Archive for October, 2010

Story Time: Made in China


Fall is here, the leaves are changing, and it’s the perfect time to curl up with your child and read a good book. This month’s book review is of the charming picture book Made in China by Vanita Oelschlager.

In Made in China, the main character is a young adoptee from China. Her older sister teases her by showing her tags on toys and clothing that say “made in China,” and taunting that she was “made in China,” too. “I thought to myself, could this be me?/I’m not a blanket or a plastic bee,” the main character thinks in alarm. She runs to her father to soothe her hurt feelings, and dad responds with love and compassion. “Well, I can see how you’d think that is true./But you’re much more than what people say about you,” dad replies. He goes on to explain that she was born in Ningdu, China “to a wonderful woman who really loved you,” and who “gave you your smile.” This part of the book is accompanied by Kristin Blackwood’s beautiful, colorful illustrations of China’s landscape and culture. The book closes with illustrations of the older sister listening in on the explanation and learning a lesson herself about what adoption means. “We love you now, we loved you before,” dad concludes, “In all the wide world, we couldn’t love you more.”

What I love most about this book is how it models a parent hearing and validating his daughter’s feelings. The words “I can see how you’d think that is true,” are a lovely way to invite anyone to a deeper conversation, and especially a child just beginning to discover her feelings about adoption. In this family, questions about adoption are lovingly welcomed. I also appreciate how this book respects both the birth mother and the child’s country of origin in both words and illustrations. Any child from China would feel proud seeing these illustrations of his or her homeland as a beautiful, culturally rich place. The explanation of the birth mother’s choice is simple and age-appropriate for this audience (ages 3-8).

Made in China is especially valuable for families that have internationally adopted children as well as biological children. If your children come from countries other than China, try pulling out some photographs of your child’s country of origin to share with them as you read along. Wherever they were “made,” this book is a lovely way to start a conversation about your children’s birth stories.

Click here to read my criteria for children’s books about adoption.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Avoiding court (and heartbreak) takes planning

Avoiding contested adoption

Yesterday I attended the type of hearing that no adoption lawyer, parent, or judge ever wants to see: A case where the birth mother had changed her mind about the adoption after the baby had already been placed with the adoptive family. While these cases are extremely rare, they are also extraordinarily heartbreaking. No one wants to take a baby away from a birth mother who wants to keep him or her, but on the other hand, babies need permanency, stability, and bonding, and the law is designed to give them that. In this case, the judge ruled that the birth mother had changed her mind too late, and that her revocation period (the time she has to cancel the adoption under the law) had expired. The baby will stay with her adoptive family.

These cases are so painful that I decided to write about how to avoid them. This post is for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoption professionals. Let’s talk about some ways to stay out of the courtroom.

1. Make sure the birth mother understands exactly what her rights are…and aren’t. It is incredibly important that the birth mother understands her legal rights completely and in detail. This is the most important thing that all parties can do to make sure an adoption goes smoothly.

Adoption professionals at the agency, attorneys for all parties, and social workers should all check to make sure that the birth mother understands what her consent means, how long she has to revoke that consent, and how to go about revoking it (in many states, this must be in writing). They should also check to make sure that the birth mother has been offered an independent lawyer and counseling, and that she got it if she wanted it. Birth parents, you are ultimately responsible for protecting your own rights. If you are not sure you understand something (like when it will be too late to change your mind, or what you should do if you change your mind), ask. Don’t be embarrassed to keep asking until you are sure you understand. Adoptive parents, be proactive by asking your agency or adoption lawyer what they do to make absolutely sure that the birth mother understands her rights. If they don’t have a solid answer to that question, consider choosing a different adoption professional.

2. Respect the birth father from day one. It takes two parents to have a baby, and two parents have important legal rights. Adoption professionals, treat the birth father as a party to the process from the very beginning, making all best efforts to notify him of the adoption plan, letting him know of his right to an independent attorney, and asking for his consent. You might be surprised how many birth fathers oppose adoptions because the resent the fact that their rights as fathers were not respected. They want to be asked, and well they should.

Birth parents must recognize their responsibilities, too. Even if it’s embarrassing, birth mothers should be completely honest about who the father is, or who he could be, if she has had multiple partners (Note: The only exception is if you are afraid of the birth father harming you. There are laws to protect you in this case, so ask your lawyer, agency, or social worker). Men who think they could be fathers should register with the Putative Father Registry in their state, if there is one. Adoptive parents, once again, ask your lawyer or agency what they do to make sure the birth father’s rights are respected.

3. Get all your “issues” on the table early. Most birth parents and adoptive parents have certain ideas about what their adoption should be like. It’s important to talk openly about the issues that are important to you from the very beginning. For example, if the adoptive family wants absolutely no contact with the birth mother after the adoption is final, and the birth mother wants photographs twice a year, then that is not a good match. It’s essential to know as early as possible if the two parties’ wishes are incompatible. Adoptive parents and birth parents, talk as early as possible about how much contact the parties should have, who will be present at the birth, major health conditions (of the adoptive parents or the child), and anything else you can think of that might be a “deal breaker” for you. Adoption professionals, try to get as much information as you can from your client about what they want the adoption to be like and what they consider a “deal breaker,” and encourage them to share as much information as possible with the other party.

4. Talk openly about “red flags.” In this post, I talked about “red flags” that could indicate that a birth mother might be more likely to change her mind about the adoption. Some of these include a birth mother who is under pressure from her parents or other family to keep the baby, a birth mother who gets back together with a birth father, or a birth mother who changes her story a lot or seems to be hiding something. Adoptive parents and birth parents can make the adoption go more smoothly by talking (in person or through their lawyers or agency) as openly as possible about their concerns. Adoption professionals can advise birth mothers and adoptive parents about these red flags and try to explore the parties’ feelings early on in the process.

5. Know that contested adoptions are rare. All this may sound very scary, but the truth is that the nightmare scenario of the birth mother who changes her mind is extremely uncommon. Take the steps above to make it even more unlikely that it could happen to you.

Disrupted adoptions are not just bad for adoptive parents and birth parents – they are bad for children. Children need and deserve stability in their lives, and being moved from one home and caregiver to another is incredibly disruptive. By planning an adoption carefully and thoughtfully from the very first day, we protect the most important people in adoption: The children.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

“I’m Supposed to Be Happy” – Emotions After Adoption

You waited for years for a child, filled out reams of paperwork, and went through seemingly endless hurdles to get to the day when you would bring your child home. So, once you have completed your adoption, you have no right to feel anything but undiluted joy all the time, right? Wrong. While many adoptive parents feel guilty or ashamed of having negative feelings after their child comes home, the truth is, it is completely normal. Anger, helplessness, stress, and shame are all common emotions for new adoptive parents. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • I feel like a fraud; like I don’t deserve to parent this child.
  • I feel distant from my adopted child, and even wonder if bringing her home was a mistake.
  • I feel like I have to be the perfect parent all the time.
  • I am so angry that I had to go through so much paperwork and scrutiny to have a child, while some people just have babies by accident.
  • I want to hide from people constantly asking me intrusive questions about adoption.
  • I am so ashamed that I’m not happy. After all, isn’t this what I wanted?
  • My heart is still broken that I can’t have children of my own, and seeing this child who doesn’t look like me just reminds me of that fact.

If these or other dark emotions are haunting you during the post-adoption period, the most important thing to know is that you are not alone. Many new parents experience post-adoption depression, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad parent or that the adoption was a mistake! Here are a few things to think about before adopting to help avoid post-placement issues, and a few to help get you through the transition period.

Pre-Adoption

Take time out from “adopting” to focus on “adoption.” Just as a wedding is not a marriage, the adoption process is not the same as parenting. If possible, take time each week during the adoption process to focus on what life will be like after your child comes home. Read books and talk to other adoptive parents about the challenges that may arise in the first days, weeks, and months.

If you adopted after infertility, allow yourself to grieve the infertility. Too often, couples jump straight from trying to conceive to trying to adopt without taking the time to process their feelings about infertility. When their adopted child comes home, these couples sometimes experience their grief about infertility all over again, as it really hits home that they will never have a biological child. Talk about these feelings in advance, preferably with a counselor who has experience counseling adopting parents. If it’s too late for that and you find yourself ambushed by feelings of grief after your baby comes home, reach out to a counselor or support group. Also, know that it’s not ungrateful or coldhearted to feel sad at what you thought would be a happy time – it’s a normal reaction that will pass.

Build a network you can count on. By joining adoption and parenting support groups, talking to supportive friends and family members, and learning what resources are available for adoptive parents in your community, you can avoid the feelings of isolation that many new parents feel at the beginning. Try to meet people who adopted long ago as well as fellow new parents so that you can benefit from their experience.

Post-Placement

Know that there is no right or wrong way to feel. Many adoptive parents feel that they have no right to feel depressed after getting what they have wanted for so long: a child. However, just because something is a blessing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. Give yourself credit by acknowledging that this is a difficult time and that beating yourself up about it only makes it worse.

Stay plugged in to the adoption community. While many adoptive parents use support groups, counselors, and community resources during the pre-adoption period (such as the search for a birth mother and finalization process) it’s a good idea to stay in touch after the adoption goes through. Supportive people like your social worker, counselor, and adoption attorney can be helpful resources as you parent your adopted child and questions arise. Other adoptive parents are also an invaluable resource that you can talk to about your feelings after adoption.

Know that no parent has all positive feelings all the time, and that adoption has special challenges. All parents go through times when parenting is not what they thought it would be. Sleep deprivation, not knowing what to do, and feeling overwhelmed are all part of the experience of being a new parent to any child, and it’s nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about. It’s also true that adoptive parents have some special challenges in feeling connected and bonded to their new children, as well as the stress of fielding sometimes unwelcome questions about adoption from friends, family, and even strangers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You are not alone.

Seek help if you need it. Especially if you continually feel anxious, overwhelmed, panicked, depressed, or paralyzed by your emotions, seek counseling. And of course, if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your child, call 9-1-1 or a local mental health crisis center immediately. Although you may not be able to believe this if you are suffering from depression, it really does get better.

If you are waiting to adopt, don’t let this article scare you! Many new parents feel absolutely great after they adopt! What I hope you will take away from this article is that “absolutely great” isn’t the only normal way to feel.

For further reading about post-adoption depression, I highly recommend The Post Adoption Blues by Karen J. Foli and John R. Thompson. If you have more resources or advice to share, please join the conversation by posting a comment or emailing me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

All in the Family


When most people think of adoption, they think of adoptive parents and birth parents who were strangers before the adoption process started. However, the truth is that somewhere around half of all adoptions are between close relatives. All over America and at every economic level, stepparents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters are stepping up to provide loving and secure homes for the children in their families.

There are many different reasons for close-relative adoption. Sometimes the child’s parents are struggling with problems such as substance abuse, and adoption by a close relative is a good way to keep that child safe while avoiding foster care. Sometimes the birth mother knows she wants to make an adoption plan, then learns that someone in her close family has been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby. No matter what the circumstances are, here are a few things to know about adoption of a child by a close relative.

1. A faster process. In most states, there are special procedures for adoption by close relatives, making it quicker and easier to adopt than it would be if you were a stranger to the child. In Virginia, adoption by a close relative can usually be completed in just a few months, or even less if the child has been living in the relative’s home for more than three years. This also makes close-relative adoption much less expensive.

2. How close is close? In order to qualify for the expedited procedures described above, you must be a close enough relative under your state’s laws, so be sure to check or ask a qualified adoption attorney. In Virginia, for example, an aunt or uncle is a close enough relative to qualify, but a cousin is not.

3. Make sure adoption is right for the family financially. Before you decide to adopt a close relative, make sure that it’s really adoption you want, not just custody or guardianship. This can be especially important for people with low income, because the child may be eligible for more subsidies under a foster-care or guardianship arrangement. It’s a good idea to consult an attorney about what subsidies your family may be eligible for. Check with your local Legal Aid office to see if they offer any free or low-cost services for close-relative adoptions.

4. Make sure adoption is right for the family emotionally.Custody or guardianship might also be more appropriate in situations where the birth parents don’t want to place the children for adoption, but feel that they have no choice. Remember that adoption completely and permanently severs the birth parents’ legal rights. So, for example, if the birth parents are having financial problems, problems with substance abuse, or trouble with the law, they may feel like they have to place their children in a safer home until they can get their lives straight. In this case, a guardianship or custody order might be a better solution, so that when the parents are back on track, the family can be reunited.

5. Think creatively. In my practice, I have met a lot of loving families who have found creative solutions to problems that affect children. I have known parents who moved to a new state so they could both live closer to relatives to share parenting responsibilities – even though the parents were divorced! I have known birth mothers who placed their children with an aunt and uncle and enjoy seeing their children regularly at family gatherings.

In short, there are as many ways to be a family as there are families. Here’s to all of the many families who do whatever it takes to keep children safe, secure, and loved.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

What’s in a Name?

As any adoptive parent who has gotten a new birth certificate for their child can tell you, a name change can be incredibly exciting. I know I’m very excited to announce that The Vaughan Firm blog has changed its name to Adoptivity. Why the change? Let’s face it: “The Vaughan Firm Blog” was not a very catchy name. Also, I realized that the blog is not about me and my law practice – it’s about you and your adoption-related questions. It’s about all the ways that families are formed: creatively, adaptively, receptively, responsively, inclusively. Here’s to a life of adoptivity!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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