Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Adoption Home Study Process

Imagine a stranger coming into your home, someone you only know of their name. You don't know their background, you don't know their age, you have no known facts about this person. The only thing that you do know is that this person is about to be your social worker and that he or she will be in your home 4+ times for 4-6+ hours at a time. He/she gets to decide if you're home is safe enough, that you and your spouse are sane enough to care for a child, that mentally/physically/emotionally you are prepared for a child, and that you're fully prepared for any age of child to a part of your family one day. This social worker of yours could be fun and enjoyable to be around or maybe he or she is very straight forward and incredibly serious. Like serious enough to think every word out of your mouth is being judged. Every. Single. Word. (Trust me, it's how we felt with the initial social worker when we began the process). Praise God that we ended up with a wonderful social worker!

But just think, you're opening up every detail of your life from birth to now and any challenging life event, this person is about to find out. He/she will know every ounce of you by the time the home study process is over. And guess what....all those fine details, you better believe they all go into a formal notarized document for the people in your adoption country to read. You will eventually have no secrets. Like none. Those things you tell very few people in your life, your social will know it within a few week time frame. Needless to say, just let it all out!

And for the rest of the family (even your aunts, uncles, cousins, etc), you better believe they make sure they are safe people, that they do not have any significant abuse (drug, sexual, physical, etc), that you as future parents are not concerned if they are in your child's presence, and to know which ones you'd feel comfortable leaving your child with. So yes, even the family gets a little highlighted moment in this process, like it or not.

But what you will have is a better understanding of is who you are at this time, things that may need to be worked on as an individual, who "we" are together,  and the strengths and weaknesses "we as a couple" have. What I'm saying is that there is a bit of a benefit to this whole home study process. And this is only part of the reason why we believe everybody needs to do this before they become a parent! They make sure we are emotionally ready, that we have prepared ourselves for conversations with a child that may include anything from sexuality conversations to multiracial family comments from others, and that we are in the process of finding doctors, therapists, and any other resources/supportive environments at a local and state level that will be helpful for an adopted child. Not to mention all the education hours that go along with those things as well (child specific, country specific, & general adoption). 

So welcome to our world and I suppose welcome to the world of all adoptees. This part of the adoption process is just about our home study, but that in and of itself is a big hoop to get through! And I promise you, we never thought they were as scary as they can sounded, but I can say there was a little anxiety that came with it initially. Fortunately, we ended up with a wonderful social worker that it made this process an incredibly enriching time for us individually as well as within our relationship now and as future parents.

We're not here to say that we now know how to be parents and that to this point we are even fully ready for all that is to come. Parenting is a process and as you parents out there know, there is always something to learn, something new to help our parenting skills, and obstacles to overcome with every child. We still have a long journey ahead to learn more, prepare for all the "ifs" of this child, and continue to enjoy all our moments we have together before we bring a child into this family.

Below, we brief on things that we discussed during the home study, example questions that were asked, and conversations addressed. Unfortunately, I can't even remember everything at this point so you get what you get today!

Home Study 1:
The "get to know ya" phase. Let the conversations begin!

-who are you and who are you (the now: jobs, activity/community involvement, hobbies, etc)
-who are we together, our story.
-every detail of your home with a visual safety check to the entire home (house stats, first aid, locks, alarms, windows, garage safety with tools, animals, living arrangements, outside hazards, etc).
-neighbors, neighborhood, locations of hospitals from our home, community centers, schools, etc.
-resources for the family and adopted child.

These worldly beanies have meant more to us than what most of you knew for that entire
year I had been whipping out as many as I possibly could. At one point, someone said to me,
"I don't know how you can do the same thing all the time....I want to pour all my time and love
into something." Well guess what, I was pouring a lot of time and love into making
many, many hats. If it meant work a little harder to pump more hats out to help us pay for 
the adoption process, then that's what had to happen. We are happy to say that the amount 
we made from the hats helped us pay for most of our home study process!

Home Study 2:
"Individual interrogations" as we called them.
Each person sat with our social worker for 2.5-3.5 hours for the down and dirty...

-every detail of every year of everything you could ever remember!
-what happened to you, what was your childhood like, your involvement in the community
-what are your parents like, how did your siblings treat you.
-how did your parents parent and what sorts of things would you use/not use.
-what were relationships like with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, & 
friends during all phases of life.
-what were relationships like with previous boyfriends/girlfriends in high school and college.

Each time we made a little progress in our home study process, we rewarded
ourselves and our little babe with new books. These books are tales from South Africa
and Zulu words (one of the languages in South Africa, spoken by many).

Home Study 3:
Individual interrogations again, this time a bit shorter than the last time.
Further details on the previous individual interrogations plus "the planning"...

-more on your parent's parenting: what would you use, what would you not use with your child
-situational questions & responses (racism, sexuality conversations, age related parenting, etc.). 
-plans for schooling, raising a child with/without electronics, options for South African events in the area and providing the child with ways to maintain their heritage.
-projected work schedules when the child comes home, caregiving when parents are unavailable depending on the child's age and needs (all sorts of situations/circumstances presented to us).
-plans for various specific adopted child needs (special therapists, doctors, community & state resources for various mental/emotional health needs and/or physical health needs).

My grandma took us to an African performance about a year ago in which the children come to the US after training their voices and dance moves to perform for churches all over. These children were of all ages, from various places in Africa, and unbelievable! The doll came from the women and children who hand make items in their home country to raise money for their performances and travel.

Home Study 4:
Half individual meetings, half together with social worker.

-the individual: go through every member of your family, provide known history (abuse, health, etc), who you'd leave your child in their care, safety concerns, etc.
-wrap up missed questions needed for documentation.
-quiz us on situational plans, yet again...and the one below was clearly not my finest moment!

There are lots and lots of situations our social worker presented us with. At this point, she was asking about sexuality, bathing with children and to what age that would stop, bathing with siblings/cousins and again ages that would stop, and how comfortable we are with being nude in front of children and how often they would be exposed to it...
well I jumped right on that answer and made sure she knew I was very comfortable with those sorts of things. I mean as a nurse, I see things every day! There is no problem on my end to explain sexuality and what have you and there's nothing wrong with being nude in your own home. I made sure to note that I keep the curtains closed of course if I were to be nude in our home (and I was referring it to after showering) and that I had no problem with young kids seeing nude bodies at a young age.
Well my intentions were one thing, but what was written in our formal document for our home study was this:
"Cori likes to walk around in her home naked with the curtains closed."
Beginning and end of story. I almost peed my pants and cried laughing all at the same time. My intentions were to say, there's no problem with walking around naked real quick after a shower if you need to go from bathroom to bedroom until your clothed, otherwise I typically wear a robe because I prefer to stay warm. I do not wander around like a nudist in my home or outside my home. I'm fine with people that do, no problem with that whatsoever. I am just too cold to do it. So the awkward part was not only reading that, but having to submit a new statement to fix the above statement without making it sound like I was backtracking or lying or whatever you want to call it. But instead, to make sure it was adjusted accordingly. Who knows if she even believes me, but either way it was modified on our formal document. Hopefully South Africa doesn't expect a naked woman to walk off the plane and into an orphanage nude to pick up her child. My intentions are to come fully clothed.

The finale! We had shirts made for our family as well as our friends who were happy
to vouch for us along the way that we were truly the Stanleys, we were decent people, 
and could potentially be decent parents. Thanks for doing that (you know who you are!).

As I said above, you get what you get because this is all I remember. My brain can only manage so much at a time as I "age." But as far as the home study process goes, we can look back and say we enjoyed the entire process...not everybody gets the chance to go through something like this. We feel incredibly blessed to have been able to reflect on ourselves, our relationship, and become as prepared as we ever could with the help of our social worker. So now, we sit and wait, fill out some more documents for the dossier, and continue to enjoy our time as single parents before this time comes!

Thank you to all who even read these posts and even further, enjoy keeping up with the journey.
We are forever thankful for those who are closely tied into our journey and for all those who follow from afar.

♡The Stanleys

Friday, January 16, 2015

Extreme Makeover Garage Edition

My body decided 3:30 was the right time to wake up today. Like I literally woke up, hopped right out of bed, and took to this day like this is the normal time to get up. Why I can't wake up by 5:45 most days for work, yet get up earlier than that on my days off I will never understand. So here I am, blogging, working on work projects, and waiting for a phone call from our global worker to discuss the dossier. We'll see what I look like this afternoon and whether or not I'm all that functional...that's almost like baby training, right?

Anyway, the garage...It's really not that extreme. We don't even have pictures of the before so really, you have nothing to compare it to. I guess that means you have no idea if it was truly a legit makeover or not. Not that it matters anyway. On our end it seemed like an extreme makeover especially since we had 4 chickens, a coop, all their necessities, regular garage items, rat traps (Ty is the professional rat killer if you need him for anything), three bikes, and some Crossfit equipment in the garage/shop. I suppose you'll just have to trust us when we say it was an extreme makeover: garage edition.

What we actually did though (if you even care to know...turn away now if you don't),
were these few things:

*We repainted the entire garage. There's nothing like a fresh coat of pain on the walls...even if it is in the garage. All those markings from the years...gone. All those 'who knows whats' from previous owners...also gone. But fresh white walls....aaahh, so refreshing! We also did a chalkboard wall on the side where the gym is so we could write down our workouts, keep track of rounds, or let visitors make awful comments on our walls. Plus the kids can have a wall for their art time and there'd be essentially no clean up on my end!

We obviously took not only the cheap route, but also the lazy route and didn't even bother taping. And let me tell you, I could always paint like that if this is what it entailed. Otherwise, count me out...I don't want to tape, I don't want to worry about dripping, and I don't want to worry about smudging the wrong color in the wrong place.
So if you need your garage painted, I'm there!

If it weren't for the man who built this shop way back when because of his love for cars
and wanting to stay warm while he worked...I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to
manage the cold weather when we did this. I'm thankful for him and the decision
he made to make this a heated garage/shop. For this reason and for every other day we workout
in there!

And instead of making a straight line at the top, we used leftover trimming from the house to cover up the inability to keep a straight paint line. Best repurposed item in the garage!

Disregard my poor ability to not only write with chalk, but how incapable I tend
to be when writing bubble letters. Why are they so hard??

*Then came cementing all the edges of the garage because for whatever reason they never finished off the tiniest section between the garage floor and the edge of the wall....hence how the rats were digging into the ground and coming up into the garage to feed off the chicken feed. Ty killed about 6 rats and so far we haven't had any further activity!

*Before long, we were finishing our cheap/diy/easy labels (you can find the direction on my IG account @cstan512), putting them on our already organized storage containers, and putting them back where they belong. Ty now has an organized tool wall. I have my crafting section. And to finish it off, there's also another shelving unit that was already made that now holds all my catering necessities and kitchen equipment.

Color coat different themes to your storage bins. Yellow for craft items, blue for outdoor equipment, purple for catering containers, etc.

I can thank my mother-in-law for this quick and easy idea on labeling. She was most likely much more fancy than I was with her labeling, but similar idea behind it all.

if you don't have any, then it may be a good time to add some. Having a mix of wider shelves versus skinnier shelves is personally great...I love that the big items don't hang off all while
the smaller items all fit nicely together on the skinnier shelves. Don't hesitate to not only build them off the wall in a different angle but to build them with different spacings between each just in case you have some odd sized items.

The "How To" On a Budget:
*Start off by purging what you don't need.
*Clean your garage. Seems silly, but by dusting, sweeping, and washing those windows it will give it an instant makeover as is. Stop there if that's all you need or proceed on...
*If you already have storage containers, but they don't with it until you have the money to slowly make that adjustment. As difficult as it is for me to not be matching,
it isn't worth the $50+ dollars it will cost to replace the ones to match at this point.
*If you don't have enough storage bins, go to Goodwill, a resale store, or a garage sale. You can guarantee you'll find them for a steal!
*Reuse hooks hiding away in one of your storage containers or ones already on the wall
(freshly paint them or put them in a new location),
*Take advantage of the wood shelving already made or existing cabinets
(move storage cabinets, repaint them, etc to give it a new vibe),
*Use scrap paper lying around your house and plain printer paper for the labels, and
*All that's left to to purchase is the paint, floor mats, and whatever you want to put on your wall (we found the S. African flag for 5 bucks online, otherwise had everything else) for this project.
*For fitness equipment, watch and wait until Amazon has sales with certain items (slam balls, wall balls, etc), then use your Prime account or someone else's account for quick and free shipping. If you have friends with Schwinn accounts somehow or another, don't hesitate to ask...they can get some pretty good deals (big thanks to Terrance). And lastly, make your own box. We have a blog post about the "how-to" just search for it on the right hand side.

It can sure be done on a budget and with a little money saved up over a couple months!

And you wonder why there was a whole move from a CF gym to a garage...initially it all had to do with my back and needing time off (which by the way has been doing better than worse with minimizing most movements and biking/swimming instead). But once the adoption process picked up and fees were coming due, we knew our budget would be minimal. Let's just say the adoption process costs a pretty penny. Well more than a pretty penny. So instead of paying $200 for a membership each month, we saved up the last few months by not going and used that money towards some of our equipment instead. Now we save that much more per month to put towards our adoption funds. We sure miss the community side that all Crossfit gyms offer, but we are happy it saves us time by just walking ten feet to our gym and the money to get our child home some day. I think it's called responsibility as an adult now, ya?

My challenge for you all today is to purge items you rarely use, go organize a room in your house, and make those simple labels to keep all your storage containers in line. And if you're ever in the area, holler at us...we will always welcome a little competition in the gym! ;-)

♥The Stanleys

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Who, The What, The Why, The When + A Few Photos Along The Way

There's a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. But what we have, we'll try to respond to. Trust us, there are a lot of similar questions, some odd questions we've been asked (not shared on here today), and plenty of those non-filtered/almost offensive questions (although they don't mean to be). We'll start with the "why" and work our way always, feel free to comment or send a message if you have any further questions we can answer about our journey!

The WHY?

-Why are you adopting?-
*back in 2008, Ty and I began our relationship. I took off, headed to South Africa, and had an experience that I'd say was one of the most amazing things in my life. The culture, the people, the children...they all touched me, they all moved me. I was called to South Africa for what I thought was for one reason, but the Lord placed something else on my heart and knew He'd call me back for an entirely different reason. I remember coming back and telling Ty that whether I was a single woman one day or eventually married, I would be going back...and this time going back to adopt a child. 
The calling was there, the timing was unknown. So as our relationship went on, Ty signed up for not just me but one day, a little South African we would call our child. There was no doubt in his mind from then on that it was our calling, that there was a child out there for us, and one day we would give a child with no parents, parents for life, a home, and all the love they could ever hope for.

-Why are you adopting before having your own children?-
*there are layers of answers to this question but we'll tap into them briefly. We have the take that because we have no children now, why not let the adopted child be the first child, be the one that began a child-filled home, to come into a family with no expectations, and to be the eldest child we'd hope lead by example to the younger ones. He/she would not have to try to fit in with other children and not have to overcome an already made Stanley family.
Secondly, Ty and I have not just the approvals from both of our employers to be gone for 6 weeks overseas, but we have the timed saved up to do so plus the ability to use extended illness time and FMLA if need be. Because we have to have two family members in country at all times, neither of us would have the issue of having to return to our jobs nor would we have to return because of other children in our home. Otherwise, we would be paying for other family members to fly back and forth to be the second family member in country.
Thirdly, why not do it now when we have the time to devote to this child, especially in regards to any specific needs he/she may have.

-Why would you even adopt?-
*there are a few questions I would love to have a few words in response, but I don't. This question use to bother me, probably because I couldn't figure out why someone would even ask that. Then I realized that we all don't have the same views in life and that we all are here in the world to do certain things. That's obviously not their calling. So I take no offense to it anymore and explain our story, our calling, our desires. If you skipped the first "why" go ahead and go back to read it.

-Why would you bring a child out of their culture?-
*when I was in SA they did not participate in international adoptions. The child was one day eventually released on their own, if they were fortunate enough they were adopted within the country, and others died related to an illness untreated or from HIV/AIDS. It wasn't until 1-2 years later that they began the international adoption process.
I remember many of the women in the orphanages tell me that the did not participate in international adoptions because the child would then be taken away from their culture, their heritage, their background. As much as I understood that, I also questioned "how much of their culture do they even know living in an orphanage that may or may not even be run by a South African?" So our take on this question is that there can be children all over the world living in orphanages or growing up in foster care that only has so much time for this child, that may not be consistent, that may not have all the love that they can provide, and that may not be able to supply some of the basic needs for the child. And we find it to be more suitable for a child to be adopted into a family who will provide all their needs, all the love, all the resources, and even as much of their heritage than the alternative. We all have our take, we accept all of yours and we hope you accept ours.

The WHO?
When we initially began this process, we were in the "special needs program." In that program we had the choice of age and gender, so our hopes were to adopt a boy between the age of 1-3 (South Africa doesn't typically adopt children under the age of 1 as they prefer to find a family member to take the child before going to international adoption). With all the hiccups along the way, especially since the program had closed when we initially wasn't until we got that phone call in June that offered us a spot in the "non-special needs program." This program for the year did not allow us to choose age or gender, however, we were asked to be open to a child between the ages of 0-4 years. And as for the "non-special needs" that means we would be adopting a child with most likely malnutrition/GI issues, attachment/institutionalization issues, and possibly corrective disabilities (vision, hearing, missing limb that be fitted for a prosthetic, or require a surgery). So back to the "who"...well we just don't know. And we won't know until we receive a referral for a child!

-What is the adoption process/What does the process entail?-
1. submit a non-formal application that obtains your basic information, make sure you can afford to care for a child, that you have references that could vouch for you, and that will sort out the countries you can even adopt from (each country has specific age, length of marriage, etc type of requirements). We only met the requirements for South Africa and two other countries. 

2. Submit your formal application.

3. Receive a million (maybe not a million) documents to fill out, sign, send back and forth. Obtain finger prints and background checks. Find 5 references that have known you for 4+ years and aren't family who fill out paperwork about you and your spouse. While you're waiting you do 10 hours of Hague convention training. Then you sit, wait, and pray you're not a criminal and that you pass everything!

4. Set up 4-5 home studies over the course of 1-2is months depending on schedules. Sometimes this meant Ty had to miss work and practice to be available for these long meetings. Once those are complete, pray again that you are sane enough and safe enough to care for a child.

5. Home study approval by the social worker, the Seattle office, and eventually our global worker in Michigan. Begin your next 10 hours of country specific and general adoption education hours. You must complete 10 pages of written documentation on all your hours (videos, webinars, books, support groups, etc.)

6. Submit an I-800A for the immigration process which takes 8-10 weeks. In the meantime, work on the dossier which is a giant packet filled with various items such as doctor's letters stating we are in a good state of mind and health to care for a child, legal documents such as birth and marriage certificates, government documents, home study packets, background clearances, employer letters, insurance documents, and more and more that you most likely don't even care to know. But just know that there are a lot of those fine details, all of which must be notarized on some same day occurrences so timing is a big piece of it as well.

7. Submit our dossier and wait for a referral!

8. Accept a referral, do 10 more hours of child specific training/education hours, travel to South Africa for about 6 weeks, return home for more bonding time, and participate in many more post-adoption placement meetings with our social worker to ensure everything is going well. Those occur for up to several years, then that part of the process is considered completed. But as we all know, the parenting and the child's needs will always be an ongoing process!

Another unanswered question. Sorry. As much as we'd like to know all the answers to the adoption process, we never do. What we do know is that we just received word that it's time to put our dossier packet together, which will be submitted to South Africa once our immigration paperwork has been approved by the government. Once the dossier is submitted, we wait for a referral for a child! They say it can take 12-18 months after that, but with how quickly this process seems to have gone in comparison to most others in the program who knows if it will be sooner than that! After we get the referral and approval, a tentative court hearing date is set up, we arrive about a week prior, and we end up spending up to 6 weeks in the country.

That's all we've got for you now, but as I said before...if you have questions, ask and we can respond accordingly. Feel free to take a peek at some of our photos below in which we captured to follow our own journey, which we now get to share with you all!

The Welcome packet. All the details for the beginning of the application process.

Formal application: background checks, medical records, references, etc.

Snacks and papers. They go well together when you're filling them out between meals.

Sending off our references paperwork.

Hard at work trying to pass all the Hague convention modules.

Guess who's backgrounds were clear??

Prepping for the home study: getting that first aid kit together.

Warm wishes, prayers, and gifts from family for our first home study!

The beginning of many...the home study photos!

Between home studies and paperwork, lots of reading and hat making...

and more hat making...

and more education hours (on the floor apparently)

and then a little room prep because our little one needs a worldly beanie and a spot we can think of him/her daily!

Time to send in our I-800 forms...

official report (I-797C) to get our biometrics screening and finger prints again

and in the meantime, we have shirts made for gifts to family and close friends, we knit hats,
work on house projects, and find ways to stay busy until we get the next email, phone call, or paper mail!

and while we wait for the immigration paperwork, we work on our dossier...
the big mama of all paperwork packets!

Thanks for reading and keeping up with our journey!

♡The Stanleys

Friday, January 2, 2015

Adoption Update: Our Timeline

You've only had to wait two weeks for a follow up on that adoption announcement (if you didn't see it click HERE). We would've liked to respond a little sooner, but we've been busy just like the rest of you with all the holiday stuff. Plus there's been things like adoption paperwork, rat hunting/killing, purging, and reorganizing both garages. You can guarantee I'll update you on those items another day. In the meantime, we thought you waited long enough and that you deserved a little insight into our journey that began in the Fall of 2013...

Check out the timeline below:

-Fall 2013-
our calling, our answer, and adoption here we come! (we knew we wanted to adopt long before this, but the real calling and answering didn't happen until we returned from our trip from SE Asia)

-November 2013-
met with a social worker from Bethany Christian Service to discuss the process, but were told we had to wait until February to apply (South Africa requirement of at least 1.5-2yrs of marriage).

-November/December 2013-
Announced our plans to adopt to our family.

-February 2014-
application submitted. Phone call received to inform us the South African program had closed and that we needed to wait until the Fall. Lots of praying...

-March 2014-
decided to look for a home so we could be settled before the adoption process officially started so we wouldn't have to move during our home study process (and pay an additional process fee). Looked at two houses, fell in love with the first one we went into...

-May 19-20th, 2014-
moved into our first home!

-June (first week of the month), 2014-
received a phone call from our global worker in Michigan..."a family has dropped out of the program, would you and Tyler be interested in joining the South Africa program?" Our response was, of course, "YES!" More praying...

-June-August, 2014-
background checks, finger printing, lots and lots of paperwork, references (a big thanks to all you who vouched for us!). First 10 hours of adoption education (mainly Hague training) completed!

-August 2014-
received our first message and phone call to set up our home study dates with our local social worker.

-September-October 2014-
began and ended the home study process (information on these to come on a later post). We passed...apparently we are legit enough to care for a child. Praise the Lord! Haven't stopped praying for you...

-November 2014-
lots of waiting, praying, hoping, thinking, and learning (we are required to complete 10 more hours of adoption education before we submit our dossier).

-December 2014-
official home study document approved by both the Seattle office and our global worker in Michigan! I-800A (our immigration paperwork) was sent in right before Christmas.
Plus we were FINALLY able to announce it to all you social media friends (there were too many ups and downs in this process we wanted to make sure we were further in the process before we let anybody else in on our little secret)

-December 31, 2014-
received word that UCIS is now processing our immigration paperwork. This takes 8-10 weeks. More waiting! It's a good thing they tell you it's a long process. We've never known patience like we do now! In the meantime, we will work on our dossier...which means a giant stack of papers that eventually gets submitted to South Africa.

-2015 Plan-
Once the immigration paperwork is approved (8-10 weeks from now) and we submit the dossier to South Africa, we sit and wait for a referral. That means it could be anywhere from the time of submittal to 18 months from now on the longer end. This means lots of waiting! While we wait we are required to do at least 10 more adoption education hours, wait, wait some more, and learn patience like we've never known. And all along the way, we'll be sure to provide updates here and there on the process!

After your two week wait, this should answer a few questions about where we are in the process. You've obviously gotten the idea that we've been doing lots of education hours, paperwork, meetings, and thinking/praying. However, I know there are many more questions out there. Over time, I'll blog as I always do. If you want to read, then read the posts. If you don't want to read them, then don't. We don't care what you decide to do. What we do care about is that if you do keep up with us and our journey, know that we appreciate all your time taken up to read these posts, your thoughts, and your prayers as we go through this journey.

We welcome this year as a year of opportunities and possibilities. As we do not know who our child will be and when we will meet him/her, we continue to pray that 2015 is the year it all happens! 
Welcome to the Stanley South African Adoption Journey! We hope you enjoy the long ride!

(and our little South African babe)