AIR DATE 6.7.16
You can read the transcript below or you can listen to it by clicking here.
Speaker 1: Blog Talk Radio.
Jennifer J.: Hi, and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer Jaworski, and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates’ Premier Talk Radio Blog Show. Thanks for listening in.
Adoption Associates and its staff are trusted leaders in adoption, and we have placed well over 5,000 children into loving homes. Since 1990, we have advocated, supported, and nurtured both birth families and adoptive families, and helping families and birth mothers grow through the adoption process is our goal. Our offices are located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, and Saginaw, and our pregnancy and adoption services are available throughout all of Michigan. One of Adoption Associates’ commitment is to this weekly radio show, so we’re really happen that you’re listening. We hope that you find this form to be inspirational, educational, and thought-provoking. If you’d like to call in during this show with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you, and the number is 347-850-1100. Again, we welcome calls at 347-850-1100.
Today, we’re super excited to be speaking with Sara Stahl. Sara, are you with us?
Sara Stahl: I am, Jennifer. Good morning.
Jennifer J.: Good morning. So very excited to hear you because we did attempt this. I’m kind of jokingly calling it part two. We never really got to it last week due to some technical difficulties beyond our control, so thank you for rescheduling for today because you’ve got great information.
Sara Stahl: Sure. Happy to be here.
Jennifer J.: If you wouldn’t mind starting and just tell us a little bit more about yourself and your connection to adoption.
Sara Stahl: Sure. For me, my passion and heart’s desire to help children find their family began when I was just a teenager. It was my summer job, and what a gift that was because as I learned, I grew. As I gained my education, I was able to work with both birth mothers and prospective adoptive families and have now been working in the field of adoption for over 20 years and have worked with countless adoptive families to prepare them with their home study process and walk this journey with them. I’ve also had the privilege of sitting beside birth moms as they consider just this most amazing yet challenging decision to make an adoption plan for her baby.
Jennifer J.: Awesome. Let’s just dive right in and maybe you could start by sharing with those that are listening in what the motivation is for couples that are looking into adoption. We hear a lot, particularly from women who are considering adoptive placements for their babies, why are these people choosing adoption?
Sara Stahl: Sure. I think that, really, there are two primarily focuses, but those who have medical diagnosis or medical uncertainty in their background … Oftentimes, this could be infertility. Couples who have not been able to become pregnant on their own often turn to adoption, but then there’s another set of people, usually, those who are ready to begin a family or add to their family and feel that this is a response to knowing that there are children that are without families and really have a desire and interest and a passion to become an adoptive family to provide home for a child that may not otherwise have that. When we boil it down, it really comes down to these are people who have a strong, loving desire to become parents or to add to their family.
Jennifer J.: Absolutely. That makes a lot more sense, I think, for that piece of it. What about the preparation process once a couple comes to the point that they’ve decided that they do want to grow their family through adoption. What are they facing at that point?
Sara Stahl: Sure, that is a great question because I think that just the anticipation or the myths surrounding what is this journey, what does it look like can often be so intimidating for couples to even begin on the journey, but it is a busy and intense process, but the reasons for that is our responsibility is to be sure that we are providing safe, loving, stable home environments for these children. When a birth mother is courageous enough to consider placing her baby with another mom and dad, we want to promise and ensure her as well that this family that we’re placing your baby with has been carefully screened, we’re confident that they have the tool set it takes to become parents and to be strong adoptive parents. Is it okay to talk a little bit about what that process looks like?
Jennifer J.: Please do. Yes.
Sara Stahl: At Adoption Associates, our goal is strong communication and building relationships. We feel like this journey for both our birth parents and our adoptive parents can be such a kind of unknown, and fear can come up kind of a trepidation in moving forward. One of the first things that we do with all of our clients is take the time just to provide a consultation, answer any questions that they might have, be able to walk through and say, “This is what the process looks like from our adoptive family,” and that happens through our initial consultation, and that happens with an agency director at each one of our local offices.
Jennifer J.: That-
Sara Stahl: So-
Jennifer J.: Can I ask you, Sara, about that consultation? This is something that couples do prior to formally beginning. Is that right?
Sara Stahl: Correct. In the exploration process when couples are beginning to think about is this an option we want to consider, it is a time just to explore the timeframe children that are available. What does it look like to connect with a birth mom? What is openness in adoption? We talk about the fees. It really is meant for the client to be an information-gathering process. We encourage families, as you become and walk this journey to become a family, it’s important to be equipped with as much knowledge as you can, and so while we take time to talk about the agency and what we offer, it really is a time more for clients to become more comfortable with the agency they choose.
We often encourage clients to explore other agencies because during this emotional and intense process, it is so important that prospective adoptive families have joined with an agency that they can trust. Again, I said the communication is such a key. We feel like it is important to be open and transparent right from the beginning, and so we do this by beginning with this consultation.
Jennifer J.: That makes a lot of sense. What happens after the consultation?
Sara Stahl: After the consultation and someone has decided that they’d like to move forward, then we invite the adoptive family to an orientation meeting. This gives them a step-by-step look at what does the domestic process look like from their perspective. We also add in there what does the relinquishment process, the process for our expectant birth parent, what does that look like to give them, again, the education and the preparation to kind of know what to expect. Although it’s impossible to know every twist and turn because each story is unique, we do our best to help families and birth parents go in to this process with eyes wide open, preparing them. That happens at the orientation meeting.
If families are feeling comfortable with moving forward, at that point, they would complete an application, and then they would be assigned to their own caseworker. At Adoption Associates, prospective adoptive family has a caseworker, and then each birth mother has her own caseworker. We feel like that is really important so that each party has their own support, their own advocate, their own person in their corner making sure that their needs and desires are advocated for. Then the beautiful thing that happen is that all four of us, the two social workers and the birth parents and the adoptive family, come together as a team and communicate together and work openly together.
The adoptive family’s caseworker will be the one that walks through the home study process, the profile preparation, and then supports the family all throughout their wait. Once the birth mother has chosen a particular family, then that birth mother’s caseworker kind of leads the charge there and leads the communication of that team, and then the adoptive family worker will come in toward the end and be the one that provides the post-placement supervision or the one that visits the home after the child has been placed.
Jennifer J.: Okay, okay. I see. What other things make up the process for families who are looking into adoption? They’ve made the decision, they’ve had a consultation, they’re moving forward. What else is involved?
Sara Stahl: Well, then we come to the home study, the assessment, and I think that this is something that families often fear. It feels intimidating, it feels like an interrogation is going to happen, but I will assure you that in the hundreds of home studies that I have written, it has always been my goal, and it is the goal of our workers at Adoption Associates to make this as real but as comfortable of a process as possible.
See, the State of Michigan requires that each family be approved, or be assessed and approved, to be sure that they can provide a safe and loving home for a baby. What the agency does is gathers with the family, usually in three or four, we call them conversations. They’re much like interviews, but meets together to talk about things like, what brought you to adoption, what is your motivation to become an adoptive family? We talk a bit about what are your desires in adoption, what child are you open to, what birth parent situation or scenario would you be willing to consider? We talk a bit about openness. Then we’ll cover things like your social history, marriage, your health history, your work history. We’ll talk about your thoughts on parenting and what kind of child-rearing philosophy that the adoptive family has.
All along, we are not looking for a perfect family because we often say, “If you try to show us you’re a perfection, that waves the red flag for the workers.” We know nobody is perfect, and in fact, birth moms aren’t looking for perfect adoptive parents either, but rather, we are looking for people that have dealt with the tough stuff in life, have the tools necessary, and to have been able to come back around to a safe, stable place.
Jennifer J.: Yeah, absolutely. What is the time frame for this process for a family?
Sara Stahl: Once someone signs up with the agency through the application, our goal is to complete the home assessment in about three months. That includes the interviews, also the education, and time to prepare their portfolio or their profile that will introduce themselves to a birth mom.
Jennifer J.: What is the role of education? You just mentioned that in all of this.
Sara Stahl: That is a great question and important that you ask that because probably about 60% of the home study process itself is the family receiving education. We don’t do this classroom-style per se, although we have a couple of group meetings, but we ask families to do the education in the comfort of their own home with their spouse, and it provides an understanding of what is adoptive parenting. We talk about things like grief and loss. We talk about attachment and bonding. If families are going to adopt transracially, then we provide education about how to be equipped themselves to be the best transracial family that they can be, so the education is a key component in equipping and helping families to be the best adoptive family that they can be.
We understand that parenting is parenting, but there are also different elements, different joys, but also challenges in adoptive parenting, and we feel like it is critically important that families go in to the process knowing and being as prepared as they can be for some of these issues or conversations that will be necessary as they parent a child through adoption.
Jennifer J.: Right, absolutely. After the education and after the interviews and the assessment, and all of this takes place, there’s still the profile I think you mentioned. Tell us a little bit about that.
Sara Stahl: The profile is a collection of letters or dialogue that the adoptive family wants to share with the birth mom, and included in there would be probably 25-30 photos that depict or show what life is like. At Adoption Associates, we present profiles or portfolios to expectant moms as a tool to get to know families, and birth mothers actually choose the family based on what they’re reading in these profiles. It is important that a family provide their story, talk a little bit about their journey and provide information there that would attract or that would hit the heart of a birth mom. That is what’s so amazing about this process is that sometimes what families think wouldn’t be that important is just the thing that strikes the chord with the birth mom.
The profile is put together. We have an electronic version of that that we put on to iPad, and those are presented to birth mom. When she is ready to get to that point in her process where she chooses a family for her baby, she has the opportunity to say, “This is what I’m looking for in a family.” Families have had that opportunity during their home study process to say, “This is what we are open to. This is what we are looking for,” and then matches are made and profiles are presented, and then birth mom takes the careful time to look through those profiles, to read the stories to find out what kind of life will this family be able to provide for her baby, look through the videos, look through the pictures and really gather a really intimate look at what this adoptive family has to offer.
Jennifer J.: That’s wonderful. The families go through this extensive process, and they have a profile, and the birth mothers are looking at profiles all of the time. What’s happening for families after they’ve done this three-month period of time and all of this work to get to where they’re at. What’s their situation at that point?
Sara Stahl: Well, then we begin, and this is often the most difficult part for families because they’ve done all kinds of busy work and meetings and gathering pictures and so on, and now the wait begins. Again, communication comes back into it. We believe that regular correspondence with the caseworker is necessary, important, and supportive. We also connect families with other waiting adoptive families, just someone who’s also in their shoes and can know the difficulty in the wait. Families different groups, support groups, but during this time, families are getting ready, and they’re excited, and they’re preparing, and they’re getting their home ready to welcome a baby.
Jennifer J.: Of course. Of course. As the families are prepared and the birth mothers are viewing profiles, what is it in your experience that you see with our families in terms of their views and opinions when it comes to openness because we are obviously having a lot more interest with birth mothers in open adoption, and I know that that’s something that Adoption Associates offers, but in your work, in terms of the views of our families, where are they coming from in regards to openness?
Sara Stahl: Adoptive families embrace birth parents, and that is what makes this process so beautiful that while there is unknown and while there may be fear, while there is cautiousness kind of on the front end of, “We don’t know this birth mom,” or birth mom doesn’t know this adoptive family, as they meet, as the relationship begins to form, what it really becomes about is what is best for this baby? How will this baby be able to grow up with a strong and healthy identity?
Almost all of our families really embrace the fact that birth parents are a part of this journey, and we want them to be forever. We want them to know the joys and the triumphs of the first year and the second year and kindergarten graduation. They are opening to meetings, sending pictures and letters. Many of our families have an open relationship throughout the child’s life, always with respect to what is best for the child. That’s really what it comes down to. Many of our families are there, and most of the others’ been through our education and conversation are able to see why that is in the best interest of baby.
Jennifer J.: That’s incredible information, I think, for the listeners that we may have right now, understanding, I think, there’s been such a myth about adoptive families and what their desires truly are, so it’s great to hear from you that they’re coming in to this as well with what’s best for the child in mind and being very open to openness.
Sara Stahl: Right.
Jennifer J.: We’ve come right forward in that with that in our societies, so that’s so wonderful.
Sara Stahl: Sure.
Jennifer J.: For those who are listening or maybe listening right now who’ve been thinking of adoption, how do they know if they’re an ideal candidate to pursue this? How do they know if this is really what’s right for them or their family?
Sara Stahl: I would encourage just open the conversation. Be courageous or bold enough to just make that telephone call or go to our website and download an information packet. The information will just be helpful and useful as you navigate next steps.
At this time, Adoption Associates is really excited to accept married couples for our domestic program who are open to any race. We also are, love when couples have openness in adoption, in other words, that they are open to developing a relationship with birth mom. Again, that is in the best interest of the baby. Ideal candidates would be open to unknown or limited birth parent history. Sometimes, we have stories where birth moms aren’t sure of the circumstances in the relationship at the time or don’t have a lot of information about who the baby’s father is, that kind of thing. We have rape situations that we want to be sensitive to, but we need families that are also open that. Then we need and are looking for families that are open to situations where there has been prenatal substance exposure or maybe mental health issues in the birth parent’s background, and those are kind of what we’re looking for right now.
Jennifer J.: Okay, absolutely. We’d love to hear from any of you that may be listening right now that are looking for more information. Feel free to call in now with questions for Sara or definitely contact Adoption Associates, and we’ll go over that information at the end of the show. As we’re approaching the wrap-up of this show today though, Sara, will you maybe enlighten us a bit about what you feel and believe adoptive parents most want birth parents to know about where they’re coming from and what’s going on with them?
Sara Stahl: Sure, sure. I think that when anybody enters in to a new territory or into something that they haven’t experienced before, I mentioned this before that there’s caution and that there’s a fear of the unknown, but because of my experience in working with both birth parents and adoptive parents, I have seen the transformation of this fear and kind of, “I’m not sure what I’m getting into, I’m not sure I want to meet the adoptive family,” or an adoptive family saying, “We’re not certain that we’re open to an ongoing relationship,” but what I have seen through that transformation is that the heart and the best interest of the child is always served.
The adoptive family comes to a place of such care and respect for birth mom that they have a desire to do also not what is just in the best interest of baby, but what is in the best interest of helping birth mom to follow through with this decision, but then care for her and help her move forward to heal from saying goodbye to parenting baby, but welcome and invite her in to see how baby is growing and developing and thriving.
Our adoptive parents are committed to telling their child about their relinquishment and adoptive story. They’re committed to being truthful and honest, and they see the sacrifice of love that the birth parents have made and want their children to know about that. That’s I think what I would tell birth parents, that adoptive parents have their best interest in mind is love, want to see them flourish as well as their own family to flourish. It just, it becomes a beautiful picture of a triad working together for what is best for this baby to grow up and be a confident, successful adult who looks back on his or her story with pride and feeling like, “I’m proud of my birth mom for making a good choice, and I’m proud of my adoptive parents for raising me up and then setting me free to be an adult.”
Jennifer J.: That’s so nice to hear, Sarah. It really, I’m kind of taking from listening to you talk about this that for both birth mothers and families considering adoption, this is more about embracing the journey of adoption rather than viewing it as a one-time event, right?
Sara Stahl: Oh, completely. Completely. We often talk about the adoption as something that has happened. It’s a verb. It’s something that is completed the act of relinquishment in adoption, but the beautiful impact of that continues throughout a lifetime for everybody involved, and if we embrace that, there’s so much beauty in that.
Jennifer J.: That is very touching to hear, and I so appreciate you being with us today. I hope that our listeners have gained a lot from today. I know that I have. Becoming an adoptive parent and what to expect, you’ve given us a lot of information to think about, and so I thank you for that.
For everyone listening in, please remember that we are live every Tuesday at 11:00 a.m., Eastern Standard Time. For those of you looking to connect with Adoption Associates, you may call us at 800-677-2367 or visit us on the web at adoptionassociates.net. Looking forward to next week as we hear from a birth mother who shares her story. It’s quite the story, actually, and she tells it beautifully. Actually, adoptive mother. I’m not sure if I said birth mother, but adoptive mother that will be with us next week, so I’m really looking forward to that. It’s very touching story.
Sara, thanks again so much for today.
Sara Stahl: Sure. I’m so happy that I could join you.
Jennifer J.: I am too, and thank you everyone for listening in for now. This is Jennifer on Adoption Focus. Have a great day. Bye-bye.