Thursday, July 28, 2016

Adoption Day! Finally :)

I remember thinking when Jackson finally came home, I just want all of this done with by the end of the year.  It was the end of February and I felt that 10 months was PLENTY of time to get the adoption ball rolling and finally be able to celebrate finalization.  Looking back, things really did go rather smoothly even though it didn't always seem to be the case in the moment.  When I finally received the phone call that the adoption finalization was being scheduled it almost didn't seem real.  It was FINALLY going to happen and I couldn't wait.  The case worker gave me the date, November 18, 2015 and then asked if I planned on coming to court or if I wanted to finalize over the phone.  There was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to stand in front of the judge so I automatically confirmed that I would be there. 
I called all of the family, told all of my friends, and started an Instagram adoption countdown :)

I couldn't wait to show his sweet face to the world so I became a pro at taking faceless pics!

I wanted Jackson's adoption day to be special.  I wanted him to be able to look back and pictures and see how important that day was.  I became semi-obsessed with finding the perfect outfit for his special day.  When I saw this cute outfit I knew it was the one.  I had his initials added to the outfit and couldn't wait for his name to legally match the monogram. 

Like many other foster to adopt parents, I missed out on the opportunity to do a birth announcement, so I was determined to send out a fabulous adoption announcement!  I found a great photographer and got some amazing pictures of Jackson.  I couldn't wait to share him with the world!

I wanted to commemorate the day properly, so I hired a photographer for the big day.  Brittany Busk took the very first photos of Jackson and me in December 2014 and it was so special to me that she was able to be there to capture his adoption.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 Jackson was blessed to be surrounded by people who love him including his Nana and Papa, Aunt Stephanie, Aunt Jamie, Cousins Katie and Kenzie, and his Mamie (by best friend Amy.)

It was a surreal moment and I had a hard time containing my emotions.  It was a relief.  I could finally breathe easy.  He was finally mine.  He was finally Jackson.  I pray that he always knows how wanted he is and how blessed I am to have him.  People constantly tell me how lucky Jackson is, how blessed he is and while I agree with that there is always a twinge of dissent that lingers in my brain about it. 

Jackson is lucky and he is blessed, but so are all children who are privileged enough to be raised in a loving home.  While I always want him to feel chosen, I also want him to be humble, to be kind, to be trustworthy, and to love God.  He will be a great many things in his life and I truly pray that being adopted doesn't reach into his top ten.  It is how his life started, but it doesn't define him.  He will always bear the title of being a former foster child, he will always know that he is adopted, and he will always know that he is loved.  Love is what I want him to grab onto.  Love is why he is Jackson Benet Smith.     

Friday, February 12, 2016

Adoption journey part three

One year ago today the family court in Nevada ruled that Jackson could move to Texas to live with me with the intention of fostering to adopt. I felt it was the perfect day to write about part three of my adoption journey!

Shortly after parental rights were terminated, the process of getting all of the stars aligned for adoption began. I attended classes with other people who were fostering, renewed my CPR certification, got yet another TB test, got fingerprinted, purchased two massive fire extinguishers, had my home inspected, signed a binder full of papers, and submitted an application to adopt. 

Part of the application process includes a lengthy interview. Most of the questions were fairly straight forward and easy to answer. Others required much more thought and reflection. One of the questions that made me take pause was, "how do you feel about the birth parents?" I had to really pause to gather my thoughts. In the end, my response was something along these lines: I have no strong feelings one way or the other towards the birth father. I don't know him and wouldn't be able to easily pick him out of a crowd. I care about the birth mother. I have to separate out the actions she's taken from the person she is. I hate the decisions she's made and what she's done with her life, but I don't hate her. I pray for her, and have been praying for her for a long time. I pray for both of the birth parents. I want them to make better choices in their lives and live up to their highest potential. One day I want to be able to tell Jackson that even though his birth parents made bad choices and acted in a selfish manner, they were able to overcome it and lead the life that God intended them to live. 

In church, when I kneel to pray, I often whisper my prayers into Jackson's ear. I want him to hear me pray. I want him to know what I'm praying for. I always pray for his birth parents. I call them by name and pray that they will seek God's mercy and love. 

Most of the other hard questions centered around Jackson. What did I want for his life? Would I be disappointed if he chose a different life plan? Different religion? I really had to take a moment to ponder these things. Of course I want Jackson to reach his highest potential, but more importantly I want him to be kind.  I want him to be as productive and independent as possible and hold himself to a high standard of conduct. I would be disappointed if he chose to live a different faith, but understand that the decision is his to make. 

The strangest questions, in my view, centered around why I wanted to adopt. The adoption worker was genuinely surprised when I informed her I had always wanted to adopt. Her response was something like: Well how did you know you could ever love a child that wasn't yours? That was shocking to me, as I've never viewed love as being tied to DNA. 

Finally, the interview was done, all of my references had been contacted, and the work on my end was complete. Then the waiting began. It was required that Jackson live with me for at least 6 months and 1 day before the adoption was finalized, so I understood that nothing could be finalized prior to the end of August. I anxiously waited to hear from Nevada. The stress of not knowing if the adoption would occur was mostly relieved, but still lingered. We enjoyed the summer though, knowing that the end was near. 

August came and went and still no adoption date. Finally, towards the end of September, I received an email from my Texas adoption worker. She thought my file was complete, but was informed my health inspection needed to be done by the city, not her, so I needed the health inspector to come to my house. To say I was upset is an understatement. I was assured by her in June that the health inspection she did was good and required no further action, even though in the paperwork I had it clearly stated it had to be done by the city. I had no communication from her between June and September despite my weekly attempts at contact. Once I had the health inspection completed and Texas was able to submit my completed file to Nevada, an adoption date was set. They told me I didn't have to be present but there was no way I was going to not be there. Finally the light at the end of the tunnel was just an arms reach away!

Next blog post will be all about the big day!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Adoption journey part 2

The flight home with Jackson from Las Vegas was an adventure in and of itself. I was new to baby wearing at that point and was thanking God for my Solly Baby wrap because I don't know how I would have done it without it. As soon as the gentleman sitting next to me and Jackson sat down, he texted his wife, "Great, I'm sitting next to a screaming baby." I just laughed to myself because I couldn't help but think, if you only knew what I've gone through to be able to be sitting here with this baby you might have a bit of compassion. I also was secretly wishing Jackson would have a melt down just so this guy would get what he deserved!

Luckily, Jackson was a champ with only a minor cry-fest toward the end of the flight. When we got to San Antonio, I was introduced to the loveliness that is the kid seat in the family bathrooms in Terminal A. These should be required in all bathrooms by law! 

My best friend, Amy, finally got to meet Jackson, and Kirby experienced the unwelcome change of no longer being the center of attention in the house. She's still waiting for him to leave. 

I was able to take 6 weeks off of work to stay with Jackson when he came home. Like many women in the US, I have no maternity leave, so I was thankful that I had enough sick time and vacation time to allow me to take that much time off. 

Transitioning from one home to another, one family to another, is never easy. It was a rough first month home. Jackson and I both were adjusting to change and figuring each other out. I felt like I was swimming in a pool of unknowns. Taking care of and loving Jackson was easy. The hard part was navigating between the foster care systems in two states. Before leaving Las Vegas, I had to hound the case worker for the documentation I needed in order to travel with Jackson. The papers were finally emailed Thursday just in the nick of time since I was leaving on Friday. When I asked what to expect in regard to when I would be contacted by someone in Texas to swap over his Medicaid, etc., I was told that they might contact me within a month but it may be longer. In other words, no one knew. So there I was with a baby that only had Nevada Medicaid (I couldn't add him to my insurance prior to adoption) and I was just praying he wouldn't get sick because my only option for care was an emergency room. 

A little over a month after bringing Jackson home and countless phone calls to the Nevada and Texas ICPC offices, I finally had a visit from Jackson's Texas case worker.  I had a ton of questions but she had no answers.  She was nice, but had no knowledge of the ICPC process or how I needed to navigate the system.  I realized at that point, that essentially, I was on my own.  If anything was going to get done it was going to be because I made it happen.  So off I went to apply for Medicaid.  I've always been on the other side of Medicaid, providing care to children and billing Medicaid, and had minimal knowledge of the entire application process.  The only tip I received from the ICPC office was to indicate that Jackson's salary was $0.  The first time around, Jackson was denied Medicaid... yup denied.  The reason: "he is not old enough."  What?!?!?  Evidently, what I applied for was children's Medicaid - not that I was given an option, but, whatever - and since Jackson was only 10 months old at the time, he was only eligible for infant Medicaid.  So, I had to reapply and finally, shortly before his first birthday, Jackson finally had Medicaid coverage in Texas and not a moment too soon as he was sick as a dog.  When I was finally able to get him to a quick care clinic, he had double eye infections and an upper respiratory infection and was green under the gills. You can just see how poorly he felt! 

Shortly after finally getting over his illness, Jackson turned 1!  We celebrated his birthday while I was home in Las Vegas for my niece's first communion, so we just had a small celebration at home in Texas on his actual birthday.

Jackson's birthday was pivotal for many reasons.  I knew that there was no chance that his birth parents' rights would be terminated before his first birthday.  While federal regulations have recently dictated that parental termination occur in a more timely manner, to avoid children essentially sitting in foster care for their entire childhoods ineligible for adoption, it still takes longer than I feel it should to actually terminate rights.  Jackson turned one on May 13, and the termination of parental rights was set for June 9th. 

I was teaching the morning of the termination hearing and about an hour before the appointed court time, I received a phone call from a case worker that had, the day before, just been appointed to Jackson's case.  She informed me that she wasn't ready for court.  She hadn't had time to bring herself up to speed, etc. and wanted to postpone the hearing.  In no uncertain terms, I informed her that her unpreparedness was not Jackson's problem.  Thankfully, the states attorney was prepared to move forward and I received a phone call, from my mother, shortly after the court proceedings, telling me that the termination was approved. 

While termination was the outcome I wanted, it was a bag of mixed emotions.  My preference would have been that Jackson's birth parents would have willingly terminated their rights.  I wanted them to feel like they had made the choice on their own and could never say that their child was taken away from them.  That didn't happen though.  My elation that another step in the adoption process was completed was shadowed with feelings of grief for the birth parents. Every day prior to termination, and after, my prayer has been that God's will be done.  While I fully believe that this was God's will, it's still a tough pill to swallow.  There is both beauty and tragedy in the fact that Jackson will not be raised by the woman who gave birth to him.  I truly believe that Jackson was always meant to be my baby boy, but I am not looking forward to having to explain that to Jackson in the future.

A month later, I was finally ready to share about Jackson on Facebook.  Prior to that time, I was not willing to share with more than a small circle of friends due to all of the uncertainty surrounding Jackson's situation.  On July 10th I posted:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
Some gifts you have to wait to share. Those are the best kind of gifts. This gift came home 19 weeks ago. I couldn't have dreamt of a better gift.
Soon he will share my name, but until then you just get glimpses. He's practically perfect in every way and I will gladly share more of him via text or private message.
His name is Jackson Benet after my Papo, JB.

At that point I could not share pictures of Jackson's face, so I perfected the faceless pics!  The adventure was not over yet.  There was no set adoption date and there was minimal communication from his new case worker.  I just prayed that it would be finalized sometime in 2015.