When you tell me that I’m infertile, you know I’m going to demand a gaggle of children. Yes, basically my inner workings are very similar to the mouse and cookie, and often on the same maturity level of its intended audience.
So, hey, hi, hello. I’m Andrea and I’ll be your tour guide. Along with my wonderful, dedicated husband and partner (let’s call him Michael), we’ve spent the last few years on a crazy adventure from apparent health (yay!) to a diagnosis of PCOS (lame) then infertility (double lame), to taking my non-functioning bits by the proverbial horns (this is getting weird) and pursuing adoption. Hopefully by the time this gets to your eyeballs via the magic of the internet, we’ll be fully licensed foster/adoptive parents waiting for the newest addition to our family. Onward…
Let’s Start at the Beginning: The Diagnosis
So, I didn’t know I had any dysfunctional bits until I stopped taking the pill around Fall of 2014. Michael and I had been married for a while, I wanted to get off the artificial hormones and was willing to roll the dice on getting pregnant. Unfortunately, that’s approximately when all hell broke loose – I immediately gained 30 pounds, started growing hairs in places that no lady should have hairs, and had the acne of a 14 year old boy. Oh yeah, and zero period. For several months. To say I was a mess is an understatement of incredible proportions. So I got back in touch with the naturopath I had been seeing before we left LA. I can’t recommend a functional medicine doctor enough if you have fertility concerns. They can’t solve all your problems (if only), but in my experience, they are the most patient, attentive docs around who will listen to everything and really partner with you to get you feeling your best again. Anyway, I digress.
My naturopath sent me a test where I had to drool into tiny vials several times a week (really) and came back with massively dysfunctional hormone levels and strong suspicion of PCOS. So she sent me to a reproductive endocrinologist. I went to see that guy, he did blood work, got an trans-vag ultrasound (ugh) to confirm that ain’t nothin’ workin’ in there (yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the official diagnosis). And his solution was to go back on the pill, make an appointment for IVF (with him, naturally) and hope for the best. Oh, also he casually mentioned that if I stopped being so fat, it might work better. He was kind of a dick. (And if I had any clue how to dislodge the weight that had taken up residence on my gut, I would absolutely would’ve done that already….jerk.) He gave me spironolactone for the suspicious hairs and acne, and when it turned out I was violently allergic to it, he shrugged his shoulders and pushed IVF on me again. Thanks, but no thanks, conventional medicine. I’m trying to get AWAY from the bonkers hormones, not mainline them.
Ok, Then The Shifting Gears
Fast forward many diets, supplements, books and doctors appointments later to Fall of 2016 and my 31st birthday. Since the infertility diagnosis, I’d seen some minor progress, more than a few failures, and mostly a lot of frustration that my ovaries were still stubbornly on strike. I told Michael I wanted to continue trying to manage the PCOS (with the hope that we could maybe conceive one day), I thought we should maybe explore other options that don’t hang on my totally effed hormones while we’re still young enough to be fun parents. We had casually discussed adoption since early on in our relationship (circa 2009), and it became a more focused topic of conversation. So I took to the Googles. (Spoiler alert: it was a bad idea.) I looked at international adoption, domestic infant adoption, adopting from foster care, and ended up supremely confused about all the options and also heartbroken about all the stories out there, from families, kids, caretakers and case workers. That kept me off the interwebs for at least 6 weeks.
Finally, I worked up the nerve to visit our state’s DFPS website again and saw that they were holding a presentation about adopting from foster care in mid-December. We went, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they terrified us again. There were numerous acronyms, flowcharts, seemingly endless cautionary tales, and a few too many overly staged stock photos of attractive, multiethnic families. Seriously, these people need some intensive brand management and PR training. But Michael and I both agreed that our hearts were with these kiddos, and that we were willing to take on the challenges if it meant that a kid who needed parents got a family and we wanted to figure out how to proceed. Let me pause here and say that I was scared. I felt unqualified to be a parent to anyone, especially not a kid who has already been through such hard times. But my gut said this was right for us. There was an opportunity to meet some of the Child Placement Agencies after the meeting. And we found an organization that seemed like a great fit, so we decided to take the leap.
The First Shaking Step…
Now, I’m absolutely not an expert in how different states handle foster care and adoption, because they’re all different. But in our state, DFPS doesn’t work directly with families – you have to go through a Child Placement Agency who educates potential families, maintains close relationships, handles the ins and outs of licensing, etc.
Sidebar here: Adoption has got some DEEP religious roots. I’m not going into the many, many factors that play into that, but let’s just say we weren’t comfortable working with an organization that required couples to be specific genders, to have a specific legal status, or to be active members of any specific religion.
So we chose an agency that we felt really good about and have demonstrated over and over again how genuinely they care for these kids and how much support they provide for the families who choose to put themselves in an emotional war zone. We went to orientation at our Child Placement Agency on New Year’s Eve and adored them. The next training was beginning in just a few weeks. We wanted in. Afterwards, we went to lunch and toasted to what we hoped would be a very eventful 2017. Then we dove into 30 pages of paperwork like bureaucrats who had been stranded on a desert island. Rumor has it we still hold the record for turning our application in the fastest – it took us less than 24 hours. Ah, wide-eyed enthusiasm.
…Before So, So Many More Steps
The next series of hurdles took some patience. First was training: six weeks of six hour sessions where we covered everything about how kids end up in the system, the people and processes involved in their lives during foster care, how to parent kids from trauma, etc. etc. etc. Each class took an emotional toll, but it also opened up some incredible conversations between Michael and me. Throughout the training, we discussed practical things like the age range we were comfortable and which bedroom was earmarked for our first kid, and totally impractical things, like where we want to go on road trips as a family, and what board games the three of us should play. I have to say, I always knew he would make a great father, but seeing him plan and dream completely melted my heart. We both learned an incredible amount through those six weeks, but I still feel like I barely know anything. I’m not sure if that’s the perspective of a ‘foster mom’ or ‘every mom everywhere’. I guess I’ll find out.
Then there were about a thousand other boxes to check post-training: letters of recommendation, safety inspection, fire inspection, TB tests, special needs evaluation, hours of observation, final test and the home study. I’d heard in hushed whispers and read in anonymous forums that a home study is the equivalent of about a year of therapy with someone you barely know, in single day, while they look in all your drawers, peek into cabinets, oh yeah, and question you and your spouse separately. Super fun. Our home study happened on St. Patrick’s Day, so as soon as we wrapped up, Michael and I headed out for tequila. As luck would have it, the margaritas were green and we celebrated another major milestone in the process.
We’re in the Home Stretch
It took several weeks to get our home study back, clocking in at a staggering 26 pages laying out almost every imaginable detail. And that includes some very pointed questions about our sex life. I wish I was kidding. Let me tell you, that’s an awkward conversation to have while the person you’re discussing it with types furious notes on a laptop. While we waited, we filled out the “Special Needs Assessment” which asks exactly what emotional, behavioral, social, medical, and physical needs we are willing to accommodate. That was a tough conversation. We both got validation that we don’t have tuberculosis. Again, I wish I was kidding. This is a requirement. Our house was inspected for fire hazards, safety hazards, and we took a painstakingly detailed test about all the minimum standards for foster homes, with fun questions like, “How many adults are required to supervise children ages 2, 3, 6, 7, and 9 at a pool?”
Bottom line – this process is not for anyone who’s on the fence. We’ve raced through the requirements at a brisk pace, and it’s still taken almost 5 months. It’s emotionally draining, it forces you to have hard conversations with your partner, and it’s pretty invasive. As a natural planner, it’s difficult to have so many unanswered questions. Literally everything from, “What size furniture do we need?” to “Is there a daycare around here?” is a giant question mark. And, since every placement is different, we may not have much time to get everything figured out before there’s a kiddo on our doorstep.
Then there’s the child. That poor little human will have already suffered and endured more in their short life than most of us face in our worst nightmares. It’s a heartbreaking reality, but I’m trying to focus on the hope. The hope that we can help this child feel loved and whole. The hope that our hearts can be fuller than we dared to imagine. The hope that something as messy, imperfect and challenging as family can still the most beautiful thing for all of us.
But What’s Next?
Are you a foster parent? Or have you adopted? Are you struggling to make the decision about becoming a foster or adoptive parent? I’d love to see your questions or comments below.