Choosing an Open Adoption Agency: The Gay-Friendly Test

It amazes me to look back at where Carla and I were, just last month.  I am overwhelmed, in a good way, by the vast amount of knowledge that we gain with every step of this journey.  Yesterday, we came one step further along our adoption path as we made an official decision of which agency we will be using.  I say that we made it official, mostly because we told my mother.  That feels official enough to me!

So let me take a few steps back.  Since I last wrote, I have been lucky enough to speak with two different people who have somewhat recently been through their own adoption journeys.  I feel so lucky because talking with these women has allowed me to see the beautiful and fulfilling side of adoption.  Before speaking to them, the only knowledge that I carried with me was what I had gained from the adoption books that I had been reading and the research we had been doing online.  Looking at this information can appear kind of cold and impersonal.  When reading a book, it is easy to get caught up in the sob stories, or the statistics that make the whole process seem frustrating and awful, or even the stories of adoptions gone wrong that led to sad and sorrowful outcomes.  But all of that changed as soon as I spoke with people who had actually been through the process.  We spoke with one woman who was one half of a straight couple who had just recently adopted their daughter and then a lesbian couple who adopted their son three years ago.  Each person that we spoke to spoke so positively about her experience and left us feeling like we were beginning something exciting and wonderful, instead of frightening and awful.

Why Open Adoption?
Through these conversations I evolved in my thinking and understanding of the adoption process. One of the greatest realizations that I came to was that I became fully committed and comforted by the idea of open adoption.  I was able to finally understand that open adoption is not done because it is good for the birthmother, but because it is the best option for the child.  For those who don’t know, an open adoption is where the birthmother chooses the family that will adopt her baby and then maintains some form of contact with the adoptive family and the child throughout the child’s life.  At first this concept seemed somewhat scary.  Carla and I both took a while to get used to this idea.  However, after talking to these women, we both came to understand that an open adoption would allow our child to grow up without feeling the need to search for answers about where he or she came from and what circumstances led to him or her being a part of our family.  Our child would not have to search for these answers because they will be there right in front of him or her.  To have a birthmother as a part of our family is in no way threatening, but instead it provides one more person to love our child and a link for our child to feel connected to his or her roots.

The other great realization that I came to is that Carla and I have to do what feels right for us.  We must take everything we read in “the books” with a grain of salt.  It must come second to what we know about ourselves and who we are and we must allow that to guide our decisions.  I was glad that I reached that point before we had our two meetings with the two agencies that we had been considering.

Investigating the Agencies
About two weeks ago, Carla and I were a part of a webinar run by the larger of the two adoption agencies that we had been considering.  This was my first webinar experience and it definitely took a few moments to get ourselves adjusted.  I was worried that this experience would feel cold and impersonal, but what we experienced was almost the complete opposite.  This particular agency is one of the largest and most well known agencies in the Chicagoland area.  They have about 90 families waiting to adopt and last year were able to place 70 babies with new families.  Everything that this agency talked about was extremely child centered.  They truly saw their mission as being to place the right child with the right family.  Every decision that was made by the agency was to benefit the child.  We loved this and found the recurring message extremely refreshing and inspiring.  The other piece of this agency that we loved was the feeling of community that they were able to create.  This agency found a multitude of ways to support the families both before the adoptions and after the adoptions.  Not only are there support groups available for families who are waiting to adopt, but there are also activities, gatherings, and support groups for families after they have completed their adoptions.  We both loved the idea of being able to give our child experiences with other children of adoptive families.  We know the feeling of being in a minority and we also know the rare and incredible feeling of being amongst a group of people who are just like us and we love the idea of being able to give this experience to our future child.  By the end of the webinar, Carla and I found ourselves excited and reenergized.  We eagerly looked forward to our next meeting with the smaller agency that we were considering.

(Not So) Great Expectations
And then, the next meeting came.  Carla and I were really looking forward to this meeting because it was face to face with the executive director of a smaller agency that really appealed to us based on what we saw on their website.  We liked the idea of being a part of a smaller agency where we would get more individualized attention.  We also liked that there were multiple pictures of same-sex couples up on their website.  And finally, we were extremely impressed by the statistics that they had on their website which showed significantly shorter wait times than the other agencies that we looked at.  They looked great…on paper.  When we walked into the meeting, we were greeted by a, somewhat, cold and distant woman.  Already this wasn’t what we expected.  She then began the meeting by telling us that the reason for the small and intimate feeling was because they capped the number of adoptive families that they worked with to 40 families.  Since they were already working with 40 families, we would have to be put on a waiting list before we could enter the pool of families where we would wait some more to be chosen by a birth mother.  Already, this seemed so different than the message we got from the last agency.  I just couldn’t understand how limiting the pool to 40 families could be in the best interest of the child.  However, I quickly learned that little of what this agency did seemed to really be about the best interest of the child.  This agency prided themselves on a short wait time for their adoptive families.  And while this is extremely tempting, it also made me wonder if this was really as important as ensuring that every child went to the best family for him or her.

Homophobic…or Just Rude?
In general, the meeting was an awkward one.  We were expected to simply ask questions and little information was offered up to us.  I did appreciate the honesty of this woman when she told us that, in her experience, same-sex couples tend to wait longer than other couples.  I would have been fine if she had stopped there.  But she went on.  She went on to say that she believes that the only time a birthmother would choose a same-sex couple is if she had someone extremely close to her who was gay or lesbian.  The comment felt awful.  It just felt bad.  Now one of the challenges that we have found as a gay couple is that when you meet people in situations like these, you can never be sure if they are treating you coldly because you are gay or if they are treating you coldly because they are just not nice people.  I like to think that this woman was just not a nice person and that it had nothing to do with the fact that there were two women sitting there in front of her instead of a man and a woman, but the truth is that we will never know for sure.

After thirty minutes, the meeting was over.  Carla and I got up to leave the office and I could barely hold in my disgust until we reached the door.  Once we were in the hallway, I took one look at Carla’s face and I knew that we were both thinking the same thing.  One of the things that I love most about our relationship is that we tend to both be on the same page at the same time about things.  And we were both definitely on the same page about this one.  We just left with this yucky feeling and we both knew this place wasn’t for us.  The shorter wait time was not worth a cold and isolated adoption experience.

Ready for the Next Step!
And so, by the time we reached our car, we knew that our decision had been made.  Thinking about all that we had learned over the past few weeks, we knew that we had to trust our guts on this one and go with the larger agency.  And so, our next step will be to fill out the application, send in our $500 registration fee, and meet with the counselor they will assign us.  And we just have a feeling that this face-to-face meeting will be a much better experience than the one we just had.  It feels great to know that we have chosen an agency and even better knowing that we chose this agency based on what felt right for us.

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