Adopting Her Daughter–One Mother’s Story

September Burton: Hello and welcome to this episode of the Colorado Fertility Conference Podcast. I am your host, September Burton. And today I have with me, Dr. TiffanyNoelle Brown, and we’re going to be talking adoption today because Tiffany is somebody that I’ve known for many years now. And I was there as she was going through the adoption process and we’ve remained friends as she’s been raising her daughter now. So I wanted to bring Tiffany on to talk about the adoption process from the perspective of a parent, who’s actually been through the process and gone through everything. So welcome to the show, Tiffany.

[00:00:33]TiffanyNoelle: Thank you so much for having me, September. I’m so excited to be able to talk to you and to your audience today.

[00:00:38]September Burton: Thank you. I’m such a huge believer that there is so much power and so much strength in sharing your story. And so I really wanted to get you on to share your story so that you can inspire and uplift, hopefully other parents who are considering going through the adoption process. So Tiffany , has her PhD in sociology and, I’ve seen her with her daughter and she’s really an incredible mother. And so can you talk to us, can you talk to us about what the process was like? What was it like when you met her for the first time and then getting to the actual date of adoption?

[00:01:12]TiffanyNoelle: For sure. Yeah, so we started the process of looking for an agency, to foster, to adopt and we really struggled in finding an agency that fit us and we felt was inclusive of lots of different types of parents and household structures. And eventually we did find that. And we moved forward with starting our training in 2013, and we got certified in 2014, and that was about a six month process to do the coursework. And then we had to go through background checks and all of those kinds of things. And the formal paperwork there. From there we waited and we waited for quite a while, about a half a year before even getting a call for truly being matched. But before that, we were asked actually on the day that we got approved our formal approval was September 11th. And I remember that in my mind, because of that date, in our history. But we then were asked that day if we wanted to take two girls and we ended up saying yes, and they got placed somewhere else. We were asked about a set of three boys. And we said yes to that, even though it was a little bit outside of the age range that we had put down as our most comfortable age group and they got placed somewhere else. We had a couple other situations, one was about an hour and a half away from where their home court system was. And then we had one that was down South of us about the same way, and none of those actually got placed with us. At the same time, I absolutely knew that when we got the case for, who’s now our kiddo, our daughter, that she was exactly who I’d been seeing since I was 16 years old I’ve been having this image of this particular situation. And even though I always felt more comfortable with boys from babysitting and stuff. For whatever reason, she resonated and when we met her, like when I saw her picture for the first time, so she had a court appointed special advocate a CASA, and I got a chance to meet with that CASA before we actually had our first meeting with our kiddo and she showed us a picture and I knew exactly in that moment that this was the kiddo that I had been dreaming of literally dreaming of and seeing in my idea of being a parent. Wow. That first day of meeting was so nerve wracking, we were trying to ask questions of the system. what kinds of food does she like? What’s her favorite color, trying to set up. Things of, does she like, are, does she, what things does she like? So that when we met her, we brought some little gifts for her so that, she would feel comfortable that we were learning about her. S o apparently she liked unicorns. So we got her this horse that was completely multicolored, a stuffed animal, and she held onto it so strongly. And she apparently slept with it every night since the day she met us. That meeting was, we were so scared that she wasn’t going to like us and she’ll tell us now it was so awkward meeting us because she didn’t know us either, but she is being told that we were going to be her new parents. And so it was awkward, but at the same time, it wasn’t. And I remember then, that following weekend happened to be, a holiday weekend. It was Valentine’s day. And so we had a chance to go and see her and let her come to our house for an overnight. And it snowed. And our next door neighbors had a kiddo the same age and let us borrow the snowsuit. So we took her out in the snow and was her first time doing snow angels. And so that was like my first taste of being mom and creating a brand new experience. And she was so excited because we had a cat. She always wanted a cat, at five years old, she always wanted a cat, more than anything in the world, she wanted a cat. And on that very first time we met her, we had made a book of pictures of our house and our driveway and our cars so that she could look through it as she felt comfortable to start feeling comfortable before she ever came to our house. And that’s the thing she was most excited about was our cat.

[00:06:11] September Burton: That’s cute. I like that.

[00:06:14] TiffanyNoelle: I was so scared about what color bed spread do I get? Like, all of this stuff. And then we found out that Frozen is her favorite movie. And so that she didn’t have to talk to us on the car ride. And this went on for months, actually, where she was like completely silent in the car, but we played Frozen and I sing, and would sing the songs and eventually she started to join in and sing with me. So that was our bonding of knowing that she liked Frozen and trying really hard to find a safe way for her to start building connection. I also remember the first time we met her grandma. And of course, our grandma’s going to be skeptical of us. So we completely got that. And the system had not told her that she’d been moved from this other family. And  that was really hard, but we invited her to our house and she actually said in the second week that our kiddo was with us, that it was okay for her to call us mommy and daddy. And we had been taught to let her call us whatever she wanted, just give her the choice of it. And so she just didn’t call us anything. And she was so used to the foster home before us that she would get very nervous and would call us by the other name, but then she’d catch herself and would get really conflicted. Like she would get really flustered. And I think, even though I thought that was a little fast for trying to have her call us that, not that I didn’t want it. My goodness, I did, I’ve been waiting for it.

[00:07:52] September Burton: Of course.

[00:07:53] TiffanyNoelle: But her grandma said to her “it’s okay. It’s okay for you.” And so her grandma gave her permission just in the second week she was with us to call us mommy and daddy and she did.

[00:08:05] September Burton: Wow.

[00:08:06]TiffanyNoelle: So that’s a, that’s like a goosebump moment, even just thinking about it. The court process was really emotional and we knew it would be. And we chose to go to every single court date. And that was not required of us. And after six months, we were allowed to petition the court to be able to be a part of the court process so that we could speak up during court. We were told that the, that our case when we were placed that it was an open and shut case. And the law requires that someone be in your household for six months before you’re eligible for adoption. The six months came. We also went to all of the criminal hearings for the birth parents, so that we had a sense of what was going on. We knew what was going on there. And, birth parents were given a lot of opportunities at the very end when they switched judges, which put the case in a very different framework. And so we were expecting that this was going not to be easy but that we weren’t going to have a significantly long time to, for our process, because when we requested placement, they have you fill out a form of who you’re most comfortable with, who you’re willing to take. And I always felt really uncomfortable with that process of how can you not take any child? And the more I was in the system, I completely understood why they ask you that. I think reflecting on that was painful for me and  I left it to my spouse to make those decisions so that I didn’t have to, because emotionally it hurt too much. And he’s much more on the practical, no, it’s really My spouse passes out at the sight of blood. So it wouldn’t have been realistic for us to take a kiddo that was medically fragile, where you had to do like do IVs and that kind of thing, because otherwise it would fall on me completely. And what would you do if I wasn’t available? So even though I have a background in the healthcare system, that was like really hard for me. Going through then, the court case then not only were parental rights, not terminated when we expected them to be. So much so that everyone kept telling us that open and shut case, our kiddos lawyer told us that the CASA thought that the social worker thought that or home supervisor thought that our agency thought that. And we beforehand, I was like, no, it’s not going to go like this and I just felt really uncomfortable. And at the same time we had purchased tickets that happened to be on the same day as the hearing, cause we were told that the hearing would take two hours at the most. Because it was my spouse’s sister’s wedding that week and she was the best and he was the best person for her. And I kept just asking the system, are you sure? Are you sure? Is it okay for us to fly this day? Are you sure? And they just were like, yeah, it’s not going to be any issue whatsoever. Come noon, and the judge still hadn’t made a decision and then had to take a break because he was doing a speaking engagement during the middle of the day. There was this long pause and I remember just looking at Steven and saying, “just go” you two just need to go. And if I can make it to the airport, then I will come with you. If not, I’m going to change my ticket and I’ll get there as fast as I can. And everyone was still like, Oh, it really won’t be that long. I missed the flight. Wow. I missed the flight. And, I stayed until the last minute when the judge made the ruling that no one expected that parental rights were not terminated and not only were parental rights not terminated, the judge started visitation with one of the birth parents. And during that time I started grieving because I thought that was going to be the day that I found out that I was going to be able to adopt her. And instead I was being told that birth parents were being given another chance. And I felt so conflicted because I have an ideology of understanding how the birth parents got into the situation they got, like what got them into that situation. So I had an extreme amount of empathy and trying to have understanding of how they must be feeling. And, that was just really, it was really hard for us.  And then pretty much once a month, or once every three months we went back to court, eventually, at the last minute, when we had another termination hearing, a birth family member flew in. Someone that we’d been talking with to try to make sure that they stay a part of our kiddos life. They flew in and didn’t tell us, and blindsided us with that. And started making claims about having a Native American background. And whether it’s accurate or not, that is going to absolutely activate something called ICWA, the Indian child welfare act. Which meant that we had to go to, or the state had to go to every single potential tribe that our kiddo could have been in the lineage of and ask them if there was a possibility for her to be a member. And if she’s a member, that tribe could claim her and they could take her from us. And, even though she wouldn’t have known anybody in that tribe and as a sociologist, I completely get that the cultural, the cultural aspects are incredibly important. And at the same time, it was really frightening that our kiddo was finally stable for the first time in her life. She’d been in our household at that point longer than she’d been in any physical location, living in any physical location during her whole life. And that there was a possibility of uprooting that again.  And that actually gave one of the biological parents, even though the judge did decide to terminate rights, he also knew that there was going to be an appeal by one of the birth parents. That was actually on the opposite side of the family than who had come with the claim and, saying that this whole ICWA process had to go on and that took another six months. So , we actually didn’t know for sure until two days before adoption, that adoption was going to happen on that day. Wow. But it did happen. And I’m so thankful for that. And I feel so much pain for the birth parents of not only do people assume that the birth parents are bad people and that we should just cut them out of our life, and legally we don’t have any obligation. But I really feel in their situation that our military system let them down. And they came back from doing their duty in Iraq and really struggled. And there was not the support. And that’s what led to the bad decisions.  And on the one hand, I’m so angry with the system and I testified to that in court, but on the other hand, I’m like our kiddo cannot be in that situation. It is not safe for her, so having both at the same time, it’s conflicting.

[00:15:34] September Burton: Yeah, for sure. So the whole time that all of this is going on, she’s in your home, right?

[00:15:40] TiffanyNoelle: Correct. Yep.

[00:15:41] September Burton: You’re bonding and you’re getting to establish that mother and father child relationship.

[00:15:46]TiffanyNoelle: Yes. And what makes that, so when people decide to foster, they can decide what situation they’re comfortable with. I have a colleague who, was on the foster parents steering committee with me, who only takes kids who are really young and who they know are going to be returned back to birth family. She has had hundreds of kids in her care over the years that she’s been doing this. I knew for myself that would be really hard. And we did have one kiddo. So eventually, we decided to stay certified, but help other foster families with respite. And, we took an emergency respite placement that was supposed to be two nights. And when she wasn’t allowed to go back to her foster family, we had her continue staying with us for about a month and a half, it turned out. I still grieve that loss of having had to talk with that 15 year old and say, it’s not in the best interest of the kiddo that we adopted to have you in our household, long-term. I still grieve feeling like I let her down, when she finally had someone that she actually shared her dreams with. Someone who  she had never had anyone take her for a haircut. Which there are some rules about haircuts in foster care so that’s a little bit of a separate issue, but no one had ever even taken her to a hairdresser to see what kind of shampoo and conditioner that she needed, or, other products to help her with her hair. And she was 15. And so there is another kiddo who we saw later that we had done two different respites for the same family. And the kiddo saw us at a training when I was picking our adopted kiddo up from the child, like childcare while we were doing training, and she asked if she could come home with me. And those are things that are really hard to hear in the system. it’s like intellectually, you signed up for it, but emotionally it’s hard. And at the same time, you’re making some difference, no matter how little or much time some of these kiddos are in your care. 

[00:18:06] September Burton: So it sounds like the whole situation, everything about being a foster parent and adoptive parents is there’s a lot of emotions, it’s very trying, it’s very there’s a lot of struggle, but at the same time you have your daughter now. And share with us, I guess some of the joys of having an adoptive daughter.

[00:18:29] TiffanyNoelle: It’s not necessarily a joy, but I didn’t have to go through childbirth. So I always joke about that. And she came to us when she was five. She was in kindergarten. And so my husband’s joke is always, we got to skip the like poop on the walls and all of that. So he always jokes that we got to skip that. So that’s his joke about it, but the true joy is really knowing that I can make a difference and provide stability so that as she gets older, that she’s had the space to heal. She’s had the stability to heal and that, she’ll be able to thrive as an adult and not become a statistic and not have the reidirative re iterative process that unfortunately is systemic in passing the same child welfare situations on generation to generation. I am just so thrilled to have a kiddo to do imagination stuff with and we have our own little things–she calls me, her mini me, even though she looks absolutely nothing like me. And, those are some of the absolute best things. And I remember during our training, one of the trainers who was really good, but it affected me so much said just because we have an African-American president, doesn’t mean that the race issues are solved. And if you think that there really aren’t any issues with racism and safety of being in a biracial family, don’t take a kid of color. And they also posed a question of if you’re willing to take a kid of color and, I hated that wording willing, but that’s how it was posed, if you’re willing to take a kid of color, are you doing that to further your own like social agenda? And as a sociologist, I interpreted that differently than others in the room because I went into it thinking I’m a sociologist, I teach about diversity, my whole life is about inclusion. And, here I am I only want wanting to have a kid of color because that’s the vision that I saw because I feel like I’m particularly well suited to help raise a kid of color because of my, because of my background and how I teach. And my spouse also teaches diversity stuff in the military. So I went into it thinking that I was really well-prepared and that we would be good parents. And then when they posed that question, I was like, Oh no, this, I couldn’t sleep for days thinking about it, of when we make the check mark on our form of what kinds of kids we would be willing to be placed with was I doing that to further my social justice ideology? Or was I doing it because I really felt well-suited knowing that as of right now, or as of that time, there weren’t enough families of color, who were foster parents to be able to parent kids in the foster care system who are of a different racial background or ethnic.

[00:21:56]September Burton: That’s a tough question to have to ponder. What, what are your actual reasons for wanting to do this? Because is African-American. I don’t know if we mentioned that yet, but, so that is a difficult question.

[00:22:07]TiffanyNoelle: Yeah. And trying to come up with even now we talk about it all the time. And that’s something that I’m proud of. I went and took lessons before she actually came into our household. I went and actually took lessons on how to do African-American and mixed hair. And yeah, that’s I don’t know of other folks who did that. I was colleagues within the system, that’s becoming more of a thing that there are trainings around that now, of how to take care of hair and skin, in different ways. I learned how to do the braiding. And then of course my kiddo wants nothing to do with that at all. So I always joke about how that is a wasted skill, but not really,

[00:22:52]September Burton: Yeah. Maybe one day. She’ll want it, at some point, who knows. Well, Tiffany, this has been a really, I think very eye opening conversation. I really want to thank you for being so open and raw, and sharing your experiences. I, I remember when you were going through it and the conversations that we would have, and it was, it was a tough thing to go through, but she really is, she’s a sweetheart. And I think that she is extremely blessed to have been placed in your home with you and Steven.

[00:23:23] TiffanyNoelle: And we’re blessed that she’s our kiddo.

[00:23:26] September Burton: I was going to say and vice versa. I’m absolutely certain is also true. The other thing that we talked about a little bit before we actually started recording, was that you also do a lot of holistic health care. Do you want to talk about that a little bit and how that has played a role in, helping her adapt and things like that?

[00:23:43] TiffanyNoelle: Yeah, for sure. I, became a Reiki master, for my own health. I became a wellness advocate for essential oils. I have done intuitive training. I utilize gemstones and really before she even came into our household, I had started becoming known as a self-care specialist. And you learn how important self care is in every single training they tell you how important it is without a how. I’m saying it’s really important for you to do self-care and there wasn’t a lot of infrastructure around how. I do a lot of workshops for foster and adoptive parents on how to use holistic techniques in ways that are still compliant with Colorado rules. I remember right off the bat, they told me that I couldn’t Reiki, my kiddo, because that wasn’t an approved service. And I always had to chuckle because it’s just too, I can’t turn it off. So when I would hold her, my hands get warm when I Reiki. And when she would come sit in my lap, when, or if I were brushing her hair or something, then I would be reiking her. And I was always like, please don’t tell me I can’t do it because I don’t know how to not do it. yeah. And utilizing essential oils, it’s really important to have ones that are safe. And, really I’ve spent a lot of time with the foster care system in them having some rules, and I completely understand why they did where some kids have been poisoned by opening bottles and getting into them. So we had to treat the essential oils like we would any other prescription, it had to be locked up. And so I couldn’t even have them in my purse or that kind of thing. But over time I started to really talk with the leadership in the state and to me, defusing essential oils that are safe and not doing it for the purpose of therapeutics for that particular kiddo. But, how is that any different than a Glade plugin or something like that? That, and that actually has a lot of harmful chemicals in it. And that I was providing a safer option and being able to cook with them because then it was considered like a spice rather than, as a therapeutic. And I was able to recognize the benefits that kind of crossed over without, without breaking the policy, the Colorado state policy for foster parents and trying to keep kids safe. So there were some things like you could use lavender in a bath, you can also get bath bubbles that are synthetic lavender smell to put in a bath normally. So trying to talk with them about some of those distinctions of, how they allow it. And I also had worked with our home supervisor of, could she have that, like as thinking in your car, I just think the like little pine tree thing that you hang. And doing something like that, but it’s a safer way when you’re using pure essential oils. And that certain kids have certain anxieties and in general, the kids are going to have similar anxieties. So having that as a smell on them, rather than perfume, that kind of thing. So trying to work within the system of how to utilize these tools in ways that are compliant, but could still have benefit, to both the parent and the kiddo.

[00:27:18] September Burton: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I appreciate you sharing that with us.

[00:27:22]TiffanyNoelle: Yeah. Like right now I have, I have stuff right here and when we do our school from home now, then we’re diffusing to try to help with focus and try to help reduce that stress so that we can actually get school done.

[00:27:36]September Burton: I love that. there was one other question that I did want to ask before we wrap up this conversation and that is, I’m very curious about your sociology background and if you think that becoming an adoptive mother is something that you did because you have a background in sociology, or do you think that having a background in sociology is more of that, this is who I am and they both they go hand in hand really and so I guess the question is really at which angle did the adoption come in?

[00:28:05]TiffanyNoelle: So I actually wrote a paper called the adoption option and my mom reminded me of it, when I was about 16. I wrote this paper and I started talking about this vision of this little girl that was a kindergartener and what the family situation would be, and that she was African-American or mixed race. And, recently I had a friend that I hadn’t talked to in 15 years, tell me that he remembered in high school, my talking about this. Wow. And. It’s so interesting thinking about that, of the sociology versus I started college thinking I was going to be a physician and I wanted to be a bilingual physician to work on inclusion issues. Even though I didn’t have a language for it, I saw it. I saw that other people were being treated differently than me as a blonde haired blue eyed Caucasian person. And it bothered me. And then I found sociology. I took a medical sociology class as an elective, I’m like this exists. Wow. And I think that really, gave me a language that I understand my adoption process through. And I think that background actually is really the only reason that our kiddo was placed with us because they did not want to place her with a Caucasian family. And we had one person in the system really fight saying, no, look at their background, that if we have to choose  a Caucasian family, that this is the family that’s going to be a good fit for her, for all of her needs, not only the racial needs. And that gave me a very different lens and it just continues of how important, the race ethnicity is understanding ICWA more. Understanding really, the life circumstances of the biological family members, who some we still have contact with, and others is just understanding their perspective of how they got to where they were or why they may not have been in a position to be able to, take into their home. I think the sociology gave me a way to understand and not vilify the birth family.

[00:30:22] September Burton: I like that. And I think that matters. And I’m certain that’s going to come out in the way that you talk to about her birth parents and things like that. So I think that’s really very admirable. Again, thank you for coming on and being so vulnerable in sharing your story with us. Before we sign off if there’s a couple out there or somebody out there who’s considering going adoption, do you have any tips or words of wisdom that you would offer them?

[00:30:45]TiffanyNoelle: For sure. So part of it would be in really thinking about, do you want to adopt through the foster care system? Do you want to adopt through the US adoption system? Do you want to adopt through international? And I know a lot of people who have had their hand in pots of all three of those at the same time. So that’s really more of a personal choice. I guess I always knew that I wanted to do it through the foster care system. I don’t have a reason why, other than that’s actually conversation that I had with my spouse on our first date of if he wasn’t even willing to consider that and not consider having non-biological children, then that was a deal breaker right off the bat for me. but I think a lot of people aren’t as clear about that particular issue. And have someone that’s trusted help you navigate who really is going to be the best fit for your family. And, if you can find someone to help you through that in a way that you’re not feeling like you’re leaving other kids behind by saying that’s not the right type of kid for me, but having someone who can do it in a way to say you will be the best parent to a kiddo who has these qualities. And then you’re, then it like shifts the perspective of you’re not excluding, but this is who you can help thrive the best.

[00:32:14] September Burton: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for that.  And thank you again for coming on, Tiffany.

[00:32:20]TiffanyNoelle: Of course, I’m so thrilled that you’re doing this. It’s such important work in our community.

[00:32:25]Thank you.

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