Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Creating Your Adoption Profile Book: Advice from an Adoptee


That's the number of adoption profile books I created.  But not created like sipped-some-tea-while-listening-to-jazz-and-handcrafting-a-profile-book.   No.  Like agonized over.  Every word.  Every photo.  (Being a writer has its downfalls...)  For hours and hours and hours, well until 2 A.M. sometimes.  (Read more about this agonizing process in my latest book.) 

Why are profile books so hard to create?  For one, many of us feel like we just aren't good at it.  Two, writing about ourselves is just weird.  It feels braggy and awkward.   Three, we know what's at stake.  We are putting ourselves "out there" to be evaluated as potential parents.  And that's intimidating! 

If you're struggling to create a profile book, if you've been putting it off because you feel you just cannot ever get it "right" (whatever that means), you are NOT alone.  Which is exactly why today, I'm sharing with you the words of Madeleine Melcher, owner of Our Journey to You, a profile creation and review business.   Now, Madeleine isn't just a business owner, but she's also a book author, mom of three, adoptee, and 2017 Congressional Coalition on Adoption Angel-in-Adoption awardee.

Rachel:  You are both an adoptee and a mom-by-adoption.  How do these two roles impact your profile-creation business?  

Madeleine:  I think that having grown my family through adoption and having been adopted myself allows me to truly understand what families who come to me are going through in terms of the stresses of the actual adoption process and the strong desire in their heart to welcome a child into their family. As an adoptee I think I can better see the whole picture of adoption and that people are not just adopting an infant, but a person who will grow up, have questions and need parents- not “adoptive” parents.  I have a lot of empathy for my own birthmother and I think that has carried over. I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of women who have placed their children and it is important to me that these women receive the honesty and true picture of a family through the adoption profile.

Rachel:  What is the #1 mistake you see hopeful parents make in their profile books?  Why is this mistake problematic? 

Madeleine:  Many of the profiles I see online sound the same.  The text could fit a thousand other families because it is so devoid of the uniqueness that makes the families who they are. There is no doubt in my mind that all of these families are thankful someone is reading their profile, that they are excited to grow their family through adoption, etc. but the expectant family needs and deserves more than that.  What makes the best profile books is text and photos that show and tell the reader about YOU- not the you that you think they want to see, the real you.  I think that families feel they need to be some imaginary version n of perfect with a huge, spotless home, and expensive vacations- they could not be further from the truth.  

Families need to be who they are and it is the specifics of what makes them who they are that will help the reader feel like they have met them for the first time.  Families need to look at their lives and the daily moments they hope to share with a child and convey that through words, captions and absolutely pictures.  If you hang out in your pajamas on Saturday mornings and make pancakes? Awesome!  Include it and definitely take a picture of your smiley face pancake!  Do you get involved in your community with volunteer work or attending cultural fairs or the farmers market?  Tell the reader about it! What are your strengths as a couple and how will that help in your parenting together? 

Don’t give generic answers, let the reader feel like they are getting to know you- is one of you handy and will fix broken bike chains or build a jungle gym?  Is one of you the math guru who will help with geometry homework when the day comes?  If you are single, answer the questions the reader will have before they have to ask.  For example, single women should include what male role models are in their family and specific ways they will be a part of the child’s life.  Families need to stop worrying about being themselves and realize that that authenticity or the lack there of can be felt immediately and does make a difference.  BE YOU is what I tell my families, there is no one else you can or should want to be!

Rachel:  You are for ethical adoptions.  How can a hopeful parent create an ethical profile book?  What does that even mean, exactly? 

Madeleine:  The purpose of adoption is to find loving and permanent homes for children who need them, period.  An ethical profile book begins with the most important part of a relationship, old or new- honesty.  

Hopeful parents must first be honest with themselves as they work through the many pages of “preferences” given to them by their agency.  Can they handle a child with more critical physical or mental health needs? Do they live close enough to the resources they would need for a child who may have those needs? Are they prepared for the question marks of a child who has been drug exposed?  Do they have an extended family wo would welcome a child of another ethnicity?  Are they willing to do what is needed to be sure their child feels represented in their family and life? 

Hopeful families must be honest with the expectant parents who read their profile by showing their authentic selves and not making promises they do not know if they can keep.  If families don’t know if they are open to sharing letters and pictures or if they are open to visits and regular communication with a birth family they should not ever say they would. Families should not feel pressured by anyone into promising a level of openness they are not comfortable with- expectant parents hoe for as many different levels of openness as hopeful families do and the truth is, whatever families think they may want now may change depending on the family they match with and vice versa.  

Knowing you have done all you can to have an ethical adoption is important!  It is important to the family, the birth family and will be one day to the child that was welcomed through it.

Rachel:  You offer profile book creation and profile book reviews.   How does a hopeful parent decide which option is best for them? 

Madeleine:  Sometimes people know right off the bat that they cannot get a profile done as quickly as they would like or that they don’t know where to start or really what to include so they reach out to me solely about creating their profile for them.  I have a workbook for families to use that can get them started as they draft their rough text which I will make suggestions about and sometimes ask them to include more about something that would be of interest to the reader, help them keep text manageable for the reader, add lists and meaningful captions that can draw from what would otherwise be more text and go over all text for adoption appropriate language.  I also speak with the family about what kinds of photos to include, help them choose photos, caption them and do all of the layout.  The layout is created with the family preferences and the guidelines of any agency they are working with and when we are finished if they need agency approval to move to printing I ensure any changes requested are done as quickly as possible and the pages are prepared for upload to printer or Shutterfly for hardback books.  It is really important to me that my families love their profile and that it is ethical and authentic.  People who come to me about reviewing a profile have already completed one on their own and want to be sure they did what they needed to and did not make any glaring missteps, before letting go of their final draft and going to print.  My reviews give comments on the elements of layout, photos, captions, text and adoption appropriate language.  Not only do I let the family know what I suggest they change, edit or add- but I give specific options of ways they can change, add or edit if they choose to.  I have had families that initially come to me for a review decide they just want to start from scratch and they become creation clients—either way, I love to help.  There is never any pressure from me for the client to choose one path or another, I want them to have what they feel will help them achieve the truest, most authentic profile they can- period and that varies from family to family.

Rachel:  What is one message you'd like to send to those considering adoption?  

Madeleine:  Please, when you welcome your child into your home and hearts- BE THE PARENT.  NOT the “adoptive parent”, not the 2nd parent—THE parent and all the good, bad and in-between that comes with it.  Being the parent means you will do anything and everything you can to meet your child’s needs – whether it is taking them to the doctor when they are sick, telling he or she they were adopted from DAY ONE, teaching them how to dribble a basketball or learn square roots, give the birds and the bees speech or wipe a runny nose—being THE PARENT means being there and helping your child with everything, adoption related or not.  The most important way to know what your child needs is to LISTEN—the more you listen the more your child will talk and when he or she is a teenager you will be glad that is already something you share.  And when it comes to adoption- there is no more important voice than YOUR CHILD’S.  Your child needs you to be the parent- I hope you will meet that need with a fierce and forever love and 2 listening ears.

Connect with Madeleine on her site, on Instagram, and Facebook both here and here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

MLK Day Isn't Enough If You've Adopted Transracially

It happens every year. 

"Positive" MLK quotes circulate social media in honor of Dr. King's birthday.  Now, don't get me wrong.  Dr. King was an incredible human being.  In fact, my son and I share Dr. King's birthday, making the holiday extra special for us. 

However, I wonder how many people who slap up a Dr. King quote this time of year, have a social justice hat on ALL year long?

If you're a parent by transracial adoption, let me be frank.  You can't cheer for Dr. King once a year and consider yourself woke.  Just like you can't read To Kill a Mockingbird and decide you understand everything there is to know about racism. 

Parenting a child of another race means committing to a lifetime of learning, changing, and growing.  It means humility.  It means forgiveness.  It means asking and listening.  It means observing.  And certainly, it means pursuing. 

Your circle of friends?  It should grow wider and wider in the right places.  It should become more diverse, more inviting, more inclusive. 

Your media.  You should listen to and read from sources where the people reporting racially match your child. 

Your home.  Your home should reflect your child's racial culture:  books, art, music, toys.  Your home should be your child's place of comfort and belonging. 

You do not have to have it all figured out.  As a human, you will stumble, make mistakes, and sometimes feel completely ridiculous.  However, as a parent to a child of color, you get right back up, say your apologies (perhaps it's just to your own child), and move forward.  You take your child by the hand and say, "I'm not perfect, but I am your mom.  And you and me?  We're doing this together.  And I have your back no matter what."

And with your actions and words, you affirm your children. Often before bed, I have my five-year-old son repeat after me:

"I am smart.  I am silly.  I am handsome.  I am a good brother.  I am brown.  And I am awesome."

Being a multiracial family, formed by transracial adoption, is a way of life.  It's an honor.  A joy.  A challenge.  A choosing. 

And I want to be able to always tell AND show my children:  I choose you. I choose ALL of you.  Your blackness is beautiful and magical and sacred.  You were fearfully and wonderfully made by an Almighty God to be the incredible human being that you are.  You are loved. 

This choosing doesn't begin and end on MLK weekend every January.  No.  This choosing is forever.

How do you and your family get woke and stay woke all year long? 

Just because we don't (and shouldn't limit) our woke-ness to MLK day, doesn't mean we don't celebrate MLK day!  

Here are our top five favorite books to read on MLK day (click on pic to learn more):

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

18 Things to Know If You're Adopting in 2018

Can you believe it's 2018?   The holiday season was a whirlwind of food, family fun, gifts, traveling, decorating, and if we're honest, pure exhaustion.   And if adoption was on your radar before the holidays, your urgency to adopt is probably more intense after spending so much time with family (perhaps answering the question, "When are you going to have kids?"---yikes!).   To help you prepare for the journey ahead, here are 18 things you MUST know about if you're adopting this year: 

1:  Adoptive breastfeeding.

Yes, it's possible.  Yes, it's controversial.  Yes, I am a fan.  Read more about it from expert Alyssa Schnell, and read my experience here and here.   Know there are plenty of ways to form a secure attachment with a child you adopt, with nursing being one of them. 

2:  Employer financial help.

Some employers offer financial assistance to those who choose to adopt.  (Yes, it's true!)  Maybe you or your partner's companies are among those?   Be sure to talk to your HR rep.    Usually the company offers this reimbursement for expenses (you must submit documentation) after the adoption has been finalized.   The Dave Thomas Foundation offers the 2017 "best" adoption-friendly companies list here.

3:  Adoption leave.

Some employers offer adoption leave!  My husband had four weeks of paid leave off with our first and fourth children---and it was an awesome blessing.  Companies recognize that adopting a baby matters too.  Again, check with your HR rep, and check out the list.  

4:  Open adoption.

We have four open adoptions, and I've written extensively about our experiences as well as shared some great resources with you.  Here I answer your burning questions.  I want you to know that it's OK to be scared:  but it's not OK to make decisions out of ignorance.  Get educated!  Weigh the pros and cons, and then move forward in confidence. 

5:  Representation matters.

If you adopt transracially, be prepared to fill your home with books, toys, games, art, music, and films that offer diversity.   Your child wants to see himself or herself represented!  For example, here are my favorite children's picture books featuring Black girls.   Follow me on IG where I post my newest finds. 

6:  Legal stuff.

If you're going to choose adopt, hire a "quad A" attorney to help you get through the process.  Legal stuff is nothing to mess around with or short-cut when it comes to having an ethical adoption. 

7:  Mentorship.

If you adopt, I highly recommend finding a mentor for your child.  It isn't as difficult as you might think.

8:  Saying goodbye to adoption.

Have you already adopted or tired of waiting to adopt, yet you're considering whether or not to "close the book" on adopting ?   BEEN THERE. 

9:  Profile books.

There are so many fantastic services that help you create your profile book.  Some even review the profile book you created yourself.    Consider this as an option as you budget for your adoption journey. 

10:  Faith.

Faith shouldn't be put on the back burner when you choose to adopt.  The two can walk hand-in-hand.  Check out the adoption journey devotional I co-authored with Madeleine Melcher:  adoptee and mom-by-adoption.

11:  Compliment accepted.

There are many things we parents-by-adoption hate (such as, "Are your kids real siblings?"--which tends to come about mostly in families like mine which are built by transracial adoption), but there's one thing I personally love to hear.   What about you? 

12:  Positivity is OK. 

If you spend any time on the Internet, focusing on any topic, you're bound to leave with some hurt feelings, annoyance, or anger.  Adoption is controversial and the community can be combative, leaving you discouraged.   Please, please, please read this fabulous book, written by an adoptee, directed to those who want to adopt or have adopted.  I promise you'll be uplifted and educated! 

13:  Create a home library for your child.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to instill a healthy sense of "you belong here" and "adoption matters" to your child, even from their earliest days.  Here are nine books I recommend you add to your child's book collection.   I also recommend these fabulous books which showcase the love between a parent and child. 

14:  Searching is normal. 

If your child wants to learn more about himself or herself one day, DNA tests have opened up many doors!  An adoptee who wants to know more about where he/she came from and his/her ethnicity should be supported by their parents. Three of my four children have done a DNA test through Ancestry, and here I offer you my honest review of how the process (and results) went

15:  Don't neglect the grandparents!

It's completely natural for grandparents/future grandparents to need adoption education.  Here I break down for you how to help them understand your choice to adopt

16:  Prepare the children you have now for a new sibling-by-adoption. 

Too often, your now-children are neglected when you're in the trenches of adoption paperwork and preparation.   But that's a big mistake!   Here are some easy ways to prepare your kiddos for a new sibling

17:  Consider special needs adoption.

There is always a need for those who are able and willing to adopt children with special needs.  You can register with the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network, for example.   And be sure to stock your home library with these fabulous books on belonging and difference---great for not only your child with special needs, but their siblings too! 

18:  Never stop learning.

Too many times I see new parents stop their adoption education just because they finally have a baby in their home.  Let me be clear:  the learning should NEVER stop.   That doesn't mean you live in an all-things-adoption world.  It does mean that you understand that adoption is complex, bittersweet, and evolving, and you want to be the best parent to your child by always being open to new ideas, research, and resources. 

Cheers to 2018 and your journey ahead!