As Adoption Awareness Month comes to an end, I’d like to share the adoption story of Shannon and Matt who undertook the adoption process in 2013. While their story is uniquely their own, it shares the common highs and lows of the adoption process.
Could you remain optimistic for over 730 days? For those embarking on an adoption journey, family, friends, and even strangers emerge as a fundamental support network. Shannon says, “So many families shared their adoption journey with us, so we’d like to share ours and offer others encouragement and hope.” Here is their journey:
Shannon and Matt were college sweethearts, married not long after graduation. They initially discussed becoming foster parents; as a teacher, Shannon saw great need and was open to fostering on the path to adoption. While looking into fostering and beginning the approval process, the couple found out they were pregnant.
In 2008, their daughter was born with two genetic anomalies, and a flurry of medical challenges ensued. Shannon stepped away from teaching to focus on becoming an advocate for their daughter. As she progressively improved, the couple began to think about adoption.
As residents of Delaware, the state requires that all adoptions go through an agency. Shannon began the monumental task of researching agencies, and discovered that a typical adoption costs $30,000 in the United States.
And not all agencies provide the same amount of support. The agency they ultimately worked with, Bethany Christian Services, provided a social worker for both families, counseling, workshops, retreats, and much, much more.
At first, adoption costs stunned Shannon and Matt, but then they did the math. They could move to a neighboring state that allowed private adoptions through attorneys, but the moving costs, higher living costs, and attorney fees would soon add up. Add commuting costs, and new home necessities, and they concluded that the amount zeroed out. So they buckled down and brainstormed how to raise $30,000 as a middle-class family on a single income.
Plato knew the truth of need: “Necessity is the mother of invention”. And so the couple began inventing fundraising opportunities. Shannon laughs and says, “We immediately cut the budget. We agreed to nix any new purchases: clothes, books, furniture. I became a crazy coupon lady and put everything we saved away. We applied for and got a gift matching grant for up to $2,500; so with the generosity of friends and family, we earned a total of $5,000 from the matching grant toward the adoption of our baby.”
Friends and family rose to the challenge. Their community, network of friends, and family all contributed. One friend ran a marathon and donated all pledges to their adoption fund. Others organized a raffle for freezer meals; friends prepared 50 meals and raffled off 5 sets of 10, raising $2,500. Friends and neighbors donated designer items, which Shannon sold on Ebay and Craigslist; others donated children’s items, which Shannon consigned along with her own at the WeeSale.
Shannon used her talents as a photographer, taking family portraits for donations. Fundraising became her full-time job as a stay-at-home mom.
“Some of our first adoption donations came from families who had adopted themselves,” Shannon shares. “It simply filled our hearts; here were families who had just paid $30,000 themselves, and now were turning around to help us. When we committed to this journey, I remember a friend from our support group saying ‘It’s like you’re at the top of a cliff and you have to repel down. It’s scary, but you can do it. You have to believe you can.’ So that’s what we did; we believed we could raise the money and did — over two years.”
Stateside adoptions are expensive — and don’t allow instalment plans. Nearly half the money is due up front, the other half when the child is placed. For placements that occur quickly, the payments are due immediately. Shannon and Matt’s adoption journey unfolded over two years. They watched as other members in their group were selected by first families, and they waited…and waited…and waited. They walked through the sorrow of often being a second choice, and continued to hope.
And then, it happened.
A first family selected Shannon and Matt’s profile.
Their daughter arrived by a stork drop, which refers to a baby born in the hospital whose first family agrees to terminate parental rights. She was born on a Friday, and went home with an Interim Care Worker while the agency prepared extensive paperwork. Shannon received a call on Monday, telling her to prepare to travel a state away on Wednesday.
Like a pregnancy, adoptive parents can be caught by a surprise arrival. This family of three dropped everything in anticipation. The agency told them to plan to stay two weeks in the state while the paperwork cleared. While most families stay at a hotel, luckily Matt’s father lived in the state where their daughter was born. Matt requested immediate vacation from his job, and Shannon rearranged her volunteer commitments and asked a neighbor to care for their dog.
While they had a room for the baby, the nursery wasn’t set up. Shannon put together a crib in record time.
Wednesday morning, the three were on the road, driving north. “We literally disappeared for a week—no one knew where we were,” Shannon laughs. “The agency forbids any posts on social media during the adoption process beyond a general ‘We’re trying to adopt,’ so we couldn’t post anything about the news. And then, we came home with our joy, and just started showing up with a baby. Everyone’s reaction was priceless; it was quite fun!”
“The day she was placed, I burst into tears. I remember thinking that I’d pay three times what we raised to hold our daughter in our arms. Our social worker smiled and said, “It’s just like having given birth, isn’t it?’ And she was right. I felt the love well up, and it’s been present every moment since.”
Shannon shares that adoption parallels pregnancy in so many ways.
Not only did she and Matt feel an instant connection, but the anticipation was heightened: “We spent two years on this journey, and I think I was more attached to her at placement because of the long wait. While the journey’s length was long, my body also didn’t go through the hormonal ups and downs; I also got much more sleep, so I think I enjoyed her arrival that much more!”
Any other ways adoption differs from giving birth? “Well, we had to wait ten months to legally change her name,” Shannon shares. “But at the 10 month mark, we began posting pictures of our family of four — it was worth it.”
Most adoptions today are open adoptions; experts in the field recommend this option for the mental health of both families involved. Agencies negotiate terms and the families abide by them. In this case, both families have an anonymous email, and Shannon and Matt send updates four times a year. While their first family hasn’t responded, they continue sending updates.
Approximately 40% of adoptions in the U.S. go through the foster care system; the other 60% include both private and agency placements. For many families, the journey’s end is joyful, but requires amazing perseverance and patience.
Nicole Kidman most beautifully sums up adoption: “Somehow destiny comes into play. These children end up with you, and you end up with them. It’s something quite magical.”
In honor of first families and adoptive families everywhere, happy National Adoption Awareness Month.