A New Year, A New Life


New Year’s Eve. A night for letting go of the past, hoping for the future and counting the many blessings in life. No year brought so many surprises for me as 2011.

I embraced my role as a foster mom and all that entailed – foster parent classes, ceritifications in water safety, CPR and first-aid, professional and personal referrals, baby-proofing, child-rearing education and re-assessing my professional life to make room for three weekly visits with caseworkers and biological parents along with the court records that each visit required to be filed.

It was an immense undertaking, but we were ready.

Then, we found out just as we were about to cross the last “t” that we were expecting.

One might think it would be an easy shift. A better outcome.

But there’s that lingering desire deep inside transformed by compelling stories that longs to be a foster parent.

In the midst of such confusing emotions, we dealt with new weirdness: unwelcome parenting advice, weight-gain assessments, career pressures and a family torn between wanting to be involved but not knowing the child’s sex.

My growing belly and the active girl inside nevers lets me forget for a moment that I must overcome and ignore all fearful obstacles. My life does not belong to me alone anymore.

There’s as much solace in that notion as anxiety.

I try to take each day as it comes and drown out the doubts as I prepare for my most incredible life achievement: child birth.

On Tuesday, we’ll meet our doula who will be our one constant child birth expert throughout the miraculous experience. The Navy system does not assign you the care provider you’ll deliver with –  you get whoever is on duty.

In life, you get so few opportunities to feel the complete understanding and meaning of life. When this year began, I resigned myself to never having a baby.

I thank God for giving me a chance.

For all the difficulties, confusion and heartbreak, I thank God. How else would I have ever so appreciated this experience as I do?

We only get so many days on Earth; never miss a moment to be present in the good as well as bad times. Each second is a precious lesson, a chance to know yourself and be better.

So long, 2011. Thanks for the curve balls. You kept me on my toes.

Congratulations! It’s a Type A… (SPOILER ALERT)


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After trying to conceive for four years and deciding to go the foster parent route, the response to our news of expecting (unexpectedly) has been touching, personal and highly emotional.

Even guy friends sent me emails and direct messages through Twitter telling me in their own way they shared in our joy.

Let’s face it: Babies are wonderful news. They’re miracles and what’s so beautiful about them is the hope they give us.

Since we waited to share our news publicly until week 14, or the start of our second trimester, it’s been a crush of responses in the last few weeks leading up for the half-way point, or week 20 starting today.

Many readers shared that my posts have inspired them, healed them and even brought them to tears. Fortunately, it’s also opened doors from those who reached out to share their own personal stories, some who say that they had never discussed their experiences before.

In some cases, they never became parents and worse, infertility struggles led to the destruction of relationships leaving aching holes in their hearts.

Other stories gave me a good giggle.

One friend, a man, confessed that he and his wife resorted to a “fertility charm’ of sorts and surprise, they conceived after years of heartbreak. He kept the charm until a second child was on the way.

The human connection to such a precious and deeply rooted desire knows no bounds.

The week of Thanksgiving, I entered my fifth month on the road to Houston. We stopped in a scenic area for a monthly “bump” profile picture. Even as I increasingly show, my mind still resists the reality. Perhaps it’s fear to feel too much excitement; a survival tactic.

Yet, every morning, I pull up my shirt and look at my protruding abdomen while I enjoy a rare moment flat on my back, which isn’t recommended nor comfortable. I watch Brian shave and as he’s about to walk out to start his early day, I point and request: “Kiss the baby.”

Much as I learned about society’s feelings and inability to respond well to infertility, they also respond strangely to pregnancy.

I’ve learned that I don’t look pregnant “enough,” and that they get a “boy feeling.” Even a client’s daughter outright proclaimed that I was having a boy.

Even I began to tell people I thought I felt I was having a boy. So, I decided to take a few of those silly online “old wives” gender quizzes and every single one said based on my responses, I was having a boy.

Years before we had started trying, I told Brian I would want to be surprised. But after years of wanting a baby, any baby, being pregnant is itself a huge surprise. But my sister and mom both insist they don’t want to know, which seems an exercise in futility.

I set my ultrasound appointment weeks ago at Naval Medical Center San Diego for today.

As I chugged my 32 ounces of water an hour before my appointment, I began to get nervous. I could learn something scary about the baby. Anything could be going on inside as the baby develops without me knowing.

Sitting in the waiting room, neither husband nor sister were there as I was called back by the ultrasound technician. As I walked in, husband sent a text asking where I was when he realized that my calendar invite was not wrong about the appointment location – he was. He even convinced my sister it was in a different building.

(Please, let this not be an indication of the hospital drive.)

As the technician began sliding the instrument around my stomach, I watched her face intently.

“I’m doing measurements for the doctor’s records and taking pictures of development,” she said.

“So, does it look good?” I asked.

She smiled, eyes still on the monitor, and gave a vague “u-huh.”

Husband and sister walked in to watch her wrap up her measurements when she turned the monitor toward me and switched on the wall screen for everyone to watch.

She pointed out all the important details of a healthy, well-developing baby. The baby never sat still for a second as the technician tried to show us the heart chambers, the spinal cord, feet and face.

“Strong heart at 146 beats a minute, blood flowing through the spinal cord, no club feet or cleft pallet concerns,” she concluded. “Looks real, real good.”

Once sister was safely out of the room, she rolled the wand over to the baby’s pelvis.

“So, here’s the hips and pelvic bones,” she said. “Want to guess?”

Brian leaned over my legs toward the monitor while we examined the shifting image.

“It’s a girl,” he said.

“Congratulations, it’s a girl,” she said.

She printed out some photos, like the one featured in this post. Finally, it’s real. Its not some fantasy. Come April, I’m going to be a mom.

As we walked out, my friend sent me a direct message begging me not to make her wait for this post.

Stories of all the baby activity gave her a sense that it might be a girl; her daughter also was a very active baby in utero.

Well, that’s just what the world needs, I laughed, one more Type A girl.

Expecting the Unexpected


Just a week after our Angels Foster Family Network classes concluded, Brian found out he finally made Chief Petty Officer after 14 years of service.

It’s an exciting and highly honorable distinction among enlisted sailors, but the time requirements during induction ate up his clock from 4 a.m. sometimes until midnight or later.

Reluctantly, I contacted our caseworker Emma to let her know our home visit would have to be rescheduled hoping there would be some way she could do the 2 to 4 hour visit without him. Of course, she couldn’t but said to contact her once we were ready. We still had just a few basic items to finish in our checklist, including the burdensome floor plan which requires square footage and diagrams of our entire house including outdoor landscaping.

Tedious. But I knew I wasn’t in control. I had to let go and follow the process; no use in fighting it.

During his many hours gone during the day, I busied myself with those foster paperwork chores, cleaned the house over and over, bought a combined carrier and stroller and a hiking backpack for a little one, searched online endlessly for baby furniture (why is it so expensive?) and found a few bedding sets I loved.

I was in full nesting mode.

Aside from all those baby tasks, I picked up a couple clients and got downright busy sun up to sundown and hardly stirred when he would collapse next to me in the wee hours of morning. Suddenly, I was tired every night and passing out before 9 p.m.

As he approached the end of his induction phase, I began to think of scheduling our home visit and finishing off those little red tape chores when one night, hubs made a startling declaration. The next day, he expected me to get an Aunt Flow visit.

Trouble was – I had no indications she would be in town. None. Zero. Zip.

A few days later, he was helping me unpack the groceries when he pulled out turkey lunch meat and a pint of mint chocolate chip gelato.

“What is this?” he asked, comically. “I don’t think I asked for this.”

“I wanted it,” I said. His eyes widened.

“Who are you?” he asked, laughing. “You want a sandwich and ice cream? You’re pregnant.”

But after a four-year struggle with infertility, one doesn’t jump to rash conclusions. In fact, you flat out ignore such things and move on.

In this case, I ignored it for five whole days.

Finally, on my way home from a Padres game with a client, I decided to stop at CVS and face what I’d faced many other tearful times before – a negative pregnancy test.

The clerk double-bagged the kit. I laughed, flashed my wedding ring and said: “It’s cool. I’m not worried.” He laughed and shrugged as if to say: “That’s not the norm in here.”

At 10 o’clock at night, I certainly didn’t expect the test to be positive even if I were preggers. Your hormone levels are quite low.

Shaking my head in disbelief that I was even going through with the exercise, I read the box, unsheathed the test strip and waited … about a second. My eyebrows crinkled. I grabbed the box, looked at the picture, then at the test strip and then back at the picture.

“Plus means positive,” I read out-loud quietly, slowly.

It was the first time I wept with joy holding a test strip.

I crept upstairs with the strip in my hand, touched hubs leg and switched on the light. His eyes barely cracked open. I couldn’t speak, I held the strip in front of his face.

He sat up, grabbed the strip, looked up at me and asked sleepily: “Did you just pee on this?”

“No,” I joked. “I’ve had it for years. Just been hiding it.”

He did the math. I was five weeks and all the signs hit us at once. In fact, I had lots of them beyond the dietary switch ups and fatigue, only how would we know?

The next day, I had a doctor’s appointment which happened to be pregnancy related. Hubs bolted home from work early, his first since induction started, and walked into the doctor’s office just as the results came back from the lab.

She greeted him at the door with a smile: “Congrats dad!”

That day, I called Angels and told the office manager Annika. She eased my strange feeling of survivor’s guilt when she burst into laughter: “So, you’re the couple.”

Apparently, there’s at least one couple a class who gets pregnant just before or right after a first placement. She prefers our situation because pregnancies can be stressful enough without dealing with the rigors of foster parenting. She put us on the respite list for now and told me to focus on having a healthy pregnancy.

At 10 weeks, I met hubs at Liberty Station to meet our certified nurse midwife for our first ultrasound. After all the questions and basic exam stuff, we got down to the moment we dreamed of.

Suddenly, it was there on the screen. It had a head, hands and feet, tiny fingers and toes, a fluttering heartbeat and then just like that, it kicked and jumped.

Pure magic.

“It’s a dancer,” I said.

Our midwife giggled and warned: “An indication of the months to come.”

I hope so. I’m enjoying every moment until I meet this miracle baby in April, who forever changed me in immeasurable ways because it wasn’t another obligatory check in the blocks of life. It forced me to really question how deeply I wanted to be a parent and to let go of controlling outcomes.

In our silent weeks since finding out, I’ve had to fib many times to many loving friends and family wanting to know when we’d start fostering.

A few nights ago, hubs and I celebrated our last day of the first trimester. He made a confession: “At first, I thought about Angels and felt bad. Then, I felt relief that we didn’t have to go through all that garbage right now.”

But we did go through “all that garbage.” It was just different than we expected and every new opportunity presented new challenges.

We didn’t choose our baby, like a luxury item we thought we deserved, it chose us when the time was right. It’s the pregnancy of none expected ever.

Perhaps, it’s the future older sibling of foster or adopted children. Maybe it will have other biological siblings, maybe not.

I’ve learned it’s best to leave the future alone. You’ll never figure it out, anyway.

Baby Steps…


After a few months of wrestling with the idea of open adoption, we reluctantly decided it could not be afforded right now. I sent an email to my friend, Mindy, who recommended the Adoption Center of San Diego and told her about our decision.

“I understand,” she wrote back. “But there are other ways. There’s Angels. I know its tough, but let me know how I can help.”

Fast forward six months, and here we are – eight weeks of classes completed and just a couple more steps to take before we foster a baby.

At first, we could not see ourselves providing care to a child we may not adopt. You love a baby, feed, cloth, change its diapers for possibly up to 18 months and then may relinquish your obligation. On one hand, that could feel good knowing the parents did right by their child. On the other hand, you will hurt and miss a baby you grew to love.

Oh, so many months ago, I wrote back to Mindy and told her I wanted to know more. We agreed to talk and before we met up, I called the Angels office to sign us up for the next orientation.

What could it hurt?

I remember back to the orientation where Angels’ founder Cathy Richman gave us an honest, full explanation of the program and answered our questions in about an hour.

Cathy worked in foster care for years and saw two things: babies residing in three living situations before their first birthday and a system that didn’t support the foster parents enough to succeed for the children. As a result, those children failed to attach to any one caregiver and learn empathy or trust. At worst,  the child develops reactive attachment disorder, which can lead to sociopath-like behavior.

Today, nearly 80 percent of those incarcerated were at one time in foster care.

“So what’s different about us?” she asked rhetorically. “Well, we do a lot of hand holding to make sure you and the babies you care for have the best experience possible. You will not go through this alone.”

Angels provides one caseworker to just a handful of families, provides the parental training and other arrangements to qualify as a licensed foster family, helps fascilitate the sometimes tense visitations with the birthparents, offers counseling and support for the families, and works through all the court-related matters.

What do they ask for in return?

You must submit to a mental health evaluation, background check, commit to only taking one foster child at a time possibly from birth to 18 months, and – the biggie – one parent must stay home during the length of the fostering.

In her 11th year, Cathy has placed more than 460 babies. When the county calls her with a referral, she goes down her list of waiting families and starts making calls. Sadly, there’s more babies than families.

During our classes from the wonderful Angels caseworkers, we learned about the power of human bonding and what breaks those bonds. It’s not always the physical abuse that leaves the most damage, but the neglect leading to failure to thrive. It’s hard to imagine leaving a child alone for hours at a time unattended, but it happens.

In basic, the system works like this: Angels receives a call, they place the child with a family, and then follow the orders of the court on reunification. If the judge determines the child was removed hastily, it will be reunified within a couple months. Otherwise, the judge sets a list of requirements that parents must abide by in order to regain custody and the case is reassessed every six months up to 18 months.

Roughly 50 percent of the Angels foster children are adopted.

Before she let us go at the orientation, she told us her last of many stories.

A 20-year-old drug addict gave birth, the baby tested positive for drugs in the hospital and was removed from her care. An Angels family fostered and eventually adopted the baby. Less than two years later, the same woman had another child that tested positive for drugs and the same family adopted that child to keep the siblings together.  

Eight years later, that Angels family had adopted all six of that woman’s children when Cathy received a call that the woman delivered her seventh child, which tested positive for drugs. The Angels family finally said no more – they had already moved twice into bigger homes.

“What we say around here is ‘be careful what you wish for,’ ” she said, half kidding. “Of the many struggles our biological parents have, fertility does not seem to be one of them.”

Our sweet caseworker, Emma, set our appointment to walk through our home in a couple weeks to make sure we have knives, chemicals, prescription drugs, and lighters under lock-and-key. We’ve nailed down a few options to install locks throughout the home. From all the mind-numbing paperwork to all the classes, plus a 4-hour CPR/ First Aide class, a 2-hour water-safety class, to the walk-through – we’re only just beginning.

Once we’re placed, we’ll see Emma, the County caseworker and the biological parents each at least once each week. We must document every clothing item purchased with a minimum expense required, register for WIC formula, take and file court notes from our bio-parent visits, take regular pictures and keep a memory book to go home with the child, run and log regular fire drills, maintain all our safety certifications and above all – make the child’s safety and care our top priority.

It’s a heck of a lot to keep track of and just thinking about what we’re in for sometimes gives me anxiety. But I try to take it one day at a time and reassure myself that it’s all going to be worth it.

Of all the emotions our Angels workers said foster parents experience, it’s anger and frustration. Anger at a system that puts so much pressure on us knowing the child came from an unsafe environment.

A friend recently told me he considered fostering, but he said all the paper work made him and his wife feel like criminals.

“What the heck does the County care what my home floor plan looks like?” he asked rhetorically. “These babies come from terrible conditions and somehow, what my lawn shrubbery looks like is a concern.”

It does feel silly, even downright aggravating. Especially when you find out that joblessness and homelessness are not reasons a child cannot be reunified with their parents. The standards are a bit askew. But you can’t fight city hall, I guess.

I visited my darling friend and new mommy, Tanya, this week to see her little man. She doesn’t have the space for a nursery at the moment. I instantly thought of all that would keep her from fostering, simply because of her home environment, and yet you couldn’t find a more doting mom.

It’s a damn shame; the world’s all topsy-turvy and a kid’s just lucky to survive.

But I’m going to jump these hurdles and keep jumping because somewhere out there, my little prince or princess needs me to keep going.

“No One Will Understand What You’re Going Through”


Angels Foster Family Network classes really take you on an emotional ride.

One session, we talked about our first experiences with grief and loss. Thankfully, I was the last one to talk and I breezed through the suicide of the brother’s friend quickly because everyone was drained.

In another session, we talked about actual foster baby cases that dealt with everything from physical and emotional abuse to basic care neglect and failure to thrive.

Thankfully, most of the faces in the room went blank when the words “spica cast” were used, which is a cast on an infant from ankle to under the nipple area due to a femur break. Breaking an infants femur, due to it’s relative flexibility, is pretty tough.

The reason for these emotionally-charged classes: we will indeed experience grief in knowing how these children came to be in the system, loss when they go back to their birth parents and perhaps the worst – anger. Anger at a system that sometimes fails these kids, who we will most assuredly love.

We are not fostering babies with the express intention of adoption and knowing how we’ll deal with that sadness becomes vital to how well we do as foster parents.

Our most recent session a couple nights ago brought us face-to-face with foster parents, their foster babies and a birth mom whose baby is currently in foster care.

The first couple had tried to get pregnant for seven years – seven! They finally decided to check out being foster mommies and the orientation sealed the deal. Their cases ran the gamet from having a baby for a couple weeks to more than a year before reunification. In one case, the reunification failed and they’re now adopting him and a second baby, whose reunification also failed.

The child they reunified with was born with severe heart defects, which they were unaware of at the time they first picked him up. A system loophole allowed him to reunify with his father, a known drug user, and the baby somehow ended up in the care of another family member. He was taken to Children’s Hospital when he became very ill. That’s when Angels called the foster parents to meet him at the hospital and found him “grey, almost blue.”

The other mom said, while holding her 10-month-old: “You have all these thoughts in your mind what these bio-parents are going to be like. It’s nothing like what you think; sometimes you end up feeling like you want to foster them too. They came from the same circumstances their own kids are coming from when we get them.”

The second couple foster just to help out families in trouble with no intention of adopting. They’re on their 9th placement with a baby girl, whose mom was there. Mom currently resides in a rehabilitation facility. Her first child lives in Mexico with his grandparents.

“Fostering fills a place in our family, our hearts,” said the foster mom. Referring to two of her present foster children: “This is my baby, this is my baby. They’re all my babies.”

The young mom, who shed a few tears, said: “The first foster family who cared for her was really mean to me. They would sit at visitations, arms crossed and look at me like I was a monster. I’m not a bad person. We all make mistakes; some of us just more than others. I’m so glad I have this new family for my baby until I’m ready.”

Overall, she’s making excellent progress in her program and could be reunified as early as the six-month trial. She’s hopeful, saying: “It’s all on me to do this and I want to succeed. I don’t have any family of my own. She’s all I’ve got.”

Our caseworkers cautioned us: she’s not a typical birth mom.

The last couple still has their one and only placement. At 10 months, the little boy has seen his mother very little since he was born positive for drugs. At the six month trial, the judge rendered what he considered a generous offer to continue offering county rehabilitation services. She’s spent less than a week in any one program.

The foster mom expressed as much sadness as confusion about the birth mom, who had her first child at 15. She comes from a family of nine siblings, and from what she can tell, all but one suffers from some form of drug or alcohol problem.

“She’s made an attempt at visitations maybe two or three times in 10 months,” the foster mom said. “During a second round of visits, she suddenly showed up with a brand new baby blanket saying it’s his favorite. He was six months old at the time.”

Their county caseworker recently changed the recommendation to terminate services for the birth mother, which is a step toward termination of parental rights. Despite what might seem like a possible path toward adoption could easily take a turn, depending on the judgement of the court.

I asked the couple how their friends and family react to their being foster parents and their situation.

“No one will understand what you’re going through,” she said. “They just assume he’s staying because they look at the case as black-and-white. We know that nothing means anything unless the courts decides it’s so. We have to keep telling ourselves he could go back tomorrow.”

I asked them all the same question: “Would you do this again?”

All gave a resounding “yes,” saying that the satisfaction you feel in helping a child in need outweighs any amount of grief you feel in the separation.

As we left, I realized this isn’t just be about us being foster parents. It will affect everyone in our lives and in ways we cannot know.

Unlike coming from the hospital after a nine-month pregnancy, we could be sitting at dinner with friends when we get an emergency call to fetch a child from a variety of situations in a multitude of conditions.

Prospects seem as exciting as scary and all the while, you hope you might do some good.

The first couple took in one 9-month-old girl for a few months who experienced severe neglect. She was so stiff from lack of physical interaction and activity that she couldn’t crawl. In just a couple months, she went from crawling to standing and eventually, tried to walk.

“You’re so overwhelmed sometimes and then you have one of those moments,” one foster mom said. “It’s hard to imagine life without these kids.”

It’s the closest to saving the world we may ever come close to.

Foster Babies Sometimes Lead to RAD Kids


Our fist Angels Foster Family Network class two Mondays ago left us with the word “RAD” ringing in our ears.

What’s RAD? Your first thought might be 1980s surfer lingo, but in this case, it’s a bit more serious than catching a sick wave.

RAD: Reactive Attachment Disorder. All our relationships throughout life stems back to these basic feelings in utero of feeling loved, wanted and cared for throughout our first three formative years, or just the opposite causing a break in the human bond.

Without those three qualities, some children develop RAD.

Researchers continue looking into root causes, but basically even the symbiotic in utero relationship can be strained if the mother is experiencing trauma of her own: abuse, domestic violence and other prenatal issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse. The stress hormones pump through their shared connection; and unborn babies can also hear.

More than 25 percent of Angels children separate from mom in the hospital due to being born positive for drugs. The numbers drop off significantly, but include basically physical neglect, abuse and emotional maltreatment in concert with other domestic violence or crime. Other reasons for separation include sexual abuse, parents with their own developmental delays and abandonment.

Nationwide, most children end up in foster care due to neglect, which is when the child’s basic needs of food, shelter and care are not being met. Statistically, foster agencies across the country report that bonding with children of sexual abuse tends to be the hardest and most frustrating for foster or adoptive parents.

I’ll spare you the descriptive words used by our fabulous case workers at Angels who explained how to spot sexual abuse. But let’s say, it’s tear worthy stuff.

Angels contracts its services to the County of San Diego system, as regulated by the State of California. But they operate under a different business model.

We agree, as an Angels family, to care for a little one – mostly infants – until the court-ordered reunification succeeds or the parental rights are terminated and the baby becomes available for adoption. In cases of reunification, that could take 16 months and for adoption, about two years.

The County allows for multiple children to be placed and there’s no commitment on the part of foster parents to provide care until the case resolves. Angels aims to provide just one home, rather than multiple temporary homes, to reduce the disturbances in living situations.

But it’s a heavy commitment – both of time and of heart.

Our class of about 15 couples seems dedicated, capable and split down the middle of those hoping to adopt and those wanting simply to provide a loving, nurturing home to these fragile children.

More than half of Angels babies do not reunify with their biological parents. What we’ll know about the biological parents will be limited to the reasons for separation. Should we make it to the adoption stage, we’ll get the “telling” of the parents – a case history of their lives and how they came to lose their kid. Often, these are sad stories showing a cycle of abuse they themselves experienced.

Though we love all the support we’ve received from family and friends, what we can tell you about our foster baby will also be limited. No identifying information can be made public about the child so long as it’s a foster child. Basically, you’ll have to visit us and take a turn (or two) holding that little darling.

And that’s a good thing. I’m learning more about the power of bonding than I ever would have before.

Bonding doesn’t just mean holding or touching, though those are powerful indicators. Bonding begins with the voice in utero and the eyes upon birth. It’s the two initial indicators a being has of connection with other humans.

Example: Ever talk to someone who looks around a room when you’re trying to engage in conversation upon first meeting? How does that make you feel? Often, I walk away thinking they were completely disinterested in me and generally lacked the confidence to look me in the eye.

Those signals tell of a deeper issue in human bonding, which begins at our basic foundations to experience confidence, love and trust. Without the ability to feel and develop those connections with other people, forming healthy human relationships becomes a tougher hurdle. In comes the feelings of isolation, abandonment and in rare, extreme cases, pathological behaviors leading to a complete lack of empathy for others.

Imagine never feeling sorry that you hurt someone because you never felt anyone cared if you were hurt? Sounds pretty lonely and can lead to those other dangerous, at-risk criminal behaviors.

After two and half of hours of these classes, I leave feeling down and drained. But it also motivates me to really dig deep for these little ones who might benefit from my contact in their lives.

Growing up in a family where my parents are still married and they raised four healthy, self-sufficient kids gives me a different perspective of “family” than these biological families.

One that tugged at my heart strings is about a toddler, though Angels doesn’t place many, who watched her foster mom make dinner in stone silence one night. As they sat down to dinner, the little girl finally asked cautiously: “Are you going to jail now?” The foster mom looked at her in confusion and asked why she might think that. The little girl pointed at her beer bottle.

At three, a child’s brain is nearly a 90 percent formed adult-sized brain. They’re little sponges soaking up every experience and in tough situations, trying to survive.

Early intervention in formative years becomes key and while some fear the “drug baby” scenario, we’re learning those kiddos have as good a chance at bouncing back as any other kid provided they’re in a supportive environment. Some of the tougher cases to rectify with corrective behavior tend to be the toddlers who experienced abuse and neglect over a couple years.

Tough, but not impossible.

As I go blind on paper work, I read through our lesson plans that discuss the sort of behavior issues we might face at the end of this eight-week journey. Even in my loving, two-parent family, was I prone to “aggressive behavior,” “yelling” and “tantrums?” You betcha.

No kid born is without challenges and as my friend Erin keeps reminding me, no path to parenthood is easy. At the end of the day, it’s about having a family and that sounds pretty rad (surfer meaning, of course).

Got a question about our experiences? Feel free to contact me at erica.b.holloway@gmail.com.

Doctor Four and the Great Fainter


We have wandered down the road of infertility for nearly three years.

The stages of our path mimicked those of grief and we have emerged from those dark early days with hope. I’ve learned to be more open when folks ask those once painful questions.

Plus, we see ourselves as future foster/ adoptive parents, with a particular organization in mind. We just need a schedule to coincide with the classes.

But sometimes, I still get a gentle shoulder pat or a look of pity. But it rarely bothers me anymore. I know mostly what others struggle with in knowing we’re childless has more to do with them than me.

When I quit my job at the County of San Diego a few months back, Brian added me to his Navy health care plan which allowed me to keep my dentist and optometrist (woohoo!), but lose my longtime family doctor, Dr. Roth (boo!).

The process of finding a new doctor gives me hives.

It’s one more person who knows all about my medical history; truly, the most intimate nonsexual relationship we have. I had the same family doctor until I was 23 when I moved to California 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had three.

But what I found behind doctor door number four has been a pleasant surprise so far.

“You’re 33, healthy and no babies,” Dr. Deckert began. “Let’s talk about that.”

I thought back to my early dark days struggling with depression at discussing this very topic.

“I wish my therapist had been this warm,” I thought.

She asked about all the testing I had been through, which had all come back suggesting on paper I was a Fertile Myrtle. One test, somehow, had escaped me and she wanted to eliminate that factor straight away.

I was game. My heart and mind was ready for whatever this final progesterone test revealed.

Over drinks with two of my close girlfriends, I told them I was going through another test. Their mouths dropped open.

“I thought this was all done,” one said.

Yep, me too.

The morning of my lab appointment, Brian sent me a text message: “Good luck, this morning, Pica.”

I’m notoriously bad at giving blood. The American Red Cross would not take me in a million years; I’m a faint risk. But I find if I tell the nurse I’m a baby upfront, breath slowly and pay no attention to what’s going on, I can get through it fine.

I sat in the chair while the nurse reviewed all the testing my doctor ordered for me. I felt fine and calm until I saw her pull five tubes.

“A lot of testing this morning, huh?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I have a gift from God; I’m the best at this.”

Turns out, God was off-duty during my visit.

First, I nearly fainted followed by an embarrassing bout of shock. She pinned me back in the chair until help arrived. By the time she and another nurse virtually dragged me to a table to elevate my legs, I had sweat through my clothes, my pupils looked like pin tips and all the blood drained from my face.

Eventually, all five tubes were filled while I lay limp and soggy on the table. I sat up very slowly to find three nurses peering in at me from the hall. Like a good little girl, my nurse rewarded me with a chocolate chip cookie and a can of Pepsi.

The next day, I was driving to meet Brian for dinner when my cell phone rang. I answered my silly earbuds headset and it was my cheerful doctor.

“So, I like to see a 10 or better for progesterone levels,” she said, getting right down to business. I took a deep breath. “You’re at 18.5. You have the fertility of a 20-year-old girl.”

I was silent.

“Erica?”

“I’m here,” I said, and smiled. “Thank you for calling.”

She was right. It was good to know. And amazingly, I felt not one ounce of regret at how it all played out over the years.

I called Brian, emailed my girlfriends and then talked to my mom, who had her youngest child at 42.

Later at dinner, a cloud came across Brian’s face. He had been through his share of testing too and this meant more was likely on his horizon.

“So, it’s definitely me,” he said, sounding resigned. My heart broke.

I could see his wheels turning the information over in his mind. Then, the eternal optimist smiled.

“Well, if it has to be one of us, I’m glad it’s me,” he said.

“Oh? And why is that?”

“Well, for one, I can handle needles.”

Not Quite Dickens: Part III


Part III in my series on adoption.

When I burst into the adoption orientation, my heart was pounding.

Mostly because I was late, late, late. Seems I’m late to everything these days, especially to the finish line of the mommy race.

Suddenly, I realized that unlike the four other couples seated around the conference table, I was wearing a business suit. The facilitator Sarah greeted me with a smile.

“Barry called the other day,” she said, almost before I sat down beside Brian. “Thought I might have already met you, but I’m glad to meet you now.”

I quickly scanned the room and felt burning questioning eyes upon me.

“Yes, well, it seems we know a lot of the same people,” I said.

After learning about the process from the outside through the trusting eyes of my friends, Barry and Mindy, I sat in the room they once sat in looking across a long conference table at other people like us – childless. 

Sarah opened up the meeting by asking us to speak to one other person and share our story. It was a way for us to feel connected, maybe not feel so alone or odd in a world dominated by the happily fertile.

I turned to my right and met Jeff. He and his wife, a slight woman, went through Hell to get pregnant with their first daughter six years ago. Then, they faced the assisted reproduction process all over again. Finally, they were exhausted and decided it was time for another option.

He spoke softly and looked defenseless, raw. He and his wife wore their stress, their sadness, their longing like soaked heavy blankets from their thin frames.

We soon moved on to a topic he more enjoyed: his landscaping business.

The couple on the end seemed the youngest of the group. They were perky, cheerful and unlike the other couples, were eager to start the process without knowing a single thing more than what they knew when they arrived. 

“Can we start tomorrow?” he asked at one point.

A third couple diagonal from me were slightly older than Jeff and his wife. In their household, she was the one who resisted adoption.

“She’s a school teacher,” it was explained, as rivers of tears flowed from her eyes. “She sees kids all day and for her, it was important to have a baby of her own.”

The couple directly across from us met later in life at a sporting event. He seemed gregarious and she, a quiet wallflower. She looked at once hurt and relieved when Sarah explained that she has limits on the age of her couples, which we all qualified to meet. Whew!

Sarah detailed the various forms of adoption for both international and domestic.

Her nonprofit, Adoption Center of San Diego, offers independent adoption. She facilitates the adoption between birthparents and adoptive parents, suggests though doesn’t mandate any particular adoption attorney to handle the legal matters, offers counseling both to birthparents and adoptive parents, and makes the connection with the county for the home study visit after the baby is born and home with the adoptive parents.

In theory, any couple could arrange such an adoption with a willing birthparent, an attorney, and a home study appointment. However, Sarah’s 17 years of adoption matching does seem to suggest she knows what she’s doing. That, and I had seen the results of her successful matching for my friends.

She showed us a video of some of her matched birthparents and adoptive parents with the children. I had watched it online before the meeting, but the school teacher clearly had not. In a few minutes, the tissues on the table of hardly touched food was passed her way.

I recognized several of the interviewed adoptive families, and one new one that I somehow overlooked before. I learned forward, looked at Sarah and she mouthed: “I thought you would know them too.”

Most of the birthparents were actually single birthmoms. The ages ranged from 16 to 36. Sarah said her oldest birthmother was 44. In each instance, the reasons to place for adoption was different.

One 20-year-old single mom already had a baby and was unable to care for another. Another 36-year-old single birthmom always wanted to be a mom, but her partner left her alone without means to care for her baby.

One of the birthmoms sat beside her adoptive mom and explained why she felt good about her decision: “She told me that I gave her this great gift, but she was the gift. I don’t have to worry that my baby will grow up in a good home.”

The rounds of questions began post video.

The number of birthmothers who change their minds? In nearly two decades, less than 10.

How close are you with birthmoms after the birth? Really up to you and the birthmom, but communication before the adoption can deliniate your path.

Then, the school teacher’s husband asked: “How many of the birth dads have contested custody?”

Sarah looked around at the men: “None.”

Silence.

“You’re surprised?” she asked. “I’m not sure why they don’t, but I’ve thought about this over the years. I think if they had other options, I probably wouldn’t get a phone call.”

Then, Sarah explained her “funnel” theory.

You take all the potential qualities of a child: race, sex, mental/ emotional/ physical disabilities, fetal drug or alcohol exposure. From that, you determine the width of your funnel. The less restrictions, the wider your funnel and the more likely you’ll be matched sooner than those with a more narrow funnel.

I considered my funnel as we wrapped up the three-hour session. Could I care for a disabled child? What about a child exposed to alcohol or drugs? Would a child of a different race face social problems?

I realized that I wasn’t prepared to define my funnel.

A funnel. Not something I dreamed about when I wanted to be a mom.

I did dream of how I could deliver the news: a romantic card to my mate asking what they were doing on the due date. I even imagined the dinner scene and maybe I’d even tape the positive testing stick inside the card (cleaned, of course).

Then, just as we were about done, Sarah passed out her fee sheet.

And that’s when I almost passed out.

Based on our income, her new fees could be $20,000 to $25,000 depending on the additional cost I had not considered (care of the mother). That was roughly $5,000 to $10,000 more than we expected and even then, we would be tight.

The federal government allows for an adoption tax credit of nearly $14,000 and the Navy reimburses costs up to $2,000 for Brian. But much like my college years, the feds just don’t quite get me there.

Still in the fog of sticker shock, Brian and I discussed the matter over a beer. We were excited to be parents and we wanted a baby. But like the rest of America, we have to be financially smart during the economic downturn. Neither of us expected income increases anytime soon and our safety net funds would need to grow by leaps and bounds to swing it.

As the weeks wore on after orientation, our hope peaked and valleyed.

We continued to save as much as possible and reviewed the after-orientation meeting letter from Sarah. The next step would be to sit down with her for an in-depth meeting to discuss our path. 

What to do? Continue saving and hope for a windfall? Reconsider that path and attempt to navigate the County adoption process hoping its less than the average 2 year wait? Go back to fertility treatments and roll the dice while Brian’s Navy care could pick up those heavy costs?

Two weekends ago, I went to my third baby shower of the year (a fourth happened last weekend out-of-state). I tooled around the Babies ‘R Us seeking out registry items, something I’m becoming more proficient at than wedding registries, when I saw this young pregnant woman with her little girl in the shopping cart.

As they passed by, the little girl smiled and waved at me. I returned the gesture.

The next day, I sat besides my girlfriend Erin H. at our girlfriend’s baby shower while she breastfed her newborn, Lily. She, like our many other friends, asked about our adoption plans. I told her where we were and from the outside, it sounded like I had it all figured out.

Really, I still felt like Alice dashing through limbo asking the Cheshire Cat for directions with the clock-ticking White Rabbit ushering me to hurry, hurry, hurry.

Two days later, a fifth friend announced her pregnancy. I congratulated her and then, I checked my watch.

“I have to go. I’m late for a meeting.”

Not Quite Dickens: Part II


After the press conference promoting San Diego County Adoptions concluded, my boss asked to see a picture of the adoptive mom’s children.

The pictures of beautiful waiting children through the county’s Heart Gallery program surrounded us. The pictures would tour the county’s libraries to promote the county’s adoption program. One picture of a young boy captivated me (above).

Kim, the adoptive mom, reached into a bag and pulled out – not a wallet – but a 8 x 10 framed picture of sisters, 7-year-old Melody and 6-year-old Valina, with her and her husband.

She beamed with pride as Pam asked about the little girls. The new mom shared their personality differences and her 2 1/2 year process to complete the adoption.

“They’re beautiful,” Pam said, showing the picture around to the library director and others.

“They’re my whole life,” the new mom responded.

I turned to my co-worker Jill, who knew of my infertility struggles: “I’m going to adopt.”

A few weeks later, I found myself on my fourth jury duty and unable to locate a parking space at the El Cajon Courthouse.

Luckily, as a county employee, I could park at the county’s Health and Human Services Agency building nearby, which just happened to be the child services office.

After the court released me and the remaining jurors, I marched right into the child services office.

“Do you want to foster a child?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think I could give a child back.”

The idea of mothering a child that could be returned to birth parents or extended family seemed too difficult.

I came home with information for Brian. A letter would soon come in the mail with some upcoming adoption/ foster care orientation meetings. We would simply pick one, attend and the process would begin.

When the letter arrived, I felt some dread. The adoptive mom at the press conference said it took 2 1/2 years and in some cases, adoptive parents foster a child first. We had already been trying for more than 2 years and I was eager to move forward.

A light bulb went off and I recalled that my dear friend, Barry, told me years earlier that he adopted his daughter after I said how much she resembled his wife (I still think she does).

I fired off an email and asked how he adopted: through the public county agency, a private agency, an adoption attorney? Was it open, closed, semi-open?

He soon wrote back and offered to speak with me. He and his wife went through open adoption through an independent facilitator at Adoption Center of San Diego. Little did I know, it was the very same organization that fasciliated the adoptions of five other couples I knew.

I immediately took his offer and explored the company’s website.

Open adoption seemed weird.

All the parties know each other, they meet before the child is born and essentially, select each other. Though I longed to adopt, a birth mother carrying a child for nine months knowing someone else would parent it felt odd to me.

The day I was to speak to Barry, I had my questions written out. A million butterflies clanged around inside.

“Do you know what open adoption is?” he began.

I gave a very basic response that all parties know each other and disclose pertinent details (medical history, racial and ancestral information, etc.).

Correct.

But, as he explained it, the relationship could vary from the vary basic (meet before the birth, relinquish rights, occassional correspondence) to very close (meet and become friends, stay friends with the birthmom after the birth, visit in person regularly).

His experience tended to swing more to the “very close” with his birthmother. But as his birthmother grew up and had a family of her own, the relationship loosened up some and visits over 10 years became less frequent.

Along with all the other open adoption aspects come the standard legal requirements for the signing over of parental rights to the adoptive parents, background checks, character references and the home study, when the county performs an inspection of the home.

It all begins with the orientation, a follow-up one-on-one with the fascilitator and then, the Dear Birthmother letter introducing yourself to potential birthmoms.

While its a much faster process, its also a much more costly option than public county adoptions. The nonprofit bases all the possible associated costs on a sliding scale according to income – anywhere from $15,000 to $22,000.

Gulp. That’s a sizeable bite.

While most of the birth parents are just birth moms, there are some couples and not always the stereotypical teenagers. The reasons they seek to place their children through adoption are as varied as adoptive couples’ reasons to adopt.

“Don’t think for a second they’re ‘giving up’ their children,” Barry said. “It’s a tough decision and they are trying to find the best possible couples to parent their child.”

From start to finish, his adoption took a few months (not years).

I grew very excited and took all my notes home for Brian.

The range of the relationship spectrum with the birthmother concerned Brian. There’s no way of knowing how close the relationship might be and what constitutes sufficient contact (birthday parties, Christmas, or the annual picnic hosted by the organization).

I shared my plans with my current and former bosses, both of whom responded to my emails in mere seconds with the kind of loving support you would expect from your parents. Very touching.

I reached out to another Adoption Center couple and this time, I spoke to the mom. She’s also a friend whose first adoption fell through; a possibility that gave me pause despite knowing it worked out well in the end.

Mindy immediately agreed and we met a week before our orientation meeting for coffee.

After catching up on the latest political happenings, we dove into the topic she and I had been discussing for years: motherhood.

We first met nearly six years ago when the baby itch hit her hard. She spoke at a club I presided over and during a meeting break, I asked how her job with the governor was treating her.

“Some days, I just want to give it up, stay home and have babies,” she said very matter-of-factly.

Months later, her husband told me they were having a hard time conceiving. I was heartbroken for them.

She felt she waited too long and devoted too many years to her career. She even toyed with writing a book on the subject (which I still think is a good idea).

A few years later, here we were in the same boat.

I remember when their first adoption fell through. An email popped into my mailbox explaining to their friends and family what had transpired to handle all questions at once.

Then, just a few months before the Presidential Election, another email arrived.

They were the proud parents of a baby boy! A few days later, I met tiny Zach at a Cindy McCain event in Coronado. Love at first sight.

The successful adoption match took place in a matter of days.

“We met on a Thursday, we liked each other and the process was under way,” she said. “Zach was born the next week.”

My mouth hung open.

“I know,” she said. “But we already had much of the other requirements done.”

Her relationship with the birth mother also contrasted Barry’s and has been nearly non-existant since the birth.

She pulled out a picture book of Zach. At 2 years old, he was quite the charmer.

Mindy sits on a board for a foster care organization that tries to reunite children removed from the home with biological parents, if possible.

“In the middle of all this fertility and adoption stuff, here I am reading cases of parents putting out cigarettes on their babies,” she said. “Some of those babies never attach, never get held and feel loved. They grow up dysfunctional.

“The world needs good mommies,” she said.

I looked forward to my orientation the next week and felt like I belonged for the first time in a few years.

As you grow up, you find ways to feel connected to those around you – learning to drive, turning 18 and 21, graduating college, traveling, weddings and marriage and finally, parenthood.

My girlfriends who conceived spontaneously will luckily never knew the pain of my struggles. As a result, they can’t relate to my experiences anymore than I can relate to theirs.

Mindy and I laughed about knowing more than anyone should about conception, drawers filled with testing sticks and that day when you find an old birth-control pill packet and toss it away.

When she decided to adopt, she said it felt like a weight lifted off her shoulder and knew then it was right.

Like magic. Like love. Like faith.

As my girlfriend Erin W. keeps reminding me, no one way to become a mom is easier than any other. 

You have to take risks, and you have to be brave. 

Learn more about foster and adoption services:

*Not Quite Dickens: Part III will examine our orientation meeting.

Not Quite Dickens: Part 1


Charles Dickens captured the isolation, fear and shame of orphan life in the spare, cold prose of classics such as “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations.”

How dare undernourished Oliver ask for more gruel at the workhouse?

Hard to imagine facing a world alone, never knowing your “people” and wondering like Little Orphan Annie clinging to her half of her parent’s locket: “Who am I? Where did I come from?”

“I’m going to have a regular mother and father, like a regular kid,” she told Daddy Warbucks. “I am! I don’t mean to hurt your feelings. You’ve been nicer to me than anybody in the whole wide world, but I’ve been dreaming of my folks for as long as I can remember, and I’ve just got to find them.”

Heartbreaking for Annie; heartbreaking for Daddy Warbucks.

Facing the major life decision of becoming an adoptive parent, I realize these images of both fiction and popular culture shaped my own education on the subject of adoption. I’ve known adoptees (one of my best friends since 1st grade was adopted) virtually my whole life and yet, I know very little on the topic.

I’m a research demon. And for me, it’s made every one of my life decisions easier because I’d rather know than be surprised. I’ve already compiled a list of some books to read (I’m open to more). Of course, my mother knows this and cautioned that I shouldn’t “research and over-analyze this to death.”

So, I’ll try to strike a balance.

Simply put, adoption means assuming the parental rights and responsibilities to rear a child born of someone else as their own. Today, adoption helps build a family, but that wasn’t always so.

Let’s go back to the origins of adoption.

The first orphanages sprung up in the 1st Century as a place to house and raise children whose parents either died or could not otherwise care for them. This practice dates back to Jewish and Athenian law as a means to care for the offspring of killed military members. 

Plato considered the public charge of caring for orphans as a duty of a community to raise up a proper next generation no matter its relation – a fairly kind ideal.

But in ancient Rome, adoption merely allowed for political gains and powers for the exchange of wealth and prestige between families – much as marriage might also have served. Therefore, it’s no surprise many of Rome’s most powerful rulers were adopted. In other cases, Roman adoptees served more as slaves and therefore, trade commerce.

In other civilizations, such as Indian and China, adoption of abandoned children allowed for the continuity of religious teachings and a means of passing on culture.

After Rome fell, the world’s attitude about blood lines shifted.

Family history and preservation took a front seat to political or monetary gains and the practice of adoption all but became verboten. The result: a higher population of abandoned children. (Cue the image of a swaddled baby left at a church doorstep.) 

During the middle ages, the volume of abandoned children taken in at monasteries eventually led to the children being either sent off permanently or by day to  area households or workhouses upon a certain age as trade apprentices.

Later, orphanages largely replaced monasteries as public institutions to house abandoned or orphaned children. The settings became ripe for scandals throughout the Western world.

Much like the abandoned children of Europe caused the rise of institutions, the rapid influx of immigrants to the United States and aftermath of the Civil War created the rise of orphanages.  Most of the adopted children served as family nannies or farm hands (like my “Anne of Green Gables, ” who was supposed to be a boy for farm work).

But the huge numbers of orphaned children overwhelmed the system and rampant mistreatment and exploitation led to the formation of protective laws. In the early 1900s, the Progressives fought to end the orphanage system altogether and figure out a new way to place children who could not be cared for by their parents.

In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt said the nuclear family presented the best suited environment to raise abandoned or orphaned children. By 1923, the foster and adoptive system virtually conquered the orphanage system.

Soon after, Wales and England followed the trend and later, the rest of Europe.

Despite the movement, bloodline concerns still plagued the stigma of adoption. Enter Hitler. Following the disgraceful Nazi beliefs of eugenic ideology leading to the “cleansing” campaign during World War II, attitudes greatly shifted.

Since the 1950s, the orphanage setting began to slowly disappear under the public scrutiny of horror stories, such as girls being shipped off to have a child in secret and be shamed into silence of the birth, or children growing up and reporting cases of horrific abuse.

As child-birth related deaths decreased, the need for such institutions followed suit. More and more, charities focused efforts on assisting birth parents to work through parenting obstacles, such as housing, finances, family support or drug/ alcohol abuse. The law began to also opt for more aggressive parent-child reunification.

From these ideals, the popularity of adoption arose in the 20th Century and largely, it’s considered an American institution.

From 1945 to 1974, illegitimate births rose as the sexual cultures progressed during a time known as the Baby scoop era when adoption rates skyrocketed. At the same time, science began to give more credence to nurture over nature, which further reduced eugenic issues.

And the result: a solution to both an unwed mother and infertile couples. Today, adoption practices span the globe, but even still – the United States leads the pack.

Adoption in the United States peaked in 1970. Some believe invention of The Pill and legalization of abortion affected the recent three-decade decline.

Annually, the United States successfully places about 127,000 adoptive children with roughly 4 million live births each year. Since the 1980s, nearly 500,000 children nationwide wait in the foster care system – either for reunification with their biological parents or permanent placement with an adoptive family.

The adoption system utilizes two general practices: closed and open.

Open adoption allows identifying information to be shared between biological and adoptive parents. The degree of openness varies depending on the people and agencies involved. Open adoption can be an informal arrangement with little direct contact between the parties or as interactive with face-to-face meetings before, during and after the birth.

Closed adoption maintains secrecy of all identifying information that prohibits the disclosure of the adoptive parents and adoptees identity. Some information may be exchanged, such as medical history, religious and ethnic background. Surrendered or “safe haven” babies, where the children are anonymously and safely surrendered at hospitals, fire departments or police stations shortly after birth, are considered closed adoptions.

Avenues to adopt include: private domestic, foster care, international, embryo and common law (think common law marriage).

Infertility caused most parents to seek adoption to unrelated children. One study reports that infertile couples account for 80 percent of unrelated infant adoptions and half of adoptions through foster care.

Through modern medicine, many infertile couples now have far more options to exhaust to fit in the Western culture mold of a mom, dad and 2.5 kids. For couples that are unsuccessful with infertility treatments and continue to deeply desire their of their own, they can turn to a surrogate. If biology isn’t as important, they consider adoption and begin that journey.

Popular culture champions adoption due to such famous adoptive parents as Angelina Jolie and Sandra Bullock, making the process seem easy and trendy. But private sentiments reflect a vastly different opinion.

Recent adoption attitudes studies show that nearly one-third of those surveyed believed adoptees are less-well adjusted, more prone to medical issues, and predisposed to drug and alcohol problems. Yet those same people believed adoptive parents were “lucky, advantaged, and unselfish.”

Views on foster children went further. Negative views reflected in the study so far as to conclude that children in the foster care system could never help create a “normal” family. 

Leapin’ lizards.

Well, I hate to break the bad news: no family is “normal.” Never met one including mine. And I know all about a parent raising unrelated children. My father raised my older half siblings and to this day, I’ve never heard my brother call him anything but “dad.”

Through all the Oliver Twists and turns of the system, two facts remain unchanged: too many children and not enough parents.  

As the late famous adoptee Dave Thomas, founder of the Wendy’s fast food chain, said: “Every child deserves a home and love. Period.” And maybe a chocolate Frosty once in a while.

*Not Quite Dickens: Part II will examine our chosen adoption path.