South Africa Adoption Story: Kerri and Nathan

Kerri and her daughter, Elsa

“The way our family came to be is outside of what I ever thought, or envisioned, for myself. Adoption was never something that I had thought much about, especially when it came with growing my own family. But, when I reflect, I am so thankful that my family has been built in this way. It has been built perfectly and beautifully- better than I could have ever anticipated or dreamed of for myself.

Adoption came into my and my husband’s life after struggling with infertility for several years after the birth of our son. It led us to adopt a 3-year-old girl from Ethiopia, our daughter Elsa.

After seeing the immense need of so many children who did not have a family, we knew we would one day adopt again. After a few years, we brought our son, Asher, home from South Africa. He was 2.5 years old. Soon after, we learned we were pregnant! Our children are now ages 10, 8, 4, and 1.

Kerri and Nathan’s four children

As a parent to two biological children, and two internationally adopted children, I have to say that it feels completely normal to me. I often forget that our family unit may be very different from those around us.

Adopting our children has brought me the exact same feelings as having my biological children has. Feelings of immense love, joy, protection, hope for their future, and worry (of course) about if I am doing this parenting thing right. Being a parent is a roller coaster ride – with so many emotions and ups and downs. Any child, no matter what their origin, brings the same parenting concerns.

One thing that being an adoptive mom has taught me, is that I need to be well-versed in trauma informed parenting. No matter what the circumstance, or special need, or what age a child is when they are adopted, they all have experienced great trauma in being separated from their family of origin. Having adopted children means disciplining differently. Parenting two children who have had very difficult beginnings is not easy, by any means. I feel that educating myself, and implementing a different approach to disciplining and parenting, is something every adoptive parent needs to commit to. Plus, I believe that learning these amazing parenting techniques has helped me to be a better mom to all my kids.

Having a biological child after adopting has brought up some big conversations with my kids about first families, what we call “tummy mommies and tummy daddies” – and what it means to have a parent. It has been an incredible experience to walk alongside my children as they each process their own story.

Having two African children brings a completely new perspective to our family. My entire world view has changed because of knowing my adopted children. The course of my life, the course of my husband’s life, of our biological kids’ lives, and of our extended family’s lives, have been opened to a new viewpoint through our adoptive children. We are all blessed to know Elsa and Asher and have changed for the better because of them.

Kerri, Nathan, and their four children

Because of Elsa and Asher, my life is rich and full in ways I never would have experienced. My family is Ethiopian and South African. I have gained two beautiful and diverse cultures. My family includes their heritage in each of our lives through music, food, and most amazingly, through the incredible African community we have met here, who are now like family.

We have traveled to Africa several times since starting the adoption process, and we even had a month-long stay together as a family in South Africa. The memories we made there will be cherished forever, and the kids talk about our experiences there often.

Being a mother to both biological and adoptive children is an incredible experience that I wish more people might consider. For me, it has formed the most beautiful family I could ever imagine.”

Orphan Sunday: Join Us to Support Vulnerable Children

Orphan Sunday is about raising awareness of the many children here and around the world who are in need of a loving and nurturing adoptive family. On November 11, 2018 Spence-Chapin will once again join the Orphan Sunday movement to help bring awareness to the need for more adoptive families! So many families are eligible to adopt – married and unmarried couples, single men and single women, LGBTQ parents, and families of all ages, income levels, and religions!

Whether living in a children’s home or with a foster family, today we stand alongside every child who has been disconnected from the possibility of a permanent family.

Spence-Chapin advocates for children in the New York Metro area and around the world through our international adoption programs in Bulgaria, Colombia and South Africa. We also offer lifelong support for children and their families through our counseling, parent coaching and post-adoption support services.

Building and strengthening families is our top priority.  We are committed to the idea that all children deserve a forever family, regardless of their age or medical condition, and we focus on finding families for the most vulnerable children: the thousands of pre-school and school-age children, sibling groups, and children with medical needs living in orphanages and foster care around the world. 

Join us at an event during National Adoption Month to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference in the life of a child:

To learn more about domestic and international adoption at Spence-Chapin, or to view profiles of Waiting Children ready to be immediately matched with an adoptive family today, contact us at 212-400-8150 or at info@spence-chapin.org.  

To learn about post-adoption supportservices and community programs, contact us at 646-539-2167 or  info@modernfamilycenter.org.

Bulgaria Adoption Story: Lee-Ann and William

Adopting a Child with Down Syndrome

Cotner-family-image

“Hi! We are the Cotner family! We are a big, fun, loud, loving, rocking family. We have six beautiful kiddos. Four were homegrown and two grew in our hearts via international adoption and they both just happen to be rocking an extra chromosome a.k.a. they have Trisomy 21 or Down Syndrome.

Our first son, Harvey, came home from Eastern Europe and completely stole our hearts. Soon after our first adoption, we knew that we wanted to adopt again, and specifically another kiddo with Down Syndrome. We knew financially that it might be easier for our family to wait a few years, but when I saw the profile of this waiting kiddo, my heart skipped a beat. I requested his file and I read it over and over. I was looking at it, yet again, when my youngest daughter Quinn said, “Oh, there he is… there’s my brother. I’ve been looking for him!” I knew he was our son and another adventure was beginning!

harrison-image

Harrison joined our family thanks to help from Spence-Chapin and our fabulous in-country team. In a beautiful coincidence, Harrison came home in October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Parenting a child with Down Syndrome is truly a blessing. Our sons who have Down Syndrome have overcome so many obstacles that most people take for granted. Seeing them overcome and succeed has given us a new insight on life and we truly appreciate all the little and big things. They are our shining lights. There are the hard days when the struggles of Down Syndrome and prior institutional trauma can hurt your mama heart, because we want to take all their pain and struggle away. But it just makes us love them more and remember that with love and patience we can all do hard things.

Our older four children are incredible with their little brothers. They are so loving and protective, and they are the boys’ biggest cheerleaders. They loved them before they even met them, and their admiration for their brothers only grows. I always say the greatest gift we’ve ever given them was each other.

My husband, William, is active duty Army and that can add some additional hiccups, but Spence-Chapin handled it with such grace and ease. Our process was smooth, and we truly fell in love with Harrison’s birth country. The Army is incredibly supportive of adoption and we are so grateful for this. They let my husband take a substantial leave and even reimbursed some of our adoption expenses.

Every child deserves a family…. every child has worth, and we are forever thankful to be a part of the lucky few that get to have some rocking kiddos with Down Syndrome in their family thanks to adoption and Spence-Chapin!”

To learn more about adoption from Bulgaria and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/bulgaria

South Africa Adoption Story: Jennifer and Ryan

(Part I)

A mother reflects on her family’s transition at home after adopting her daughter from South Africa.

“I keep meaning to write a post about how well we’re all doing. I wake up each day with resolve to sneak away and write about Kurhula’s progress – the letters she’s learning, the pounds she’s gaining, the friends she’s making, and all the other ways she is thriving after seven months home. But lately, by the time her breakfast eggs have left the pan, she’s usually already initiated at least one epic power struggle. Despite all the progress she’s made (or, perhaps maybe because of all the progress) we’ve entered a trying phase of Kurhula testing her boundaries. Every boundary. Over and over. This has resulted in some loooong days, folks…with lots of foot stomping, arm crossing, and eye glaring pouts. It turns out our little girl has quite a stubborn streak! And she knows how to push my buttons faster than any child I’ve ever taught. By the end of each day, I usually opt for chocolate and puppy snuggles on the couch rather than writing a blog post about how well we’re all doing.

I’ve been questioning myself a lot lately, wondering if I’m getting this whole “motherhood thing” right. As I sit in the hallway outside her open door and watch her cry on her bed for the third time in one day, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing right by her. But then, inevitably, her sobs always turn to a whimper, and soon after, I usually hear her whisper, “Mama, I’m sorry. I feel bad…” That’s when I open my arms and welcome her into my lap, and we both take a minute to just breathe each other in again. This is how we’ve ended most days this month. And although it’s hard and exhausting, I know it’s what she needs right now. She’s testing us to make sure we mean what we say, to figure out if we really are going to keep her safe, and if we truly are here forever no matter what. Just last night she nodded her head emphatically and said, “Mama, you still love me even when I make the big, BIG Consequence Choices.” Yes, baby, even then. 

These last seven months have presented us all with a very steep learning curve. And although some days are harder than others, I am so proud of our little family and the ways in which we’re growing together. Speaking of growing, it seems our little baby really has turned into a young girl! She’s gained 4 pounds and grown 3 inches since coming home.

JANUARY 2015 & AUGUST 2015
ALTHOUGH SHE’S STILL ROCKING THE SAME PINK SNEAKERS, WE’VE GONE UP TWO SHOES SIZES!

She still begs to be carried around in the Ergo (or “the pouch” as she calls it), but Kurhula now has a collection of scooters and bikes that she likes to zip around on during family walks. She loves her pets and smothers them in kisses and hugs throughout the day. And when we visited her doctor today for a blood draw (which has always resulted in tears and screams in the past), Kurhula calmly put on her headphones, turned up the volume on her favorite Shakira song, and gritted her teeth while the nurse inserted the needle into her arm. 

I must laugh when I think back to our initial impressions of Kurhula, when all we had to go by were her referral photos and a few video clips. We thought she was delicate. We really did. We had no idea what a firecracker she’d really turn out to be. Anyone who meets Kurhula quickly learns that there is nothing fragile about our girl. In fact, she defines the word “fierce.” And although that means I’m probably in for at least twenty more years of epic power struggles, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

To learn more about adoption from South Africa and the children in need of families, visit: www.spence-chapin.org/south-africa

An Open Adoption Story

By Lucy Shaw, LMSW and Birth Parent Outreach worker for Spence-Chapin

Dax (third from left) with three of his biological siblings and adoptive Dad, Jochen

For National Adoption Month, I’m excited to share my personal story of open adoption with you all. As an adoptive mom in an open adoption and as a social worker focused on Birth Parent outreach at Spence-Chapin, I have a unique perspective on adoption that I think is important to share. Adoption is such an integral part of my life and something for which I am so grateful and proud.

My husband and I adopted our son Daxton (Dax) in 2014. He’s now four years old! When we decided to adopt, we began working with an adoption attorney, and within six months of completing our home study, we had connected with Erin, Dax’s birth mom when she was about two months pregnant.

From that moment on, we truly never looked back. It seemed like things were destined to be as soon as we started talking to Erin. We drove Pennsylvania from NYC to meet Erin for the first time in January 2014. She even invited us to meet her and go with her to get her first ultrasound to find out the gender of the baby! What do you know, the day we started driving was the day Snowstorm Hercules pummeled the east coast! We had to pull over on the side of the road several times due to heavy snowfall, but we kept trudging along because we were so insistent that we were going to make it to this appointment, no matter what. And I’m so glad we did! I still have the ultrasound photo today saved!

I’m so thankful for having this chance to visit Erin while she was pregnant because it set the stage for a genuine and trusting relationship going forward. Throughout this journey of getting to know each other, Erin has been an open book. We could see right away that she had the best intentions and was an incredibly brave, honest, strong and trusting woman. She shared her story of why she was considering adoption with us and we could see firsthand what a kind and loving mother she was to her four other children. We could also see how hard it was to be a single mom raising children, while trying to work full-time and complete her education so she could make a better life for her family.

As Erin’s due date began to approach, she kept us involved every step of the way. She included us in her birth plan and introduced us to her other children and her best friend. She also allowed us to be by her side in the hospital when she gave birth! She was amazing at the hospital – she let me cut the umbilical cord and let us hold Daxton for skin to skin contact while she also bonded with him and breastfed him throughout the time we were in the hospital. We just followed her lead.

Daxton was born on May 6, 2014 and that weekend we celebrated my first Mother’s Day with Erin, Dax’s birth siblings and Erin’s best friend in Pennsylvania – as we were hanging out, barbecuing and watching Daxton sleeping happily in his car seat, I continued to be in awe of Erin’s grace and generosity in sharing this event with us.

Since Dax’s birth, Erin continues to show her kindness, resilience and strength in so many ways. And I often see these qualities in Daxton too, like the way he interacts with everyone he meets in such a friendly and confident way. From the moment he could smile and wave, he’s been making friends with almost everyone he meets.

Lucy with Dax’s birth mom, Erin

We stay in touch with Erin in many ways – we keep each other updated on Facebook and Erin’s always one of the first to like any of the posts I have about Daxton or parenting. I know she’s always thinking of us and we’re always thinking of her as well. We also visit each other about once or twice a year. For Dax’s 4th birthday, she came to NYC with all the kids and baked three gorgeous cakes for our party. She always goes above and beyond our expectations during these visits.

Overall, I feel so lucky to have this relationship with Erin and am happy that Dax will grow up knowing his birth mother and his birth siblings and be able to answer all the questions he may have about his identity as he gets older.

Parenting may be one of the hardest jobs on earth, but for me being in an open adoption is one of the easiest things about being a parent. I know there are going to continue to be challenges, tough conversations, and ups and downs in the years to come, but I’m not worried about answering questions about adoption with Dax or anyone else. In that area, I know without a doubt, with Erin’s help, we have honesty, love and resiliency to guide us.

Domestic Special Needs Adoption at Spence-Chapin: Who Chooses the Adoptive Family?

Families often have questions about what the matching process is like in our Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program. Similar to Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Infant Adoption Program, the matching process in our Domestic Special Needs Program is driven by birth family whenever possible.

Spence-Chapin’s Domestic Special Needs Adoption Program (formerly called ASAP – A Special Adoption Program) was created when parents struggling with an unexpected diagnosis for their child came to us needing support. Since creating this unique program in 1995, we have found over 500 loving adoptive families for children with special medical needs, and we continue to work hard at expanding the benefits of adoption to more medically-fragile children and the prospective adoptive parents who want to love them.

The Spence-Chapin Way

For both our Special Needs and Domestic Adoption Programs, our counselors provide free, confidential, unbiased and culturally-sensitive options counseling for parents in crisis. Our goal is to support these families in understanding all their options and rights as well as the resources available, so they can be empowered to make informed decisions and plans for their child. This includes connecting families to early intervention services, Social Security Income (SSI), and finding additional resources to parent a child who is medically fragile.

For birth parents choosing adoption, we are uniquely qualified to support and guide them through the adoption planning process. Our Special Needs Adoption Program is one of the only places in NY and NJ that has expertise to support birth families and find loving adoptive families for medically-fragile infants. Sometimes we know prenatally that a baby will have a special need, other times we are contacted after the birth of the baby. We know that all birth parents have a great deal of love for their baby and want to make a plan that they feel is best for their child. When a child is born with a special needs, we look for adoptive families registered in our Special Needs Adoption Program.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Melissa tell her story about how Spence-Chapin helped her through a difficult time.

Ideally, birth parents can review profiles from multiple adoptive families. Some children have very severe medical conditions and it may be challenging to find multiple families for every child. When looking for prospective adoptive families, we network with other special needs organizations and advocates around the country to find supportive and loving families for children with diverse medical needs.

Additionally, some families have requests about the adoptive family, such as one or two-parent household, religious, racial, or ethnic preferences. In some cases, a birth parent may be looking for families that reflect their own heritage or cultural background. This means that not all families who are open to adopting a child may be profiled with birth parents. If a preference is known, we will often write it in the child’s online profile. Since the children are ready to be adopted immediately, birth parents are only presented with profiles of families that meet their preferences and have a current home study written by a social worker at an accredited agency in the family’s state.

Sometimes we already have adoptive families who have pre-registered with SC who can be considered. Other times we need more options for the birth family and are looking for more prospective adoptive families. Not all waiting children are photo listed on our website. It is the birth parent’s choice if their child’s photo and/or background information is shared online and each parent makes a choice that feels comfortable for them.

Because the children have special medical needs, it is important to know how and why a prospective adoptive family feels prepared to parent a child with significant medical needs. Eligibility is very flexible; we see all types of families: people who are not yet parents as well as parents of 8 or 10 children, families who live in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the U.S., families of different races and ethnicities, and parents of different ages. Families living in any state are eligible to apply to adopt. Overall, we are looking for loving families who are prepared and excited to adopt a child with special medical needs! Spence-Chapin supports open adoption and is seeking adoptive parents who are open to ongoing contact with their child’s birth parents, often in the form of phone calls, video chat, letters, emails, visits, and texts.

Ultimately, birth parents select an adoptive family by reviewing adoptive family profiles with their social workers. Once they have narrowed their choice to one family they would like to meet, a match meeting is held between the birth and adoptive parents with their social workers.

Birth Parent Perspective: Hear Zeke’s birth parents speak about their experience working with Spence-Chapin to make an adoption plan for their son. Zeke’s story was featured at the Spence-Chapin Gala in 2017. Learn more about his story here.

Birth Parent Perspective: Watch Scott talk about the unknowns he faced when his third child was diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally and how he and his partner explored adoption and ultimately chose to parent their daughter.

To learn more about becoming a prospective adoptive parent through our Special Needs Adoption Program, read our Special Needs FAQ on our blog! You can also contact us at 212-400-8150 or asap@spence-chapin.org.

If you are a birth parent considering making an adoption plan, you can contact us 24/7 for free, confidential and unbiased options counseling: Call 1-800-321-LOVE or Text: 646-306-2586.

5 Simple Ways to Show Grandparents You Care

Grandparents play a special role in the lives of their grandchildren. Whether they live near or far, it’s important to show them how much you care.

Here are 5 ways your child can show how much they love their grandparents:

  1. Send a card or letter: A handmade card or handwritten letter is a special treasure for grandparents. It’s a great way to let them know how much you love them.
  1. Ask them questions: Taking an interest in their stories and experiences is another way to show how much you care.
  1. Lend a helping hand: Whether it is working in the garden, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or dusting the furniture, it’s a simple and extremely helpful way to care for their needs.
  1. If your grandparents don’t live nearby, set up a scheduled phone-date or Skype call. It’s a great way to keep in touch and allows grandparents to see how their grandchildren are growing up!
  1. Play together: If you live near your grandparents, take time to play together. This Grandparents Day, bring your grandparents to Bagels & Blox! Enjoy a delicious brunch, meet other adoptive families, and express your love through play!

Adoption Lifestages

Not all kids develop their adoption understanding at the same time, but there are some commonalities that can help parents understand how to support their child.

AdoptionLifestagesWe offer programs, as well as short-term parent coaching to help you get the ball rolling on these important but sometimes difficult conversations.

Spence-Chapin Supports the NY State Bill of Adoptee Rights

We are proud to join  New York Statewide Adoption Reform’s Unsealed Initiative in supporting the passage of New York State’s Bill of Adoptee Rights (A909 in the Assembly and S2490-A in the Senate) which allows adoptees born in the State of New York to access certain records when they reach the age of 18, including their birth certificates and medical history if availableAdoption Files

We at Spence-Chapin believe that it is a fundamental right of adoptees to know their original identities as well as the identities of their birth parents. Spence-Chapin has a long history of supporting both birth mother and adoptee rights and knows that the sealed records policies of the past are inappropriate in the current adoption landscape.  The current restrictions that New York State law places on adoptees’ information are heartbreaking for adoptees and birth parents.

Spence-Chapin works with the adoption triad each day offering post adoption services: adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, all who are in support of passing this bill. Regardless of the laws governing adoption records in New York State in the past we need to move forward and understand how important it is to adjust to the needs and rights of the adoption triad in present times. We have the opportunity to change the lives of these New Yorkers and we therefore urge the passage of The Bill of Adoptee Rights immediately.

That’s why Spence-Chapin is testifying this Friday, January 31, 2014 on the hearing on Bill of Adoptee Rights and that is why we have signed a petition to The New York State House, The New York State Senate, and Governor Andrew Cuomo.   Will you support this petition? Click here to sign.

You  can call us at 646-539-2167 to learn more about Spence-Chapin’s Personal Adoption History support.

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Update: Watch our testimony

A Tribute to Fatima Kelly and Her Family

SavvySupporter_Tribute Family_Kelly

Our family (Velda, Joel, Mom and Camille).

When Fatima Kelly passed away last winter, her children wanted to do something special to honor their mother’s memory. “It was a no-brainer. When all was said and done, our mom was a wonderful mother, first and always. I went online to try to contact Louise Wise [who placed me with my parents], and was surprised to learn that they had dissolved a few years ago. Which is how I found Spence-Chapin,” says son Joel. “We asked friends and family to consider making a donation in lieu of flowers. We were thrilled with the response.”

Joel shares a snapshot of their family life:

“My mom and dad (adoptive parents) are African American. They were raised in North Carolina and moved to New York City right before WWII. Mom and dad married in 1946. After moving to New York, dad worked for the NYC subway and later the NYC Department of Corrections. Mom was an assembly worker at a camera factory in Queens until I was 6 years old or so, then became a full-time stay-at-home mother. Our dad had the build and coloring of Dr. Martin Luther King; mom was about 5’2” and fair skinned and, if I must say so myself, a real ‘looker’ in her day.

“I was born in Brooklyn in 1954. As I understand from information I received from Louise Wise Services, my birth mother was Jewish and blonde; my birth father was African American. I have never met them, and I’m not sure he ever knew she was pregnant as they were not married. I was adopted by mom and dad in 1956 or so. I have two sisters, Velda and Camille, also adopted, who are multi-racial like me. Louise Wise was involved in Camille’s placement: first as a foster child, then years later when she was adopted. Louise Wise also placed four other foster kids with the family – two brothers, and later a brother and sister. They each stayed with us for a few years before moving back with their families.

“Velda and I grew up in Queens, then later on Long Island. Our parents consistently stressed the importance of education, and battled with local school boards in the 60’s to ensure that we had quality teachers and the opportunity to attend the best schools. Despite her petite stature, mom’s energy was boundless and she spent weeks during many

summers camping alone in the woods with us (and often with many of our friends, too), just to keep us active and out of trouble. Our family moved to Uniondale, NY in 1964. Mom and dad continued to be very active in everything we did at school: they attended our plays, concerts and basketball games and (unfortunately) every PTA conference, too. Dad was typically busy with work, working shifts around the clock. Mom helped us with homework and, once she couldn’t, found tutors for us. She worked at our schools from time to time until Velda and I graduated from high school. They moved back to North Carolina in 1973 after dad retired.

Our parents’ focus on education paid off, I guess. Velda is a concert violinist with the Detroit Symphony. Camille has been a manager at Bank of America for many years. I received my law degree from Georgetown and now am a partner at Jackson Lewis, one of the premier employment law firms in the country. My wife and I live in Studio City outside Los Angeles.

Our dad passed in 1980. Mom was active well into her 80s and took great pride in later years in all of our accomplishments and successes. Mom passed on February 5 at age 89. She is buried in NYC.”

Roots Family Tour to Korea

This past July, I had the privilege of accompanying three families on the ROOTS tour to South Korea.  The ROOTS tour is a two week trip that provides Korean adoptees and their families the opportunity to see their homeland and to visit SWS and meet their foster families.  The trip included stops in several cities including Seoul, Daegu, Mt. Seorak and Geonju.

The trip was clearly special to all of us in very unique ways.  As an adoption social worker who has worked with many families who have either adopted from Korea or who are in the process of adopting from Korea, it was important for me to see where the children and families are later in life and if the training we provide families is carried through.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the adoptive parents were completely committed to ensuring that their children had a connection to their birth culture from a very young age and that this trip was a large part of this mission.  Most of the parents have been saving for this trip for many years and did not want their children to miss out on this opportunity.

Understandably, the children experienced a host of emotions during the trip but the overall theme was that they were grateful for the experience.  Some also expressed genuine interest in going back to South Korea for pleasure and/or as an intern for SWS.  The adoptive parents were very encouraging of this and stated that they would help to make this possible for their children in the future.

I feel honored that I was able to share this experience with these three families and like the children, I will be forever grateful for the experience. Dylan Shrader, LMSW, Spence-Chapin.

You can see Dylan’s pictures from this trip on Flickr.

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