Monday, August 29, 2011

Pool Requirements

There have been many items/issues to be considered as we go through this adoption process. This post is on the pool - just one of those small things that has really annoyed us, so I thought I would share!

When we were looking for a home in 2009, we specifically wanted a house that had a pool. It was important, since J's daughter comes out in the summer, and it is frankly brutal here at that time of year. We were very lucky and bought a house that had a lovely backyard (by AZ standards - it probably looks like a side yard for most people, but lots aren't big out here). The most enjoyable part of the yard is that it's green, and you can't see most of the brick fence.

(We have never used the chimney thing - but there's always hope!)

Because many homes have pools in AZ, there is an unfortunately high drowning rate for children here. Every year the fire departments and news stations put out a "No Drowning" campaign, but accidents still happen. So, AZ law requires that every household with a pool either needs to have 1) a fence around the pool or 2) high doorknobs to all external doors. Our house had high doorknobs, which was our preference. Don't knock the doorknobs - Sydni is 4'6, and only this summer was she able to get enough leverage to open the door after three or four tries. I occassionally need two, and I'm almost 5'6.

The pool area was designed to have mesh fencing - and did have it when we purchased it, but somehow the mesh fencing disappeared by the time we moved in. We considered buying one, but never really got around to it.

When we started the adoption process, we were loathe to learn that the judges in AZ have refused homes without pool fences so frequently that no agency will accept high doorknobs as a viable security option. This did not go over very well at all. It was something that took us about 6 months to really agree to, and most of our reasoning was that we could use mesh fencing, and take it down once the children were fully adopted.

(That is not a real turtle on the step. It's just a mosaic turtle, who needs a name)

We found the agency that we really liked, and then we hit another snag. The agency that we're partnered with only works with children who do not have major developmental delays, are relatively healthy, and speak English - all items that were important to us. We also had a great recommendation from a friend, and that is worth it's weight in platinum. The snag? There had been an issue with a foster family who had a mesh fence and had taken it down to mow the lawn - and a child drowned. So, they do not allow mesh fencing at all. No mesh fences. At. All.

Insert an additional 6 month deliberation on the pool vs. the adoption.

When we had really come to terms with it, and said, "OK, the yard is really split in half anway, we could put a fence right down the middle of the yard, and that would be fine." we decided to jump into the training with both feet. We had our initial (exhaustive) home visit which went incredibly well, except for one piece of information - she had concerns that we would be required to put a fence around the entire pool, including this section:

Between the wall of the house, and the lip of the pool is approximately 2 ft (it might be 3 ft, but it's too hot to go out and measure it). Putting a fence in the middle of that not only blocked the view of the yard out of the livingroom windows, but also made it impossible to walk to the other side of the yard - where our good fruit trees are, the AC units, dog poop... things we need access to. This lead to the statement from one person in this family, who will remain nameless:

"F that. I am NOT putting a fence around the whole pool. I refuse to! I won't do it!! End of discussion!!"

Keeping in mind that it means you're also not adopting a child or two, that's a pretty heavy statement.

So, this lead to a panicked review of safety and pool regulations in an attempt to find a loophole - and if anyone could find one, it would be me. I'm a master of reviewing legalese, I should count it as a second language. :) Luckily I DID find a loophole, and so from there it was just hoping and pleading that DES would agree that it was an acceptable safety solution. The loophole was to "permanently disable" the windows from the livingroom and our bedroom that are along that wall. Lucky for us, this couldn't have been requested if the children's bedroom windows were there, or if the gate to get out of the yard had been on that side, as it would have prevented egress routes in case of a fire. So, since we never open those windows anyway (did I mention it's 107 degrees out right now?) we decided to do our initial pool evaluation with DES, and hope that I could convince them that disabling the windows was perfectly legal, and met all safety requirements (please, please, please, please, please!)

Good news! The DES guy was very friendly, and he immediately suggested my proposed solution, so I didn't even have to weedle my way into the discussion. He approved the plan to fence the yard in half, and even showed me how I could disable the windows.

Phew! We might actually get to the training class without another pool catastrophe!

Monday, August 22, 2011

How Did We Get Here?

My Side:
I've had an underlying hormonal issue since I was 20. I basically can't produce estrogen on my own, so I've been post-menopausal for 10 years. There are many symptoms and side effects, from which I spare you the vivid (ly red) mental picture, but suffice it to say that it's not natural for a 20 year old girl to be post-menopausal. Left untreated, it made me "functionally" infertile, which basically means that I could conceive, but not build a sufficient lining, and so would be a miscarriage machine.

In relation to this issue, but because of some of the other symptoms, I've done hormone therapy two times. For those of you who don't know, each time you do hormone therapy you increase your risk of cancer to the 10th power. My symptoms were bad enough that I agreed to that -- twice. So lucky me, having already gone through menopause, I got to go through it again backwards while doing treatments, then waited six months while it wore off in the hope that I would start producing it again myself (which didn't happen). Then went through menopause again. Early in the second round (after going through menopause for a 4th time) I started rapidly developing abnormal cell growth in my cervix, and we had to cut off the therapy immediately. The solution from there was to take double birth control indefinitely, skipping placebo pills, as a low grade hormone alternative.

(picture courtesy of

J and I discussed the possibility of a natural birth, but the reality was that it would be high risk. It would require another round of hormone treatment, with enormous cancer risks, which neither of us were willing to do. Even then, there would be no guarantees that I could carry. When we decided that we were definitely never going to go the natural route (before we had clearly defined an adoption path) I had a tubal ligation, and ablation done, so that I could at least stop taking birth control and go back to my natural (post menopausal and 30 lbs lighter) state. That would be menopause #5, and what I dearly, seriously hope is the last one.

The good news is that I learned about my health issues many years ago, and had plenty of time to make a decision on what was the right choice for me. Whether or not we adopt children, I am comfortable with the fact that I'm not going to have my own natural children - or have the horrible symptoms of trying to make your body into something it doesn't want to be.

J's Side:
J's easier. He makes beautiful babies.
(picture courtesy of ME, I take great photos :)

He actively talked about adoption before we even decided officially that we would not go the natural route. J has a big heart. He believes that there are very few ways that you can truly make a difference in your life, and adoption is one of those times. He is energized by kids, went to school to be a teacher, and worked in a special needs class, before he started his own family and needed to make more money.

J was also influenced by a childhood friend, who was adopted, and raised in a loving family. It always impressed him that the child was "one of them", even though he was adopted.

The hardest part about the decision process for him has been the situation with his daughter, who lives in Florida 11 months out of the year. He is concerned about the impact on her (in the other part of her family, she has an older step-brother, and a younger half-sister) not being the special only child when she's here, having to share a bedroom when she comes, etc. He's also most driven to this process because he truly wants to be an every day Dad, and he's not able to do that in his current circumstances.

The Decision:
We've talked about adoption now for several years, on an almost weekly basis. It's a big change, and we already have a great life. I think sometimes that makes it even harder - why make a huge change, when everything is going well? For a long time, I struggled with not having my Sunday afternoon nap. J concerned himself about finances and afterschool activities. We both didn't want to put a fence around the pool (we bought a house with high doorknobs for a reason... but that's an entirely different post). We went back and forth on the idea at least 100 times, and never stayed in a certain direction for very long. We went to orientation for the agency we liked back in December, and we only turned our initial paperwork in this July. So... we've given it a lot of consideration.

(picture from

Where we stand right now is pretty simple. In a cold-hearted, rational, logical approach is never ever ever ever ever going to get a family started (I'm pretty sure there's a reason why people are physically attracted to each other, because who would willingly give up Sunday afternoon naps?!). So, we agreed that we're going to sign up for classes, and see where we stand. If we feel good, then we'll get licensed, and then see where we stand. If that works, and we're commited at that point, we'll go for it. But the important thing is that we won't be feeling any pressure to move on to the next step just because we've started, or because I'm writing a blog, or because the family is expecting some changes. The right decision for us will be the right one - so now we're just looking for additional information, and training will give us that opprtunity.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Initial Home Visit

Hi All,

Welcome to my new blog, Adventures in Adoption. Long post initially - I promist they won't all be this long. A couple of housekeeping notes:

- For those (few) of you who have this blog on your following role, it has been repurposed from tri/running race reports, to now be focused on our adoption process. Feel free to unfollow, you won't hurt my feelings.

- Since it's being repurposed, the blogs from 2009 and prior are old blogs that I still want to keep, but they have nothing to do with adoption. :)

- We had our initial home visit this past weekend, and so I'm going to start with fresh details, then play catch up, so this is not exactly in chronological order.

- We are going through the process of a Foster/Adopt Adoption, or DES Adoption - basically, kids that are eligible for adoption through Child Protective Services. We will not be fostering children who are not eligible for adoption. If you have any questions, feel free to ask - but I'll be covering those details in another post.

About two days before the home visit, I started thinking that I needed to write everything down. Part of it was so that I would remember the details of this process to tell to children later. The other part was that a lot of the blogs I was reading/searching/hunting for info on the initial home visit didn't really say much about the details. There were no how to steps, no prep for what to expect. It was mostly "CLEANED EVERYTHING!!", followed by "NO sweat, 10 minutes, why was I panicking?" This was not very helpful when I myself was panicking. And this leads to my thanking my twitter and IRL friends for being soothing, calm, and answering questions like "Do I make the bed? Or is that too obvious? Do I unvacuum the vacuum lines? What do you think about flowers on the kitchen table? HELP!! I'm ironing the shower curtain and I can't stop!"

(picture courtesy of

So, in addition to my emotions and feelings for this process, I also want to let you know what I did - and how it worked out.

So, without getting into too much detail - once we decided on a US adoption, I had reviewed several agencies, gone to a Valley wide multiple agency orientation, and we decided on the agency for us. I filled out the initial interest paper (1 pg, nothing detailed) and handed it in. Within a day, our licensing specialist Diana called (and we were thrilled to get her, as we have some friends who recently adopted, and they had her as their specialist and loved her). She gave me her name, email, phone, asked for my contact details, told me she lived just a few blocks away, and then set up an initial home visit time and date. During that visit, she just wanted to get to know us, fill out some initial paperwork, and take a glance around the house.

This sounded like an absolutely adequate amount of information until... two days before the visit. That was when I realized that I had no idea what kinds of questions she would ask to get to know us (Favorite color? Am I a picky eater? Do I have a criminal record?), what kind of paperwork we'd be filling out (I was thinking everything from household income, to military release paperwork - which luckily I had handy), and glancing around the house kicked my OCD self into action.

In preparation, I was told by a family who was involved in a foster program that too neat is just as much of a turn off as too dirty. This killed me. Aparently, some agencies feel that Better Homes and Garden neat means that the family is completely unprepared for the messy monsters that will be coming to live with you. J and I are pretty neat in general. It's not that we clean every surface three times a day , but there's only two of us, and neither one is a slob, so the house doesn't really get messy. In retrospect, I probably could have cleaned off the counter tops, and been fine. But, instead, I rescheduled the cleaning ladies to come the day before the visit, cleaned out closets, reoganized the office, wiped away the vaccuum lines in all carpeted areas and the couches, swept the front courtyard, organized the pantry (things were starting to go OCD awry when the labels all had to be facing front), and yes, I ironed the shower curtain in the guest bath. But from there, I was struggling with too neat - so then I did a poll on bed making (end concensus was smooth out the comforter, but don't put decorative pillows up, let the guest bed and Sydni's bed stay made, and nice) and that lasted until about 2 hours before the meeting, when I did in fact put decorative pillows on our bed. I just. couldn't. help. myself. I also did a poll on clothing options (I wore nice jeans, and a comfy, modest black top, J went with red sox t-shirt, and khaki shorts), how many dishes I should leave in the sink (breakfast dishes), and what would constitute "lived in" (for me, scattering books around the house). I did all this anticipating she would be in the house for 10 minutes, and not look at any of it.

I was wrong.

The initial home visit took almost two hours. We filled out and reviewed mounds of paperwork, and she reviewed every part of the house to check for "potential issues" and give suggestions on things that we would need to prepare for the final home visit, after our training. I was so glad I had cleaned out the closets, you have no idea.

The good news was that I felt like she appreciated our (sometimes painful) honesty, she clearly liked the house - making comments about how big the closet was, how much she liked my bookshelves in the office, that she liked the floor plan, that we had a nice layout, and overall that we were clearly safety concious, and there were not too many changes to make. Also, for those of you following along, the smoke alarms did not chirp once while she was there. Whew. I think we made a good and realistic first impression.

The questions that she asked us were mostly on parenting. What experiences did we have with children? Had we ever worked with special needs or at risk youth? What were our preferences regarding age, ethnicity, and gender? All questions we were well prepared to answer. The paperwork is amazing. It was given in three segments - initial home visit, before training, and home study.

During the home visit, we filled out the following:
- Adoptive Families Central Registry Records Clearance (CPS background check)
- Initial Visit Questions (above)
- Adoption Orientation Checklist
- Agency Policies
- Agency Fee for Home Studies Agreement
- Department of Economic Security Release of Information
- Release of Information/Training Attendance

We were given large packets (to be discussed in a future post) to be turned in before training. Those packets included:
- Personal Profile (one for me, one for J, one for Sydni to fill out - each about 12 pages)
- 5 References - family and friends
- Application (16 pages, everything from householding info, detailed financial records, 10 years physical addresses, 10 years employment history...exhaustive details)
- Training profile (10 pgs)
- 3 sets of fingerprinting cards, each

I can't even think about the paperwork to be filled out for the home study, but it includes marriage licenses, divorce decrees, child support tables, medical reviews, counseling, CPR documentation, military discharge paperwork, credit reports, etc. It's amazing how little paperwork needs to be signed to have your own children, and yet if you want to do a good thing and raise a child without a family, well then, let's make sure CPS has your tally of birthmarks, previous haircuts, and blood type on file.

So from here, we're on paperwork duty (for those keeping track at home, the queen of papercuts has already received one from this stack - feel free to put over/under bets for the entire process tally in the comments). Our training class starts on September 21st, and we are tentatively optimistic!