The Adoption Journey

This Is It

The phone was ringing again. And with every ring, her hopes increased with thoughts of, “This is it!”

For the two months they waited to have a child placed with them, she was more than ready and incredibly anxious. The decision to adopt was a deep spiritual knowing for her; she simply knew this was how they would bring another child into their family. The social workers had already placed a couple of children with them but that fell through for various reasons.

She had reached the point of deciding whether to remain on this tearful, emotional roller coaster. She summarizes her life philosophy with two sayings, “Bless it and send it” and “Lay it at the base of the cross”. She and her husband decided to use this philosophy in the adoption process.

The two of them agreed to be intentional about the child they desired. With that decision, they sat at the kitchen table with a pink post it note and brainstormed what they wanted in a child. They wrote very specific details on that pink post it note. The couple said a special prayer together. They then placed the pink post it note, with its scribbles detailing their child, underneath a cross on the fireplace.

Kids Are Her Life

Kim has been in the early childhood field for 31 years and has owned a preschool for the past 20 years. She was 39 years old with a 13-year-old daughter when she met Damon, her future husband. He had previously been married also but had no children. Kim feels that her husband is the kind of person made to be a Dad as he is so great with kids.

When they got married, they agreed that they wanted to have at least one child together. Yet, there was a problem. Kim had medical issues a few years back and did not think that she could physically have a child.

With this in mind, she and Damon obtained paperwork from the county to foster to adopt. They began completing the paperwork and taking the steps to make the adoption happen. Within two months of this, Kim was pregnant! They decided to stop moving forward with the adoption process for the time being.

The pregnancy was a little rough as she was “advanced maternal age and high risk” with much testing; which was scary for Kim with discussions about the various things that could be “wrong” with their son. Dylan was born healthy with no problems for either one of them.

An Only Child

Five years later, Kim and Damon’s son Dylan was 5 years old and in kindergarten. Their daughter, Hailey (from Kim’s first marriage), was 20 years old and in college, living on her own. They could see that their son was lonely at times. They really did not want him to be “an only” child. Hailey was essentially “an only” child as she was 15 years old when Dylan was born. Kim was also an only child and she despised it.

Kim was 45 years old and even if they could have another baby; she shares there was no way she was mentally or physically prepared to do that. The thought of a newborn was overwhelming to her. They also wanted a certain age difference between their biological son and his soon to be sibling. Kim and Damon knew they were not in a position to take on the responsibilities and time commitment of having an infant.

They had learned previously about the tremendous need for foster and adoptive families in the community. They really believed in the program. During this same time, Kim was at a fundraiser for her son’s school and another mom showed her the kids on the “Have a Heart” website. One little girl in particular really captured her attention. She could not get her mind off her. She and Damon talked about it and he was on board with learning more about the little girl.

They discovered that the little girl was in need of a very specialized home with no other children or pets due to her previous trauma and special needs. Kim so wanted to “save” her but she had to accept that she was not the child for them. However, the experience did serve as a very important stepping stone along their journey, as the little girl was the catalyst for inspiring them to begin moving forward again with fostering to adopt. This eventually led them to where they are today.

A Spiritual Calling

The desire to adopt a child became a spiritual calling for Kim. It was something that she felt a deep desire in her heart to make happen. She just could not let it go. She is not sure that Damon would say the same. Kim feels it was more about supporting her and a knowing that it was the right thing to do. He encouraged her and was along for the ride as he didn’t feel as compelled as she did to make this happen. Kim steered the ship and Damon was her shipmate.

Within two weeks of writing their intentions on a post it note and praying together, two and a half year old daughter Olivia came to live with them. She had been in foster care since 6 months of age.

This was a journey for their entire tribe as they had an incredible support system. Family, friends and neighbors stood by them throughout the entire 2-year process. Kim shares they are, and were, blessed to have such great encouragement as it took time to trust those on the outside of their tribe; those involved with the adoption process.

And even so, Kim doesn’t know how much you can really fully trust people when you have to be an advocate for your child. She feels the workers are well intentioned; but, they have a tremendous amount of responsibilities. She had to stay on top of things; making many phone calls and advocating for Olivia in order to get what they needed for their child.

The Process

They were required to take parenting classes as part of the adoption process. The classes covered what these children may be experiencing coming from difficult situations and preparing families for receiving a new child into the family. They were also provided with a transitional liaison who would check in with them periodically.

Kim and Damon were concerned about having medical background and history for the birth parents and early life of any child they considered adopting. However, there was very little medical history for Olivia as she was not born in a hospital. She did not receive medical care until she went into foster care at 6 months of age. She was tested for many health issues and all test results were negative.

It was known that Olivia’s biological mom has health issues and Olivia is known to have been exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero but it is not known to what extent. The foster mom has fostered hundreds of children with varying degrees of health issues. She reassured them that Olivia did not show any signs to be concerned about with her health or development.

Kim was able to love a child who was not biologically hers almost instantly. On the other hand, Damon felt an obligation to care for and protect her; but it took him some time to develop love for her. For him, the issue of being blood related seemed to be of more significance than it was for Kim. This was hard for her to understand and resulted in many in depth conversations between the two of them as they navigated all that adding another child to their family entailed.

Outside of Kim’s immediate family, their family’s concerns in the beginning were rooted in them taking on a child with special needs and the amount of time it would take away from their biological children. The family was concerned it would be overwhelming for Kim and Damon. Kim feels the family did have valid points and concerns as the young girl from the “Have a Heart” website who had captured Kim’s heart in the very beginning of this process, had extensive medical issues. She was viewing the situation through rose-colored glasses against the advice of those around her.

The range of emotions the family experienced throughout this entire process were diverse. Joy, anticipation, anxiety, sadness, empathy, frustration, anger, and worry are some of the emotions that Kim experienced.

They found the adoption system to be difficult. In Kim and Damon’s case, the biological parental rights had not been terminated. Going through that process was extremely emotionally difficult. Olivia’s biological mom fought against terminating her rights. This did not involve Kim and Damon. It was between the Department of Social Services and the biological mom.

However, they were required to be present at the trial. Kim could hear the biological mom sobbing as she relinquished her parental rights to her child. It was not a celebratory time for Kim as her heart hurt for that mom. She was flooded with empathy for her in that moment of listening to her sobs. Kim’s bond with her kids is incredibly strong and this was a trigger for her.

From the beginning of the process, the Department of Social Services wanted Olivia to have contact with the biological mom. It is always the Department’s process to reunite children with their biological parents or to have contact with them. The Mama Bear in Kim rose to the surface as she became protective, frustrated, and angry. She did not feel it was appropriate and thought it would be confusing for Olivia. In Kim’s view, the system did not seem to have Olivia’s best interest at heart. They took Olivia to a therapist and the therapist made the recommendation that having contact with the birth mom was not appropriate for Olivia. They were thankful that this put the issue to rest.

A New Normal

Kim shares there was a reality they all had to accept once Olivia was a part of their family. They had to adapt to a new normal. Big brother had really wanted a baby sister and after two weeks, he was done with her and ready for her to go back to where she came from.

For Kim, she knew that she needed to bond with Olivia and doing that meant she had to spend a great deal of time with her and somewhat re-parent her. There was much holding her, rocking her, singing lullabies, and tons of contact.

For Damon, he saw Kim’s bonding with Olivia as taking her time away from him, and he had to adjust to this. Even her older daughter had to adjust to there being another daughter.

However, as a family, they viewed this as all part of a normal and natural transition. They had a great deal of communication and conversations about the feelings everyone was experiencing. It took time and patience.

Sharing

Kim finds it interesting how much other people are curious about their journey. People really want to know about it and she does not mind sharing. She has made it a goal to encourage and help other families to do what they did.

She has mentored two other families through the process. Her advice to others considering this journey is to be incredibly specific and detailed about what you are willing to do and not do. Kim feels there are so many children that need homes and this will help to not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the need. Another piece of advice Kim shares is that kids are kids and they do not come with a guarantee. All we can do is handle things as they come up and do the best we can.

Celebrate

Two years after beginning the process, setting and writing their intentions, Kim and Damon officially adopted Olivia!  I had the privilege of doing the adoption for them.  This family had one of the largest crowds I have had in the courtroom for an adoption!  The unique thing was that the foster family that first had sweet Olivia also came to the adoption hearing!

They are currently sending out announcements to family and friends to announce the finalization of the adoption! It will be a combination adoption party and 4 year birthday celebration for Olivia.

This is it!

They have their beautiful daughter Olivia and it has been a journey filled with the full range of emotions and much advocacy.

Time to celebrate!

Kimberly Surratt served for eight years on the executive council and has been the vice chair and then chair of the State Bar of Nevada Family Law Section. In addition, she is the President-Elect of the Nevada Justice Association and the chair of the domestic lobbying committee. She has lobbied with the Nevada Justice Association since 2004.

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