If the word “journey” leaves you feeling exhausted or at the very least annoyed by its frequent use within the adoption community, you aren’t alone. A quick keyword search on adoption.com or a digital stroll through our community forums yields an endless list of results. In contrast, I ran a quick Google search on my desktop. The definition of the word “journey” actually takes a backseat to a Wikipedia page on the 1970’s rock band initially led by Steve Perry, an award-winning game, and a famous retail brand. Partly rattled, I scrolled down past the jumbled web results and landed on the definition of journey I felt most resonated with our adoption finalization:
Definition of journey (Entry 1 of 2) 1: something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another
I believe this definition most aligns with the path to adoption finalization because it acknowledges the route from hopeful anticipation to the comfort of forever. We often call it a journey because there is an end goal, yet so much of the in-between experience is unpredictable and heavy.
So what makes the word “journey” arguably overused in the adoption community, yet at times unremarkable in the mainstream world? For starters, we aren’t already at a place of eternity when we begin. The journey might start in the room when your child is born, meeting your five-year-old son for the first time, or the sharp realization that your child struggles with food insecurity. It is being called less than a parent by a well-intentioned front desk receptionist or at the first reunion with a birth parent. It is lessons in haircare from a neighbor, painful goodbyes, the letter to family on what to expect at placement. The sleepless nights before court dates, the joy in developmental leaps, and the pain in soothing an inconsolable child who misses someone she no longer recognizes.
Being an adoptive parent is a journey made up of no less than unconditional love, boundless patience, humility, and outright grit.
Finalization means something different for each family, and the path toward finalization varies greatly. This article by fellow adoption advocate Derek Williams goes into depth on the process, whether you choose to adopt internationally, privately in the United States, or through foster care like my family.
One of the most critical factors in your journey to finalization is other people. Realistically, adoption often involves:
- The adoption triad
- Other support services
- A flawed system
- Uncontrollable factors as inconvenient as inclement weather or as complex as a newly identified next of kin in another state.
For many, the adoption is finalized months, sometimes years (in the case of our foster care adoption) after placement.
For instance, a private adoption might involve the months leading up to birth, the joyous day your baby is born, and then weeks or months led by an adoption attorney to complete the Order of Adoption, all while you bond with your newborn. This time will still feel raw and uncertain, as told by many parents in our community. In our case, from placement to finalization took a little over two years.
Once the worker filed our certification and petition to adopt following the Termination of Parental Rights in May, it took another four months full of home visits from the adoption worker and tons of paperwork to receive our date for the Final Adoption Court Hearing. I have a framed picture of my son sleeping on my husband’s shoulder, dog-tired from the adoption day festivities. I want to think his tiny body also felt the immense relief of one journey ending and the upcoming period of rest for our forever family.
So my first piece of advice is this: keep a journal. Whether it’s a digital journal, photo journal, daily journal, or only written in on court dates, I promise you won’t regret it.
A look at my adoption journey via excerpts from my journal and social media posts might give you the front-seat experience you won’t always find back and forth between Google searches. These are my raw and unfiltered words meant to make sense of a process that looks very different for families built by adoption.
The following is an abbreviated documentation of our path to adoption finalization:
January 28, 2016
(Pictured here, a packet of unidentifiable paperwork) The most important stack of paperwork we’ve ever filled out. Parents to be!
It was in these early moments that my husband and I held on tight to the idea that we’d make it out of this process happy and well-rested, our baby gracefully dangling in the plushness of a Baby Bjorn. I laugh now at the reference to the application packet as a stack. The application to become a foster parent, however daunting at first, would become a distant memory. The stacks would come later at monthly medical meetings, combined with altered case plans, and of course at finalization.
September 4, 2016
And just like that, we are foster parents of two!
It turns out there is typically more than one fork-in-the-road on the way to adoption. My husband and I took the road less traveled and accepted a sibling group without much notice. One child with medical needs required around-the-clock care. Neither needed a Baby Bjorn. As quickly as we drove a hundred miles to attend the Medically Complex Training Program so we could accept this pair, they landed on our doorstep, giggling in unison and asking for more snacks.
November 5, 2016
I imagine most parents rejoice when their kiddos begin to learn new words. Having a child come into care virtually non-verbal and experiencing his journey as he builds confidence to know and say new words is incredible. No one said it would be easy, but he and his sister’s journey is something we will never regret, no matter the outcome.
In retrospect, I can smell the steady fear in this hopeful foster mother’s words. I anticipated the upcoming court date, knowing there was an ongoing evaluation of a next of kin in a neighboring state. I shoved that fear and uncertainty as far down as I could and tended to my child’s immediate needs. Our son was making huge strides in several development areas and, surprisingly, finally warmed up to my husband’s hugs. Until these days, any male embrace left him stiff because of broken trust in his early life. Reflecting on this time reminds me of our trial and error on the path to finalization.
December 1, 2016
Another court date in the books, and the relief that we will be spending the holidays with these two. I’ll be cherishing every moment.
A momentous court date where we met their paternal grandmother for the first time. A diligent evaluation performed by the state led to denial in the children’s custody. This assessment to identify next of kin by the state worker began well before our placement occurred and lasted less than one year. I am eternally grateful to the state investigator, caseworkers, and judge who all held the children’s best interests at the core of this process.
December 25, 2016
My heart is full on this Christmas morning. No matter what the next month brings, I feel grateful to spend this special time with these two. My only regret is not being able to show their sweet faces as they opened gifts. Being a foster parent has ripped my heart wide open and allowed for more love, joy, and understanding to enter than I ever thought possible.
I anticipated the new year and the first official follow-up on their birth mother’s case plan progress. Unfortunately, she didn’t show that next month in court. We had a visitation planned the next week and the coordinator sent us home after the visitation center reported concerns at her arrival. Those concerns would later be documented on our monthly paperwork and reviewed at the state worker’s next court date. About this time, between diaper changes and early morning wake-up calls, I realized the impact of not sharing pictures of our children on Christmas morning; we were not their legal guardians yet.
March 7, 2017
(Pictured a boy, gleefully the driver of a Little Tikes red car) The best way to prep for surgery!
Our son’s first surgery took place months later than I would have liked. This occasion was our introduction to how the hospital must gain approval from the state worker for all procedures and medication one hour before. It’s bizarre to be at your child’s bedside as he undergoes surgery with anesthesia, knowing you have no legal rights should anything happen to him. I felt very out of control in these moments on our journey.
May 14, 2017
I can’t show you the faces of the precious children who call me “Momma” or “Mommy,” and I can’t tell you they are legally mine today. But I can tell you that I feel a deep and unexplainable feeling of privilege, relief, sadness, and joy today. I’m celebrating this Mother’s Day with my heart full of love and support for all the mothers out there.
We hadn’t seen their birth mother for a long time. I was very emotional today, proud to be a mother, and empathetic to mothers everywhere.
August 22, 2017
Just keep swimming. Today is our annual review, so it’s a big day for our family. The four of us will go before the judge, and the state worker will request to change the case plan to adoption. This change means nothing permanent, and we still have a lot of water to cross, but it does mean that we will stay the course. These two are our guides.
What an exciting day! This meeting was the climax of our story and, although we had been inside the same courtroom many times before, uncharted territory awaited. In one year, we had accumulated two journals full of documentation regarding our daughter’s medical needs, an accordion folder full of their milestones, and countless gray hairs.
June 1, 2018
Surgery number two for our sweet boy. I think Mommy and Daddy are the most nervous!
Over a year later, I can still not sign the paperwork before the hospital administration calls the state caseworker an hour before surgery to approve everything. We laugh when the nurse plops a scrub cap on his head, and we wait for the caseworker to call the administrator back before we can proceed. Eventually, they are ready to wheel him back, and my son calls out for me and reminds me to watch Pua, the pig, while he’s gone.
September 7, 2018
I present to you our children’s life stories on paper. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to see their birth certificates for the first time.
I poured over these documents for hours. These never-ending stacks of paperwork would keep me up for many consecutive nights.
September 20, 2018
The outpouring of support from friends and family has been overwhelming, so I feel we owe a short status on our journey. Once foster parents sign the initial paperwork for the adoption, the process is still not complete. The adoption social worker must process the paperwork; you must hire an adoption attorney, sign more paperwork, sign a petition for the courts, review the paperwork accuracy, send it to the judge’s secretary, and then wait for a court date. We are now anxiously awaiting our court date. On that very special day, with a judge present, the adoption becomes official. We’re hanging tight, and by tight, I mean I’m going to burst out of my skin soon!
If you have questions on anything from the time frame to different ways to celebrate, visit this forum for a massive list of conversations regarding “finalization.” We had so many friends and family reach out in anticipation of our long-awaited journey coming to an end. By this time, we are seasoned foster parents who still don’t have all of the answers!
October 9, 2018
With our hearts full of love and joy, in the presence of our family and friends (like family), we finally adopted our children today. And if you know them, you know they adopted us.
Not all families celebrate finalization. In other articles, I’ve mentioned that I rejected comments centered around us “finally” being a family because we were always family. On our adoption day, we wanted to celebrate the strenuous and meaningful journey we endured together. When I look back and see an inconsolable mother at the court table, I honor the weight I carried during our adoption journey. I am happy for documentation of a cathartic moment in which the worry melted away.
It can be easy to get caught up in the hardship and endless fortitude on display for all to see. The essential truth of the journey to finalization is your children are walking the same journey alongside you. They need you to hold them, listen to them, hold their hand when they are scared or uncertain, and sometimes even carry them through to the end.