2/22/2015

An open letter to our elected officials in the State of Iowa...

To the men and women elected to represent the people of our great state:

My name is Shelley.

My husband and I are parents to two little girls.

We adopted them when they were babies.

Meet Olivia.
She was born in Texas in 2013.

And here's our youngest, Kendra.
She was born right here in the Hawkeye state about a month ago.

Regardless of what party you're a member of and what you stand for, I think we can all agree these two gals are flippin' adorable.

[And I kinda feel like I can brag about 'em because we share ZERO DNA...]

Anyway, I digress...

I know you're busy shaping and making public policy, so let me get to the point.

I'm writing to tell you how important Senate File 375 is for families like mine.

This bill essentially states if a company offers an employee paid maternity leave (often times through short-term disability), that company should be required to extend the same maternity leave for an adoptive parent.

I know. I know.

It's groundbreaking, right?

But before some of you shake your heads because you're wondering who will pay for that "paid time off," let me tell you a story.

A true story.

My husband -- a social worker -- and I -- a former television news reporter -- had 12-hours notice to catch a flight and meet our daughter in a hospital hundreds of miles from home.
That moment was the greatest moment in our lives.

The painful years of infertility, the paperwork and financial and emotional expenses of the adoption process were finally coming to fruition.

But hours after leaving the hospital with our new daughter, I started getting phone calls from work.

"When are you coming back?" asked my Human Resources representative.

Mind you, our new family of three was crammed inside a studio hotel room hundreds of miles from home waiting for approval to head back to Iowa with our new daughter.

The Human Resources representative from my work made it clear:

I was under contract to continue working, and I was not eligible for any paid time off minus my [limited] pool of vacation because I did not physically give birth to my daughter.

I was days shy of being eligible for FMLA, and I could not cash out my sick time because I did not physically give birth to my child.

Less than two weeks after I held my new daughter in my arms for the first time and told her with overwhelming joy, "I'm your Mommy," I was back to chasing news stories 45+ hours a week.

I had less than one week at home with my precious little girl.

We had no diapers for her, no bottles, no clothes, no routine, no time to bond, no daycare lined up because state law requires a child be at least six weeks old prior to dropping off at a childcare center...the list goes on.

But most importantly, I was robbed of paid time off with my daughter because I did not give birth to her.

Some of my colleagues went on to have children during the remainder of my contractual employment.

Because they physically gave birth to their children, they were given weeks of paid-time off with their new bundle of joy.

Weeks.

I got nothing.

Because I did not physically give birth to my daughter, I was denied the same opportunities that were extended to my colleagues.

And the worst part -- it's perfectly legal.

While I understand the objective for "maternity leave" in many cases is to allow a new mother a few weeks to recover from the physical labor of childbirth, I would argue this time off also allows her time to bond with her child, form a routine and not worry about losing her job or affording to live while spending time with her new family.

I'm not the only one who has been discriminated against in the workplace because of how my husband and I chose to grow our family.

There are many more.

Miki, Jessica, Erika, Sue, Melissa, Christy, Lauren, Kelly ...the list goes on of hardworking, taxpaying Iowans who have experienced the same unfairness in the workplace as I have.

I'm asking you -- the elected officials in the State of Iowa -- to support SF 375.

Some of you are mothers.

Some of you are fathers.

Some of you are grandparents. Aunts. Uncles.

And some of you may not even like kids.

But let me tell you something.

Every child deserves a family.

And every family should be treated equally in the workplace and by the letter of the law.

This post was edited on 3/9/2015 to reflect the changes in the potential legislation. House File 116 and Senate File 225 were changed to Senate File 375.

2/21/2015

Go Ahead, Swoon Away

I'm still swooning over Kendra's newborn photos.
Her cute little feetsies...
Her lil' rolls...
Her scrunched up nose and pinch-able lil' cheeks.
It's quite possible I love absolutely everything about this sweet girl.
I think she fits right in to our lil' fam;)

2/18/2015

Hands Off: My Daughter's Hair is Not an Exhibit

"What do you want for dinner tonight?"

"Peezahhhh!" said Olivia excitedly.

Note: Try turning down an 18-month-old with a big smile and eyelashes to boot.

I dare you.

Hence the reason we eat pizza like four nights a week.

This night was different though.

Instead of popping a frozen one in the oven, we loaded up the girls and went to one of our favorite local pizza places.

We walked in and found a table in the back of the restaurant.

It was busy.

Apparently 5:15 is when all the cool people wanna eat a dinner buffet.

There was a large, excessively loud, group of people next to us talking about farming and horses and [for some reason unbeknownst to me] Preparation H.

Yeh.

I can't make this stuff up, you guys.

Totally appropriate dinner-talk, right?

Anyway, I digress...

Minutes after we sat down, I felt darts of eyes staring at our family.

People staring and commenting about us is nothing unusual necessarily.

But this was excessive.

And you know it's excessive when Chris leans over the table and mumbles nonchalantly, "Is everyone staring at us right now?"

When the large group [finally] started to wrangle up their rowdy kids and disperse, we felt a sense of relief the angels in the heavens started singing.

But then it happened.

The silent "Alleluia's"  running through our heads were suddenly interrupted when a woman walked over to our table and -- without permission or warning -- started running her [greasy-from-pizza] hands through my daughter's hair.
"Oh, wow! Her hair is so big!" she said as she continued running her hands through my daughter's hair.

I swallowed my shock, anger and hunk of pizza and asked her told her as politely as I could to get her hands out of my daughter's hair.

She made a comment about her "red bow," and as she walked away, Chris mumbled, "It's pink."

We continued on with our peezahhh night, but days later I'm still thinking about the whole incident.

The fact of the matter is this:

What happened with that woman at our table is not okay.

So, here's a letter to the stranger who ran her hands through my daughter's hair -- and all those tempted to do the same:

Please.

Don't.

Just don't.

I know my daughter's hair looks different than yours, and that you might have the best of intentions with coming up and groping it.

But don't.
We spend a lot of time conditioning, moisturizing and styling her gorgeous, curly locks during our special "hair nights" every week.

Of course compliments are welcome.

But my daughter's hair is not part of a museum exhibit.

Her hair is not on display meant to be gawked at or touched by strange hands.

She is not a pet.

She's my daughter and her hair is beautiful.

She knows this.

I know this.

And I'm glad you notice and might agree.

But seriously.

Unless we're friends and she's got a piece of waffle stuck in her her locks from breakfast, I expect you to be respectful of her boundaries and keep your hands to yourself.

Sincerely,

Momma Bear

2/14/2015

Momma's Sweeties

This morning I woke up to a lil' gal and her daddy tip-toeing through the house.
"Cawshee! Mommy Cawshee!" yelled Olivia excitedly while she helped hold a coffee mug full of my morning pick-me-up.

In the 11 Valentine's Days that Chris and I have been together, we actually haven't celebrated the so-called "holiday."

We know we love each other.

I told him years ago I don't need a fancy night out, a $15 card and a $75+ bouquet of roses to mark the occasion.

Shoot.

I'd rather lounge around in sweat pants all day! ;)

Seriously.

That's why my morning cup of coffee Cawshee was perfect!

That -- and I get to spend the whole day eating cupcakes and snuggling with my sweeties!
What better way to spend a day celebrating LOVE than with the ones you love most?
Yeh.

I can't think of anything either ;)

Happy Valentine's Day -- from my sweeties to yours!

2/11/2015

Best Friends + Pillow Talk

Just another day of pillow-talk about how EXTRA loved they are by their first families and their forever family.

2/08/2015

A Weekend Away

On the Road...

On Friday afternoon, I packed my bags, dropped off the girls with my mom and hit the road for a four-hour long drive to Northwest Illinois.

Truth: About 90-minutes into the drive, I realized I forgot to turn the radio on.

I guess I was so busy savoring the peace and quiet I didn't realize there was no music on!

My weekend away at a Created for Care Mini Retreat was just getting started.

The Connection...

I can't even begin to explain how this weekend at Park Hills Church touched my heart.

Fellowship with mommas-turned-friends who have similar hearts for adoption and foster care was just what I needed.
Our time together started with recognizing 25 women who -- together -- care for and love more than 80 children -- 40 of them brought into their families through adoption.

WOW! 
Along with four other women, I was honored to speak about the adoption process of our daughters, how we handle ignorant adoption comments, and what advice I have for people considering the process.
Straight to the Heart...

I found myself scribbling so many notes during the breakout sessions...moments that stirred my heart, made me sad, and made me grateful.

You guys, I soaked in so much fantastic insight about connecting with our children, what black women want moms like me to know about raising black children, and how we are equipped, chosen and gifted for our families.

It was exactly what this momma needed.
Encouragement...

It's hard to find the right words to explain how amazing it was spending a weekend away with my people.

People -- moms and moms-to-be -- who have said "YES" to a journey.

A journey they, at times, have no idea where it's headed.
While our children come from hard places that can be painful, exhausting, troubling and scary...I'm reminded we should always stand ready with a tambourine.

Because no matter how bumpy the journey or where it leads us, there are always glimpses of good worth praising Him for.

Take this weekend for example: Days filled with many glimpses of good and incredible moments of thankfulness.

Six Reasons It's Okay for Adoptive Parents to Nest

Now on Adoption.com:
Six Reasons It's Okay for Adoptive Parents to Nest

2/06/2015

Adoption Tax Credit: Nuts and Bolts

Information you need to know about the Adoption Tax Credit is now on Adoption.com.

Click the image below for details:
Image from Adoption.com
Special thanks to experts Dave Lemaster and Becky Wilmoth who helped me compile this guide.

2/05/2015

5 Tips for Hosting an Adoption Baby Shower

Look at these beautiful [+ yummy!] cookies from Purdy Cookies!
When a friend or family member is expecting a child through adoption, it can be difficult to plan a baby shower because often time's there is not a timeline or due date, no specific age or gender, and no guarantee that the adoption plan will be fulfilled.
Be creative with invitations [you get extra points in my book for rhyming!].
Still, celebrating your friend or family member's choice to become a parent via adoption is worth celebrating.
Read more: Top 5 Tips for Hosting an Adoption Baby Shower

2/04/2015

Words Matter.

I was running errands the other day and a woman stopped me in my tracks.

"Hey - does Olivia have a sister?"

"Yes!" I said with a smile.

"I mean, are they actually sisters?" she asked.

[Insert jaw drop here.]

"Ummm, yes?" I said.

"I mean, are they from the same family?" she asked.

[Insert self control to avoid eye rolling here.]

I took a deep breath.

"Yes. Olivia and Kendra are sisters. They are both part of our family," I clarified.

And then it dawned on me.

Why does it matter to this woman who my children were born to?

Sure, some people are curious.

But why does it really matter if my two precious daughters -- who have the same forever family -- were born into the same first family?

I would never go up to someone and say, "Hey, did you conceive your two children in the same place? In the same way?"

That'd totally be too much information, right?

A bit invasive, you could say...
So why is it important for others to know if these two sweet little girls share genetics?

It's not.
They're both equally beautiful.

I know, I know.

Soooo many people think they look alike.

That's cool. You can think that. Ain't nothin' wrong with that...

But remember this:

Words matter.

Please, don't ever question my daughters' personal stories and their sisterhood or the integrity of our family, and especially don't do it in front of them.

Little ears are listening and little eyes are watching.

2/02/2015

SLIDESHOW: 15 Families on Finalization Day

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on my Facebook page for families to send me their finalization photos.
Erika + Josh embrace after the adoption of their son is finalized via conference call with a judge and attorney in Florida.
And then I thought my heart would explode with the happiness radiating from all of the submissions!
Chad, Kristin and Emma - Nashville, TN
I'm grateful for your willingness to share such precious family photos.
Karen, Lauren, Andrew, Isaac, Abbie and Ron - Cedar Falls, IA
Now, 15 of these families are featured on Adoption.com!

Click here for more.

2/01/2015

GIVEAWAY: Princess Cupcake Jones Children's Book

If you haven't heard of Princess Cupcake Jones...allow me to introduce you.
Everybody wave "Hi!" to one of the cutest children's book characters you'll meet.

Seriously.

She's adorable.
You know what I love about this series?

Welp, lots. :)

Each book has a message that children can relate to.
In  "Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu," Cupcake Jones loses her beloved tutu.

Through beautiful illustrations and catchy rhymes, readers learn the importance of picking up after themselves.

Whatta concept, right?!
But more than the fun story lines, the author--Ylleya Fields-- fills a niche of creating strong African American characters in books for children.

A mother herself, Fields states she was struck by the lack of titles featuring African American characters, so she created Princess Cupcake Jones!

You go, Momma! 

I love these books so much that I reached out to Fields to let her know.

I believe all children should have a copy on their bookshelves and in their libraries.

I told her how much I enjoy reading these books to my daughters -- not just because they're cute [that's a given, right?], but because they're inclusive with characters of all races.

And because good things are meant to be shared, I want you to have your own copy of Princess Cupcake Jones.

Enter away to win today through Saturday, February 14, 2015.

In the meantime, show some lovin' to a momma who saw a need for equal representation in children's books -- She deserves it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends February 14 at 11:59 PM CST. Open to Residents of the US only. Prizes cannot be shipped to PO Boxes. Winner will be selected through Rafflecopter process which utilizes Random.org. Winner will be notified by email and have 48-hours to respond before a new winner is selected. The product provided in this post was free of charge from the company. The product offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by any form of compensation. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest are in no way associated with this giveaway. By providing your information in this giveaway, you are providing your information to me and me alone. I do not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of contacting the winner.

If you have a product you'd like to be considered for a review or giveaway on This Family's Journey, please contact me.