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6. Adoption

Omair and his wife had known that they’d want to adopt a child from the time they were in high school. The adoption of their son, therefore, was essentially 17 years in the making. But how long did the adoption process actually take from start to finish? What was it like when a social worker visited their home to see if they’d be “fit to parent”? And how much did everything cost? Omair answers all of these questions and more as he talks through the story of how he and his wife adopted their son.

Marie  (00:00): When Omair came into the recording studio for his interview, he had three of his kids with him. So of course I asked if they would want to record a little something themselves. And the results were adorable.

Omair  (00:14): Can you say into the microphone what did you have for breakfast?

Omair’s child (00:20): I want to try.

Omair  (00:20): Sure.

Omair’s child (00:21): What I have for breakfast is yogurt and sourdough.

Omair  (00:26): All right. You want to try too? Okay, what did you have for breakfast?

Omair’s child  (00:32): Sourdough and yogurt.

Marie  (00:35): You should take my job, honestly. If you want to come and help anytime, you can.

Marie  (00:40): So yeah, the most adorable day I have ever had at work. The youngest of Omair's kids was not there that day as he's only a baby. He stayed home with Omair's wife. The baby is a new addition to their family. They adopted him last year. And today we're going to talk about his adoption story.

Marie  (01:06): This is Baby Steps, a podcast from Carrot Fertility about the many diverse paths that people take in the pursuit of parenthood. I'm your host, Marie .

Omair  (01:22): I'm Omair, and my wife and I recently adopted a baby and he is now 10 months old and he joins the rest of our family, which includes, for our baby, an older brother, who is five years old and two older sisters who are four.

Marie  (01:40): How did you and your wife meet?

Omair  (01:42): We met in high school, and in our high school math class.

Marie  (01:46): High school sweethearts.

Omair  (01:47): High school sweethearts.

Marie  (01:48): It's funny that you had math class when really you had chemistry.

Omair  (01:50): Whoa, I see what you did there.

Marie  (01:54): So you met in high school, you were pretty young. I'm imagining you didn't have maybe many serious conversations about family building until probably a little bit later. When did you start talking about having kids?

Omair  (02:06): Yeah, well, so that's really interesting and it bears directly on adoption because even though we were really young, we both knew that we wanted to have a family someday. And when I was 17 years old, I remember talking to her about the fact that I would like to adopt someday. And even though that wasn't something she was thinking herself, she was very open to it immediately and that was something that we very quickly came to value together. We knew that we at least wanted to adopt before we even thought about how biological kids would work or not or anything like that.

Marie  (02:47): How did you know that? What drew you to the process so early on?

Omair  (02:50): My wife Christina and I both have felt for forever that all of us, especially the most vulnerable among us, deserve love and justice and an opportunity to thrive.

Omair  (03:06): Even back then we thought that through a combination of privilege, luck and hard work, we thought we'd be able to build a home that would allow an adopted child to flourish and experience the grace that they deserve. And over time we've even come to appreciate that we think that adoption can be one of those like powerful and beautiful means through which both the birth mother and adoptive parents can express love and justice for their child. And so that came out of our faith that we shared and that has been truer over time. We've only felt more strongly about it.

Marie  (03:43): That's really beautiful. Were there people around you at that time who had gone through the adoption process that you were seeing modeled for you?

Omair  (03:54): In my own personal experience, when I was a teenager, there was a family that took me in and they have shown complete devotion and love for me. I've always felt included in their family and they've been my family ever since. And I remember thinking during that time that that is something that I would want to be able to share with a child someday and my wife felt the same.

Marie  (04:21): Can I ask you more about that experience of your youth and the family that took you in and the circumstances around that?

Omair  (04:27): When I was 17 years old, I became a Christian. I was raised as a Muslim. And because of my decision to become a Christian, there was a fallout within my family. And it was very sad and I absolutely didn't want it to be that way. But that's what happened. And so I found myself in this situation of needing a place to live and I had one year in high school left before I would go for college. And so during that time that a friend of mine in high school said, "Hey, I have no idea what's going to happen or how this is going to work out. But you will always be welcome in our family." And that's how it happened. And so I've been a part of their family ever since.

Marie  (05:10):

That's amazing. I'm so glad that you found a support network in that way.

Omair  (05:15):

Yeah, exactly. And that's ... it was during that time too that I really came to embrace that family is a lot broader than we often make it out to be, like just you and your genetic offspring and your little nuclear family. And so Christina and I have always thought that ... we've joked that our own genetics are overrated.

Marie  (05:37):

I love that line. Our own genetics are overrated. I feel like I could see that on a tee shirt somewhere.

Marie  (05:51):

So you knew you wanted to adopt at some point. When did you start having kids?

Omair  (05:57):

We had our first child five years ago. Our first three kids are biological. We had our son and then within a year and a half we had our twin daughters. We were not expecting two of them at the time, but that's what happens. So that that means for a period of time, we had three babies under two years old. For a few months, while we were working on keeping this family alive, we didn't address the conversation about having another kid and whether both of us still wanted to adopt.

Marie  (06:30):

I'm so surprised that in the midst of having three babies under two, you couldn't find the time to have a conversation about adding a fourth.

Omair  (06:37):

Yeah, exactly. And so once our daughters turned eight months old, things settled down and we said, "Okay, let's revisit how each of us is feeling about adding on an adopted child," given that we quickly had more kids than we intended and neither of us had changed at all in our desire to adopt. So really at that point it was just a matter of it would be great if our next child could be closer in age to the older ones since they're all close in age with each other. And so that's kind of what set the timeline and put us to where we're at right now.

Marie  (07:13):

Do you recommend for families who are considering adoption that they take into account the broad timeline that it takes to complete the adoption process? I know it sometimes can take a few years. So if you're ... for example, you wanted your kids to be close in age, at what point should people start thinking about even starting this journey?

Omair  (07:33):

Sure, yeah, and it can vary greatly. And it varies greatly by agency and just from couple to couple. And so we had kind of factored in that on some cases, it takes couples years. And so we thought, "Well, if we have a shot at all of our kids being close in age, then we've got to get moving on it now." And it's helpful for people to also take into consideration that leading up to being ready to be matched can take a while. And so there's multiple parts of that timeline that can take very long that I think it's good to have in mind.

Marie  (08:12):

And we'll kind of go into each of the steps along the way, but as a broad overview first, how long did it take from beginning to end for the adoption process?

Omair  (08:22):

For us it ended up being pretty fast overall. That first part, from starting the process to being ready to match, it was like half a year. And then from there, from being ready to match to having the baby, that was 10 months. That's the part that was pretty fast.

Marie  (08:41):

Omair and his family had a relatively quick process. Like he said, there's often a range for how long all of these things take. For anyone who is ready to take the first step in the adoption process, it involves having home study and being evaluated by a social worker so they can deem you fit to adopt. The first step was the home study.

Omair  (09:03):

Yeah.

Marie  (09:03):

So how did that go for you? What do you ... what should people expect for that process?

Omair  (09:08):

Yeah, I know that can be a nerve wracking experience and I can totally see how it is nerve wracking. For my wife and me, we perceive that as these are hoops you got to jump through and it's not like social workers are hoping that you will fail. They want to work with you to make that work. So for us it was actually ... it was a pretty straight forward process where they would just ask you questions about why you want to adopt, what your support system is to help you be able to accomplish that. They want to know that you have just healthy family dynamics, things like that. And in our case they also had to interview the kids that we already had.

Marie  (09:50):

I liked what you said about keeping in mind that the person interviewing you does not want you to fail. Do you remember any specific questions that they asked you?

Omair  (09:59):

They do ask you a lot of questions about how you and your spouse get along with each other, what your communication styles are, how you resolve conflict. They would ask questions about how you might discipline children and they ask you questions about your background as well, your own family history, not because if you have a dysfunctional one, then it's a liability. They just want to have context for how you got to where you are.

Omair  (10:25):

That's one of the other things that Christina and I often go back to for people who might be on the fence about adoption. We always remind people that biological families have lots of problems too and special challenges. I think people tend to forget that bio kids can have behavioral problems or prenatal problems or predispositions towards mental health issues. Those things exist in all of our families anyway, but for some reason, when you think of an adopted child, then you focus so much on those potential negative outcomes, where we're like, again, this is part of our own genetics are overrated. It's not like our biological kids are necessarily going to be greater than other kids out there.

Marie  (11:16):

Right. Yeah. That's good to keep in mind. It's so true. Did you know that you wanted to adopt a baby rather than an older kid or what was that conversation like?

Omair  (11:25):

My perspective was to generally be open to that, but also what I would always say is that I know how to parent a child as old as my oldest kid. So right now, I know how to parent a five-year-old. I don't know how to parent a six year old, I'll know in a year. And so I would say ... I think the way we had said it was we would be open to the general age of from zero to the kids that we already have. So we technically would have been open to like zero, three, four at the time.

Marie  (11:56):

So that's interesting. So is that something that you indicate on this profile that you were describing and then you just happen to get matched with someone who had a baby?

Omair  (12:05):

Right, yes. Yeah, exactly. You do. And so in a lot of the paperwork for the applications that you fill out, even in the home study, that's one important variable that they ask you about. They also ask you if you have gender preferences or race preferences, the potential child's mental health history and their history of drug exposure, things like that.

Marie  (12:33):

That's so many things that you have to consider are pretty early on. How do you even approach those big questions?

Omair  (12:41):

One of the big factors that we had to consider was ... so I'm Pakistani American, my wife is Filipino American, and so we were going to almost certainly be in a transracial adoption. That's an important discussion for a lot of parents to have because there are unique factors that you have to consider when you are a multiracial family and you're doing a transracial adoption.

Omair  (13:06):

So our son that we adopted, he's in African-American. So a lot of the agencies that we looked into, they offer resources and training on for example, how to talk to your kid about the fact that they are a different race than their parents are, in particular because of unique challenges that African Americans face in the country. It's ... how do you talk to them about a special relationship that that child will have with this country that the rest of the family will not have? And how do you make it so that you're taking a color conscious approach as opposed to a color blind approach and helping the child develop a healthy sense of identity? And a lot of parents who want to adopt are white. And so there's a lot to learn for all parents. But in the case of transracial adoption for white parents in particular too.

Marie  (13:59):

Absolutely. Do you think that you having more open preferences was part of the reason why the process was a little bit expedited for you, or do you think it was unrelated and you just got lucky?

Omair  (14:12):

So I think it's a combination of both probably. So for sure in general, the more preferences you have, the longer it takes. And the agencies that we worked with too, they encourage adoptive parents to be as open as possible, not just because it helps with the timeline, but also because you want babies to be placed with parents who are loving and have the means to be able to take care of those kids. And then, right. The other part was a lot of it was just chance.

Marie  (14:44):

You mentioned early on that one of the things you were considering was the speed with which they were moving things along that was important to you. What were some other things that you would recommend people look for when choosing where they should be adopting through?

Omair  (14:59):

Totally. We worked with the consultancy, the way that the consultancy and the agencies that we worked with are related is that our consultancy, part of their value proposition was that they partner with multiple agencies at the same time. That's actually how they're able to have a shorter turnaround time. And then other factors, I mean a lot of it is for a lot of people is price. And for us, we were not as price sensitive probably as a lot of people are. And some of that has to do with benefits that employers might offer, but also this is what upper middleclass Silicon Valley life is like. You're just less price sensitive about things like that.

Marie  (15:41):

Right? Yeah. I mean you have the privilege to afford it and not everyone does.

Omair  (15:44):

That's exactly right.

Marie  (15:46):

But that was your reality and thankful enough to be in that position.

Omair  (15:50):

Yeah, exactly. But of course we understand that the price can be prohibitive for a lot of adoptive parents. It can hinder how long they want to try. But I mean even then, like in our own experience, we were finding across agencies that we were expecting to spend somewhere between like 40 to $60,000 for the whole process, and that's basically what it turned out to be, it was like 50 to 55,000.

Marie  (16:21):

So what is included in that? I'm assuming that there's fees for the agencies. What other costs can people expect to be paying?

Omair  (16:29):

Yeah, so that cost is made up of agency fees. It's made up of legal fees and a lot of it too is birth mother expenses. So at least in the case of the agencies that we were exposed to, it's pretty common to be matched with the birth mom earlier in the pregnancy than later. And if that happens, so let's say if you get matched in the third month of the pregnancy, then often there's an agreement that the adoptive parents will pay for the healthcare expenses and sometimes even the living expenses of the birth mom.

Marie  (17:05):

Let's talk about that moment then for you. When were you matched with the birth mother? What was that process like?

Omair  (17:11):

So ours was a very unusual case. So in general, the process is like what I just described, which is you're matched in advance with a birth mom and you even meet the birth mom a couple times. We had a rare case. We had what's called a baby born situation and it's called that because in our case, the only contact we had was after the baby was already born. So when our son's birth mother had him, it was at that time at the hospital that she told the hospital that she would like to place him for adoption. And the hospital has a relationship with the agency that we used. And so the agency said, "I think we have a family." And so they called me while I was at work when our son was a day old and they said, "Hey, we have a situation. Before I give you details, would you be prepared to fly out today?"

Omair  (18:10):

And I said, "Oh, absolutely." So that's what we ended up doing. So we flew out that night to Dallas. That's where our son was born. And then the next day we met him. And in that case too, we didn't have contact with the birth mother. Our adoption is a closed adoption by the birth mother's choice, which we of course will honor. But even that is rarer. In our experience, it's much more common for there to be open adoptions where you have some kind of structured contact with the birth mom leading up to the adoption and some regular contact over the years.

Marie  (18:49):

Was that something that you can indicate a preference for early on about what you as adoptive parents would prefer or is that something that usually is largely determined by the birth mother?

Omair  (19:01):

Yeah, so that's definitely something that you can indicate. And we indicated that we would have been open to whatever arrangement the birth mom wanted.

Marie  (19:12):

What are the different options that exist for types of adoptions?

Omair  (19:16):

So ours was closed. They can be open, semi-open, or closed. And all of that is ... it's varying how much contact the birth mother wants to have with the adoptive parents and their child. And then there's domestic, international, private or foster. And so in this country, you can pursue a public adoption route, which involves fostering or like a fost adopt program, or you could do what we did which was the private adoption route. And there are a lot of different aspects that are involved with both.

Marie  (19:53):

And some of the factors which we've already talked about are the timeline that you can expect, the costs that are involved. What are some other factors?

Omair  (20:01):

That's right. Well, and so another really big factor that can differ is that the children in the foster care system, the demographic makeup, it's not always the same as different networks of private adoption. So in the world of adoption, babies are in higher demand than older children. So older kids, sibling sets, those are far more common in the fost adopt network. And in those cases usually the adoptive parents, they don't really share preferences. They don't say like, "You'd like a newborn or this age or that gender." It's that they would say, "If you are ready to have a child then we will find a child for you." But there aren't restrictions like that.

Marie  (20:53):

There are many paths in the pursuit of parenthood and there are many paths within the world of adoption as well. As Omair said, the path his family ended up taking was a closed adoption at the request of the birth mother.

Marie  (21:10):

I want to ask then more about the birth mother. You've never met her?

Omair  (21:13):

Right. We haven't. That's right. And obviously that could change in the future, but for now ... the only thing we know about the birth mother is what was released to us in her medical intake and we don't know anything about his birth father because the birth mother didn't even have continued access to him. So all we know about his birth father is his race. That's it.

Marie  (21:39):

How do you feel about that? Because it maybe it wasn't something you were expecting?

Omair  (21:42):

Sure. Yeah. We definitely take the approach of wanting to be very open and talking to our kids about things in age appropriate ways. It'll be obvious too in the sense that he'll know that his birth mom and birth father aren't in the picture. And we will talk to him about why and why his situation happened the way that it did. And we'll always hold out hope that there's positive outcomes on the horizon for however much he wants to pursue some kind of connection with his birth family. So we're ... we want to do what's, what's best for him.

Marie  (22:23):

Can you talk about the moment that you met your son?

Omair  (22:23):

Yeah. We were in a hospital in the south side of Dallas, and he was in NICU at the time because he was actually ... he was exposed to drugs at the very end of the pregnancy and so he was in NICU for a few days. So I remember scrubbing up, going in there and he was a tiny little guy. He was adorable and he was just chilling. He was trying to make it work.

Marie  (22:58):

What were your three kids' reactions when they met him too? Were they so excited to have a little brother?

Omair  (23:04):

Oh, absolutely. They have loved him from the instant that they saw him when, when we were leaving the hospital. The approach that they've always taken is excitement and joy, which is great.

Marie  (23:15):

That's so cute that they've all been so helpful and excited. What was it like when you walked into the NICU with your wife, you're scrubbed up, and you see this teeny tiny premature baby who is about to be your son. What's going through your mind?

Omair  (23:31):

Yeah, well, I remember thinking, especially in our case since we had only known of his existence something like 24 hours prior, less than that. And I remember thinking like, "I can't believe it. We're here." And in my case too, there's a gradual level of like increasing certainty that this is going to work out. Because at first lots of things can happen when you're still in the hospital. The birth mother can change her mind, which is of course totally understandable.

Omair  (23:59):

And so you go through these different steps. The birth mother signs the relinquishment, and then you get discharged from the hospital. Then you wait for interstate adoption paperwork to clear and then you get to go home. These are all ... for us they were like little steps in the process that made it feel realer and realer over time. And I just remember at every step along that path thinking, "I can't believe it. We're here. We've arrived at this thing that we had been thinking about and talking about since we were teenagers." And I see him ... so I'll see our son like sitting on the floor eating something and I will look at him and think, "This is it. This is the culmination of a hope that we've held out for more than half of my life."

Marie  (24:52):

That is incredible.

Omair  (24:53):

Yeah, it's unreal.

Marie  (25:03):

What is something that surprised you about the adoption process?

Omair  (25:07):

I think for me, ironically, the surprise ended up being the whole thing happened as we hoped. Because I think we had researched so much and I think we just prepared for so many contingencies where things don't go the way adoptive parents hope for, which is again, that's totally understandable. And then the fact that it happened in such a textbook way, like in terms of timeline and clearing paperwork and the adoption finalization process, all of that kind of stuff was ... in the end it was pretty smooth.

Marie  (25:40):

Was there anything that at the end of the process you look back and think, "I do wish that I would've known this from the start, it would have been helpful?"

Omair  (25:48):

I think that there's one thing that we reflected on. There's not much one can do about it, at least we couldn't at the time. And that is just understanding that the world of the adoption legal process, at least in our case, and we know for many of our friends, it's not very updated into the 21st century. There's just a lot of formal processes that take longer than they need to because they're analog and that involves printing things and mailing things. And it's funny because I operate in a Silicon Valley workspace where everything is about updating, optimization, digitization. And then there is another part of my life at the same time with the adoption process that it felt like they weren't in the same decade. I would always give somebody a heads up that a lot of the time that you spend waiting or not knowing what's going on honestly might be because of paperwork. You're just waiting for stuff to get processed and to collect everything that you need.

Marie  (26:59):

Like literally a stack of paper that just needs to be signed and moved to another stack of paper takes physical amounts of time.

Omair  (27:08):

That's exactly right. It's so much time. And yeah, you just have to be ready to just do a ton of paperwork and maybe even have to push different parts of the process along yourself and take an active role in it. You have to be on top of it.

Marie  (27:24):

Have you spoken to couples or families of any kind who get demoralized with that? You said that your process took somewhat on the shorter timeline's range of how it could last, but I imagine that having to advocate for yourself all the time and being pushed back with, "Well we have to wait for this to be signed and this to be signed," could be discouraging over time.

Omair  (27:46):

Oh yeah, absolutely, and we're completely aware that most situations don't go as smoothly as ours did. We have lots of friends who have gone through very painful processes who still haven't adopted. For them, it's a process that they started a decade ago, for some of our friends. And then there's only so much you can do and you just kind of have to deal with the parts of the process that you can't control and rely on your community to support you through it.

Marie  (28:17):

Are there specific communities, whether online or IRL that you have been able to connect with through this whole process that have helped?

Omair  (28:27):

Yeah, so we ... I mean we have a network of friends who have adopted and are adopted. Our church has been our IRL network of both people who are adopted and people who have adopted. Same race, trans racial, all of those situations. Fostering, newborn, older, all of those kinds of situations. And it's been great to be able to talk with them through the process. And when you get a real life community that big, you get to experience the range of situations, where in some cases it was ideal and unnoteworthy, like the whole process was. And then for some, it's been heartbreaking and everything in between.

Marie  (29:13):

Connecting with community always helps. So don't hesitate to look for resources around you and people who can help guide you through this process. For Omair, his family's support network helped them get to where they are and to plan for the future. Do you have plans to expand your family further?

Omair  (29:33):

So we ... well for sure we're done having bio kids. And the way we also put it is we are done actively acquiring children. But we have also always talked about fostering when our kids are older. So what's potentially on the table for us is that when our kids are teenagers, that maybe we would foster and they might end up being the same age as a lot of the potential kids that we might foster and so we'll see. And then it's a matter of having the space to have that kind of family in the Bay area.

Marie  (30:09):

Oh boy. Yeah. That's a whole other question. Let's do a separate podcast about property in the Bay area.

Omair  (30:15):

Exactly.

Marie  (30:16):

Let's wrap up with if there's anything that you would like to convey and emphasize for people to understand about adoption that you think is misunderstood.

Omair  (30:27):

Yeah, for sure it would be the theme that I've been going at this whole time, which is that because you have so much control about so many variables in the adoption process, like what gender do you want, what race do you want, what kind of mental health exposure do you want, there's a temptation to focus so much and put so much weight on those kinds of details, which I always just remind people, some of those are details you don't have control over when you choose to have bio kids.

Omair  (30:54):

You can't control the gender. Your mental health history is your mental health history. Your genes are your genes. There's nothing you can do about that. And what I would say is that adoption is risky for sure, but so is having bio kids. Having children is a very risky thing and if your heart is in it, then do it. And don't be afraid because of the type of child that you'll get. There's always a gamble with that no matter what. If you're ready to love and be a parent and pursue justice, I think that's going to be ... it'll be a step in the right direction for the world.

Marie  (31:39):

Baby Steps is a podcast from Carrot, the leading global fertility benefits provider for employers. To demonstrate how Carrot helps its members, I'm sitting down with [Adam 00:00:31:53], who is the head of Carrot's care navigation. Hey Adam.

Adam (31:53):

Hello.

Marie  (31:54):

I'm going to read a question that Adam has received from a Carrot member, and Adam's going to walk through how he would help that person. Here is the question from the Carrot member. And this one is short and sweet. I would like to get more information about surrogacy and adoption for a single male.

Adam (32:11):

Even though the question is short and sweet, it's actually really complicated. So each country and state within the US has varying guidelines and regulations for adoption and gestational carrier journeys, also known as surrogacy. Specific to the member's locale, we'll basically share the legal regulations for GC journeys and adoption in their country or state. This can include the average cost of services, where these services can be received from, as well as what's reimbursement eligible through their Carrot benefit. For this member, they informed us that they are a Brazilian citizen living in the UK and they wish to adopt or move forward with a GC journey in Brazil. This makes things a bit more complex but we have the team to help guide this member. Specifically, we have a global operations team in house that understands the complexities for adoption and gestational carrier journeys in Brazil. With the information that they provided, we then pass that along to the member so that they had the resources to begin their journey.

Marie  (33:17):

If you'd like to learn more, you can visit carrotfertility.com. Baby Steps is produced and edited by me, Marie , and also edited and mixed by [Jim Metzendorff 00:33:37], who works editing magic on super tight deadlines, for which I'm extremely grateful. Our original music is by [Chris Ploug 00:33:45] and [Chili Quarter 00:33:46], whose songs get stuck in my head all day, but I don't even mind because they're great. And our artwork is by [Ally Packard 00:33:56], who took a trip to the snow recently and I'm jealous of that fact, but she deserves it. This has been an All Turtles production. Thanks for listening.