How Open?

It’s now been over a year since we’ve adopted Yeoman Farm Baby, and I’ve been wanting to share a few thoughts about the experience. Above all, we remain deeply grateful to the birthmother who entrusted him to us. It takes an enormous amount of love for a mother to recognize that her baby needs to be raised in a home and family that she is unable to provide…and then to actually go through with releasing her child into that more appropriate situation. We’ve had three biological children of our own, and understand the depth of attachment a mother establishes with her baby during a pregnancy. We cannot imagine how difficult it would be to have to sever that tie.

By way of quick recap: about a year and a half ago, we were contacted by a friend of a friend of the birthmother. She was still relatively early in the pregnancy, and deciding whether to put the baby up for adoption or raise him herself. Her friends and family were helping assemble potential adoptive parents, to give her a sense of the kind of life that other families may be able to offer her child. The go-between approached us because, for various reasons, she (the go-between) thought our family might be a good fit. We thought so, too, and after prayerful discernment decided to offer ourselves as candidates. To our great joy, the birthmother agreed that our family was just the kind of home she wanted her child to be adopted into.

One of the early questions that we and the birthmother needed to agree about was the degree of openness we would have in the adoption. Options can range from completely closed (no identifying information is exchanged, and there is zero contact after the adoptive parents assume custody), to completely open — to the point of the birthmother actually visiting and playing some ancillary role in the child’s life.

In my own personal experience as an infant adoptee, I was grateful that my own adoptive arrangement was completely closed. I could imagine the confusion and divided loyalties that would’ve been introduced had my birthmother been lurking just off stage and making regular contact with me. I know it would’ve undermined our family’s sense of unity, and caused me to question where I really belonged. When I grew old enough to understand, my parents explained very matter-of-factly that some children join families biologically (like my younger brother), while others join families through adoption (like my sister and I did). But once we’re together, we’re together. Everyone is a full and equal member of the same family. Had I been getting visits from my birthmother, I know that mixed signal would’ve confused me.

To this day, I have not had a desire to meet my birth family. I have one mother and one father, and they are really my parents. I neither need nor want any different ones. That said, however, I have a natural curiosity about the birth family, and the circumstances surrounding my origins. The agency through which I was adopted provided a basic two-page overview of the family’s social and health circumstances, but nothing about the reasons why my birthmother thought it best I be raised by another family. I’d like to know more about that, and I’d like to be able to tell her in a letter how grateful I am that I was raised by the family that did raise me. It’s truly the best thing that ever happened to me. I want to thank her for that, and to let her know that my life has been happy and successful as a result of that self-sacrificing choice she made for me.

These are some of the personal considerations I brought with me, in trying to decide with Mrs Yeoman Farmer what kind of arrangement we wanted for our own adopted son. We wanted to be able to tell him, as he grew older and asked questions, the sort of person his birthmother was. That we’d met her, and gotten to know her. How much she loved him, but why her situation wasn’t right for him. If he wanted to know what she looked like, we wanted to be able to show him. If, as an adult, he wanted to meet her or even just send her a letter, we wanted to know how to reach her. But we wanted to ensure our privacy and that he wouldn’t get confused by ongoing contact from her in his youth.

We decided, with the birthmother, on a “semi-open” arrangement. We would not exchange last names, and she would never know exactly where in Michigan we live (not even the town or metro area). We did provide her with a very long family profile letter, and many photos, to help her be as comfortable as possible about where her baby would be growing up. We visited with her before the baby’s birth, and met her family, in her city. We agreed to take custody of the baby upon his release from the hospital, and invited her to visit us/him while we remained in her metro area. In conjunction with her, we agreed to email update letters and photographs every three months for the baby’s first year and every six months for his second year; we will decide together what to do after that.

This has proven to be a good arrangement for all of us. The birthmother has been able to know how well her baby is thriving, and to see how happy he his — and to see how much happiness he has brought to our whole family. She’s been able to hear about his growth, his doctor’s visits, and all his milestones. We’ve been able to tell her how much we appreciate having him here with us, and how much we love him. She’s also sent us some notes of her own, which we have been able to keep and tell YFB about when he gets older.

But the most surprising benefit is that the process has forced us to sit down and think about and document all of YFB’s milestones. Yes, to be honest, I sometimes feel some resentment when the “due date” for an update is approaching and we have to take time away from normal family activities to write it up and organize the photos we’ll be sending. “He’s ours. This is our family. This is our time. This is our life,” the voice in my head complains. But now that we’ve been doing this for 12+ months, I’ve come to realize something: we have a more complete written record of YFB’s first year, all in one place, than we do for any of our biological kids. And we have more photographs of him than most families ever have of their youngest child. (MYF is the youngest in her family, and has almost no pictures from her youth.) Because we’ve wanted to show how much YFB is part of our whole family, we’ve also ended up taking a lot more pictures of our other kids — especially #3 — than we would have otherwise, or than we did before YFB’s arrival.

I realize that these kinds of “semi-open” arrangements don’t always work out the way people would like. There may be less detailed contact than the birthmother would’ve wanted. There may be more contact — or more intrusive contact — than the adoptive family would’ve wanted or expected. Some adoptive families opt for an international adoption, in part to avoid all of these issues.

In our case, cooperation and understanding on both sides have helped us come to a solution that’s worked well for everyone. In reflecting on YFB’s first year, I wanted to share this with you; I know some of you may be considering adopting, or be in a position to advise a birthmother who is putting her baby up for adoption. I offer our family’s experience as an example of what can be done to help make a difficult situation as optimal as possible for all.

More Illegal Milk

Another great piece out today about the growing demand for “real” milk:

Once a Fringe Item, Demand Grows for Raw Milk – AOL News

Meeting shady characters in Brooklyn back alleys does not immediately suggest “milk.” But that’s exactly what Hannah Springer and group of unpasteurized “raw” milk devotees are doing to get their daily dairy fix, Gothamist reported this week. It’s their way of getting around New York state’s restrictions on the sale of raw milk — and they aren’t the only ones bending laws to get closer to the cow.In recent years, the consumption of unpasteurized milk has been rapidly expanding along with the market for organic, local foods.

When the Weston A. Price Foundation began its Real Milk campaign in 1999, there were only a handful of people selling raw milk – now there are hundreds, and president Sally Fallon Morell believes that is expanding.

Speaking of raw milk, I wanted to add something to a comment that one of my readers posted yesterday. She noted (correctly) that goat milk is about as close to human milk as we can get from livestock, and said that when in a pinch she has fed raw goat milk directly to her babies. With the adoption of Yeoman Farm Baby, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I had to do a lot of new thinking and research about how to feed babies; all of the other YFCs had been exclusively breast-fed. (The one time I’d had to purchase baby formula, I’d felt a little like I was buying cigarettes or something.) We eventually settled on one particular forumla that will work for YFB, and he’s done very well on it.

All that is a lead-up to my main point: MYF and I would be comfortable giving raw goat milk to YFB if there was a snowstorm and we could not get out to the Whole Foods 45 minutes away that sells our usual formula. HOWEVER, we would only do so in a pinch, and not on a regular basis. Goat milk, as good as it is, lacks some essential nutrients that babies need. But if you’re interested in making your own baby formula, using goat milk as the base, the Weston A. Price Foundation has some excellent recipes. We eventually decided against using these because of the “time and hassle” factor, and because our goats were not in milk with YFB arrived.

That said, if the Whole Foods formula hadn’t worked out, I’m sure we’d have pursued the WAPF formula more seriously.

Adoption: No Waiting. Or Much Less, Anyway

Our adoption of Yeoman Farm Baby continues to more forward; it isn’t final yet, but we recently completed an important step: the post-placement visit from our local agency. Our case worker came to the house, sat down with the whole family, and we spent about 90 minutes talking about how things have been going. She had certain questions she needed to ask, but the whole process was highly conversational. She’ll now write a report, which will be sent to our attorney and filed with the court in the state where YFB was born.

Our case worker shared some interesting information with us: they, and other agencies, are currently suffering a real dearth of adoptive parents. The numbers are sharply down, meaning far fewer families seeking the same number of babies. Particularly if a family is open to adopting a child of color, the wait time is very short right now. Our agency believes the uncertainty of economic conditions, especially here in Michigan, is largely responsible for the reduction in numbers of parents looking to adopt. The economic downturn has also caused problems for agencies themselves; ours was very prudent with its resources over the years, and had reserves to weather the storm, but she said that many other agencies have had to close their doors.

But the babies are still being born and still need homes. If adoption is something you’ve ever considered or believed you might be called to undertake, but were intimidated by horror stories about the number of months or years it takes to get a baby…this may be the time to take another look.

A Different Kind of Adoption

This may seem like an odd move, but bear with me. I’d like to merge two recent streams of posts: our adoption of Yeoman Farm Baby, and the natural hatching/brooding of baby birds on the farm.

I’ve enjoyed the comments and input from various readers, who have asked about and shared their experiences with allowing various types of birds to hatch and brood their own young. Whether you’re doing this for the educational experience, the economics, to fly under the radar of NAIS, or purely for the entertainment value…hatching your own baby birds is a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it. But the unfortunate reality is that many good egg layers don’t make good nest setters. And many good nest setters don’t make good mothers. With broodiness and mothering instincts having been so aggressively culled by commercial hatcheries, it’s remarkable to find a bird that can both hatch and successfully mother her own young.

One answer that we’ve found to this problem: adoption! Unlike larger mammals, mother birds are not terribly particular about which babies are “theirs.” A good mother hen will look after and brood any chicks she can get her wings around. We saw this happen frequently in Illinois, when on occasion we had multiple brood hens in the barn at the same time. It was actually fairly amusing to watch as days passed, and the brood of the less interested hen gradually shrank while the brood of the more aggressive/interested hen gradually increased. I still remember one hen that ended up with something like eighteen chicks streaming across the yard with her (which was actually too many — even she couldn’t keep track of that many chicks, and they kept getting lost. And I kept venturing out to help, because there’s nothing quite as forlorn as the peeping of a stray chick stranded in the tall grass).

We’ve observed something similar with ducklings. We’ve had several ducks of various breeds successfully hatch a nest of eggs, with even greater variability in mothering ability. The Muscovies have been by far the best setters and mothers, with Cayugas a close second. The Khaki Campbells are not bad at setting, but we have yet to see one successfully mother her hatchlings. Every Khaki that has ventured off the nest with a brood has quickly lost every single duckling. Khakis don’t look back to see if the ducklings are keeping up, and they don’t respond to distress calls from little ones who have fallen behind. We got to the point where we would immediately remove any ducklings a Khaki hatched, and either give them to a mother Cayuga (assuming we had one with new ducklings) or brood them ourselves under a heat lamp.

BTW, I don’t say any of this to diss Khakis or Muscovies: they have their place, and Khakis are extremely good egg producers. We had a lot of Khakis when we were producing duck eggs commercially in Illinois, and at one time had a good flock of Muscovies. But we’ve chosen Cayugas as our primary homestead duck because their egg production is respectable, they are good natural setters/mothers, and they get to a nice eating size. We ultimately decided against Muscovies in part because the females are too small to make much of a meal, but also because Mrs Yeoman Farmer thinks those “caruncles” the males have on their faces/heads are disgusting to look at (not to mention the bizarre social behavior that Muscovies engage in when they’re together in groups. I still keep a few Muscovies, just for fun (and where MYF doesn’t have to look at them), but they’re now too old to good for much of anything.

We’ve never had very good luck getting a non-broody hen or duck to accept and mother baby birds — but geese are different. Earlier this year, we bought several goslings from a hatchery and brooded them under heat lamps for some time. Then, when we turned the goslings loose in the pasture, something amazing happened: our two older Gray Toulouse geese swooped in and adopted all eight of them. They proved to be excellent mothers, and took great care of the brood all summer. They were extremely protective, and dutifully led their charges to fresh grass and water (and stood guard attentively as the goslings grazed). The lesson we took from that incident: next year, we will put the goslings in with the mature geese much sooner. Perhaps not as brand new hatchings, but hopefully after significantly less time under the electric heat lamps. I may also try giving the geese a few ducklings at the same time, to see how that works out.

Because adoption need not be limited to the same species! We’ve had real life “ugly ducklings” hatched on our farm; one of the hens laid an egg in a duck nest when the duck was taking a quick break. Chicken eggs have a shorter incubation period than duck eggs, and the chick ended up emerging along with the ducklings. He/she managed to keep up with the web-footed siblings for several days, but the problem was when Mother Duck took her little charges through puddles. We eventually had to remove the chick for that reason, but it probably would’ve worked out alright had the mother been a hen and the adopted bird been a duckling. And I bet a goose would be an even better mother to a duckling than a hen would be.

A final thought, for those of you interested in hatching your own eggs: try to find a broody bird to do it for you. We’ve never had much luck with the commercially-available incubators. We did get some chicken eggs to hatch in them, but usually the temperature ended up a little too high or a little too low (or both, when the air didn’t circulate properly). But we never got turkey eggs, duck eggs, or goose eggs to hatch; waterfowl eggs have special humidity requirements (picture a mother duck sitting back down on the nest after taking a quick swim), and humidity is difficult to adjust in most of the more affordable incubators. We decided a long time ago to give up on incubators altogether, and either purchase baby birds or let a broody hen/duck hatch them for us.

Alias

Yesterday, we received a bill for the medical services which Yeoman Farm Baby received as a newborn in the hospital. As his adoptive parents, we knew we would be responsible for those expenses; fortunately, the total was less than what we’d been bracing ourselves for.

Reading the “patient data” section of the bill, I remarked with amusement that YFB’s original name — given him as a placeholder by the birth mother — was the one used on the bill. Let’s call him “Miller, Ronald J.” for the moment (although that name is a total invention). I commented that it will be nice when the baby is no longer known anywhere as Ronald J. Miller, but only by the name that we have given him.

Mrs Yeoman Farmer then pointed out that the baby, in various documents, is already known by a great many different names:

  • Ronald J. Miller
  • Baby Boy Miller
  • [The names we have given him] [Our last name]
  • Baby Boy [Our last name]
  • Yeoman Farm Baby

To which I remarked, “The kid has so many aliases, you’d think he was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.”

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer simply lifted the baby so she could make eye contact, smiled, and — addressing him — said, “Yes! You are without a doubt the most wanted baby in the whole world. Aren’t you?”

Yes, indeed. But readers of this blog already knew that.

Introducing Yeoman Farm Baby

We have big news: All of us are now home with the newly adopted Yeoman Farm Baby! He is happy and healthy, and the whole family is very excited about the new addition. Many thanks to all of you who were praying for us; it made more of a difference than you can imagine. The hand of Divine Providence was all over this experience, and we are incredibly blessed to have been chosen to be YFB’s parents.

Posting has been slow of late, because the whole family was holed up in a hotel for the last few weeks in the birth mother’s city. We got custody of YFB upon his release from the hospital, but it was necessary to clear certain legal hurdles before we were allowed to leave that state and travel home. Unfortunately, all of this coincided with the long Thanksgiving weekend, which greatly slowed the process down. But eventually things worked themselves out, and we got “The Call” from our attorney earlier this week. After a few hours of packing our minivan to the gills with kids and food and baby paraphernalia, we were on the road and headed back to our farm.

There is much to be told about the experience, and many insights that I’d like to share; I expect to have several posts over the next week or two discussing our adoption saga. Keep in mind, however, that for confidentiality reasons I will have to omit certain details from the story — and the usual blogging rules about not naming our children or showing their photos will also apply to YFB.

Wanted. Very Much Wanted

Our family continues to prepare for the adoption of Yeoman Farm Baby; all has continued to go well with his gestation, and our family’s excitement in anticipation of his due date is growing daily.

Naturally, we have been spreading the word among friends and colleagues. In this regard, I recently had an interesting experience — one that Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I both believe should be shared.

I was attending a conference last week with about 25 other Catholic men. In the course of introductions and various conversations, I mentioned that we were preparing to adopt a baby who will be born soon. Everyone responded to this with great joy and congratulations, and many obviously wanted to know more of the details. To this end, one older gentleman asked, “So, did you find a mother who’s having a baby she doesn’t want?”

Careful readers will note that this question actually had two parts. The second part caught me off guard, so I initially focused my reply on the first part. No, I explained, we didn’t find her. She found us. Or, rather, a mutual friend/acquaintance connected her with us. The way everything played out, all of us were utterly convinced that divine providence was behind these events.

The gentleman nodded. And then I turned my attention to the second part of his question: is this a baby that she doesn’t want? To expand on the answer I gave him: NO! In fact, the birth mother very much wants this baby. She loves him with all her heart, as almost all mothers naturally do. She would lay down in front of a train for this baby. She very much wants to raise this baby herself, and to give him all of her love — but, at the same time, she knows she is not in a position to supply what he needs. She loves him so much, she is sacrificing her own desires (“wants”) for the greater good of her child.

I should emphasize that in giving this reply to my questionner, my tone was not at all one of correction; it was rather one of explanation and of sharing insights that we ourselves had been learning in the process.

It is hard to imagine a more complete, or a more selfless, love than what we have observed from our birth mother. She is a mother who very much wants to keep her child, but loves him too much to actually do so. And when our son is old enough to understand, we intend to tell him precisely that.

This is our happy Yeoman Farm Baby, as of a few days ago:

We can hardly wait to meet this very wanted baby and welcome him into our family.