How Kate Helps Out

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the fourth and final installment. Part one is found here, part two is here, and part three is here.

We asked Kate to detail her volunteer and paid work in the field of adoption, and she kindly complied.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

One thing I’d like to mention is that I could not do ANY of the work I do in the adoption field if it weren’t for  the support and encouragement I get from my husband Tom and my children, Chase, Joshua, and Amilya.  They are the reason I do this. They make my life complete, and my happiness endless.

Connecticut Adoption and Family Services (CT-AFS, formally CARA)

After having our home study done by CT-AFS (formally CARA), I volunteered my graphic design experience and helped redesign their business cards and brochure. I worked with clients of theirs to help them design their profile/birthmother letters.  This led to my speaking at their informational sessions and on their PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis, as well as being a mentor for their clients.

The Director of CT-AFS asked if I’d consider being a respite/foster mother for newborns which paid a stipend.  Other agencies that didn’t have a foster mother also placed newborns with me through CT-AFS, and I was a DCF sanctioned respite for the newborns of a member of my support group.  Most came to us right out of the hospital and many were premature babies.    The newborns were with us for up to five weeks. I have recently given up this position to enable me to spend more time with my children this summer.

I did find it was a great way for my children to gain an understanding of what adoption is and how special it is.  Often I would be involved with the birthmother, which ranged from meeting her at the hospital to having her to my home to visit her child. Often the adoptive parents would have visits with the babies while in my care. On several occasions, I was honored to be able to place the child in their arms for the first time.  My own children were present at times and saw how a new family was made and how emotional and special this was.

Only once did any of my children feel sad when a baby was leaving us. My oldest son was particularly fond of one newborn we cared for, and the day we brought the baby to meet his forever family, Chase didn’t want to say goodbye.  We sat and talked about it, and he eventually decided that he did want to say goodbye and the adoptive family graciously let him hold the little one and say his goodbye.  He told me on the ride home that he was glad he changed his mind because he was happy when he saw how happy the family was to have their new son.

I was called with no notice to take a newborn baby girl several years ago.  The birthmother was a young girl who was unsure if she wanted to place her daughter.  I invited her and her mother to my home to spend the day with our family and see what a family by adoption was like.  On a nice summer day her mother and I sat with her on our back deck watching my children play and we talked for hours.  At the end of the day she tearfully told me that my family had made her see how much better a life her daughter could have if she chose adoption for her.  And her biggest realization was that in a family by adoption there are no real differences.

In 2012 the Director of CT-AFS asked if I would be interested in being a co-instructor for their PRIDE classes for state adoption, which also paid a stipend.  They have now merged with Waterford Country School which does therapeutic state adoption and in the fall I will begin teaching the PRIDE Classes and have begun speaking on Waterford Country Schools PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis.

In 2009, I was awarded the Joseph and Barbara Sheffey Award for my work in the adoption field.  This is an award given by CT-AFS each year to someone who has worked to help further adoption through their agency.  It is made even more special to me because Joseph Sheffey was the Director of CT-AFS (then CARA). He was very helpful and supportive of us when we started our adoption journey.

Sandra, the Director of CT-AFS, has been my main source of information when something comes up in my support group that I do not know the answer to.  She has done research for me and helped me many times over the years.

Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group

It was during our wait to adopt that I started my first adoption support group via email with four women I had met on adoption forums online.  We became each other’s support systems and lifelong friends.  Since I was a stay-at-home mom when Chase came to us, I decided to start up another support group and use my experience and that of the others in my first group.  CT-AFS advertises my group in their newsletter and their social workers help spreading the word about my group has helped keep my groups going over the years.  Now ten years later “Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group” has over 30 families currently and is run using Yahoo Groups.

It is so gratifying to be part of my members’ adoption journeys and to know I had a small hand in forming new families by adoption.  I have gotten to meet so many of the children and been able to watch them grow and, in some cases, to watch the families continue to grow through adoption.  I have several families who have adopted that stay in the group to offer their invaluable experience to the members.  We have several get-togethers a year, and there have been some great friendships formed.  As our next get-together is rapidly approaching, my family and I are looking forward to seeing all the families and their children.  We love opening our home to give everyone an opportunity to connect in person with the people who have given them support and strength through their journey.  It is a wonderful feeling to watch these children play with mine and know I had a small hand in getting their families started.

CAFAP (CT Association for Adoptive Parents) and Hearts, Hands and Homes

A wonderful woman, Alana, who worked for CAFAP and now for HH&H, introduced me to a program they have which supplies clothing to foster and adoptive families at no cost.  I now help by opening “Karen’s Kloset” several times a year. I help keep the facility stocked by soliciting donations and sorting the clothes as well as spreading the word to foster and adoptive families through my support group.

Board of Directors

I have served on the Board of Directors for several adoption agencies over the past 10 years and would like to think that I have contributed ideas and helped further the growth of adoption through this.

One of the agencies, A Little Bit of Heaven, is run by a very special woman, Betty Smith.  Betty and I met over 10 years ago when we were both starting the process to adopt.  We shared the ups and downs as we both went on to adopt three children and formed a lifelong friendship.  The reason I accepted a position on her Board of Directors when she opened her referral/adoption agency was because I knew she was entering the business for all the correct reasons.  She wanted to make the dream of being parents a reality for others.  Betty has also been a wonderful source of information for me to help answer questions that come up in my support group.

I’m Looking Forward to the New Film of Filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem

by Luanne

I’ve written on here about the film project Geographies of Kinship by filmmaker and Korean adoptee, Deann Borshay Liem.

The photo below is a link to the home page for Liem’s project. A description from her website follows the photo/link.

About the Project

My name is Deann Borshay Liem and I’m a documentary filmmaker and Korean adoptee. While traveling around the world with my previous films, First Person Plural and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, I met hundreds of Korean adoptees from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Canada. I’ve had the tremendous privilege of hearing countless stories from adoptees of all ages – sometimes heartbreaking, oftentimes funny and ironic, always inspiring. These stories cover the gamut of life experiences – from stories about searching for identity and belonging; to stories of love, loss, and discovery; to questions about “who am I” and “how did I get here?”

Geographies of Kinship presents a small handful of the amazing stories I’ve heard from around the world. We meet, for example, Estelle Cooke-Sampson, a bi-racial adoptee who revisits the orphanage where she grew up until she was adopted by an African American soldier at the age of seven. She wonders how the nuns felt about having a black child in the 1950s. Emma Anderson is a Swedish adoptee who visits Korea for the first time and unexpectedly reunites with her birth mother, discovering family secrets along the way. Meanwhile, Michael Holloway is in San Francisco when he meets his birth family via webcam on a live television show. He is shocked to discover he has an identical twin. These, and other riveting stories, serve as a springboard for exploring the history of transnational adoptions from Korea, from the 1950s to the present.

We have already started development of the project, collected some archival material and shot some interviews. I was thrilled recently to receive development funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities which is now enabling us to complete archival footage research, write a script, consult with scholars and experts, and edit a fundraising reel. We will be done with these important steps in the Fall.

We are now asking for contributions via Kickstarter so that we can continue our momentum and complete the production (shooting) phase of the film by following our film’s participants on their individual journeys. Your support will help us get all the elements we need for the film so we can actually start editing and make what I know will be a fantastic film.

I just received an update on the project, and it’s coming along beautifully.  Their Kickstarter fundraising is over, but they can still use donations.  You can go to this link to donate.

Lots to share with you on the status of Geographies of Kinship! Time is flying by and we’ve been hard at work on the film, collecting visual material, translating and transcribing interviews and much more. Here are some of our recent activities:

• Completed a script for the film and submitted for funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities.
• Edited a 10-minute fundraising sample reel.
• Filmed Single Mom’s Day in Seoul, including a Human Library event where birth parents, single mothers and adoptees shared their stories.
• Conducted interviews with adoptees and spent time with adoptee organizations Korea Klubben and Adopterade Koreaners Förening in Denmark and Sweden, respectively.
• Researched the early years of adoption at the Social Welfare Archive of the University of Minnesota.
• Collected, translated and transcribed Korean news footage related to the IMF crisis in 1997 that led to the phenomenon of “IMF Orphans.”
• Collected news footage of President Kim Dae Jung meeting in 1998 with Korean adoptees and offering an apology for sending away Korean children overseas.
• Researched the impact of the changes to Korea’s adoption law in 2011.

I can’t wait until I actually get to see this completed project and enjoy the film!

Kate’s Story: The Interview

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the third installment. Part one is found here and part two is here.

Luanne’s interview of Kate Donovan Hodgkins

*What kind of goals regarding children did you enter adulthood with?

I had thought about adoption before meeting my husband, Since my husband’s brother was adopted, he was very open to the idea of adoption.  Our plan was to adopt a child and then have a biological child.  Ultimately, we wanted two children.

Shortly after Chase’s adoption was finalized, we learned that I was unable to conceive or carry a baby because of uterine cysts. Having adopted once already and not being able to imagine loving a child any more than I did my son, I did not have any issues with not having a birth experience. 

*How did you first get started on the path to fostering children?

While waiting to adopt a second time, we decided to do respite care to see how it would be with more than one child in the house. After doing respite care several times, our son came to us and we stopped.   Later, I was approached by the director of a local adoption agency I had done volunteer work for over the years and asked if I’d consider doing respite and foster care for newborns being adopted domestically.  We’ve had babies with us anywhere from one to five weeks. 

*When did you first get licensed for foster care? What did you go through to get licensed?  Do you have to reapply, and if so, what is the process like?

We had been licensed for our second adoption and we just had to update it to foster/respite.  We had already done the PRIDE classes required by our state, so we did not have to do any additional training other than for medically complex and CPR for children and infants.  It was not a difficult or invasive process at all.

*How did you choose whether to adopt from foster care, a local adoption, or an international adoption?

We started off looking into adopting through our state and also from Romania, but while we were researching our options we found the state route was less likely to be a newborn and we did want a baby.  Then Romania closed their doors to US adoptions and being concerned that this could happen again if we went international, we decided to adopted in the US through private domestic adoption.  At this time, several countries were increasing the amount of travel needed to adopt and we felt that it would be less travel and expense to adopt in the US. 

For our second adoption, we decided to look into state adoption again.  We were happy having had the newborn experience and were open to adopting an older child.  We hoped that we’d be able to adopt a child younger than our son, but we were open to a child up to three years old. 

*What has surprised you about your children?

Perhaps the fact that I could not love my children more than I do had I given birth to them.  I think many people going into adoption question if they will bond and love a child as much as they would a biological child. 

*What would you like to see changed in the system?

From a mother’s point of view there are things that I wish my son hadn’t  had to go through, such as visitation with his birth parent, but I also understand why the state tries for reunification.   I would like to see a better system for visitations that is less stressful for the children.  

*What qualifications do you think it takes to be a foster or adoptive parent?

Patience, patience, patience!  With foster parenting, it is often necessary to adjust your parenting style for the needs of each child and that takes patience, understanding and flexibility.  I’ve heard it said many times that all you need is “love,” but that is not always enough.  Many children in the foster system need much more than just love, and although my state strives to provide the necessary training, more training is needed, in my opinion.

*Do you have resources that help you?  What are they?

We have found various agencies over the years that have helped us in many ways.  We’ve used Birth to Three, Building Blocks, IICAPS, Care Coordination, UConn Health Adoption services, as well as therapists and other clinical help.  But the one thing that seems to be our best resource is other adoptive parents.   Talking with others who have gone through or are going through what you are going through is key to helping you feel you’re not alone in some of the struggles that arise.  We’ve used many of the local agencies that provide help for children of adoption and have found most to be very beneficial. 

*If you are or were a foster parent, do you continue a relationship with the children after they leave your care?

We are very fortunate to have several families that keep in touch with us, and we love to see the children grow up.  This past Thanksgiving we had a visit from a family that adopted a little boy that we fostered right out of the hospital, and we see several at a yearly picnic we attend.  We get email and pictures. We all get so excited to see how they are growing. 

*Do you have a little story about your children you would like to share?

Chase with his birthmom

Chase with his birthmom

When Chase was about one year old I started telling him the “story of his adoption” at bedtime.  This became a nightly ritual, and there was no way he would let me rush through or leave anything out.  He would be quick to correct me and tell me what I omitted.  He started asking at night for us to tell him his “doption story,” so we dropped the A in adoption and began calling it his doption story.  When Joshua joined our family, Chase insisted that we tell Joshua his own doption story nightly and this began to get rather lengthy at bedtime when our daughter joined us.   We explained that we would have to alternate their stories, and this continued for many years.  It was a way for us to tell our children about their adoptions starting at a young age and giving them a gradual understanding of what it meant to be adopted. 

Recently my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and my daughter started asking many questions.  As we explained to her that Josey was not adopted, Amilya’s reply was a sad, “she won’t have a doption story.”  It seemed to sadden her until we explained that she would just have a different type of story that her mommy and daddy could tell her at night.  She was satisfied with that answer thankfully.

*What bothers you the most about the situation your children have been put in?

It bothers me most that my daughter has medical issues that were caused by her birthmother’s lack of prenatal care and drug use, which caused her to be born three months premature.  With each new diagnosis, I found I would have anger directed at her birthmother. 

*Have you volunteered or worked with any agencies for foster children or adoptions?  What did you do? What were your reasons for doing so? Do you feel you made a difference, and if so, how?

Over the past 10 years I have volunteered by speaking on a panel for state adoptions both for DCF and for local agencies, CT-AFS and Waterford Country School.  I have also spoken at the CT-AFS informational sessions.  I have run online adoption support groups for over ten years for those just starting or in various stages of all types of adoption country-wide.  We currently have 33 families in our support group, and we meet in person several times per year.  I have volunteered for CAFAP and currently volunteer for Hearts, Hands and Homes by opening their clothing closet for foster and adoptive families to get clothing at no cost and to solicit and take in donations. 

*What do you want the general population to know about adoptees?

Adopted children are “forever” children; they are not disposable.   Adopting is as much a commitment as giving birth to a child.  

*What do you want the general population to know about the foster system and the adoption system?

Neither the foster or adoption systems are perfect, but I’ve found many of the people in this field are very dedicated to the children. They have a very difficult job at times. 

*Has your experience with fostering and adoption affected your politics?  In other words, is it a topic you watch for during election season?

Absolutely.   Most recently in our state, the adoption tax credit was the hot topic.  Many families that want to adopt cannot afford the costs of adoption or the added cost if the child is medically complex or has therapeutic needs.  This tax credit can make a difference in the amount of children that get placed as families are more able to adopt with the help of this tax credit. 

* Have your religious beliefs been a big part of you becoming an adoptive parent?  If not, what do you think motivates you?

For me the motivation to volunteer and work in the adoption field was born from frustration.  I didn’t have much knowledge or help during our first adoption and started a support group online to help me connect with others going through the same things.  I continue my work in the adoption field to help others in hopes of lessening their frustration some by connecting with others who have gone through the same frustrations and can lend their experience. 

*What else would you like to say about your experience?

The road to adoption through domestic adoption and through state foster to adopt was very bumpy with many ups and downs along the way. However, I would do it all again in a heartbeat to have my children.  It is an emotional journey and it can have the most wonderful outcome.

Why I Am Recommending “The Fosters”

by Luanne

If you don’t know, The Fosters is a brand new ABC drama about a contemporary family brimming with diversity.  The family includes parents Lena and Stef, a lesbian couple; Brandon, Stef’s biological son (his father is Mike, Stef’s partner at work–she’s a police officer); Jesus and Mariana, twins adopted by Stef and Lena, Callie, a foster child, and Callie’s bio brother Luke, also a foster child. The executive producer is Jennifer Lopez.

As you would expect with a network drama featuring teens and children, the actors portraying the kids are adorably cute/beautiful/handsome.  Their house is perfect for them. Their school is ideal (on the beach). The two moms are gorgeous. And they probably don’t get a lot of the stuff about foster care and adoption just right. It’s not a slice of life. It’s a drama with heightened plots, dialogue, and characterizations.

If you want to read thoughtful conjecture about what is wrong with the show’s presentation of the subject, you will want to catch Robyn’s review at The Chittister Family.  In fact, I highly recommend it.

Nevertheless, I am going to give the show a recommendation. I have rarely seen a depiction of a foster child in the past that is positive.  What I have seen are attempts to demonize foster children–to show them as somehow contaminated by the system and therefore “worth less” than a baby who has never been “in the system.”  I’ve seen both adopted and foster children (and adoption and fostering) as joke punchlines.

What I haven’t seen before is a depiction of foster children as real children with real problems who are worthy of love and attention.  That’s why I like this show: it reminds all of us that there are hundreds of thousands of foster children out there who need society to step forward and “claim” them as valuable members of this society.

I admit that I’m a sentimental person, and the show tugs on my heartstrings.  I found myself weepy during both episodes.  No excuses.  It’s a sentimental show at times, but that’s ok with me because the whole idea is to capture the hearts of the audience for kids who need people like Stef and Lena in their lives.

If you haven’t yet started watching, you can watch the first two episodes for free at the following link. It will also give you a written overview of the show.  Enjoy!

http://beta.abcfamily.go.com/shows/the-fosters

How We Became A Family of Five

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the second installment.  Part one is found here.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

When we decided to adopt a second child, we began the process through the state and then did respite care while waiting for a placement. It helped keep our minds off the wait and gave Chase a chance to see what it would be like with another child in the home.

Two years later,  almost to the day (one day shy of the date we got the call about Chase), we got the call about a little 7-month-old boy who was being placed for adoption through our state DFC.  Joshua’s adoption, although not quite the adventure we had with Chase’s, was another miracle.

Chase now had a little brother and we had a complete family.  Joshua’s adoption was a legal risk situation, and we had a very long legal battle to adopt him.  There were court ordered visitations with his birthfather that were very difficult for Joshua.  He had separation anxiety when social workers would take him for his visits and would have night terrors the night of visits.  We went to every court hearing and tried to be advocates for Joshua. We knew he was meant to be our son and we never lost sight of that goal.

In April 2007  we got a call that Joshua’s birthmom had given birth to a baby girl at 27 weeks.  The baby was only 2 lbs 2 oz, and they were not sure if she would make it.

Three months later, when we weren’t expecting it, we got a call asking if we could take the baby for a week or two respite. She was now out of the hospital and a little under 5 lbs.  Mom had disappeared after giving birth, but the birthfather was visiting daily.  His son was going to adopt the baby so she’d be with family.

Two days after we picked her up, we got word that the paternity test came back showing that the man named as father was not the father.  Because she was Joshy’s half-sister we could adopt her without going through a lengthy process.  When our social worker asked if we’d be interested in adopting her, the boys and I had already fallen for her. My husband just turned to me and said “go buy your ruffle butts.”  His way of saying yes to adopting her.

In September of 2007, Joshy’s adoption was final.  Joshua got to put the seal on his adoption paperwork, and Chase got to bang the judge’s gavel.  We were now legally a family of four–and soon to be five!  The judge told us she was looking forward to seeing us again soon to finalize our third adoption.

In August 2008, Amilya’s adoption was final and we once again sat in the judge’s chamber. As before, Joshua put the seal on Amilya’s finalization and Chase got to bang the gavel.  We were very content and looking forward to our future as a family of five.

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Chase has been on the honor roll at school and loves to play soccer and swim.  He is a healthy, happy, loving boy and is very open about his adoption.

Over the years it became evident that Joshua struggled with  ADHD, OCD and PDD. He has been getting therapy and working hard to overcome the challenges this presents.  Josh is an intelligent, happy guy who loves life and always has a smile for everyone.

Amilya was diagnosed with Broncho Malacia and severe asthma at a very early age, but she does not let her medical issues get in her way of living her life.  She is a trouper and takes most everything in stride.

Watch for Luanne’s interview of Kate next Friday, June 21!

Suggesting A New Image for Adoption

by Jaye Roth

Jaye blogs at Jaye’s Brain about “family, my 25 jobs, and brain cancer.”

After struggling through German Literature (The Song of the Nibelungs: A Verse Translation from the Middle High German, Hermann Hesse, that sort of thing;) and a single day of Russian Literature (you didn’t need a Swastika but I had the feeling it would have helped), I found my needed credits buried deep in the hidden pages of Shakespeare. I totally “got” the damned spot that the lady was trying to wash out, and even in my early 20’s I deeply understood that the “lady doth protest too much” was a lesson hand-made for me: the more I told people it didn’t matter to me, the more it appeared as if I did have something to hide.

I’m talking of course about my adoption (again).

I always thought adoption was kind of interesting in general–the way I find the difference between sushi (yummy) and cooked fish (gross) interesting. Everybody has an opinion.

In a similar way I found my brain surgery interesting: “All this would be fascinating if it weren’t happening to me.” There were certainly days that adoption felt like that.

Mostly, even in the challenging adolescent years, I felt that I was lucky to have my parents, George and Bernice, and that they were lucky to have me. There was a connection there that couldn’t be explained to others, and I gave up trying to explain it. I felt that the word “chosen” was a bunch of crap, but it was OK to say “wanted.” Chosen made me think of meat, hanging in the window at the local butcher. We didn’t talk gushy love stuff around the house too much, but it was understood that we were all on equal footing, and no one was chosen over the other.

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Language for the practice of adoption often includes the popular terms “triangle” or “triad.” I have no issue with these terms designed to depict the bond between the birth mother, “child” and the adoptive mother. The family that is formed–the good, bad and ugly–will always have an asterisk by its name (in the hearts of some) like a steroid-injected major-league baseball player. That is why I used the popular multi-colored puzzle cube for my own adoption image: three sides just didn’t seem complete to me. Where the triad gets the conversation going, the cube adds room for deeper dimension and inclusiveness.

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My personal cube illustrating my top thoughts about my family starts with my earliest memories, my middle sister (mother to two adopted children, domestic and international) and my lost sibling. An entire side of my cube would have to be devoted to Helen, who lived less than two days. My mother told me this story when I was much too young to understand what she was saying. Unlike my“chosen story,” which was repeated over and over again, I never heard this tale from her again. I remember it as “mother couldn’t have the baby (physically forced to delay giving birth until a doctor could arrive). Involuntary manslaughter by today’s standards? Perhaps. Rather than dismiss this drama as a sad thing that happened before my time, I have come to see it as integral to the family story.

When you twist the cube, you get all sorts of possibilities. Often you can’t get it back to the original colors and patterns. Sometimes you get aggravated and throw the cube against the wall. (Oh wait. That’s me). For some people, it is easy to solve. There are, of course, more sides to some stories than others; I like the image of the cube as a way to begin breaking away from the idea that adoption only affects three people. Adoption affects the world, one family at a time.

The Story of How Our Son Joined Our Family

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the first installment.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

In January of 2002 we signed up with an agency in California and began the wait to be matched.  In the eleven months we were with them, we were constantly advised to offer more money for “birthmother support.”  Then we were told that because we were in New England we would be very hard to match. And that we would have to fly to Texas before we would be able to fly home to Connecticut with a baby and that we would have to fly back to Texas to finalize the adoption.

In addition, we had little contact from them and could not get our calls returned to have questions answered.  They put up someone else’s picture with our profile and it took quite some time for them to correct this error.  They lost not just one, but two of our photo albums.  In the eleven months, we did not get one call about a possible match.   At that point, we put our contract on hold and started to look elsewhere.

After more research we found a referral agency and signed up with them.  Then the whirlwind began.

At 6 PM on December 16, 2002, we got a call that a possible birthmother wanted to talk to us by phone from Utah.  At 8 PM she called and we had a conference call with Nichole.  We talked to Nichole for an hour, and it felt like we were instant friends.

We hung up after the call and asked each other, “Do you think she liked us?!?”  The answer came in less than 5 minutes when the social worker called us back and told us that Nichole had asked if she could keep us.

That was when she told us that Nichole was in the hospital and our son was about to be born.  After the initial excitement the panic came: what do we pack, who do we call, are we prepared enough to bring a baby into this house immediately.  A thousand thoughts raced through our heads, and I don’t think either of us stopped smiling that night.

After getting the packing done, we started to call family and friends to say we would be leaving in the morning for Utah and had no idea when we’d be home, but most likely not for Christmas or New Years.  Nobody complained about the late night calls–everyone was as excited as we were.  I don’t think my mom slept for the 2 ½ weeks we were gone; she was so excited to have a grandbaby boy coming.  At 79 years of age she didn’t think she’d have another grandchild, let alone a boy (she had two granddaughters).

We got the call at 3 AM that Chase was born, weighing 5 lbs 7 oz and 18” long.  He was 6 weeks premature and they had to induce labor because his heart rate was dropping.  At delivery they found he had the cord wrapped around his neck.  Chase had premature lungs and was immediately moved to a larger hospital’s  NICU where he would spend the next 2 ½ weeks.

Our flight left Hartford, CT on time and arrived in St. Louis, MO on time.  However, shortly after landing, severe thunderstorms closed down the airport and we couldn’t get a flight out until morning. This delay was also a blessing in disguise.  During the past year of adoption research, I had made friends with a group of women across the country who were all also adopting.  One couple, had just adopted their daughter three months earlier and lived in St. Louis.  They came out to the airport to see us before we flew out to Utah.

Finally at 2 PM on December 18th we arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah.  We followed our social worker to the hospital, where we immediately went up to the NICU.  There we found Chase’s birthmom, Nichole, sitting on a stool watching over Chase until we arrived.  Nichole and I locked eyes and both started to cry and hug each other.  I knew at once that our family had just increased by two, not just one. My husband, in all his wisdom, took a picture of Nichole and I with Chase as soon as we met–tears and all.

We could not hold Chase because he was on a respirator, but we could touch him and talk to him and love him.  I’ve never seen so many wires going into a child and so many beeping machines keeping track of all his vital signs.  But it didn’t faze us at all, neither my husband Tom, nor I had any fears after seeing Chase.  Somehow we both knew he was going to be fine and we had no concerns at all about his health.  Hard to put into words, but we both felt very calm and at ease when we met Chase even with all the beeping and the noise of the respirator.

We stayed with Nichole there at Chase’s bed for a couple of hours, then we all had to pry ourselves away.  We took Nichole out to dinner, then went to the agency’s office together and signed all our paperwork and cried some more.  Afterward, we took Nichole to her apartment and stayed into the wee hours of the morning chatting and laughing and crying and looking at pictures of her family.  When we left to go back to the hospital at 2 or 3 in the morning it was a bittersweet goodbye.  Nichole was flying back to South Carolina in the morning, and we were very sad to see her go, but so thankful for the gift she had given us.

We agreed from the beginning that we wanted to have an open adoption with Nichole, not something we had really thought we’d want until we met Nichole and Chase.

For the next two and ½ weeks we were pretty much permanent fixtures in the NICU. We gave Chase most of his diaper changes, feedings, and all his baths.  The hospital allowed us to stay in a house across the street.  We only had to walk out the front door, cross the street and walk in the back door of the hospital.  Right inside the hospital was the cafeteria and by the time we left we didn’t even have to tell them what we wanted for breakfast, we’d get to the counter and our bagels would be ready.  The people that worked in the hospital were about the nicest,  most compassionate people we’ve ever encountered.

The third day we found something missing in Chase’s area.  No more respirator!  He had been taken off the respirator and his nurse was there to met us and tell me I could hold my son for the first time!  You talk about an emotional moment!  Picture this, me holding Chase with tears streaming down my check, my  husband taking pictures with tears on his face and our son’s tough male nurse crying right along with us.

His nurse gave us a picture he had taken for us while the respirator was being taken out, it was Chase with his middle finger up, telling the world what he thought of that machine.  It was the most amazing thing to finally be able to hold my son and I never wanted to put him down again.

Now Chase could be fed!  But it quickly became evident that Chase was not able to take a bottle.  He didn’t have the suck swallow breathe reflex yet.  So for the time being I fed Chase through a tube that went in through his nose into his stomach.  The nurses would set up the end of the tube for me with a syringe of formula and I’d slowly push the plunger and feed Chase.

Before we knew it Christmas was upon us and although several of the wonderful people at Heart to Heart had extended invitations to us to join them in their homes for the holidays, we opted to spend the holiday with Chase.  We decorated his area with Christmas cards and the hospital staff put up a sign with Chase’s name with Christmas decorations on it.  Tom and I headed to BabiesRUs and bought the Eddie Bauer stroller/car seat combination.

Soon Chase could start wearing his own clothes and since none of the clothes we brought with us (newborn clothes and 0-3month) would fit, we were off to buy preemie clothes.

We spent Christmas dinner in the hospital cafeteria with another couple we met whose daughter was also in the NICU.

On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I went to dinner at a Japanese steak house around the corner from the hospital. We hadn’t ventured out much beyond the NICU and our room and decided a nice meal out was in order.  We had a wonderful time, sitting with a family who so excited to hear about Chase.  Being in Utah was a very different experience then living in Connecticut.  The people are very very friendly and just think the world of anyone adopting. We were treated like royalty wherever we went.

We were at Chase’s bedside at midnight toasting with plastic champagne glasses filled with sparkling cider provided by the hospital staff.   We rang in the New Year with Chase. Everyone in the NICU milled around and visited and took pictures.   Definitely a New Years we’ll never forget.  We even have a picture of Chase holding one of the champagne glasses.

That night, Chase began taking a bottle, after days and days of trying.  On New Year’s Day, they tried Chase out for twelve hours in the car seat, hooked up to monitors. This is a common test for premature newborns leaving the NICU and even more so with a travel across the country ahead of them.  Chase passed the test with flying colors and had surpassed the five pound mark.  That meant he could leave the hospital and fly home!  He was released from the hospital at 10 AM on January 2, 2003.  Two hours later, we got a calling telling us that the interstate compact was done and we could fly home.

I never really knew what it was going to be like to be a mom. Now I can’t even imagine life without being a mom.

Kate with Chase

Chase is very fortunate to have a very loving  birthmother in Nichole.  Chase calls her either Mama Nichole or  MaCole.  We send her pictures and we do phone calls. Chase loves to talk to her and we are so blessed that she choose to do what she believed was best for Chase.  Open adoption isn’t always right for everyone, but we have truly been blessed to have Nichole in our lives.

Watch for the next installment of Kate’s story next Friday, June 14!

American Parents by Adoption: Are Your Kids American?

by Luanne

Today I read an article by Matthew Salesses, “This Is Not About #Adoption.”  As usual for Matthew, the piece is smart, long, and covers a lot of territory.  It’s also super readable.  If you care about adoptees and adoption you need to read it.

I want to bring up one section of the piece.   A section that haunts me terribly.  He writes:

At this moment in cultural time, transnational adoptees in America are being deported for petty thefts, unwitting transportation of drugs, personal possession of marijuana. Some of them are learning for the first time—as they are deported—that they are not U.S. citizens. Their adoptive parents never went through the process of naturalizing them, and suddenly they are thrown into Korea sometimes with no knowledge of the language or culture, with no one they know, as if they could just go back to a life they no longer have.

Then Salesses goes on to list some cases of particular adoptees who are awaiting deportation or who were deported.  They either knowingly or unknowingly committed a crime which made them vulnerable.

And why?  They are Americans.  Raised in America.  By Americans. Speaking American English and steeped in American culture.

All because their adoptive parents neglected or chose not to get them naturalized.

This makes me feel ill.  I can’t imagine.  The minute we were able to get our kids naturalized, we did it. At the age of three, Marc attended a naturalization ceremony in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was asked to speak to hundreds of people (imagine me caught “in headlights”).

It was a big deal to Marc because the ceremony made it a big deal.  I had no idea how important it could be for him in a tangible sense, but I felt it was important for him as a family member.  He was being raised to be an American, so didn’t it make sense to make it official?  Of course.

I never realized how important it could be for his future.

Marisha’s naturalization was different as the laws had changed.  Hers was handled by paperwork, and we were told that the new law allowed international adoptees to be eligible to run for President of the United States (a point I have not been able to confirm in writing).   She had no ceremony and nothing to mark her legal transformation into an American citizen.  She’s grown up knowing she was American.

Reading the Salesses article, though, I wonder what it would be like if my husband and I hadn’t had the kids naturalized.  What if they just assumed they were Americans and one day learned that, oops, Mom and Dad didn’t bother to make sure they had the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

What if they were (involuntarily) sent to Korea to live permanently and not allowed to live in the United States?  As complete-and-utter Americans, how could they cope?  Not just with living in a country to which they are expected to belong and do not.  But with the betrayal of the United States and the adoptive parents.

It’s that sense of betrayal that leaves me with a feeling of being punched in the gut.

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