Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Emotion and Common Sense

My husband & I have been doing a lot of thinking this week about emotions and common sense... we have been considering what medical needs that a child might have, other than a heart defect, that we could both emotionally and practically deal with in our little corner of the world.

The prequel to this week of "deep thought" is the fact that it now seems likely that our adoption agency will be doing the matching for families who have requested a child through the Waiting Child Program (WCP), and not the CCAA. When we submitted our dossier, it was under the belief that the file would go to the CCAA and be matched by the CCAA division that administers the WCP. In light of this, we decided that we would be very specific about the nature of the medical needs that we would accept. This is because when the CCAA matches a family directly, it is essentially the same process as for the regular or non-special needs program- you receive your child's referral and get to travel 6-8 weeks later. Of course, there is the opportunity to refuse the referral, as there is with the nsn program, but, let's face it- no one wants to do that! And there is no real possibility of getting additional medical information, etc. before being required to return the documentation to China indicating that you accept this child. So, if a child has some unexpected medical complications, there is no real ability to discuss these fully with a specialist, or request additional tests be done, and so forth. That is why we specifically requested a little boy or girl with a correctable heart defect- the number of these heart conditions was fairly small, and we were confident that there would be few problems accessing the specialist medical care we'd need for these.

When being matched from a WC list, this situation is quite different. Since the agency does the match, you are able to take your time before agreeing to accept a particular child, and, so, you are encouraged to seek medical and professional opinions. You can take a bit more time with this decision, and if a particular family decides to return a child's file for whatever reason, the agency can send it to another family until the right one is found.

Well, with all the changes happening right now at the CCAA, it is looking like we will be matched from a WC list by our agency. And, if this is the case, then we are much more comfortable listing additional medical needs that we would accept. Why? Well, if we wait for our agency to receive the file of a child with a heart defect, it could take quite a long time to be matched. The lists don't come all that often and each one might have between 8-10 children to be matched. As well, now that we can actually take our time in deciding whether to accept the proposal of a child, we're much more comfortable about considering other medical conditions. Now the question became "Which ones?".

Cleft lip and cleft palate (cl/cp) issues were at the top of the list for consideration. Cleft defects are very common among children in the WCP, as cl/cp is, worldwide, a very common birth defect (~1/700 live births). Some research suggests that Asians are affected at a slightly higher rate. Given social and cultural conditions in China, cleft issues are not easy for birth families to deal with. Surgery is very expensive and out of reach for most average citizens of China, and there is a social stigma attached to facial differences. Of course, that is not unique to China. But, I have read that the center of the face carries particular significance and symbolism in Chinese culture, equated perhaps to the Western concept of someone's "heart".

The fact is that most people react emotionally to facial differences. As humans, we've evolved to rely a lot on facial cues from others. Infants recognize facial uniqueness early on, and may be predisposed to prefer pictures of faces over pictures of "non-faces"- faces that have had their features completely reorganized. So, our collective feelings about faces run deep. It is not surprising then, that so do our collective prejudices. Whether we like to admit it or not, our society often takes us at "face value", makes quick judgements about us based on our facial features. A noticeable facial difference of any sort often draws a second look from people- not always out of maliciousness or an insensitive curiosity, but as a natural reflex, I believe, based on the way that we humans just are. Of course, it is how people respond after that reflexive second look that tells us something about their maturity and/or character.

So, we have been coming to terms with our personal feelings about facial differences and have been imagining how effective we would be in parenting a child with a cleft issue. But why imagine what you might have to deal with (don't we always imagine the worst-case scenario), when you can ask parents with cleft-affected children? SO, that is what I have spent the better part of last week doing- contacting some local and not-so-local parents, many who have adopted children with clefts, and asking them about their experiences. I've also been very lucky to be able to speak with a mom-in-waiting, in the process of adopting her child from China, who is cleft-affected herself (and I never would have guessed it if she hadn't told me!).

The generosity of these parents in terms of their willingness to share their personal stories has been amazing! And the news is pretty good. I have had some frank comments about the stress that having your child go through surgery creates, but that is par for the course with any child. No one really tried to downplay the need for on-going medical care- ear infections and the need for "tubes" in the ears are common (btdt, survived, and got the t-shirt with birth child #2!), speech therapy for a few years is often needed, and it is likely that a child with a cleft will need at least 2-3 surgeries before adulthood. Manageable? I think so, in the grand scheme of things. Especially with the medical support of a full cleft palate and craniofacial team (whose surgeon has volunteered with Operation Smile http://www.operationsmile.org/in Peru and China) just 20 minutes away. I don't know if we could ask for a better situation. (Meant to be?)

As for how people respond to cleft-affected children, that seems to be almost a moot point with the plastic surgery and orthodontic treatments available these days. I think some of these doctors are artists, and can sculpt a defect into a truly esthetic work of beauty. Not that cleft-affected kids are not beautiful before surgery. Once you are able to see past the "defect", you see the "wide smile" and the real child behind it. Want to see for yourself? Check out one of "Love Without Boundaries" Top 10 pictures of 2006 here:
Just beautiful.
So, if we're lucky enough to get referred a child who has cleft issues, I'm sure we'll all be fine. There is still a lot to learn, but I know there is a lot of support available out there. And that is both humbling and wonderful.
Many, many thanks to Wendy, Sharon, Susan, Nancy, Sabra, Pauweliena, Lisa and everyone else who has shared and offered advice. I'm sure we'll be in touch again!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Love Without Boundaries Newsletter

There's a new January newsletter from Love Without Boundaries, a charitable organization with education, nutrition, foster care, and medical programs for children in China. Worth a look.


I have some blog reorganization to do this weekend- if I told you I'd link your blog, don't worry, I'll be on it soon!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Half the Sky Video

I came across a short video on the work that Half the Sky does in China. I'm not sure if it is relatively new on their site or not, but I hadn't seen it before.

Watch it to find out how terrific and eloquently simple Half the Sky's philosophy and work is... or to just watch these beautiful children and dream about yours.

The video is here:http://www.halfthesky.org/children/video.php

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Waiting Families & Children

Some recent comments made on one of the Yahoo groups that I participate in has made me think a lot about how we decided to adopt from the Waiting Child Program (WCP). So, I thought I'd share. Plus, I need a written record of the process, since I know my memory will falter when I might be asked about this years from now.

For anyone who is reading and is unfamiliar with this program (probably no one!), the WCP is an adoption program run by the CCAA in parallel to their regular (or non-special needs program) to find families for children who have medical needs of some sort OR who are are considered harder to place since they are older than usual.

My personal journey to adopt a child from the WCP began not long after my husband & I decided we would adopt. We were placed on a wait list to do a pre-adoption course & homestudy- and told that we might end up waiting for over a year. The wait turned out to be almost exactly one year. But about 6 months into that wait, as I poured over the internet for every bit of information that I could find about China adoption, I came across a website on Waiting Children: http://www.waitingchild.org/

The fact that the WCP existed was not news to me- I had read about it when we first began investigating international adoption. At that time, I pretty much dismissed it as not for us. I really did not think that my husband would be comfortable with the idea of adopting a child with a *known* medical condition. And, to be honest, I was not sure that I could handle a "sick" child, given our busy lifestyle with two kids, two jobs, and several other personal pursuits. But I was curious. The fact that the children in the WCP were about 50% boys (versus about 5% in the regular program) also played on my mind. I was coming to terms with the fact that I really wanted to raise a son.

I joined a Yahoo group for families adopting through the WCP and pretty much lurked for several months. This group was run by a large US adoption agency (which, as Canadians, we could not use), and there were periodic postings of children's files on the group; medical reports and pictures of the children who had been assigned to the agency for placement. Most of my initial concerns about whether I could handle particular medical conditions began to fall by the wayside as I slowly began to understand that, as a parent, I would not be "handling" a medical condition. I would be loving a CHILD, who just happened to have a medical condition- most of which, btw, could be "handled" by good medical care.

So, at some point during this year-long wait, I turned a corner. I knew that there were certain medical conditions that could be dealt with at our local children's hospital. I realized that my birth children could have easily been born with a medical defect- and, if they had, we would not love them any less. In fact, with our first daughter, we had a good scare after a routine ultrasound- she was diagnosed with choroid plexus cysts in her brain- which *can* be associated with chromosomal disorders. For her, this was not the case, and the cysts resolved, but it made us face the possibility of raising a child with Down's Syndrome or another trisomy. We had decided that if she turned out to have such a disorder, then she would be born and we would deal with it.

I also learned from the mothers of waiting children that these kids are not "sick" by any stretch of the imagination! Most of their medical issues- such as cleft lip/palate, congenital heart defects, extra digits, hernias, and so forth- were relatively routine issues to deal with medically and/or surgically. Often, children had corrective surgery in China prior to being adopted. Sure, depending on the nature of their condition, some children required follow-up treatments or therapy (e.g., speech therapy, orthodontics, or yearly visits to a specialist)- but I could name a half-dozen children that I know who also use these kinds of services. However, the doubts still lingered.

We started our pre-adoption course in February 2006 and I decided that it was time to talk to my husband about the WCP. I told him everything that I had learned in the past 6 months- and I was a little surprised at how receptive he was. At this point, we did not make any decisions. If anything, we left the conversation agreeing that maybe we should not "go looking for trouble" by requesting a child with a medical condition. But the door was still open.

A few weeks later, we found ourselves discussing the issue again. We were beginning our homestudy and needed to come to a decision. I had just read that some children in the WCP are actually developmentally more "healthy" than some children in the regular program, since many of them often received more intensive care. Also, we had just been told by our agency that the wait in the regular adoption children might be 18 months or longer after our file reached China. We knew that getting a son in the regular program was not impossible, but was definitely not a sure thing. And we were assured that we would be completely free to request a child with a very specific medical need if we wished, or that we could list several needs.

We decided. We were in: 99.9% of the way!

The last 0.1% was settled when I spoke to Susan- a mom of two waiting children who had used our agency. I just felt that I had to actually talk to - not just e-mail- someone who had adopted a waiting child with a need that we would consider. After a nice chat, there was no more hesitation.

I'd like to say that "the rest is history". Some day, when we bring our boy home, it will be.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pick Me! Pick Me!

We are waiting to be referred a child from the WCP, along with about 25 other families who are with our agency. While we had hoped that the agency would receive files to match all families (since they were told that they would!), that did not happen and they received 8 files- 4 boys and 4 girls.
So, now they are in the process of going through the list of children and matching them with families who are waiting for them- pretty much in chronological order- which would involve considering the special medical needs that a family has indicated they would accept, the age of the child they hope for, and whether they have indicated they wish to have a son or a daughter. Tough job- and I know that our agency does it very well. We're all grateful.
So, since we're near the bottom of the list (probably #25!), there is next to no chance of being matched soon, unless the other 17 expected files come in from China (please, please, please!).
But, here's the rub: I don't know the exact numbers for our group, but most families want girls. That's just the case with international adoption in general- most families request daughters. Maybe we can explore that issue in another post. So, some of the families high on the list (maybe as many as 4) are going to be asked to consider whether they'd accept a son instead of a daughter.
And we *want* a son so much, up to 2 years of age (i.e, he can be 2 years+ but just not 3 yet), that it's taking everything I've got not to call up the agency and say "Ooh, ooh, pick me, pick me!!!". (Some of you near my vintage might remember "Welcome Back Kotter"- yep- that's me- Arnold Horseshack- hand waving wildly in the air!)
Not that doing this would make a difference. Our agency would be sympathetic, I'm sure, but they would still follow through with their procedures, which are fair to everyone.
While my secret fantasy is that those families who want a girl decide to wait for daughters and those families (like us) that stated they wanted boys get "the call", I know this won't likely happen. Instead, these families will probably come to realize that they've been offered a nice surprise and will recognize these sons as the gifts that they are. I wish them the best with their decisions.
But, maybe... ah, forget it! ;)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More Questions Than Answers...

What is happening with China's Waiting Child Program?

Are there procedural changes occuring that are going to: a) shorten, b) lengthen, or c) not affect a family's waiting time?

Can families expect to get their Travel Approval (TA) after submitting a Letter of Intent (LOI) in the same approximate time frame as before, or has this changed with the requirement for families to send additional paperwork?

Do all the rules that come into effect on May 1, 2007 apply to the WCP as well as the nsn program?

What about the rumoured on-line system for matching waiting children and their adoptive families- will it be used for all children in the program or not?

So many questions, lots of opinions, and, so far, so few concrete answers!

Of course, here's the biggie: When am I going to get my baby!?!?!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Week in Retrospect

It's been a rather interesting week in the "internet adoption community".

Like most other communities, adoptive parents are a diverse bunch, with sometimes radically different belief systems, educational and cultural backgrounds, and motivations. Obviously, we share our desire to create or expand our families through adoption- but sometimes, that fact seems to be the only thing that many of us have in common.

This became very apparent to me during the past week or so, and started with the internet discussions about a series of CNN programs that "investigated" international adoption from China. The first show displayed a panel of so-called experts- none of whom seemed to know a thing about Chinese adoption. This panel discussion degenerated into a lambasting of American white parents who adopt children from China instead of African American babies from the US. As you might expect, there was a pretty unanimous outrage from adoptive parents in general, and, as a response to a barrage of e-mails and phone calls, CNN aired a follow-up show, on which they heard from some real experts- a representative of Families with Children from China (who has 4 adopted daughters) and a member of the Chinese-American community. They explained that adoption is a very personal choice, and that the popularity of China as a country from which to adopt has more to do with the predictability and stability of the process in China than the race of China's children.

Indeed, the type of adoption that a family chooses- whether domestic, open or not, transracial, transcultural and/or international- is something, I believe, that gets thought about a lot by most adoptive families. There are many factors which influence the type of adoption that a family wishes to persue- and let's be blunt- the big ones are, in no particular order:

- cost
- emotional ability (or lack thereof) to deal with birth families
- length of time it will take to get your child home
- whether you meet the provincial, state, or country's criteria to adopt
- yes, cultural and/or racial preferences
- an assessment of the health, emotional, & developmental risks that your child will have been exposed to, either prenatally, or after birth

For some families, one or more of the above factors will be irrelevant. For other families, there may be one factor that outweighs all others. But I have always believed that all families are asked to consider their decision to adopt in light of such issues. Is this not part of the point of the dreaded "homestudy"- an intensive evaluation in which you divulge your most intimate family details and individual motivations to a licensed social worker who, then, writes a report on you, and recommends that you either be permitted to adopt a child or not?

Presumably, part of the decision to allow a family to adopt is based on the social worker's assessment of how prepared for or aware a family is about the issues surrounding adoption... issues like racial differences, health risks, the effects of early institutionalization, attachment problems...

Well, it seems that in some situations the homestudy and/or the adoption agency doesn't always fulfill this role adequately. A few days ago, I started reading about some discussions taking place on a Yahoo group that I don't subscribe to. Part of the discussion had to do with concern that China would "run out" of non-special needs (nsn) children and start "passing off" special needs (or Waiting Child Program, WCP) children as nsn. Apart from waving a red flag in front a lot of families, who like us, have requested to adopt from the WCP *as a first choice*, this comment made some posters raise the point that children from the nsn program are not always without health issues, and that families should be prepared for this. In response to such comments, someone posted (and I'm paraphrasing the paraphrasing)that this "thread" was decreasing her joy while waiting for her baby, since she didn't have the time or need to find out about the potential health issues that her baby might face! Well, sorry for the REALITY CHECK!!!

So, here's the question: how does someone with this kind of attitude get through a homestudy and be assessed by a social worker as being prepared to adopt? Either this lady put up a good front or her social worker just did not have a clue. I'm not sure where her agency fits in... I know that some agencies provide a lot of excellent information for adoptive parents, and some, not so much... but the onus has to be on the parents to go into adoption with "eyes wide open", for their own sake and the sake of their child.

Anything less, in my opinion, sounds something like neglect.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The news could be a lot worse...

We had hoped to receive news that our agency has received files for Waiting Children who could be matched to their 20+ families currently adopting through this program. They received 8 files. Great news, yes, for 8 families, but rather disappointing news for the rest of us. The agency has requested more files, but no one can predict when the CCAA will send them.

As for the "direct matches" or "child proposals" that are expected for the families who had selected information (but not a complete dossier) sent to the CCAA on their behalf, well, we are unsure how the CCAA is going to deal with us. We hope for more information in the coming weeks.

So, I went to bed pretty grumpy last night and started to mine my Yahoo groups and various blogs for information before getting ready for work this morning. That's when I clicked on "Chinese Starfish" and read Amanda's most recent post.

The post is about Bonnie, a mom whose family had decided a couple of months ago to adopt Susan, one of Amanda's foster children in China. Susan was quite ill, with a serious congenital heart condition, and, sadly, she died before Bonnie and her family could get to her. After what sounds like much soul-searching, Bonnie and her family decided to apply to adopt another little girl with a heart condition- a little girl from Anhui province who they planned to call Mandi Hope.

Well, Amanda posted a letter from Bonnie that contained some very sad news. Mandi Hope has died suddenly in her foster home... and they do not yet know the details.

I pray that Bonnie and her family find peace in the midst of this turmoil they've been living through. And I'm grateful to Amanda for being brave enough to reveal the risks and losses that adoptive families sometimes experience.

Today, I have a new perspective on our situation.

To read Chinese Starfish, look at the links on the right under "insightful blogs (waiting children)".

Friday, January 5, 2007

FIVE Referrals!!

So, I am blogging during my work day (something I promised myself never to do- well, maybe at lunchtime its OK), but I'm taking a tea break right now & I just had to post the good news!

FIVE (count 'em...1, 2, 3, 4, 5) of "our" NLFAM families have just received referrals for their absolutely gorgeous daughters from China!! Whoo-hoo!!! It's the JACKPOT!

And, what's even more special is that all of the babies are at the same oprhanage, and they are only around 8 months old!! They're bitty babies!!! And their Moms and Dads will get them before they turn 1 year old. How marvelous is that?

To see one of these Beauties, click on the blog called "Journey to Maggie" listed on the right. I'm not sure if the other families will be doing blogs, but if so, and with their permission, I'll list them!

What a grand day!


Meet "Tomard L'hommard"- sitting on a cannon in Signal Hill National Historic Park- the site where, in 1901, Gugliemo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal (or so he believed!). Yes, those were the days before all this blogging and instant mobile communication. Can you even imagine? I wonder what Marconi would think about the Blackberry!?!

"Tomard L'hommard" visited with us and the other kids in my daughters Grade 1 class a few years ago- he was sent from a French school in New Brunswick (Vive l'Acadie!)- our school sent them Marty the Endangered Pine Marten, I believe (or maybe it was a baby seal... no, that doesn't sound right...).

So, Tomard will be my alter ego for a while at least... and I thought I'd create this post just in case anyone was wondering.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


Looking for a good book?

Here's one: The Song of Kahunsha by Anosh Irani (2006, Anchor Canada). It's one of those books that gives most of its readers a radically different perspective on life in general. A 10-year-old orphan, Chamdi, discovers the real face of the city he's always imagined...Bombay.
(In this book, the orphans look like the lucky ones.)

Another one of my favorites is Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb (2005, Doubleday Canada). Another orphaned child comes of age in a culture that is not sure it accepts her. This book, set in Ethiopia and the UK, has it all- suspence, romance, drama, it wrestles with issues of culture, race, religion... it's a keeper!

I'd love to hear suggestions from other people...

Also, here's an interesting link: http://www.pbs.org/kqed/chinainside/ (thanks to Kim DW for posting it). It's a just-launched PBS website that promises to bring the inner life of China out in the open through interviews with government officials and citizens... but there's no hint yet of when the documentary itself will be aired on TV. I guess we'll stay tuned for that one (don't you just *so* love PBS?).

I'm looking forward to the next couple of days when nsn referrals should arrive for families with LIDs (log-in dates) through September 2005 (the big question is when in Sept the cut-off date is...). It must be a nerve-wracking time to know you are so close to finally seeing your child's face! Best of luck to everyone waiting!!

We might know something more about timing after January 8th (once our agency's director returns from China).... or not. Those of us who are "partial DTC" in December are hoping to know something more about when we'll get our "child proposals"... they might come with the next WC list that is expected this month... but maybe they won't... it's interesting being completely ignorant about this... the fact that what happens next is completely out of our control is actually a bit liberating... when it doesn't drive you nuts.

I better get to work. I'm sure I have voice mail from a few unhappy students to answer (when you teach Intro Psych to almost 1200, there has to be a few who don't do so well!).

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy Birthday, Nic!!

Check out the birthday girl's blog at: http://moonisalwaysfemale.blogspot.com