Holiday musings: Getting by with a little help from friends

Holidays can be an especially poignant time, depending upon where you are in your journey to parenthood. The season is geared towards babies, kids, and families. It seems everywhere you turn are boisterous reminders of the babies we long to arrive, ache to cuddle, or who remain a distant dream. If you are blessed with a baby on the way or your baby has arrived, this can be a season of great anticipation and joy.  If on the other hand, you are still waiting for baby, it can be a season of sadness and loneliness.

If you have made the “crossover” from “getting to baby” to “having your baby,” you can offer sensitive and timely support for friends and family still working through infertility options, waiting for an adoption referral, or struggling with the decision to remain childfree.

The best gift is to simply be there for your friend, to share their sorrow and struggle. Take them out for an evening or a day to do something fun, not centered on children and families.  If you live near a big city, check out Goldstar for discount theater and event tickets. Groupon or one of the other crowd-sourcing sites, in addition to restaurants, have lots of pampering options like massage and manicures. A Groupon Gift Card will let your giftee select something close to home or something she has always wanted to do but hasn’t had the time or money to make the leap.

If you’re looking for something tangible to say, “I know how you feel,” take a look at Cafe Press and Zazzle, where someone has created a gift or a store for just about every “conceivable” idea. Search donor, surrogate, infertility, gay dads, and TTC (trying to concieve). Jennifer and I still consider ourselves Infertility Warriors.  And hoping this time is the charm makes a great stocking stuff for the boxer wearer in your life.

Finally, Etsy is where you will find all things handmade and heartfelt.  Unique illustrated calendars, a chunky knit wrap, vintage ornaments, paper goods, jewelry, housewares, and so much more. For friends who are already on the path to parenthood through surrogacy or adoption, I like this tile or this one for a single parent.

The holidays can be bittersweet. A funny gift or exhilarating experience can help make this season a little sweeter if completion of your or your friends’ family is not quite “wrapped up.”

Showing our Support!

We’ve been waiting for weeks to be able to announce this, but now it’s time!  Getting to Baby is the official Book Sponsor of The Mid-Year Conference of The American Academies of Adoption Attorneys and Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys. We are so excited and honored to be a supportive vendor of this conference which is so close to our hearts.

The Mid-Year Conference of The American Academies of Adoption Attorneys and Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys
November 3-4, 2011
The Sir Francis Drake Hotel
450 Powell St. | San Francisco, California | 94102

The theme “Exploring the new frontier of assisted reproduction law” is near and dear to us, as many of you know. Our greatest two joys (our twins Christopher and Katherine) came into our family through surrogacy, so we’re eager to hear more about this new frontier!

The Conference will be held in San Francisco, early November, (3-4) which is perfect seasonal weather in the Bay area. The two-day event will cover topics such as rights, contracts, ethics, medical advancements, trends in assisted reproduction, international surrogacy and so much more. Read more on the event agenda.

There’s something so uplifting about being surrounded by like-minded individuals, who share the journey while having their unique experience. We encourage all ART professionals and adoption attorneys who are not Academy members to register for this exciting event. We think you’ll find the agenda was created to address the interests of both Academy Fellows seeking CLE credit as well as professionals in all fields of adoption and ART practice.

For more information on the conference, visit their website .

You can even find the American Academies of Adoption Attorney’s on Facebook.

We hope to see you there – we’ll be showing the video of our journey, on Friday the 4th before lunch, and each attendee to the conference will receive a complimentary copy of our book “Getting to Baby” chronicling our experiences that finally led us to not just one baby, but two!

And if you need more reasons why you should consider attending, here’s their top ten list:

TOP TEN REASONS TO REGISTER FOR THE THE ///A AND //ARTA MID-YEAR CONFERENCE NOW!
SAN FRANCISCO, CA  NOVEMBER 3-4, 2011

1. Summer’s over. It’s time to plan your fall getaway.

2. Finally, the kids are back in school. You can concentrate again. Concentrate on planning your escape to San Francisco!

3. Did you know the average high temperature in San Francisco in November is 64 degrees? Don’t forget your fleece.

4. The stylish and historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel, conveniently located just off Union Square, is a bargain at $175.00 a night.

5. You don’t want to miss the cutting edge conversation on the frontier of assisted reproduction. The agenda is full of thought-provoking issues and has something for everybody

6. Love Richard Serra’s work? Don’t miss his drawing exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, mere steps from the hotel.

7. The networking cocktail party will be the event of the fall season.

8. Cable cars. They stop right outside the front door of the Sir Francis Drake.

9. Restaurants, from famous to dives and diners. There’s something for everyone! More on eating at a later date.

10. Your ///A and AAARTA buddies. Fun together. Learning together. Life is good.

Let control go, and hang onto flexibility

For whatever their reason, there are some couples who only want a child whom is the product of their own DNA. Right or wrong, it’s their parental choice. However, when it’s not possible due to fertility issues, the options to creating a family are significantly reduced.

Adoption is one avenue to achieving parenthood of a child that is “yours”, but with a slightly different set of genes. There is no right or wrong answer; the response and the choice is whatever is best for the couple and the family they are about to create.

Zeroing in on a rigid set of adoption criteria can potentially set you up for a particularly long wait. To be blunt, if you are, for example, looking only for a blue-eyed, blond-haired Caucasian boy from Iowa whose mother used no alcohol or drugs during her pregnancy – you may never find that child. There simply are not many babies out there who match those criteria, and if they are, they are in high demand.

By being willing to consider flexibility of some criteria, you’ll find the options will increase. Think about adopting a child who may not share your features (or your partners). Maybe hair color is an area of flexible criteria that you’d be willing to forgo. Another area where being flexible will help you create your family faster is in terms of race or ethnicity. However, some potential parents are concerned that their relatives won’t accept an adopted child of a different race.

This was our concern. One set of grandparents felt our being a same-gender couple would be tough enough on our children without adding the component of different ethnicities. While we didn’t share their hesitation, we did respect it. It is important that your flexibility in choices not impede consideration of the relationship your children will have with you, but also the relationships they will have with other family members.

In some states, it’s legal for adoption agencies charge different rates based on the ethnicity of the child you are adopting. From a moral perspective, you might think that’s wrong; but from a business perspective, that’s called supply and demand. My friend who adopted the two African American children was not only able to get her kids much sooner because of their race, but she also did so far less expensively. As she puts it, she got two children for the price of one, and she was very happy about that. If you can be that flexible, you can have your family sooner rather than later and sometimes even more cost effectively.

The more flexible in your criteria, the greater your options for bringing your baby home and enjoying your family sooner. You’ll find even more tips in our book “Getting to Baby”.

Do it by the book

We know what it’s like to want a child so badly you’d do just about anything to have one. But when it comes to adoption or surrogacy, you absolutely must follow all the rules. The laws involving adoption and surrogacy vary by state — and with surrogacy, in some states, there simply aren’t any laws on the books. We cannot recommend more strongly that you work with a qualified attorney to ensure you are following the law at each step in the process.

Unfortunately, there are unethical people out there. A recent case currently receiving a lot of media coverage centers on Theresa Erickson, a nationally recognized surrogacy attorney, who pleaded guilty to being involved in a baby-selling ring.  According to news reports, Erickson and two accomplices recruited women to travel to the Ukraine to be implanted with embryos created from the sperm and egg of donors. Erickson and her partners would then tell prospective parents that a child had become available because another, fictitious couple had backed out of an adoption. They charged the adoptive parents, who had no idea they were being misled, more than $100,000, and paid the surrogates up to $45,000.

Erickson could receive up to 5 years in jail and be ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Fortunately, the innocent adoptive parents who were victims of this fraud will not have their parental rights terminated.

As an attorney, Theresa Erickson obviously knew that what she was doing was wrong. But sometimes, things aren’t quite so clear.

When we were going through the adoption process, we were contacted by a woman whose friend was pregnant. They would allow us to adopt the baby if we paid for the birth mother’s college tuition, along with some other financial arrangements. They did not want to use lawyers or an agency. When you have a situation presented to you in that way, you might think, “Well, if we save on lawyer’s fees and agency fees, it’s okay to put that money towards to her college instead. We’re helping her, and she’s helping us.” It’s easy to rationalize. If we weren’t lawyers ourselves, we may not have initially realized this is illegal — but it equates to buying a child. If we had agreed, it could have resulted not only in our losing that child later, but also in criminal charges.

Play it safe, and use a qualified adoption attorney or surrogacy attorney as you go through the process of getting to baby.

Different paths to adoption

Most couples who struggle to have a child undergo fertility treatments, which are often successful. In those cases where they fail, however, many hopeful parents turn to adoption.

With an open adoption through an agency, or with the help of an adoption facilitator or attorney, the first step is matching with a birth mother. An open adoption means you might have the chance to experience her pregnancy with her, going to doctor’s appointments, seeing the sonograms and being in the delivery room when the child is born. It also means the birth mother may be a part of the child’s life, even after the adoption.

However, there is always a risk with adoption that the birth mother will change her mind and decide to keep the baby. Regardless of any contracts or agreements you have in place, many state laws protect the biological mother, leaving the intended parents heartbroken and without a child. Although this worst-case scenario is possible, and does happen, most adoptions go through as planned.

Another path to adopting a child is to work with a foster agency. There are many, many children in the foster care system without parents who are able to care for them. These are kids of all ages, and all races, and each is in need of a loving home. Not all foster children are available for adoption, however. Some are in the system because their parents have temporarily lost custody. Once the situation leading to that loss of parental rights has been resolved, the parents often regain custody. However, most foster agencies are happy to work with intended parents seeking children who are available for adoption.

Many couples also adopt children from another country through an agency that offers international adoptions. The agency handles the paperwork and legal issues, which can be quite complicated, to give you the best odds at a successful adoption.

No matter how you go about adopting, both child and the adoptive parents are getting a precious gift: the chance at a better, more fulfilling life as part of a loving family.

Open Adoption

Closed adoptions are the kind most people have read about in books or seen in television and movies — adoptions, through an agency, in which the birth parents’ identity remains protected. Many adopted children have set out to find their birth parents once they reached adulthood, often gaining media attention if their attempts at reunion are successful.

Things don’t have to be that way. Open adoptions are about as far from that familiar scenario as you can get. In an open adoption, a birth mother seeks out a couple that she feels would be a good fit to raise her child. The adoptive couple gets approval through the state in which they live to bring the baby home. Open adoption has been gaining ground as an option for the past 20 years.

In the age of the internet, couples hoping to find children and birth mothers hoping to find adoptive parents have plenty of options for connecting. Agencies can help, delivering letters from prospective parents to potential birth mothers. The birth mothers often have a hard time choosing from tens or hundreds of hopeful couples, while prospective parents usually enter a stressful waiting game, wondering when the call will come from a birth mother ready to entrust them with her child.

Open adoption, while empowering and reassuring to the birth mother, has plenty of potential for complications. There’s always the risk that the birth mother will change her mind at the last minute, which happens more than you might think. That process can be extremely painful for hopeful parents, especially after a relationship with the birth mother has been established over the weeks or months leading up to birth. Not only do couples who find themselves in this situation have to deal with feelings of loss, they often begin second-guessing themselves, wondering if they could’ve said or done anything to lead to a different outcome. Sometimes, partners can begin blaming each other for the failure.

However, open adoptions do have their advantages. Unlike in closed, anonymous adoptions, you can have continued contact with your child’s biological parent or parents, and even biological grandparents, which gives you access to information that can become important, like family medical histories. Depending on how deeply involved with the birth mother you become before the baby is born, you can even attend doctor’s visits with her, see sonogram pictures and start laying the groundwork for a lifelong relationship.

You can read more about our experience with attempts at open adoption by reading “Getting to Baby.”

Support system

Have you ever tried to explain something you just feel in your gut? For many people, it is not an easy process. That said, when you find yourself yearning for something completely life-changing, like a child, taking the bull by the horns and facing your own thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes is an absolutely essential process.

Once you and your partner, if you have one, understand what’s behind your desire to have a child, you can explore other aspects of the concept of parenthood. After all, even though society sets some protocols for who does what, when and how, that might not work for you. Will one of you be a stay-at-home mom? A stay-at-home dad? Perhaps neither of you will stay home, and in that case, childcare should be considered. What can you afford? How will you react to pressure or judgment from others?

Gay, straight or single parent, one child or several, the logistics that must be considered are staggering, even if fertility isn’t an issue. And if getting pregnant is an issue, or is impossible for you and your partner, there’s a whole new universe of questions to be answered and feelings to be explored. What are your thoughts, feelings and attitude toward infertility treatments? In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)? Adoption? Surrogacy?

Although the thought is not one that many prospective parents want to wrap their heads around, you also need to consider your views on children with special needs. Some babies arrive with physical disabilities, while others suffer from developmental problems. Plenty of babies with special needs are already here and in need of adoption into good homes. In other cases, pregnancies are not successful. That’s the last thought any potential family wants to face, but it’s important to remember. Whether you’re planning a pregnancy, an adoption or to conceive through a surrogate, facing these possibilities is just as important as planning a budget and making lifestyle choices.

A good support system, from your partner or spouse to family and friends, can help you think through the details at the outset. People to bounce ideas off of are key, whether it’s a close friend or spouse or someone you rarely see. No matter who it is, having someone you trust and feel completely comfortable sharing with can provide perspective and comfort. This person can join in your joy, but also keep you in check, as you’re dealing with the dizzying prospect of caring for another person.

International Adoptions

You’ve seen Angelina Jolie and other celebrities with children they’ve adopted from other countries. Like domestic options, international adoptions are certainly viable, as long as you approach them carefully and do your homework. Find experienced legal counsel early on to help you navigate the complicated and nuanced processes involved in international adoptions, which vary from country to country.

As heartless as it may sound, many fraudulent agencies have sprung up in recent years, especially on the international adoption scene, that will take your money, give you the runaround and leave you without a child at the end of the process. Work with your attorney to run background checks on any potential agencies you’re considering to make sure they’re not known for fraud. Get references. Figure out how the adoption agency you’re considering works, and whether you’re comfortable with their practices, pricing structures, reputation and success rates. How do they track down children? How many offices do they have?

While adoption processes are more standardized stateside, you might run into strange restrictions and regulations in other countries. Some countries won’t adopt to you if you’re over a certain age, while other countries will only allow adoptions to heterosexual couples or individuals. Others won’t allow single men to adopt a child, which means even if one member of a male couple presents himself as single, he won’t be successful.

If restrictions don’t create snags, be aware that although some countries can match you quickly with adoptive children, the adoption process can be exceptionally lengthy. That means that even if you’re matched from the outset with a newborn, that child could be eight months to more than a year old before you’re actually able to bring him or her home.

Children in other countries awaiting adoption are often living in orphanages, where they might not receive the best care or nurturing. That can result in emotional or physical issues you’ll need to address once the child arrives. Be sure to examine these possibilities up front, so you know what to expect.

Consider cultural issues as well. If your child comes to you as an infant, do you teach that child about his or her own culture as well as yours? If you get the child later in life, you may want to seek professional help as you approach bonding, which could be more difficult, depending on the situation the child has been in prior to being placed with you.

In Touch With Your Feelings

Misgivings? Be honest about them.

I had some friends, a married couple, who were having fertility issues while Jennifer and I were trying to conceive. When they discovered they were unable to get pregnant, like many couples, they began considering their options. And like many couples, they started looking at adopting a child.

The woman was completely comfortable with adoption, and even started to like the sound of it. After all, her body wouldn’t have to go through everything a body endures during pregnancy. Her husband, however, had misgivings. And although those misgivings might offend some readers, they illustrate an important point.

He shared with his wife that he feared he wouldn’t be able to control his anger or frustration as easily without a genetic bond between himself and a child. Although he said it almost as a joke, he wasn’t kidding.

When you’re dealing with infertility, you might feel as though you’d bond with any child, regardless of genetic links. Whether you agree with the husband or not, though, he was right to share that concern with his wife. It’s important for both partners to be all in, no matter what path they’re pursuing.

Adoption Expenses

No matter how much you know about the adoption process, you probably know it isn’t free. Far from it, in fact, no matter what kind of adoption you choose. But who’s paying whom for what, at what points in the process?

In most cases, the lion’s share of the price you pay goes to an adoption agency. Agencies that focus on adoptive parents, some of which are non-profit, can charge anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the situation. Agencies that focus more on birth parents’ needs often charge higher fees, ranging from $25,000 to $50,000. The fees you’ll face depend on location and situation. If you use an adoption facilitator to match you with a prospective child, prepare to shell out $3,000 to $12,000. Whether you choose to use a facilitator or not, you’ll still have to pay agency fees.

Depending on the type of adoption you pursue, you might choose to pay some of the birth mother’s expenses, like housing, transportation, childcare for other children, food and medical expenses. While this is a noble gesture, laws actually govern what can and can’t be paid in this way. Work closely with your attorney to determine what, if anything, you’ll cover. Sometimes, these payments can be delivered through the adoption agency. In other cases, you can pay them directly, as long as the court approves.

Those expenses, along with what you’ll pay to cover your own travel and lodging leading up to the birth and immediately following it, can vary widely from adoption to adoption. The same goes for court costs and attorneys’ fees.

How do you cover these costs? That, too, depends on your situation. Some individuals or couples might have savings set aside that make cost less of a concern. For others, family and friends can pitch in and help out, or loans can be sought. Consult with a financial advisor to consider your options, from the front end through the adoption process and in the aftermath. Tax credits can provide financial relief, but you must navigate the deduction process carefully to make sure you’re staying within the bounds of the law. Other expenses, like medical costs, could be deductions if you itemize.

Be sure to set your budget and consider all costs as much as you’re able to from the outset. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, so you can’t know precisely what to expect, but careful planning goes a long way.