I thought it might be interesting to share a little about our adoption process now that Maya has officially been adopted! I know every adoption/fostering experience is different, but this can serve as one example. Adoption is often referred to as a journey, and that’s a pretty apt word for what the last year has been. Our journey is admittedly much shorter than a lot of people’s, and I’ll explain a few factors that played into that as well.
We’ve jokingly called this adventure the path of most resistance, because in some ways it certainly doesn’t seem like the easiest route. But for us, it was the route that gave us the most peace. What our path will be for building the rest of our family, we aren’t sure yet, but doing it this way for this last year just made sense to us.
Here’s how we got started. First, we decided that adoption was how we wanted to start building our family. Adoption is something that Michael and I have always said we wanted to do, but, like most people, we imagined it would be after we had biological children. After several years of infertility testing and an ultimate recommendation for specialized IVF, we decided that adoption felt much more right for us than infertility treatments. I know many people come to adoption as more of a last resort after failed fertility treatments, but we tried to embrace the idea that it could be our first resort instead.
The trick, of course, is that we were living in Ireland, where adoption is very, very, very difficult. I’ve shared this article before but I’ll share it again. Adoption is nearly impossible in Ireland (and I hope to help change this however I can when I return because it’s something that breaks my heart for friends and family there). So we knew that if we were going to adopt, we’d have to (at least temporarily) leave our life of seven years and move back to the United States. We are lucky in that we both have American passports, so while moving to another country seems like a hard part of the process, for us it was simpler because we’re both American citizens. We have social security numbers and didn’t have to worry about visas or anything like that. After lots of discussion for several months, we actually made the decision to try to move and adopt when we were having this dinner in Skerries. I’ll never forget it.
The other thing that made it possible for us to leave Ireland for a year or so, was that public servants can apply for career breaks from their jobs. Michael applied for and was granted a career break from his job as a high school guidance counsellor. He can extend his career break for up to five years, and he can apply for two career breaks in his entire career. When he returns from his break, he will either be given the same job or a job within a certain radius of commuting with the same number of hours that he had before. It’s an awesome perk of being a teacher in Ireland. So last spring, Michael applied for his career break and when it was granted, that set the ball rolling for our move.
At the same time, we were also in the process of trying to buy a house before we left so that we would already own a house when we returned. We had a deposit saved and we knew we’d likely be approved for a mortgage – but if we waited until after we came back, we’d have to wait several more years before we could show income in Ireland. Career breaks in Ireland are great, buying a house is definitely not. It’s extremely difficult, especially for people who are self employed – and 3/4 of our income comes from being self employed. So! We were also in the thick of buying a house paperwork and uncertainty, but it meant we knew we’d be moving out of our apartment one way or another. It actually worked out perfectly, although we did need to rely on the help of Michael’s family because we had already left before our closing! Michael’s brother signed our closing papers and Michael’s parents got our new house all ready to rent and moved a lot of our belongings into the attic. We couldn’t have done it without them.
That was a little tangential, but it’s what was going on last spring when we were trying to move, and it adds to the slightly insane picture of what we were up to.
When we decided to move to the United States to adopt, we also decided to move to Houston to do it, instead of back to Maine where my family is. The amazing couple who married us adopted Michael’s godson ten years ago and were well connected to our agency here. We also liked the idea of an adventure in a new place! We figured if we were going to go somewhere to wait for a baby, we may as well use the time to explore somewhere new. Little did we know that there wouldn’t be so much time for that! Ha!
It’s also my personal opinion that there are more children and babies in need of homes in Houston than there are in Maine, where I’m from. I don’t have statistics to back that up, but it’s the impression I get. What we didn’t realize before we got to Houston is that there is a huge culture of adoption here and it is amazing. Adoption is normal and common and in some churches even expected and encouraged. Our adoption attorney has 9 kids – 6 of them are adopted! The awesome family that has little bird baby that we minded for a few weeks has 4 girls, the youngest is 2 and they’re fostering a 5 month old and now her 3 year old sister! People have big houses and big hearts and there are more kids who need homes than homes available for kids.
So, Houston it was. Hot, sweaty, under-appreciated Houston. We arrived in late August after spending most of the summer with my family in Maine. We spent a week looking for the neighborhood we wanted to live in, and then for an apartment in that neighborhood. In one day of looking, we settled on Houston Heights because it’s so walkable, has giant trees, and is a ten minute drive from downtown Houston. While Michael’s sister and our friends live in a suburb about 45 minutes north of the city, we knew if we were going to have a waiting adventure, we wanted to be close to the action.
Once we knew it was going to be Houston, we bought a tiny, old Prius from a friend here because Houston is nothing if not a driving city. So essentially, when we arrived we had two suitcases and the hippiest car on the block!
By the grace of God, we found the cutest little ground floor apartment in a four-unit building with enormous trees and single family homes all around. On September 3rd, we moved into that unfurnished apartment with our two suitcases and a mattress my sister-in-law hand-me-downed to us. We worked on setting up the apartment with furniture we found for cheap on Craig’s List and at the few used furniture stores in our neighborhood. Within a few weeks, we had a couch, a bed frame and a table and chairs. Thank goodness the apartment is tiny and simple because setting up a whole apartment from scratch is daunting! But we started with the basics and worked on making it cosy bit by bit. I had forgotten what goes along with renting an apartment – setting up gas and electricity contracts, getting internet connected, it all takes time and energy.
The first week we were in our apartment, Michael sent a note to a principal of a small charter high school 8 blocks away asking if they needed any substitute teachers. She wrote back right away and asked him to come in. He had to get fingerprinted before he could substitute, but then he had his first day of substituting and by lunchtime, the principal asked him to stay for the whole year! We’re so grateful things fell into place so quickly. Michael had been applying for jobs in Houston for the whole summer but he hadn’t gotten many replies, so this was extremely serendipitous! (I shouldn’t say it was perfect, though. Michael was hired to teach American government, Dollars and Cents, and Interpersonal Skills to high schoolers. He has teaching experience but those were all new classes that came with no curriculum or direction! So he learned and created it as he went along. He’s a champion.)
A friend of my sister’s connected me with a magazine editor down here, so I met with her and started writing one or two articles each month, which helped me instantly feel more connected and also added a little income. I continued my Irish Independent articles and a few other freelance pieces as well. So, we had income and an apartment!
Both of which we would need in order to start my new part time job: adoption paperwork. When we first got to Houston, our agency emailed me the adoption paperwork, which you need to complete along with 20 hours of training. The email with the adoption paperwork had 25 attachments. HA! And one of those attachments was the main application, which was 25 pages long! Double HA! But we had just finished a ton of paperwork to buy our house, so more paperwork just seemed like our normal life by that point.
So while Michael was gone each day teaching, I would work on checking off our adoption to-do list. Here’s roughly what we had to fill out, copy and send to our agency (and I’ve included rough costs if there were any associated because that’s something to think about as well). This list changes often and might differ by agency, but it’s what we did for ours and roughly what you’d expect for others:
Application (25 pages!)
5 References (one pastoral, one relative, and 3 non-relatives)
Background Check Consent Form
Family Consent Form
Criminal History Statement
Fast Application – Fingerprints (these took 3 weeks just to schedule! They cost $40/person)
Self-Affirming Health Form for everyone living in home
T.B. Tests (this meant two visits to a TB testing place, once to be stuck with TB and once to be checked that we didn’t have it, $25/per person)
Physician’s Statement of Health (thank goodness our doctor in Ireland was able to send us a letter because it’s hard to find a doctor in this country just to get a regular physical!)
Floor Plan of your home with room dimensions
Copy of Driver’s License (husband/wife)
Copy of Social Security Card (husband/wife)
Copy of Education Verification (Diplomas husband/wife)
Copy of Marriage License
Copy of Divorce Decree (if applicable)
Birth Certificates-For everyone living in home
Pet Vaccinations (Thank goodness we left Coco with Michael’s parents or that would have been another kettle of fish!)
Copy of W-2’s (Since we hadn’t worked in America in over 7 years, we had to provide statements from our Irish accountant and bank statements for the last six months)
6 months pay stubs (Michael only had two of these, so we also included his Irish pay stubs)
Insurance Verifications – Health, Life, Home, Auto
Health & Environmental Checklist
Fire Inspection (for some reason, this was also difficult – I had to go to the enormous permit office and pay and then wait for the fire inspector to call us, but he didn’t for weeks so I finally tracked him down after about 17 phone calls! This cost $250 but could be cheaper in other counties)
Photograph of fire extinguisher listing date purchased or the annual inspection of weight
CPR & First Aid Certification (I’d recommend the online course! You take most of it online in a video game format then do the practical test at a Red Cross center, $110/person)
Pre-Service Classes- 16 hours ($850/family but we availed of a scholarship for it!)
Photos of all outside areas around your home where children would play
And then we had to sign the following documents:
Notice of Legal Counsel
Foster Care Agreement
Foster Parent/Agency Rights & Responsibilities
Phew! My blood pressure is rising just thinking about all that paperwork. Some of it was satisfyingly simple, like photocopying driver’s licenses. But other parts were more time consuming or seemed to have endless parts just to be able to check off one item from the list, like the fire marshall’s inspection. There were things we hadn’t realized we would need and had left in Ireland, so we had to call Michael’s mother way too often to ask if she could dig out a piece of paper and scan it to us. But she did and we did and all was accomplished in about six weeks.
Once all that paperwork was done our caseworker had to come for our home study, where they inspect your home and ask you a lot of personal questions for the whole afternoon. Our interview was a little shorter than most because we don’t have children who also needed to be interviewed, but our caseworker, Taylor, talked to each one of us individually as well as both of us together. Taylor asked us quite a lot about our relationships with our parents and siblings, and our parenting philosophies, but the questions all required thoughtful answers. We were exhausted when it was finished!
And once the home study is complete, the caseworker types everything up and meets with the team at the agency and makes a final decision on your licensing. We got good news, and so we had one final piece of paper to sign – our license! We are licensed by the State of Texas to foster/adopt and we have to display that license in our home at all times (if we have foster children present). Maya was a foster baby until adoption day, technically. State law requires that a baby or child is in your home for six months before it can be adopted. We could have left Texas with her and gone to Maine or somewhere else in the country (after paying her adoption fee), but we would still have been required to return for her adoption court date after six months. A guardian ad litem is appointed and goes through all the paperwork from the caseworker and the agency and evaluates whether the child is thriving in your home, and if they are, then you have a court date for a petition to adopt and a petition to change her name. At that point you are able to get a new birth certificate (with your names on it as parents! Woohoo!) and then a passport. Then you’re allowed to leave the country if you’d like. (Interestingly, because of the size of our apartment we’re licensed for up to three children, although only two of them can be under the age of 18 months. Doesn’t that sound like a hoot!)
Phew! Still with me? Longest post ever.
I should mention that our agency, Loving Houston
, is a non-profit that works primarily with rescue babies and street moms. They are also primarily a foster or foster-to-adopt agency. They work with state child protective services in some cases, and in other cases they work directly with birth parents. They are also a faith-based agency, which is why we needed a pastoral reference and why our application involved statements of faith. This is something we have loved
about our agency, but it’s obviously not for everyone. For us, it has been an added blessing and bonus that we hadn’t even really anticipated before we started this adventure. When we were waiting on news of the baby boy we thought we would adopt
, it was incredibly comforting to know that several families who also foster in our agency were praying for us and for birth mom along with our family and friends – and our whole agency. We found so much strength and solace in that.
Because our agency is primarily involved in foster-to-adopt cases, they rarely have birth moms who choose to relinquish their rights at the birth of the child, as was done in Maya’s case. She is our miracle Maya and we are so grateful for the simple situation we were able to start with. There were so many other variables (like 1500 words worth up there, apparently!) going on in our lives that starting with a complicated fostering situation might have been too much for us. Ten years from now, if we lived here with a whole family of our own bio or adopted kids and had an enormous house in the suburbs, I would foster every baby they ever offered us and we’d probably end up with 20 kids! But for now, for us, Maya’s simple situation was perfect for us.
Finally, because our agency is a non-profit that primarily deals with fostering cases, the fees are significantly lower than they would with a straight adoption agency. Interesting fact, foster families with our agency are also not paid for their services as they are in most child protective services systems in the States.
And that, my friends, is nearly 3,000 words on our adoption adventure. Whew!! All seven of you who made it to the bottom, congratulations! 😉 I’m an enormous advocate for fostering and for adoption, obviously, so I’m happy to answer any questions I might have missed if it’s something you’re interested in. And now, time to go snuggle my miracle girl!