wonderful—in fact something we would consider again—but for many it can be very trying.  I think it’s important take into account the full spectrum and feel comfortable asking questions when undergoing a big commitment like this and to support others wherever they are on the journey.

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