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1
May

National Foster Care Month: Looking Back at Our Roots

By Ashleigh

Did you know that there are more than 400,000 children and youth in the U.S. currently in foster care? Did you know that of these, more than 100,000 children are waiting to be connected with their forever families through adoption?

Each May, National Foster Care Month serves to raise awareness of the facts to encourage families to explore foster care and foster-to-adopt programs. During the month of May (and every other month of the year) we ask for your help in promoting these programs and celebrating the amazing foster parents, volunteers, mentors, child welfare professionals and others who help children in foster care find permanent homes and connections.

For American Adoptions, our connections to foster care run deep. So, to help celebrate National Foster Care Month, we’re sharing the story of how one family’s commitment to foster care grew into a passion for building loving families.

The Mars Family

It all started 35 years ago when Ted and Susan Mars came to their son, Scott, with an important question.

“My parents came to me and said, ‘Scott, what do you think about becoming a foster family for an adoption agency?’” Scott recalls.

Scott, being an adoptee, loved the idea of being able to give back to other children and families. The family knew that they wanted more than anything to help connect these children to their forever families.

Before they knew it they had opened up their home and their hearts to a beautiful baby girl named Heather. After Heather came another child, and another, and another. Over the years the Mars family fostered 157 babies who went on to live wonderful lives with their adoptive families.

“I got to experience giving that child love and being a part of that, of seeing a child go on to an awesome life like I had,” Scott said. “I got a feeling of what it was like to be a part of and making a small child’s life better, to be that bridge between adoption.”

Love and Opportunity

The beautiful act of fostering children planted a seed in the Mars family. A seed that could only grow by continuing to give back to children and the act of adoption.

As Scott finished up his Business and Psychology degrees, his mother, Susan, came to him with an idea: She wanted to start an adoption agency. Thus, Scott, Susan and Ted set about making this dream a reality.

In 1991, American Adoptions was founded.  And as the company grew, so too did the Mars family’s passion for adoption and helping to build families.

Now, 25 years later, American Adoptions is one of the largest, most successful adoption agencies in the U.S. and has completed over 5,000 adoptions since its doors opened.

“I think back to how we felt when we were foster parents. We knew that we were helping to do something that was important, to help someone else become a family. I have the same feelings for each adoption that we do,” Scott said. “We get to be a part of helping that child have a life of love and opportunity, just like I did.”

24
Apr

National Infertility Awareness Week

By Ashleigh

NAIWToday marks the beginning of National Infertility Awareness Week, a national movement designed to raise awareness about the disease of infertility and to encourage the public to understand their reproductive health. Many of our adoptive families have endured long struggles with infertility before turning to adoption, so the topic of infertility is one that is near and dear to our hearts.

More than 7  million people of childbearing age in the U.S. experience infertility. Infertility is a very painful struggle. One that is wrapped up in grief and longing. A couple may struggle for years with infertility, and while it is easy for friends and family to advise them to stop treatments or find an alternative way to parent, most couples aren’t willing to let go of their dreams. What these couples need most during this process is your emotional support. We would like to use this opportunity to support all of our families who have struggled or are struggling with infertility, as well as to educate those who have not experienced infertility.

Resolve, the National Infertility Association, has published an Infertility Etiquette Guide for anyone needing advice on how best to support your loved ones. Here is a brief overview of their advice:

  • Don’t Tell Them to Relax
  • Don’t Minimize the Problem
  • Don’t Say There Are Worse Things that Could Happen
  • Don’t Say They Aren’t Meant to be Parents
  • Don’t Ask Why They Aren’t Trying IVF
  • Don’t be Crude
  • Don’t Complain About Your Pregnancy
  • Don’t Treat Them Like They Are Ignorant
  • Don’t Gossip About Your Friend’s Condition
  • Don’t Push Adoption (Yet)
  • Let Them Know That You Care
  • Remember Them on Mother’s Day
  • Support Their Decision to Stop Treatments

For those of you looking for ways to raise awareness, Resolve also published a list of 25 ways you can increase public understanding and participate in the movement. For more information on National Infertility Awareness Week, please visit www.resolve.org.

11
Apr

Fostering Positive Relationships with Birth Parents – The First Year

By Ashleigh

wellwood_michelleMy name is Michelle Downard and I am a birth mother working with American Adoptions. I chose adoption for my son Ryan who turned 18 this year (February 2016). I have been handling pictures and letters and providing support to women here at the agency for over a decade. I wanted to provide you with some guidance and things to think about when it comes to connecting and building a relationship with your birth mother over these next 18 years, but more importantly, this first year since that can be the most emotional time for all involved.

When a birth parent chooses adoption they are not only making the most difficult decision they will ever make in their life, but are also putting trust in another family to care for their precious child. As much as birth parents prepare for what this experience is going to look like and feel like, it is not possible to prepare them 100% for the real raw emotions that they can feel.

Everyone handles grief and loss differently, and this is a completely new type of grief and loss than most have ever experienced before. At one time or another birth parents will experience anger, sadness, jealousy, fear, happiness, try to bargain with themselves, and even struggle with forgiving themselves for getting in a situation where they even have to make an adoption plan.

For a lot of women their entire world has been turned upside down and, depending on their level of support at home, they may not have someone to reach out to. Your child’s birth mother may not experience or share with you any of these emotions and, thus, you may never see any of her feelings. However, your child’s birth mother may reach out to you during this time, whether that be via email, text, or mail through the agency, and say something that offends you. They may call the baby “my baby” or use the name they put on the birth certificate instead of the name that you are going to call him/her. They may even tell you they have feelings of doubt and extreme sadness. Please know this is not your burden to take on and this is normal. It will take time and healing before birth parents can move forward, it most certainly won’t happen overnight.

Sometimes, even when you have an ongoing relationship with the birth parents, one or both of them may take a step back and stop contact for a period of time. This is also normal and it is only expected that you continue with your promise to send updates, even if that means not hearing anything in return. When birth parents step back they are often doing so to allow themselves to grieve. This does not mean they are no longer interested in hearing updates about their child; they may simply need some space. There is no book out there for adoptive parents to know how to handle this situation, but sticking to your promises is key.

Often times adoptive parents want to continue contact with a birth parent, whether it be directly via email, texting, phone calls, etc., which is wonderful as that definitely builds a bond and relationship quickly. However, if not handled delicately in that first year it can also create resentment, distrust, and potentially negative feelings on either or both sides of the adoption. The good news is this can almost always be prevented if you, as the adoptive parents, stick to your contact agreement you make with the birth parents and allow them the time to grieve this loss without reacting negatively or reading too much into the words that are being used.

My position at the agency is to be a support person for the birth parent as well and connect with them from one birth parent to another, letting them know I do understand what they are experiencing. I also often times provide guidance and answer questions for adoptive parents when/if something comes up along the way that seems out of the ordinary or is hard to understand when it comes to a birth parents’ reaction to the adoption.

Over the years I have seen adoptions come full circle and birthparents, adoptive parents and the children connect at a really special level. They truly are a Triad and one that all parties treasure and feel is so important and valued. I have also seen birthparents and adoptive parents not get that opportunity to come full circle because that first year after placement emotions are running so high that it is hard to move forward and allow the relationship to grow. This has happened on both sides of the adoption.

I want to see your adoption remain positive and succeed at all levels. I want to see your adoption grow and blossom into nothing more than a wonderful experience for all involved. In order for this to happen communication is key and asking the agency questions when necessary, talking to your specialist and/or me when needed and always keeping an open mind that your birth parent is grieving a loss greater than she could have ever imagined. She has likely never experienced this level of grief before and does not know how to handle it which is why it often just takes some time.

I ask you to be patient, be understanding and most importantly be trustworthy with your words. I ask you to continue contact as promised so that your birthparent can rest assure that this child you all love dearly is taken care of and loved, as any parent would want for their child. I will always do my part to help and foster the best relationship possible. I want nothing more than to see you all grow together and share a positive, loving adoption experience.

Thank you and please do reach out to the agency anytime with questions, comments or concerns.

6
Apr

National Child Abuse Prevention Month 2016

By Ashleigh

Capture

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to recognize that we each can play a part in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in our communities. As part of this awareness month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services encourages individuals and organizations to share child abuse and neglect prevention awareness strategies and activities and promote prevention across the country.

Research shows that six important factors are present in healthy families. Promoting these factors is among the most effective ways to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. They are:

  • Nurturing and attachment
  • Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Concrete supports for parents
  • Social and emotional competence of children

As part of this awareness month, the U.S. Government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway has created an extensive collection of resources, including:

28
Mar

Preparing for Baby – How and When to Get Started

By Ashleigh

Preparing Baby's NurseryGoing into an adoption, unlike a pregnancy, you have no idea when your child will be born, what season it will be, what the child’s sex is, or even if there may be more than one baby. So how in the world do you prepare for baby when there are so many unknowns?

Do you prepare a nursery? Do you buy cute little clothes? What about diaper, wipes and bottles? Should you find a car seat and have it installed? What if baby comes sooner than expected? What if it takes months or even years?

The truth is there isn’t just one right answer to these questions.  The best practice is to only do what you feel comfortable with.

Let me explain.

Often times, after years of struggling with infertility, adoptive families can’t bring themselves to put the nursery together until they know they will be bringing a baby home. Some families “don’t want to get their hopes up,” others can’t bear the thought of walking past an empty nursery every day. Still others want to avoid the chances of coming home to an empty nursery after an expectant mother changed her mind.

Beyond the emotional reasons to delaying the preparations, there are practical reasons to put it off as well. Maybe you want to customize the nursery or clothing or toys to your child’s gender or name, which of course you don’t know yet. Maybe there is still some uncertainty over whether you’ll be taking home one baby or two – or even three!  Maybe there are simply too many unknowns for you to even know where to start. That’s ok!

What you really need to consider before making preparations is how you will handle it emotionally. If a fully prepared nursery will make you anxious or sad before you bring home your child, maybe delaying the preparations would be a good idea. However, if setting up a nursery fills you with hope and excitement, go for it! Preparing for baby is such an exciting time and can be a wonderful experience for you and your spouse.

All that being said, we’ve worked with adoptive families for many years now (25 years to be exact), and we’ve found that most families fall happily in the middle. Here’s our list of what you need before baby’s arrival, and what can wait until after he or she is born.

What to Buy Now:

Cloth and Disposable DiapersDiapers/wipes

Start off with just a couple packages of both newborn and size 1 diapers (who knows how big baby will be right?) and a couple packs of wipes. Buy a couple different brands to see which ones you like best.

If you’ll be using cloth diapers it will probably be best to start building your stock slowly to disperse the initial cost. Anywhere from about 16-20 newborn or one-size diapers should be good to start you off, and you can always buy more later.

Bottles

Pick up a few 4-5 oz bottles with slow-flow nipples to get you started and buy more later. If you’re wanting to breastfeed it can be tricky to find the right time to induce lactation, but hopefully this article will help.

Burp cloths

Babies tend to spit up a lot, so you’re definitely going to want plenty of spit rags to save yourself and baby from major messes.

Blankets/swaddles

Newborns LOVE to be swaddled so you’ll want to have a few blankets on hand to keep baby nice and cozy. Plus, these are easy to find in adorable gender-neutral patterns.

Clothes (minimal)

Pick up a few gender-neutral outfits to get you through the first couple of days and stock up on the rest later. Some adoptive families buy a going home outfit for each gender just in case.

Diaper bag

Put all the above items in the diaper bag and you’re good ready to meet your baby!

Crib

This item is a bit more difficult to buy at the last minute, so we recommend buying one beforehand or at least finding a couple you like and can buy once you are matched. (Assembly is optional)

What Can Wait:

Car seat

As strange as it may seem, the car seat can actually be bought on your way to the hospital to bring your little one home.

Portable place to sleep

If you’re waiting out ICPC you’ll likely be sleeping in a hotel for a few days so baby will need some place that’s portable to sleep. This can be a co-sleeper, a pack-n-play, or any other portable place to sleep and it can be bought at the same time as the car seat.

Bathing necessities

Baby will get his or her first bath in the hospital, giving you ample time to get the bathing supplies gathered later.

Pacifiers

The hospital will give you at least one of these and not all babies will take them, so wait to stock up until you bring baby home.

Stroller

This can either be bought in combination with the car seat or separately, but it doesn’t need to be purchased right away.

Nursery furniture and decorations

Waiting until you’re matched or even until you bring baby home allows you to customize it to your child. Plus baby will be spending the first few days wrapped tight in your arms so you’ll have time to finish up the nursery.

Toys and clothes

Wait to get the majority of these items until you know the sex of your baby, then you can buy cute little dresses or polos for your little one. Plus, baby likely won’t be interested in any toys for a while anyway.

Keep in mind, this list is simply a suggested tool for preparing the bare necessities for baby. Some families want to have every last thing prepared beforehand while others prefer to wait. Prepare in whatever way you find most helpful for your family!

Click here for a full list of necessary baby items.

24
Mar

Announcing Your Adoption

By Ashleigh

Creative Ways to Announce Your Adoption JourneySo you’ve made the decision to adopt. You’re over-the-moon excited and you simply cannot wait to tell the world about the amazing journey you’re beginning. But it has to be perfect.

What is the perfect way to announce your adoption journey? Well we don’t just have one perfect way, we have several! (But really, any way you announce your adoption journey is perfect in our eyes.)

Here are a few of our favorite adoption announcement ideas:

Adoption Announcement - PetsGet the Pets Involved

Whether it’s the dog, cat, hamster or gold fish, getting your beloved pet involved in the announcement is a super cute way to spread the news. Who wouldn’t audibly aww at a sweet picture of your pup next to some baby shoes or a rattle?

Potential messages:

Mom and Dad are getting me a human!
Waiting for my new best friend
Hey, I’m adopted too!

 

Adoption Announcement - Globe,MapUse a Globe or Map

This idea would work great for an international adoption! If you know the country/state where you child was/will be born draw a heart around that part of the map or use your hands to make a heart shape around it.

Potential messages:

We’re on an adventure to find our baby
Searching for our missing piece
Growing in our hearts. We’re adopting!

 

 

Adoption Announcement - Shoes,ChairUse a Pair of Baby Shoes or an Empty Chair

The aww factor alone of a tiny chair or tiny little shoes is enough to make this one a winner. Plus, once you’ve received placement you can retake the photo with the child in the shoes or chair. How cute is that?

Potential messages:

Boy or girl we do not know, but in our hearts you will grow.
Parents to be…we just don’t know when
We’re expanding our family by two feet
Waiting for you

 

Adoption Announcement - CreativeGet Creative!

There are so many great ways that you can announce your adoption, so let the creative juices flow and you’ll find the perfect option for your family. Some of our favorite ideas include:

Getting older siblings involved
Using chalkboard signs
Using alphabet blocks
Fake ultrasounds where baby is replaced with a state/country
Blowing up balloons
Adoption children’s books

 

However you announce your adoption plans, expect an outpouring of love and support from family and friends. This is an exciting time and your loved ones will be so excited to watch your family grow!

Photos Via:
Canada Adopts
Folsom Photography
Hative

13
Mar

Thank You, Social Workers!

By Ashleigh

Social Work Month 2016

March is National Social Work Month and here at American Adoptions we want to take a minute to thank our wonderful social workers! These amazing people work tirelessly to help build families and we couldn’t be more proud of all they do. Thanks for making American Adoptions great!

The National Association of Social Workers’ goal during Social Work Month and throughout 2016 will be to “educate the public about how social workers and the association have brought about major positive social changes, improved the lives of individuals and families, and will continue to do so in the future.”

Our American Adoptions’ Adoption Specialists are each Licensed Social Workers or Professional Counselors. These men and women work tirelessly to support and educate our birth parents and adoptive family clients. Their commitment, experience and heart are some of the things that make American Adoptions special!

You can learn more about our amazing staff by visiting our website or here as we continue to add more posts to the “about our staff” section of the blog!

10
Mar

With Love and Gratitude: Tips for writing a Dear Birth Parent letter

By Ashleigh

Writing a Dear Birth Parent LetterThe Dear Birth Parent letter is a one-page snapshot of your life and the life you hope to give a child. It is an opportunity for you to put into words your love and longing, your desire to raise a family.  It is, by far, the most read section of any Adoptive Family Profile, and it is one of the hardest things for families to write.

700 words. That’s what it all boils down to. How do you condense your life to a mere 700 words? How can you convey your love for a child you haven’t yet met in one page? How can you connect with a woman making the hardest decision of her life in such a small space?

The biggest piece of advice we can give you is this: Be sincere.

In a sea of Dear Birth Parent letters, an expectant mother doesn’t want to read about the wonderful gated community you live in with all of its amenities. She doesn’t want to read for the 100th time that you live in the top-rated school district in your state. What she really wants to read about is YOU.

Don’t inundate her with the facts of your life; tell her your story instead. Tell her about your hopes and dreams for this child. Tell her what you envision your weekends with this child will look like. Tell her about the quirky little traditions you have and how excited you are to include a child in them.

After several years of designing profiles for adoptive families, we’ve found that the best Dear Birth Parent letters:

Highlight Your Personality

If you’re outdoorsy, share your adventures with birth parents. Tell them about your favorite hiking spot and its amazing views. If you’re more of an artsy person, share your hobbies and talents. Tell them how excited you are to share your love of photography, painting, or woodworking with a child. Maybe you’re more of a quiet person who enjoys reading. Maybe you love to make people laugh.  Whatever it is that makes you, you, share them with the birth parents. These are the things that make you unique, and they will make your family stand out!

Paint a Picture of Your Life

When writing a Dear Birth Parent Letter, tell them how you enjoy many outdoor activities or team sports, or that you spend a lot of time with your family, but don’t stop there! Expand on just the facts and give them the details. What sports do you play? Are you on a team? How much time do you spend outside? What outdoor activities are you most excited to share with a child? What do you do when you get together with your family? Why is family time so important to you?

The more details you give, the easier it will be for potential birth parents to envision their child growing up with your family. They can picture the child riding along in a jogging stroller while you run. Then can imagine their child’s laughter as they play endless rounds of tag with their cousins. They can even see the light in their child’s eyes as he or she makes their very first soccer goal.

Include Your Dreams for the Child

You’ve been dreaming about your future child for years now. You have big plans for your family and hope your child will achieve great things. Well, now it’s time to share those dreams with potential birth parents. Not only should you share these dreams with them, but you should tell them how you plan to make these dreams a reality.

If your dream is to see your child go to college, tell birth parents how you plan to nurture a love of learning. If your dream is to mold a child into a caring, generous adult, share your plans for philanthropy. If your dream is to raise the next President of the United States, tell them how you will instill a passion for making the world a better place.

Are Positive and Upbeat

Most importantly, a Dear Birth Parent Letter should always remain positive. Though you should talk about your struggles with infertility, don’t dwell on the heartache. Instead, focus on how your struggles led you to adoption and how happy you are to have finally found your path to parenthood. What a birth parent really needs to know is that you have moved past your infertility and that you are ready and willing to love their child as your own.

We know how difficult it can be to boil your life and dreams down to 700 words and you can’t expect to do it in 20 minutes flat. This is a very important piece of your Adoptive Family Profile and you should take the time to make sure it is the best representation of your family. So slow down. If you’re stuck, put the pen down (or walk away from the keyboard) and come back to it later.

Remember, you don’t have to put on a façade and pretend to be the perfect family. In fact, your imperfections are what make you stand out. Whatever you write, and however you choose to tell your story, make sure it represents the true, imperfect you.

3
Mar

Sorry, But You Can’t Really Volunteer to Cuddle Babies

By Ashleigh

Woman and BabyAfter a news story went viral last month – which implies that agencies across the country are in need of baby cuddlers – American Adoptions, and many other agencies, have received calls and inquiries from well-meaning volunteers hoping to cuddle babies. However, the article is incredibly misleading and fails to mention that what the agency is really in need of are interim caregivers, which is a far cry from a simple cuddle sesh.

The original report came from ABC News, which published a feature story on New York adoption agency, Spence-Chapin’s, interim care provider program. This program is much like a foster care program in which a family provides temporary care for an infant until his or her parents determine whether they will parent the child or place him or her for adoption. Care can last anywhere from one to eight weeks and includes: diaper changes, feedings, waking at all hours of the night, bathing, clothing, and, of course, a large dose of cuddling.

Unfortunately, the article that went viral was not the original, but ones that state, “An adoption agency in New York City is looking for volunteers to cuddle newborns…” Herein lies the problem.

Since this story took off people have come to believe that adoption agencies have nurseries where they keep infants – this is not the case. While some agencies still operate nurseries, this is a very rare thing to find these days.

While we love to see enthusiasm from people willing to help care for babies, we really wish we were seeing the same enthusiasm for foster care.

There are more than 100,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. In each state, there is a need for loving families who are willing to provide foster care to these children. Families who can provide love and support until they are returned to their biological families, or they find their forever families.  You could be one of those families!

So, even though we can’t offer you the opportunity to volunteer to cuddle babies for us, we can offer you the opportunity to change a child’s life by becoming a foster parent. If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent visit the Dave Thomas Foundation or Adopt US Kids to learn more about fostering.

19
Feb

Being Patient – Rebecca, Matt and Madeline’s Adoption Story

By Ashleigh

Rebecca, Matt and MadelineBy Rebecca, adoptive mother

When I think about the moment we decided to pursue adoption, I remember feeling anxious, scared, and most of all excited about the possibilities that were to come. The idea that I would be a parent at any time was a feeling that I would describe as a balloon getting ready to burst! I was over the moon excited.

But of course my husband and I knew that we were going to have to revert back to the days when we were children and our Mom’s would tell us “You must be patient.” The process itself was not as hard as I thought and honestly I think we took the most time gathering our pictures and writing our profile, that  American Adoptions were just waiting for us to finish. When we finally felt our profile was complete we submitted it and on June 8th 2015 we were in the “waiting period”.

However, a short week later we had received a call that we were a match for potential birth parents. We turned that down for personal reasons but we were very surprised that we had gotten a call so quickly! But our story doesn’t end there!

One week after that call, as my husband was six hours away from home on a business trip and I was driving on a major roadway to see my cousin’s new home, I got the phone call that changed our lives forever. The woman on the other end – Lara from American Adoptions Texas – was calling to tell me that we were matched with a beautiful young lady that chose us to be parents to a baby girl that was born the day before! We had been active a mere 17 days and here we are chosen to be PARENTS!!!

My husband and I recount the day we got the call about our 6lb 1 oz. baby girl almost every day. I don’t think we’ve stopped smiling even to this day. The calls to our families and friends were just filled with so much love for us and this baby that we hadn’t even met yet, it was almost overwhelming! My husband immediately left where he was and drove through the night to get to me. We left our home and headed to Texas by plane.  When we got to our baby we had been awake a total 36 hours!

MadelineWhen we walked into the hospital nursery and met and held her it was such a feeling of peace. This was it; this was our missing piece, a tiny baby girl named Madeline. All of our fertility struggles and tears were put to rest. This was the moment we had been waiting for. Madeline needed us to be patient and here she was an answer to what we had been working for since we had gotten married.

Madeline needed to be monitored in the hospital for a couple weeks which meant we had to make Texas our home for a bit. Kathie and Lara from American Adoptions checked in on us frequently and worked hard to make sure we felt comfortable with the paperwork that was to follow in regards to finalizing Madeline’s adoption. Kathie was patient with me as I took on becoming a mother literally overnight and trying to balance being away from home for a bit. She was always available. Even now almost six months later I can still call Kathie to just talk about Madeline. I send them pictures too – you know, to brag!

If you are reading this, I want you to remember this:  You will be a parent! It’s not a matter of how now, it’s a matter of when. As you wait for your call for your match or try and decide whether adoption is the route you should go, remember that love makes a family and out there in this big fish bowl of a world is a baby that needs you just as much as you want them.

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