Monday, January 27, 2014

Part II: Dear Birthmother Letter, Approval, Waiting, Cool Stuff for Us, Scammers, and Statistics!

Now that you've read about what it was like getting our Dear Birthmother Letter produced, approved, and posted live so that we could officially become available to be selected as adoptive parents through the IAC, let's talk about what that means and what has happened with all of that and us since November.

We have been live for two, almost three, months now.  This means our iheartadoption website/profile is available to be found by potential birthmothers considering adoption and the IAC has a stack of our Dear Birthmother Letter brochures to send out to any mother they do an intake on who matches our adoptive profile.  And that's it.   This is what they call "The Baby Wait."

We wait.  And while we wait, we pretend like our lives are exactly the same and try not to dwell on how much we really want something to happen.  We stay busy.  For example, Adrienne decided that it was time to take her photography business out of our house and into it's own commercial space.  In November, we found the perfect place in Avon, signed a lease, renovated the entire space in two weeks by ourselves, and revealed the Adrienne Nicole Photography Studio to our families on Thanksgiving Day.  She was unofficially taking photos at her studio in December and just this past weekend had her official grand opening to the public!  She had two newspaper articles about it and is picking up clients left and right.  For me, it was business as usual - we did all the Smiley Morning Show holiday stuff, Three Dollar Bill Comedy produced another sell out Christmas Show for The IndyFringe Theatre, I finalized plans for USA of Indiana's winter soccer training for our travel teams, and made 2014 plans / continued producing The Will Show Podcast / Radio Show.  We realized that this adoption thing is going to unfold at its own pace and as much control as we would love to have over the developments, until something happens or there is a break-through of some sort, we just have to keep moving forward with all of our regular ambitions.  In fact, we are happy to be busy with all of these things that we love because otherwise we'd be going crazy about there not being many developments on the baby front.  We are the type of people who like to go make thin
gs happen, but with adoption, it seems like it pretty much just has to happen to you.  We accept that it'll happen when it is supposed to.            

That's not to say nothing has happened!  A couple of things have happened. Since going live at the beginning of November, we have had 2 or 3 phone calls to our adoption line, been "selected as a favorite family" on our website two times, and have exchanged emails with one scammer lady in Ohio.  All of these leads have essentially amounted to nothing beyond fueling our hope for a short amount of time.  It at least confirms the fact that we are findable as a couple looking to adopt.  To be fair, we were told that this is how it works - a lot of leads, not a lot of developments.  So, we've rolled with those punches, and it really hasn't bothered us that much.

I had the forethought to grab a screen shot during an actual phone call.  
Adrienne took the calls on our adoption line.  One was inquiring on behalf of a friend or an acquaintance whom we never heard from again.  One was an actual expectant mother who left us a message and never called us back after our attempts to reach her.  And, I think one was just a no message hang up.  We did find out that our 1-800 number must have been associated with some herbal pill company before it went out of business because we have received a couple of calls from people "lookin' for their pills!"

From Adrienne: The first time the phone rang, and really every time, I stare at the phone, take  inventory of if I have a pen and paper available and if I'm even in a position to speak and give enough time to the phone conversation.  It never fails that it rings when I am in the bathroom or have my hands full coming in from the car.  I let the first few calls go to voicemail because my heart was beating so fast, I had no clue what to say.  Luckily they were wrong numbers or telemarketers.  I've since been able to answer the phone and say, "I'm sorry you've got the wrong number, we don't sell vitamins."  ha!  and at least practice how I will answer.  It is definitely nerve-wracking!

As far as being selected as a "favorite family," we have no idea what the implications are for that exactly.  It just means we were starred or liked or bookmarked by someone who read our iheartadoption profile online.  It could be a real potential birth mom OR it could be a crazy scammer lady like the one we dealt with for one day right before the new year.

So, here is that story:  We received this email in our iheartadoption inbox from this lady, we'll call her "N" from Ohio (as much as we want to call her out, she's obviously going through something to make her want to act like this.  Also future potential birth mothers or expectant mothers need not worry).  Her note seemed a little odd because it was about two sentences long and offered way too much detail about the pregnancy up front - as if to answer the questions we would have asked next before we asked them.  We kind of thought it was fishy, but we entertained the communication as if it were real.  We constructed these emails back and forth to establish a rapport and get some more information.  We gathered enough info to google her and found out her approximate age and a link to her facebook page.  After seeing some strange stuff on her FB and discovering that she was older, we definitely became suspicious, but we continued the email conversation to the point where we asked if the IAC could contact her.  She actually said yes!  It wasn't five minutes later that we received a phone call from the IAC telling us that this lady was a habitual scammer who had done this to other couples on the iheartadoption site.  She apparently does it for the attention or fun or something.  I guess she was so good at saying the right things, that in October, she even got so far as to send a fake ultra-sound picture to the IAC as proof of pregnancy for intake.  Obviously, she was quickly discovered to be mentally ill, but because she really isn't breaking any laws, this woman is still out there.  For us, we decided that it was good practice in constructing casual inviting emails to establish rapport and an important reminder about how careful you need to be when developing these new relationships.

I guess the last part to talk about are our statistics!  That's right!  The IAC sends out stats every month about how many of your Dear Birthmother Letters they've sent out and how many matches they have made within the agency.  Well, in November, our first month of being live, the IAC sent out... DRUM ROLL PLEASE...  0, yes ZERO, of our letters!  Lol!   So, not great.  All that means is that there were no potential birthmothers within the IAC database who matched our adoptive profile.  Maybe December will be better...  we still haven't seen those stats.  I guess it takes a full month later to get them.

Oh, one last funny thing!  At Thanksgiving, we finally got around to sending thank you notes to everyone who helped us raise our adoption funds in the Spring and Summer of last year through our garage sales and fundraisers and donations.  We are happy to say that we made our last payment to our agency in November and have enough left in the adoption account to cover the next payment we have to make when we match with a birthmother in the future.  So, sorry for the delay in your note, but we couldn't think of a better time than over Thanksgiving to let you all know how very thankful and appreciative we are of you and your support.  We couldn't have gotten this far without many friends and family and acquaintances and kind strangers who have helped.  This journey is far from over, but we've come a long way, and it certainly would not have been possible without all of you.

AND... if you know someone who is pregnant and considering adoption, send them our way this year!  You'll get a bigger card for that. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Part I: Dear Birthmother Letter, Approval, Waiting, Cool Stuff for Us, Scammers, and Statistics!

Okay!  We're back with our quarterly update!  LOL.  Sorry about our blog deficiency!  We are lagging bloggers.  Our intentions for this were far more ambitious, and we intended to immediately update you all on every little detail as it happened.  But man!  Some of these steps are so drawn out and you work so hard to get them completed that the last thing you want to do is rehash them immediately in writing.  The end of 2013 was really busy for us in a lot of great ways (which we'll update you on as well!), but we totally procrastinated on our adoption blogging.  But now, here's what you've all been waiting for - an update from October 2013 to NOW (MLK Day 2014) - a day we both have off to catch up!

At the end of the last entry, I said I would talk about our experience writing our Dear Birthmother Letter.  We probably didn't want to write about it then because we were so OVER the whole process.  This was, by far, the most frustrating step so far... not because it is hard to create, but because of the process the agency has in place to get it approved.  In case you don't know, the Dear Birthmother Letter is basically a produced brochure displaying how wonderful and great and fun and responsible and loving you are.  It is a quick overview and look into your life to demonstrate the kind of great home and parenting you could give a child.  The agency keeps many copies of this brochure on file and sends it out to potential birthmothers who match your adoptive profile (the adoptive profile is a set of criteria you have defined for the type of baby and mother you are looking for:  health, race, religion, drug-use, etc.).  One final catch to this:  you are not live on the website or considered as an available couple to be selected for adoption through the agency until this letter is done and approved!  SO… 

Outside of blogging, we are pretty efficient, quick-turnaround, proactive, A-type, task-accomplishing personalities.  We do not suffer delay and inefficiency very well.  (Unless we're busy catching up on all seasons of Game of Thrones or American Pickers, or Pawn Stars, or Downton Abbey, or… well, I digress).  When we decide to do something, we dig in and do it right away, and we do our best to do it well.  So, the first half of writing this letter where we had control of the timeline and effort went well very for us.  We sat down with the IAC's binder, it showed us an outline with the sections we had to write toward with some specific wording guidelines and tips, we split up the writing duties, wrote our first drafts, traded, proof read, edited, emulated other Dear Birthmother Letters we liked, and after several rounds of that, together we honed this letter down to the 950 word document with 10-12 pictures that we would now submit to the IAC's editor.  Now, keep in mind, we did our entire first draft over the course of two evenings at the beginning of September - almost immediately after our home study was approved.  And in our minds we were like, "WE GOT THIS!  We're going to be live on the website before October!"

Some of our favorite images from the cutting room floor.
Apparently sunglasses and helmets are frowned upon! :)


NOW, this is where it gets hairy...  The IAC has one letter editor.  He is based at the IAC headquarters in California.  We were told and also read that each time you submit a draft to the IAC editor, he will take a week to get back to you with notes and revisions.  So, we knew up front that we wanted to submit a nearly perfect first draft to expedite the process.  We hoped for only one or two rounds and felt that two or three weeks to get approval was a fair estimate for producing a document in the digital age of communication and production.  We understood that it was worth the wait to receive professional insight to crafting our language and design to be the most appealing and effective to potential birthmothers.  After all, we are marketing ourselves, and this editor, we're told, knows how to do this best.  So, we submitted our first draft letter and pictures via a dropbox account at the beginning of September.  We agreed to immediately make any suggested changes right away and resubmit as quickly as possible after receiving feedback.  Our thought was that an immediate edit and response would, in some way, quicken the editor's timeline on the other end.  We would reset our week clock as soon as possible and maybe be the beneficiaries of quicker feedback or approval.  

Well, we discovered that the IAC editor takes every single bit of the week turn-around to offer feedback.  We are talking end-of-business Pacific Time on a Friday evening no matter what day of the previous week you submitted.  But, it was probably going to be worth the wait, right?  Well, a week later, what we thought was going to be some revelatory edits and suggestions ended up being only one or two suggestions for consolidating sections and titling one section differently.  It wasn't revelatory and definitely didn't take a week to write the feedback, but we guess it was good because the time we took to write it right the first time paid off.  So, no real edits, just re-organization.  That was easy!  Within five minutes of receiving his email, we resubmitted our second draft with everything corrected from his two suggestions.  In fact, we completed it so fast, we naively thought that he might've even still been looking at his email.  MAYBE JUST MAYBE he would even give us the thumbs up that same night seeing as how it took us less than 5 minutes to respond - he might just quickly go in, see that we made the corrections, and say we were good to go.

NOPE.  Cut to the end of business Pacific Time that next Friday.  Approved.  Seven more days for a simple approval.  Now we are basically two and a half weeks into this process since we finished our first draft.  It may be our own personal problem that we are frustrated by delays like this, but for the feedback we received, it was hard for us to comprehend why it took so long.  I get that he is one guy for many couples doing this, but I still chuckle at the idea of telling people in this day and age that it'll take seven days for me to do anything let alone correct two sentences.  "Hey Will, can you cut the promos for tomorrow?"  "Sure, I'll have tomorrow's promos to you in seven days.  Sound good?"  "But in seven days, tomorrow will be like six yesterdays ago."       

And this wasn't the end of the process.  We still had to get the DESIGN (graphics, colors, layout, fonts, etc.) of our letter approved by the same editor.  Luckily, Adrienne had been working on that the whole time while we were waiting for our language and pictures to be approved. SO, the same Friday that we got our language and pictures approved, we immediately submitted our fully designed letter.  Same deal - the same hour we received the editor's email, we submitted our full design back to him.

You guessed it.  Cut to the end of business Pacific Time that next Friday.  3 weeks now - we are in October at this point.  Again, the editor made just a couple of suggestions that were mainly subjective in nature - nothing that really seemed to indicate that once fixed would be more appealing to a prospective birthmother.  I guess we were hoping for some expert insight based on historic data or research or experience like, "We've found that these color combinations along with this font style and layout seem to generate more positive feelings and matches in expectant mothers."  Even though the feedback wasn't that detailed, we felt good that the edits were easy for us to correct.  We faithfully made the suggested corrections and resubmitted.  Same night.

So, we didn't get an email that next Friday.  And this is the end of the 4th week.  Remember, we thought that we would be done with this, approved, live on the website, and be an available couple to be chosen by a birthmother by the beginning of October.  No such luck.  On this particular Friday, we discovered that the editor had left for vacation during the week and was going to be gone for a week.  GEEZ.  Cut to Friday of the 5th week.  No email.  Finally, at the beginning of the next week - this is the start of week 6 - we received an email that said that our design had been approved and that we needed to print a proof for our local agency representative.  Yes!  Finally.  Sort of.

The printing process could have also been complicated had we used the online company that was recommended in the binder.  It was going to take a full week to send one proof and then another two or three weeks to receive the 50 copies we needed to send to the IAC headquarters in California.  I'll spare you the details, but luckily we found a local printer here in Avon - Rogers Marketing and Printing - that printed a proof in one afternoon.  We dropped that proof off at our local IAC agency the next day.  Within the week, it was approved.  We immediately had Rogers print 100 copies which they easily completed in one day.  I overnight shipped them to the Central Letters office at The IAC.  By the 7th week, we were approved by the IAC to finish our iheartadoption profile.  By the 8th week, we finally received the email that said we were live on the website and now available to be matched with a birthmother through the agency.  SO, after two months of letter writing, one month of home study and the approval process, and one month of workshops / collecting and submitting personal data to the agency, we were finally actually really truly available to adopt a baby at the beginning of November!  I can't tell you how excited and relieved we were to read that email.   

Now the IAC would tell you that being live in 4 months from your workshops is relatively fast.  I would tell you that, for people like us who really tried to do everything to expedite the process, found it to be a real test in patience.  But now it is all done, we're live, and you can see the finished products here:

I apologize that this particular entry had maybe a negative vibe to it, but we made the choice to be as honest as possible about going through this process. At the beginning, a lot of people said this whole thing could be frustrating and challenging at times.  We felt some of that here, that's all.  It was more of a self-imposed frustration of wanting things to develop more quickly than it was the system not working as we were told the system would most likely work.  There are many more variables in play than we ever realized and nothing is as simple as it may appear to be.  There's not just a big room full of babies somewhere just waiting to be picked up by good people.  Everything has to line up just right, and we are learning that this could take awhile for that to happen.  But, we just roll with with punches, keep ourselves busy, and hope 2014 will be the year we add to our family.

Check out Part II of this update, where we will write about what it means to "be live" and tell you a couple of stories about calls and emails we received from potential birthmothers.  This will be the more positive part that includes "Cool Stuff For Us, Scammers, and Statistics."