This is Our Story, This is Our Song!
Adoption was always something that I knew that I wanted to do. I never thought that I would become an adoptive mother while I was single, but I would do so once married or if I ever had difficulty having a child. As I got older, I knew I wanted to adopt regardless of whether or not I was able to give birth to a child. This was something that I was meant to do. While we know individuals who were or have adopted, it was not the way that anyone in our family had chosen to start a family. Finally after talking to some of my family members, I decided to look into what was involved with adoption.
I started by looking into public agencies that worked with single parents and handled African American and/or biracial children. I reviewed information from about three to five agencies in the area and went to three different information meetings. I finally chose to work with the "Homes for Black Children Program" with the Department of Family Services in Fairfax County, Virginia. I liked this program because they were doing outreach into the black community to bring out awareness of adoption. Also, they appeared to have a very good pre-adoption class, there was no charge for the home study or placement if you adopted a child that was already in state custody, and the meetings were located near my home. Preparation...
The program proved to be very informative and really helped to open my eyes to the real issues involved in adoption and how it would affect not only my life and my family's life, but also the life of the child that I would one day hope to adopt. Some of the issues that were talked about had to do with why children are placed for adoption, who are some of the people who place children, what are some of the challenges in adoption, and what impact adoption can have on your life. The class lasted about eight weeks. Most of the paperwork was given out during the eight weeks so that by the end of the class, I would be ready to move on to the interview stage of the home study process.
When I started the pre-adoptive parenting class I did not feel that as a single first time parent, I would be up to adopting a child with any special needs. I felt that while this was something that one day I might consider doing, it was not what I could reasonably handle at this time. However, I listened and learned what the term 'special needs' meant, what assistance was available, and who were the children that were considered 'special needs,' and I had a better understanding of what was required to parent a child with special needs.
One thing that I quickly learned is that the term 'special needs' is very broad and it is used differently depending on who is using it The first thing that comes to mind is a child that has serious medical, physical and/or emotional problems. While children with severe problems do fall into this classification, so do children who are older, who are a part of a minority group, have siblings, missing birth history, lack of prenatal care, exposed to drugs and the list can go on and on. Once I realized this, I knew that as opposed to looking at the words 'special needs', I needed to determine what type of child I could parent and what things I was uncomfortable with regards to the child's birth history. I also learned that I was much more flexible in what I was comfortable with than I had first thought when I began this process.
Another thing that I found to be very helpful in the class was having a better understanding that an adopted child's life does not begin at the time of adoption. Like most people starting out in adoption, you only think about the day that the child is placed with you and anything before is just a blank page. Gradually, I began to understand that the things that happen prior to the adoption have an effect on not only the child, but also on your life once you adopt a child; that the child is not a blank page, but a person with has a history of her own and a future that will be shaped by not only the things that you, as the parent will teach her, but also by those things that happen to them prior to the adoption.
For me the class helped to not see adoption as a fairy tale, but as a very important life changing event. It also helped me to understand that adoption was just another way of forming a family. Needless to say for me the classes were a very rewarding experience.
Just as I finished the class, I found that I was going to need surgery, so I had to put everything on hold for about two months. This was somewhat of a disappointment as I was really looking forward to moving ahead with the process. This was also somewhat scary as the type of surgery had the potential to affect my ability to give birth to children. This really helped me to understand what couples go through where adoption is the only option open to them to have children. It was one thing for me to chose to adopt. It was a totally different thing for that choice to be taken away from me. Even though my doctor does not feel that I will have any problems because of the surgery, it did make me look at adoption in a different light. Waiting for a match...
During the waiting period between when the home study was approved and a match was found, I reviewed all of the material that we had received in class and did additional research on some of the issues regarding children with special needs, so that I could have a better understanding of what would be required in such an adoption. Because this was the early 90's, there was a lot of talk about drug exposed children, so I sought out information on how each drug could affect children and what interventions were meeting with success. I also look for information on blacks adopting blacks. Unfortunately there was little to no information on formal adoption within the black community. I was only able to find a few articles (most of which had been given out in the adoption class), and I talked to friends who had gone through the adoption process. I was very lucky that at my job, there was one individual who had adopted and another who had been adopted over 50 years ago.
It was also during this time that I saw an article in Ebony magazine on Single Black Women adopting children. This was a very informative article, and I wrote a letter to the editor that was printed in one of the issues. I later saved a copy of the letter from the magazine to add to my daughter's baby book. Preparing...
I also used this time to prepare for a child. On the advice of the social worker in our class, I did not set up the baby's room as she said this would only make the wait that much longer. I did make a list of what would be needed, however, and did price comparisons so that I would know where to go to get things and what was a good price to pay. If something on my list went on sale I would buy it but keep it in the closet with the receipt (in case I needed to return it). I wanted to adopt a baby girl no more than 18 months of age, so I really couldn't do any shopping for clothes. My social worker did ask if I would be willing to at least consider a boy, and after some thought I said yes. It was a good thing that I had painted the room yellow and not pink!
During the waiting period I had begun to think about names. I also wanted to choose a biblical name for my child, but I also kept thinking about my great-grandmother, who I had never met, but who I had grown up knowing about. She was always called by the nickname 'Bitha' and while I wanted to name my child for her, I just really couldn't see calling a baby 'Bitha.' I prayed a lot about it and asked for direction. One day, while talking to my oldest sister, I learned that while my great-grandmother was called 'Bitha,' her name was actually Tabitha, a Biblical name from the Book of Acts. I knew immediately that if my child was a girl, her name would be Tabitha. Getting the call!
Finally, four months after my home study was approved, I got a call on a Monday from my social worker saying that I had been matched with a 5 ½ month old baby girl! My social worker did not have all of the paperwork yet, but she was going to see if the information could be faxed over to her office. On Wednesday, she called to say that she had a copy of the baby's file and that I could come on Friday to see the file. It turned out that the foster mother was on vacation and had requested that a placement not be set up while she was away, so we had to wait until the next week before we could go and met my new daughter. I used the weekend to put all of the furniture together, recheck my lists, get everything out of the closet and reread all of the material from the class about what to do at the first visit and what questions to ask. Needless to say it was a long weekend.
On Monday morning I was to meet my caseworker and my daughter's caseworker at the foster mother's home for our first visit. I had a copy of my daughter's file, and directions on how to get to the house. I got LOST and couldn't find the street to turn on. Finally I just turned on each street that was near were I thought it should be until I found the right one. Even though I was about five minutes late, I still got there before my caseworker, so not only was I meeting a new caseworker who was going to take over the case, the foster mother, and my new daughter, but I was doing it alone and I didn't even know anyone there!
I knocked, was invited inside, and there lying on the floor on a blanket, was my daughter, Tabitha. I had not yet chosen a middle name for her, and all of my family had been calling over the weekend with their suggestions. Her foster mother had named Tabitha at birth and the middle name that was on the paperwork was 'Rebekah', which is also a Biblical name and spelled in the Old Testament way, so I chose to keep the middle name.
Tabitha had just awakened, but she let me hold her right away. One of things that I found to be very moving was when her caseworker handed her to me she said, "Here, go to your mommy." Until that moment it really hadn't hit me that I was now a mother. And what a show of trust and confidence on the part of the caseworker that this was for real.
I visited with Tabitha for the next four days, every day for about three hours. The only day that was hard was the day that we visited a park, and after returning her to the foster home, I had to leave her there. All of the other days I had visited with her at the foster mother's home and was able to see where she slept, to feed her, and talk to the foster mother about what her days were like. Each day after the visit I would go to work and try to get everything cleared up so that I could take a parenting leave. At night I was still getting everything ready at home and going shopping for baby clothes, formula, diapers and everything that we would need.
That Thursday, September 1, 1994, Tabitha came home. I had first met her just four short days before, and now she was a part of my life.
I could tell from the first day that Tabitha was meant to be a part of our family. My sisters and I all have birthdays in the beginning of the year, one in January, mine in February and one in March. Tabitha's birthday was also in March. Tabitha even has a birthmark in the same place as my oldest sister, right on the back of her leg. I took the next four weeks off from work to spend time getting to know Tabitha. During this time I was given two baby showers, one by my mother's friends and one by the people at work. It was really fun to have a baby shower and have the baby right there, too. Because I had made lists while I was waiting for a match, I was ready when people wanted to know what to give us. One of the ladies from my church asked my sister if she thought I would mind if she gave me some clothes from her granddaughter. My sister's sister-in-law also gave me clothes from her baby. So within a very short time, we not only had clothes to wear at six months, but enough clothes to take us up until age two! Even my next door neighbor brought us over her high chair, a bathtub ring, and a jumper for Tabitha to use.
One of my worries had always been whether or not people would understand and support my choice to become a single parent. I quickly learned that the answer was an overwhelming, YES!
During one of the visits from our caseworker, the caseworker said that based upon the history and age of Tabitha's birthmother, it was likely that she would someday have another child. I informed her that if that should happen and the child became available for adoption, I would be interested in adopting Tabitha's sibling
. While I knew was possible, I put into the back of my mind.
Tabitha settled in very well and I quickly learned how to balance having a child and a job and still find time for myself. I was very blessed to have found a stay-at-mother in the neighborhood willing to care for Tabitha during the day while I was at work. While I knew that I couldn't stay at home I did want someone who was home caring for her child and would be willing to care for mine also. I actually found the notice on the mailboxes the week before I was to go and meet Tabitha, so while I was on leave we were able to get to know the sitter.
During the next two years, Tabitha grew, when through the terrible twos and then the threes, which were worst than the twos. I changed jobs, changed from a home sitter to a day care center, and learned a lot about being a single parent. I had always known that I wanted my children to be only one or two years apart, but didn't think that I would adopt another child while still single. But seeing as how it didn't look like my single state was going to be changing anytime soon and Tabitha was nearing two, I began to think about adopting a second child. For many reasons, this was not the time to add another child to our family from a money stand point. However, God had other plans for us.
Near the end of 1996, I received a note from Tabitha's caseworker that her birthmother had given birth to another child. The child was in foster care and was not legally available for adoption at the moment, but the courts were scheduled to hear the case on termination of rights early in the next year. The child had some medical problems, but the caseworker didn't know to what degree. She thought that she would be receiving the case once the parental rights were terminated, and if I thought that I might be interested, to give her a call.
Well, I had already determined that this was not the best time from a money stand point to adopt. But after talking to my sister, who said that I should at least find out some more information and pray about it, I called the caseworker. This was in late November and the case wasn't coming up until January.
I used this time to pray about it and to review my finances to see what we could cut back on or cut out. While in prayer, I knew that this child was to be my child, that the Lord would help us to find a way to adopt her, and that her name was to be Sarah Elizabeth.
I had also been thinking about removing Tabitha from the day care center because I didn't really like the number of children and wanted her back in a smaller setting. One of the workers had retired to care for her granddaughter and was willing to care for Tabitha also. I did let her know that it was possible that I would soon be adopting a second child, and asked if she could care for both children. Not only did she agree to care for Tabitha, but she also would be able to care for an additional child. It turned out that the cost per week for both children was only going to be $5.00 more that what I had paid for just Tabitha at the day care center! I was already beginning to see that everything was going to work out.
When next I talked to the caseworker it was late January. I was to learn that what I was to face in my second adoption had not so much to do with finances but with the health of what would be my new daughter.
Sarah, as I already thought of her, had been born three-and-a-half months premature, just 26 weeks into the pregnancy. Because of this, she had multiple health concerns. I remember when I got the call that I was at work, and had written down the information on a small sticky tab, which I still have. The caseworker was awaiting the reports from all of the doctors that were caring for Sarah before she could write up the case history and officially present her to me for adoption. Each time she received more information, she called me as promised to say what she had found. At one point I began to sense that she was somewhat hesitant on the phone and thought that maybe she was having second thoughts about my ability to care for Sarah. Then I realized that I had never told her that I did want to adopt this child! Once, she understood that I was indeed interested, she did everything possible to move things along. During this time I had only told my oldest sister about the possibly that I would be adopting a second child and that Sarah had been born prematurely. The caseworker called mid-February to say that she had all of the information and to set up the appointment for me to see the case file. At this point it was time to tell the family about Sarah.
I had already talked to Tabitha about Sarah, and she was in wholehearted agreement that we would adopt her little sister. My parents were somewhat shocked that I was going to be adopting another child and somewhat concerned about me being able to handle raising a second child, but they were more than willing to support this adoption also. I chose not to share with anyone, other than my oldest sister, all of Sarah's medical history, as I wanted them to get to know her for who she was and not what her medical records said that she was. One of the things that I was determined to do was to parent the child and treat the medical issues. Sarah was a child, my child, and not a medical condition.
My appointment to see Sarah's file was on my 34th birthday, and I think of Sarah as my birthday present from God. While I was waiting for the court case and the files to be turned over to the adoption unit, I had done some reading on premature babies so that I would be prepared for what I could expect. I was very glad that I had done this, because in Sarah's file were all of the letters from the doctors detailing each stage of her development from the time of her birth, and my preparation gave me some idea of what the reports were talking about. Sarah was now 11 months old. On the next day I was scheduled to meet Sarah. At one point it looked like that we were going to have to reschedule the appointment because it turned about that Sarah had a doctor's appointment scheduled, but than it was decided that the caseworker and I would go with the foster mother and Sarah to the appointment. This proved to be the first of many appointments for Sarah.
I visited with Sarah for the next two weeks. Unlike the visits with Tabitha, Sarah was a quiet and shy child and took her a little bit of time to feel comfortable letting me hold her. However, during the two weeks we were gradually able to form a bond. On the weekend Sarah came to spend the day with Tabitha and me and later that week she spend the night with us as a part of the adjustment process. This time was somewhat difficult for Tabitha, as at three, she didn't understand why her sister didn't just come home to stay. But we all got though this time, and just one week before Tabitha's third birthday; Sarah came home to stay. Sarah turned one two weeks later. It had been my hope that the girls would be able to spend their birthdays together, so I was very glad that this was able to happen.
I had had some concerns that adopting a child with special medical needs would prove to be difficult for Tabitha to understand or that she would feel left out because of the attention that Sarah would get. But God blessed our family in that for Tabitha, this was just a part of what it meant to care for a baby. Because Sarah had an eating disorder called reflux, she needed to eat on a regular schedule and take medication prior to each feeding. As a result, there were times when we would need to cut our time at the playground short so that we could go home and give Sarah her medicine. But Tabitha adjusted well, and soon the girls were playing and interacting as if they had been together all their lives. Tabitha became the little helper and would get the diapers, bottles, medicines or whatever was needed. She even learned to share her room and toys.
I really appreciated the efforts of my caseworker, because she really made this an easier adjustment for us once Sarah came home. At no point in the adoption did we ever need to worry about any post-placement services that Sarah would need. At the time of the placement she had already included all of the paperwork and the approvals necessary for Sarah to continue to receive post-adoption assistance, including medical coverage. We were able to continue with all of her doctor and therapists without any interruptions in service. Sarah also required a special formula because of her reflux, and our caseworker made arrangements to cover the cost of the formula until she no longer needed it. It was very helpful to have had all of these things taken care of before we even knew to ask, and I will always be very grateful that our caseworker just took care of them as part of the transition process.
It has now been two years since I adopted Sarah and God has truly blessed our home. Sarah has outgrown many of her medical conditions. We are used to those that we still deal with so they are not something that we let get in our way of being a family. There are times when I forget all of the doctor appointments, the medicines, the therapists that we have and still do go to, but when I look at my youngest daughter, I know that I did the right thing and that she was meant to be my child.
I truly believe that both of my children are blessings from God, and God doesn't make mistakes. I may not understand why Sarah had to start life in such a hard way, but I thank God that she is here to live it. God always finds ways to remind us of just how great He is. I remember that one of Sarah's doctors in one of the letters described Sarah as "a miserable failure-to-thrive child." That same doctor, a year after Sarah had come home, described her as "a miracle."
This millennium year, 2000, my girls will turn 6 and 4 years old. Looking back and knowing all that I know, I can still say that with it all, I would do it all again. I think that it was God who led me to adoption and it was my faith that allowed me to step out there and make that first phone call to the adoption agency
I found in the Yellow Pages. When times are hard or the girls are being normal children and fussing over some toy, if I just take a moment and think, I remember that this is what life is really about-being a family. Tabitha, at five, is just now beginning to understand what it means to be adopted, and I tell her that families
are formed in many different ways. Some have a mommy and daddy, some have only a mommy and some only a daddy, but in what ever way it comes, being a family is about being with someone you love and are willing to spend the rest of your life with.
Both of my adoptions are closed adoptions
, and I expect that some day, I'll tell my girls all that I know of their birth history. While some of this history is not pretty, it is a part of who they are and it is theirs to do with as they will. The choices that their birthmothers made may not be the same choices that I myself would have made, but each is a part of who they are. Someday they may choose to find her and ask her directly for her side of the story, not just what was in their case files. If I am honest, there is a part of me that hopes that they will never search
, but I know that is just my emotion talking. When and if that day ever comes, I simply want my girls to know that whatever they choose to do, I will be there for them and will support their choice.
In adoption today, we hear a lot about searching for birthparents and open records. Who knows what will happen in 10 or 20 years? I simply know that my job as a parent is to prepare my children for whatever life has in store for them. My hope is that for my children, adoption will be just another way that families are formed, that they will be secure in who they are, and that when they look at who they are they are happy and pleased by what they see.
Becoming a parent has been one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life. There are times that I still can't believe that I ever adopted one child, much less two. And I still have trouble believing that this is something that I would like to do again.
My sister says that she sees my children as my faith in action, and in a very real sense she is correct. I know that the strength that it was taken to be a parent, to believe that God will see us through, did not come from me, but came from God. I may not have birthed my children in the "natural" way, but I truly believe that with God's help, I birthed them in the spiritual way.
© Roots & Wings Adoption Magazine
Credits: Valerie Shuford