Even though they grew up only an hour away from each other in Pennsylvania, they didn’t meet until years later while working in North Carolina.
Now the couple and their five-year-old daughter, Noelle, are hoping that fate works its magic again and helps them connect with an expectant mother considering open adoption for her baby.
Lauren is a high school librarian who also sponsors a club for students interested in learning about different cultures, and Andy works in sales for Del Monte Foods. Together with their small zoo of animals, which includes two dogs, a cat and a turtle, they and Noelle live in a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood in Pennsylvania where, as they explain in their adoption profile, “kids ride bikes and draw giant chalk pictures.”
Like many parents hoping to adopt, their journey has had its share of ups and downs. But as you’ll see, with the help of their adoption agency, they’re more determined than ever to build their family through open adoption and create a relationship based on openness, respect and mutual understanding.
1. At what point did you first consider open adoption?
Adoption has been in my heart since before Andy and I were even dating. Even as a teenager, I thought it was special way to make a family and even then I knew my family would one day include adopted or foster children. I think the phrase can be overused, but I truly have always felt called to adopt.
2. Did the decision to adopt come easily or was it something you had to think hard about?
It came very easily. When Noelle was born, I had significant complications during and after delivery that made me think more seriously about my childhood dream to adopt. A few years later when Andy and I started talking about another baby, I nervously broached the idea of adoption and was thrilled to find he loved the idea. We did a lot of research and spoke to many friends who adopted. It quickly became very clear that open adoption was the best choice for our family, as the research so strongly indicates that openness is best for a child and that is our first priority.
3. What were some of the pros and cons?
A friend of mine who has three foster children said it best, “Adoption is a way to grow your family while meeting another person’s needs at the same time.” That’s what has always appealed to me about adoption, and especially open adoption. I think the major downside is knowing that our joy at gaining another baby to love comes at the expense of someone who is in a position where they have to place their biological child with another family.
We hope that being open to a completely open adoption arrangement eases some of that pain and grief. We don’t think the other “cons” are significant. Naturally, the process isn’t easy, and the wait has been hard, and we’ve had a few ups and downs that have been difficult emotionally, but as the old adage goes, nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
4. Do you remember what the tipping point was?
The decision to adopt wasn’t something we had to think very hard about. After our first conversation, we immediately began researching our adoption options. Because open adoption is really only possible with U.S. domestic adoption, that was also an easy decision for us. Finding an agency was a little more difficult, but we chose the Independent Adoption Center because of the stellar support they provide to pregnant women and their totally non-discriminatory policies.
Several agencies we looked into had separate “lists” for minority babies, or wouldn’t work with homosexual couples, or would only work with couples subscribing to very specific religious ideals. It was very important to us to find an agency that treats all adoptive parents and birth parents equally regardless of race or religion.
5. You mention in your profile that Noelle is really excited about having a sibling to love — how have you explained that you’re hoping to adopt to her?
Noelle is a great kid. She is curious about everything and has been challenging us with difficult questions since she began to speak! After, “Mama, why is there war?,” questions about adoption don’t seem so bad! So, we already have a very open relationship where we can talk about everything. We try to explain things to her in terms that she can understand. I’ve found it has been easier to answer her questions than some adults’ questions!
Children are just more accepting – it really doesn’t matter to her where her brother or sister comes from, she is just ready for him or her to arrive! We also have friends close by who have a biological child and then adopted their younger son from Taiwan, so she’s seen the blended family dynamic at work and to her their family is the same as any other two child family we play with.
6. How do people react when you tell them you’re hoping to adopt?
Overwhelmingly people are very excited for us and very positive and supportive, especially our close friends and family. Some people who aren’t familiar with open adoption ask a lot of questions about birth parent contact after the adoption and are surprised we are hoping for regular contact and visits with our child’s birth family. I don’t mind though; I like having the opportunity to open their eyes to the benefits of open adoption.
Occasionally people make remarks like, “That’s such a wonderful thing you are doing,” and I have to correct them, “No, this is a wonderful thing that we hope someone will do for us!” There are definitely some misconceptions about adoption, birth parents, openness in adoption. It is our great hope that one day our family can be a positive example of what adoption makes possible.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges in building a blended family through open adoption?
I can only speak to what I anticipate, since we are learning as we go through the process, but I think helping both of our children understand our family dynamic in a way that makes them both feel special and included will be something we will have to be very conscientious about.
Working with teenagers, I see how subtle things that people say or do, even if they are well intentioned, can impact how young people feel about themselves and what choices they make. Things that adults think are no big deal can be internalized differently by a child. Thankfully, we have several friends who have blended families – either through adoption or re-marriage – and they have already been a great resource for us.
8. Your parent profile letter does a good job of zeroing in on those characteristics that set you apart — for instance, the fact that Andy speaks Spanish and Chinese and about your background in teaching. What kind of impression were you hoping to create in your letter?
Creating our profile letter was a lot of fun, but also more difficult than we expected! Trying to capture the “essence” of our family in a couple of paragraphs and snapshots was not easy. So we tried to focus on the characteristics of our family that really make us “The Supers.”
We are caring, and open-minded, we love animals and value education, we are also a little bit goofy and most importantly, family is absolutely our number one priority. We love each other like crazy and we are blessed with the most supportive friends, family and neighbors anyone could ask for. Also, we are excited to adopt a child of any race or ethnicity, and we tried to make it obvious that we don’t take that decision lightly.
We are committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure any child in our family grows up comfortable in their own skin. Some people don’t like to talk about race – they want to think love alone can overcome any obstacle, but we know it takes a more concerted effort. Our extended family is multiracial and we’ve learned a lot from them, and I’m an advocate for positive race relations at the high school where I teach. We value other cultures and want Noelle and our future children to grow up seeing the beauty of the diversity in our world.
9. I know you’ve had some responses to your profile, but not the kind you were hoping for. Tell me about some of the people who have contacted you…
This is the part of the adoption journey I was not prepared for. We have been contacted by four birth mothers who were what the industry terms “emotional scams.” We were trained by our agency to know the red flags of scams, and I naively thought any scammer would be immediately obvious to me, that I wouldn’t fall for it. None of these scammers asked for money and they were all kind and well-spoken and seemed genuinely interested in an open adoption relationship.
We talked to one birth mother for five months before our agency discovered she was faking her pregnancy. We had received ultrasound pictures, belly shots, we had Skyped, she sent Noelle a birthday card – we thought she was going to be part of our family. Amazingly, when we found out, we came to peace with it very quickly. We strongly believe God has a plan and the right child is out there for us. This was just something we had to experience, something that is an important part of our adoption journey for a reason we may never fully understand. Unfortunately, a few weeks after that relationship ended, two more emotional scammers contacted us.
It only took a few days to realize they were not who they claimed to be, but that was somehow harder for me than the situation with the first birthmother, I think because it came so quickly after I had recovered, and I just couldn’t help but wonder why all these people were attracted to our family — why I kept getting my hopes up just to find out someone was just preying on our emotions again. It makes you question your own judgment — I felt violated and stupid for believing their stories and opening our hearts so quickly. However, even after those experiences, we don’t want to change who we are. I’d rather open my heart and believe the best of people and get hurt a few times than be a cynic and suspect every new person of bad intentions.
10. Are you surprised by the number of scammers and types of scams that are out there?
Yes. Given our experience, I am surprised most about the emotional scams. Financial scams are just as reprehensible, but not shocking to me. And with financial scams there is some possible legal restitution! In emotional scams you just have to pick yourself up and move on. Money makes all types of people do things they shouldn’t do, but the motivation behind emotional scams is harder for me to comprehend.
Mental illness obviously may play a factor, but some other people may just be bored or in desperate need of some positive attention, which is ultimately very sad. I like to think emotional scammers are not truly malicious, even if the consequences can be devastating to hopeful adoptive parents. I think these women have some sort of emotional need that isn’t being met, and this is a solution for them. It doesn’t excuse it, but it helps to imagine the situation from their perspective.
This type of behavior is so foreign to us, if it hadn’t happened to us, I don’t know if I would believe it. As our friends have said, it’s like a movie! The lengths that this one birthmother in particular went to weaving this elaborate lie for five months is pretty wild. She would e-mail me about the results of her glucose test and her anxiety over whether the baby would flip or if she would need a c-section — and there was no baby! It has definitely been an eye-opening window into humanity.
11. Between that and the wait, has it been hard to stay positive?
Honestly, no, not really. We have definitely felt our share of disappointment, and some nights I do lay awake wondering if it will ever happen for us. Andy has been better about compartmentalizing the process mentally and not letting it get to him. We both have very strong faith, and we really believe that if God wants us to have another baby, we will all find our way to each other. We are also very blessed to have Noelle, and she doesn’t let us sit around and mope!
12. What keeps you going?
If I close my eyes and think about it really hard, I can picture the day we rush to the hospital to take home our new child. I can smell the new baby smell. I can picture Noelle holding her new sibling and helping to give him or her a bath. I can imagine all of us at the park with Noelle pushing her baby brother or sister in the baby swing. It is all very real, and the happiness I feel when I imagine our family with another child gives me peace to wait.
Also, we have found that so many of our emotions are universal – -everyone we know personally who has adopted, the books and blogs we read about other families who have adopted — they all describe the same feelings of longing, frustration and excitement. Knowing that so many people have made it through the process and been rewarded with a child to love helps keep us going. A friend once said to us, “There is a baby out there cheering you on and telling you not to give up.” So I think about that too, and in my head I tell our baby, “I know you aren’t born yet, but you are out there, and I already love you, and I won’t let you down.”
13. Overall, has the process been easier or harder than you thought?
I think overall it has been largely what we expected, but some things I expected to be hard weren’t so bad, while other things I never considered have turned out to be extremely difficult. Like I was so intimidated by the paperwork and the home study, and that all was fairly easy. But I wasn’t expecting the scams, I thought they were rare and it would be obvious to us if someone wasn’t legitimate. I never expected to come to care so much about a woman who was lying to us about everything, or to love a baby that didn’t even exist. I don’t know if you can prepare for those things, even when you know they are possible.
14. What are you looking forward to most once you adopt?
Oh my, this is the hardest question of them all! Most? I think we are most looking forward to beginning a new chapter of our lives — a chapter where we are a family of four tackling life together instead of a family of three, loving our time together but feeling the absence of a child we know belongs with us. We look forward to feeling more complete. And on a less abstract level, I personally am so excited to hold that baby in my arms for the first time. What an amazing feeling that must be.
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