Navigating Adoption Later in Life – Meet Later Mom Melissa Couch Salim, founder, Baby Buzz Adoption Advisory & Head, Houston Chapter of MotherhoodLater.com: Interview by Robin Gorman Newman, founder, MotherhoodLater.com


Robin: What led you to adopt?

Melissa: My road to adoption was a long and winding one with many speed bumps, hills and unexpected pot holes.  But I stayed the course as somehow, I knew in my heart adoption was for me.  What I didn’t realize is that by the time I could really provide a wonderful home to a child I would be in my late 40’s.

I was single most of my life and was a sole business owner so the timing never felt right.  Still I researched and explored all types and methods of adoption. I would even start the process realizing the clock was ticking, but then I would reconsider, feeling scared and overwhelmed at the thought of being a single mom and a business owner.  It was when I met my husband who, despite having three grown children, encouraged and supported me to start my journey again to become a mom and together, we would parent.  My final adoption journey began again at age 50.

Robin: For some it can be a challenging and complex undertaking.  What was that experience and process like for you?

Melissa: It certainly was challenging and very complicated.  RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH.  There is so much out there that it can be confusing to even know where to begin. I first looked into International adoption thinking it may be more age friendly, but I quickly learned that my and my husband’s combined ages exceeded most countries age requirements.  Some countries even require that you have been married more than 3-5 years and no divorce.  I also looked into fostering to adopt, but we felt raising a child from birth would be a better fit, so then I began to look into domestic agencies.  I was again discouraged to learn that domestic agencies too had age limits, and we were well over age limit for most agencies.  I would spend hours googling “agencies for older parents wanting to adopt” or variety of other phrases and still NOTHING. I would then ask myself how did Sandra Bullock do it or Hoda Kotb adopt as older women?  What was I missing?

I then decided to pick up the phone and just start “cold calling” adoption agencies. What I learned through that process is that there no state or federal regulation on how old an adoptive parent can or cannot be. It is up each individual agency so that was encouraging and it was just a few days later that I finally embarked upon an agency that had no age limit at all. Well that seemed a bit strange as well but I felt we had not choice so I filled out the application forms and wrote our $20,000.00 check. We were off to the races…or so I thought until my agency asked for the home study. We had to have a Texas home study agency come to our home and approve us to adopt and this also includes FBI checks, fingerprinting etc.  As I began my search home study agency, I was hit again with age limits and restrictions. It was crazy but this time I was quick to pick up the phone and again begin cold calling.  I finally found a home study agency willing to work with us despite the fact that we were older than she required or desired. She will forever be one of my adoption angels.  (I had a few through the process)

So, now we were back on track with the mounds of paperwork, home studies, adoption profile books, FBI clearances and fingerprinting all done, complete, notarized and submitted to the adoption agency.  We were officially in the “waiting” process meaning waiting and hoping a birth mother would see our book and choose us to raise her child. Eight months later and not even a bite so now I’m wondering If I made a bad decision in joining the agency with no age limits. What now? And trust me, I didn’t just wait, I called them to see how things were going and it we needed to tweak our book etc. But they would just say that all families eventually get placed. “Eventually” sounded very vague and at our age we didn’t have time on our side so I began really praying and asking God that if it were meant to be that we be parents to PLEASE put me on the right path to our child ASAP! A few days later I ran into an old friend who literally ran up to me and said I just adopted a baby girl. Mind you, this friend is my age AND single.

I asked how long it took and who did she work with?  She said 5 months and agreed to connect me to her agency.  Within a week I had a face to face meeting with the agency and for the first time I felt I was finally with the right agency. Needless to say, I was on a plane shortly thereafter to meet my daughter.  The total wait time for us ended being ironically 9 months but you should not have join more than one agency to find your adoptive child.  Lesson: Don’t give up!

Robin: There are various ways to pursue adoption……whether a person/couple goes the private or agency route…and there are both open and closed adoptions.  Do you have thoughts around the choices?

Melissa: I believe it depends on each person and each couple. International adoption can take a very long time, and the requirements can change and do change quite frequently. Also, many counties may require an adoptive parent to spend weeks at a time in that country, and that’s not always feasible for a working family.  Also, many times you can be placed with a child but not be able to meet and bring that child home for months.  But if a couple feels a strong connection to a particular race or culture then it could be a good fit.

Also, fostering or adopting from the state is great because these children desperately need “forever families,” and it’s very affordable, but its not always easy to adopt at the infant age so in a state adoption one has to be open to age, race and sometimes siblings’ groups.  Domestic adoption can be tricky, but you do get a child at the infant age, and the price can vary drastically from agency to agency so you have to be very diligent in understanding the differences and knowing what’s included and what is NOT included.

Private  or independent adoption is for families who want to customize their own marketing initiatives to attract and work with birth mothers directly.  This type of adoption has different laws and requirements that vary by state so again a family would have to be very educated prior to making this choice.

In terms of open, semi-open and close adoption, that is typically decided by the birth parent(s).  Open adoption is very common today and while many adoptive parents may not love the idea, it can be good for the adopted child to grow up knowing and understanding his or her roots and origins. Semi-open is some communication with the birthmother but through a third party such as the agency or the attorney. And of course, a closed adoption is no communication at all between birth and adoptive parents.  This may or may not be ideal as the child gets older and begins to ask questions. We want our adoptive children to have as much access to their backgrounds as they so that they don’t feel a sense of “mystery” about their early lives.

Robin: What inspired you to launch BABY BUZZ ADOPTION ADVISORY GROUP?

Melissa: I launched launch Baby Buzz to help other older couples and singles achieve parenthood without sheer confusion, spending needless amounts of money or taking many months or years. Most are already a bit older when they reach the point of wanting to adopt so time is typically not on their side at the onset.

I also want to help gay and lesbians become adoptive parents and to avoid the road blocks and pitfalls that so many of us have experienced.  The process will naturally be somewhat complicated and a bit overwhelming, but it can and should also be an enjoyable experience. It is knowing how to research, what questions to ask each agency and how to validate their answers.

Robin: What do you see as the particular challenges around adoption?

Melissa: That’s a big question. There are so many challenges, and I think the biggest challenge is how and where to begin. There is so much on the internet that it is very confusing, and there are so many ways to adopt a child.  The more clarity a person has when starting the adoption process, the easier it might be.

Do you want to adopt an infant or an older child and why?  Do you want to adopt domestically or internationally and why?  Are you open to an open adoption?  What is your budget?  Is your extended family prepared and open to adoption? There are many, many things to consider, and that’s why I’m excited to help people weed through that process with Baby Buzz Advisory Group.

Robin: Adoption can be costly.  Are there ways to make it more affordable?

Melissa:  Having a realistic budget is very important. Adopting through the state is typically the most affordable way to adopt a child. There are also organizations that can help fund families wanting to adopt. There are also tax laws that help support adoptive families as well.

Robin: What do you see as the biggest misconception re: adoption?

Melissa: That a baby will be so “lucky” and “fortunate” to be adopted.  Adoptive parents must understand that they are adopting a child, and it isn’t the same as raising a biological child. Sure, you will still parent and discipline and be the parent, but adoptive children as they grow older may become curious about their biological families and what happened and why etc. Adoptive parents must be prepared to have these discussions while using words that show compassion, openness, support and of course love. The good news is there are many excellent support groups that teach adoptive parents’ way to have these conversations so their children feel more comfortable and secure as they go through this explorative journey. Baby Buzz can connect families to many of these helpful resources.

Robin: In closing, what has been your best experience through adoption?

Melissa: Well my daughter of course. Through adoption I became a Mom. It would not have happened naturally for me.  I also have met so many wonderful people through the adoption process and it only continues. What I have found in sharing my adoption story is that there are many people who have been touched in some way through adoption, and this has resulted in new friendships for our family. It was the silver lining that I didn’t expect, so it’s been overall a wonderful journey.

 

 

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