If you are new to my blog and haven't read any of my other posts in this series, please go back and read this first, before you continue reading this post. Thanks.
Obviously this has been a difficult post for me, since I've been working on it, on and off, for a couple of months. At first, I was putting off this post, hoping I would be able to personalize it with photos of the profile that both M and R described as "perfect" "beautiful" and "brought them to tears." I was more than happy to share it with you, but I can't. No, really, I can't. Read the bottom three paragraphs of this post to know why not. I can't even recreate it by showing all of the pictures I used because many of them I scanned and reprinted for the book and since then had a major hard drive crash and lost a lot of photo data. I have a bad habit of procrastinating on projects when I run into roadblocks. When I make a mistake on a quilt I'll often put it down and not finish it for months and I still have a cross-stitch project that I started over 10 years ago because I mixed up colors and can't bring myself to fix it. Because I've been "working" on this post for so long, it is very looooong. Sorry.
Anyhow, after deciding to continue this post without those pictures, I've struggled with how to describe our profile in a way that would be helpful for other adopting couples, without annoying readers who have already created and submitted their profiles and those who have strict rules for their profiles. I remember clearly that I started second-guessing and regretting things about our profile almost from the moment we turned in the final copies. Every month that passed without a phone call from our SW convinced me that our profile was corny, over-the-top, poorly written, didn't represent us well and had terrible picture choices. A couple of times I broached the subject with my SW, asking her if I should re-do the profile. She always assured me that our profile was "perfect" and that the right birth family just hadn't come along for us yet. If I had run into a post like this one while we were waiting, it would have tortured me. If you are at that point yourself, just stop reading, please!
Our SW was both right and wrong. She was right that a matching birth family hadn't found us yet, but she was wrong that our profile was "perfect." Looking back I realize that our profile was created with an imaginary audience in mind, rather than a realistic audience. I put together the profile with "Ju*no" as my target reader, working hard to appeal to teenage tastes (I'll go into that below). In the end both mothers who chose us were in their late 20s. As an English teacher, I know the importance of audience awareness, and I failed in that respect. Yet, I didn't fail, I succeeded! J and I were chosen twice and adopted Evie. I wouldn't have it any other way. So this post in part describes what we did, but my advice is geared more toward what I would do next time rather than what we did the first time. And, of course, my only qualification to give said advice is that we did successfully adopt Evie Bea. :)
In the end, I think that our profile made a good first impression because it was so elaborate, but it was not what sealed the deal. We spoke with M and T directly about why they chose us, and we heard about R's reasons from our SW (G wasn't involved in picking us but confirmed R's choice when he met us before Evie's birth). The reasons the two couples chose us didn't have anything to do with whether or not J was smiling in a certain photo or because we made sure to include photos of us with other people's children. They chose us because we are smart, well-educated and I am/was a teacher. They chose us because I said I would stay home and because J has excellent vacation benefits and works from home a couple of days each week. They chose us because we are debt-free except for our mortgage, have substantial retirement savings already, and will be able to send Evie and her siblings to college without student loan debt. They chose us because we are Christians with a strong faith and church membership but not "too Christian" (that bothered me at first but then I realized that meant we aren't Bible-thumping, speaking in tongues, Jesus Camp Christians). They chose us because they sympathized with our infertility story. They chose us because they felt connected to us through commonalities in our hobbies, favorite school subjects, choice of pets and family structure.
M, T and R chose us because of the facts of us, as revealed in our home study, birth parent letter and our profile; they did not choose us because I am an awesome scrapbooker. However, our profile did play an important role in our story. Here is what I can say about the hard work and thought that I put into creating our profile: our SW told us that previous birth families who had looked at our profile were impressed by it, M cried openly as she read it and R pulled it out from the bottom of the stack in order to look at it first. It was less than two weeks after we lost Lucy that our SW showed R our profile, along with others. Our SW put it at the bottom of the stack because she wasn't sure we were quite ready to start again at that point. Our profile stood out to R, she pulled it from the bottom of the stack and loved it. As she perused it, our SW read pieces of our home study to her and R felt strongly that we were the perfect family for her baby. Our SW said that each profile R read after that had to measure up to ours and she kept reading 1/3 or 1/2 way through a profile and then putting it aside because she found an aspect that didn't measure up to us. This is not because we are perfect...FAR from it...it's because we were an excellent match with R and G. And I believe divine intervention was involved.
After thinking about it a bit, I believe an adoption profile book is like a first date. On a first date you need to dress up, take extra care with your hygiene/makeup/hair styling, plaster on a smile and try to make interesting conversation. It is such a superficial thing; you would never marry someone based on a first date, even a great one, because it is an experience that represents only the best of the people involved, not the warts and farts. On the other hand, dates 2 through 99...those are the experiences that lead to a proposal, wedding and happily ever after. If a profile is a first date then the homestudy is the courtship. So on the one hand, the profile isn't that important because the right adoptive and birth families match up based on facts in the home study. But on the other hand it is very important because it can get your foot in the door. So. Now I'll describe what we did. This might only be marginally helpful to those of you who have rules about your profile. We didn't have any rules other than that it should have pictures and have our "Dear Special People" letter in the front.
Because I don't have pictures of our profile, I searched online and found some images of the supplies I used. Here's the album we used, from Diecuts with a View's (DCWV) "Once Upon a Time" scrapbooking collection:
Here is a picture of the paper pack I bought that matches the album:
And here is a link to what some other scrapbookers have done with the paper, since I can't show you what I did with it. Some of the paper is a bit over-the-top (i.e. dragons) so we didn't use those sheets. I used mostly the neutral/brown and blue/green colors, with a few of the girly pages included for pictures of myself growing up and for our wedding pictures.
Here's are some examples of some of the embellishments I used that coordinate with the album and the paper:
Honestly, I went to Mich@el's in May of 2007 hoping to find some inspiration because I had no idea what I wanted to do for our profile books. Would I choose something subtle and understated and let the photos speak for themselves? No, because I didn't realize our birth families would be adults who would have appreciated that. Would I choose bright, childlike colors to make us look like fun parents? I'm not an elementary school teacher so that didn't appeal to me. Would I try for elegance like a wedding album? No, wrong vibe. How about shabby chic? Wrong message. Then I saw a display of this "Once Upon a Time" theme and chose it because:
- I still harbored the stereotype that birth mothers are usually teenage girls (not true) and thought this theme would appeal to them
- It has a lot of visual impact with rich colors and textured pages.
- I liked the idea of "telling a beautiful story" about our lives
- I liked the literary/fairytale aspect of the theme (I decided to think of it that way, rather than that I was succumbing to the gaudy lure of "princess" crap, which I detest)
- The paper lent itself to some of the content I needed to cover: the "Once Upon a Time" paper for our introduction; paper that looked like a scroll to go beneath our "Dear Special People letter;" "In a Land Far, Far Away" paper to cover our early marriage, since we haven't always lived in the area we do now and "Happily Ever After" paper to use for the last page, with the idea that our ever after will be even more happy with a baby in the family. So true.
- I was excited to find a collection so that I could buy albums, paper and embellishments that all matched and coordinated. Scrapbookers will tell you that matching colors and styles is one of the hardest parts of creating layouts if you don't buy collections. For those of you who don't scrapbook, find a good collection that coordinates and the scrapbook will almost make itself; and it will look like you are creative and talented at paper crafts even if you aren't! There are many companies that make collections that coordinate and you can buy them at Mi*chaels, Jo*Ann, H*obby L*obby, A*rchivers and other craft stores.
The next step, after finding my materials, was to select photos to use. Here were my criteria then, plus the criteria I'll use when we make our next profile book to adopt baby #2:
- Choose photos that tell stories. Birth families are looking at your profile and trying to imagine their baby fitting into your life. That is easier to do if the photos are of you doing things rather than posing in a studio. Candid pictures do this better than posed photos, so use as many candids as you can in order to show all of the things you want to show. For example, don't just take a picture of your house, take a picture of your spouse in the front yard in mid-throw with a tennis ball and the family dog a blur of movement. The birth family will still see what your house looks like from the front but it will look lived-in instead of like a real-estate ad. They will imagine their baby sitting on a blanket in the grass and later on, playing fetch with the dog.
- Use photos that broaden your family. Birth families aren't just placing their baby with you, they are placing him or her with your network of family and friends. The people looking at your profile want to see the faces of their baby's potential grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, (of course brothers and sisters if applicable), church friends and, of course, the people who will one day write checks and give presents at a high school graduation party: your friends. :)
- If your friends have kids and/or you have nieces and nephews or other kids in your life then there are two reasons to include pictures of them. First, they are your baby's future playmates and second, including pictures of you with them (the kids) shows you interacting with children and helps a birth family imagine what kind of parents you will be.
- Don't over analyze how you look in the photos. Remember this: you are about 10 times as hard on yourself in pictures as anybody else is. Yes, all things being equal, attractive looking couples tend to be chosen before unattractive couples...but in our agency I have noticed that the pretty people are getting matched at the same rate as the plain people, so I would suggest just being yourself and not worrying about whether a certain photo is an unflattering angle for your hips, chin or nose, as long as there are other good reasons to use it.
- Choose photos that will tell a story about your lives as a whole. You don't need to use the hokey "Once Upon a Time" and "Happily Ever After" schtick that we did, but you do want to give the birth family an opportunity to see what you looked like as kids, how you met, dating pictures, wedding pictures and pictures that show what your lives have been like since the wedding.
- Your story will, of course, be unique to you. However, as much as possible you should show yourselves as well-rounded: active (i.e. not every photo of you together is on a couch), loving (pictures of you together with your arms around each other), independent (pictures of you individually with friends, family, etc. and not only with each other), well-traveled (so that they will know the baby will have chances to travel, too), and social (doing fun things with friends, not just posed with family in front of a Christmas tree).
- If you don't have the pictures you need, don't hesitate to ask around to friends and family for pictures that work, or to just take a camera to church with you so that you can capture your spouse working in the nursery or singing on stage, for example. It's not dishonest to take pictures specifically for the profile as long as they are of things that are really a part of your life. I would not suggest hiring a professional candid photographer, however; it would probably end up looking like you are trying too hard. Adopting couples are already stereotyped as desperate and willing to throw money at anyone and anything that will help them become parents; hiring a pro just reinforces that stereotype.
- Choose photos that can be captioned in a couple of words, a phrase or at most a sentence. I believe the birth family wants captions but doesn't want to read paragraphs under each picture, unless you're breaking up your letter on different pages of the profile and using photos to support each paragraph; in that case it's fine.
After purchasing supplies and choosing pictures, it's time to lay them out. You do this to tell your own story, but here's what we did, organized by spread:
- Cover: (see above for what it looked like) and we added this photo and our names:
- Page 1: 8x10 photo of us together with our names below it on "Once Upon A Time" paper; yes this is the same as the cover (but a different picture). I did this because our letter was 2 pages long and I wanted it on the pp. 2-3 spread and didn't know what else to do with page 1.
- Pages 2-3: "Dear Special People" letter on parchment colored translucent paper over scrapbook paper with the image of a scroll (make sense?) It looked great.
- Pages 4-5: pictures of me growing up, on girly paper; I had pics of me as a baby, as a schoolgirl, teenager and young woman. These pics are easy to eliminate if you can't make a huge profile book like we did, but I think that having them helped our birth families feel as though they really knew us. These were all candids.
- Pages 6-7: pictures of J growing up, on manly paper; they were all candids
- Pages 8-9: pictures of us dating and our wedding on "In a Land Far, Far Away" paper; here we are in 1998 when I was 20 and J was 25:
- Pages 10-11: pictures of our parents and siblings; these were posed but in the next book they will be candids
- Pages 12-13: pictures of my aunts and uncles and two adopted cousins (I should write about that some time...) and pictures of us with kids/babies (friends' kids, cousins, my nephew)
- Pages 14-15: pictures of our dogs and our house/backyard/neighborhood park
- Pages 16-17: pictures of us with friends and doing church stuff
- Page 18: another picture of us together on "Happily Ever After" paper with scrapbooking doo-dads that said things like "dream" and "hope" and "family"
I'm pretty sure it was a 20 page scrapbook, so either I removed a page or I'm missing a spread in my memory. Hmmmmm....
Anyhow, for those of you who aren't allowed to do a 12"x12" 20 page scrapbook, or don't WANT to do such a book :) just use the same kinds of photos I'm describing but don't include as many of them. Our book was frankly overwrought because we didn't have rules to rein me in.
Here are some other guidelines for creating your profile that I'm going to copy and paste from my previous post about the "Dear Special People" letter:
- Resist the temptation to "pad" your profile as you might a resume by exaggerating positive things about your life. You might think you know what birth parents want to hear, but you could be wrong. Birth parents often choose adoptive parents with whom they have something in common; if you exaggerate an aspect of yourself and a birth parent identifies with that part of your profile, you will have an awkward situation on your hands when you are at your match meeting and they try to strike up an in-depth conversation about whatever it is! If you are pursuing an open adoption, remember that this letter is addressed to people whom you will get to know well over the years; best to begin the relationship as honestly as possible.
- Despite the previous point, don't reveal too much in the profile. For example, one of J's hobbies is home wine-making. We don't keep this a secret, but we also decided that it is the kind of thing that is better discussed in person, not written in a letter or show in a photo. If a birth parent were a recovering alcoholic, J's hobby might alarm the birth parent and cause them to stop considering us. On the other hand, once they have met us and seen that we are normal people, it is less likely that J's hobby would be an issue. In our letter, we chose to emphasize J playing the drums for our church band and his cooking skills, instead. At our match meeting we casually brought up his hobby by describing the European style dessert wine he was making that year and naming "Clio," (vintage 2008 of course). He chose this dessert wine because it should age well enough to be served at Evie's wedding some day.
- Organize your content clearly so that you don't accidentally repeat yourself.
- Get lots of feedback and proofreading help. Show your profile to as many people as you feel comfortable. I never regretted showing my profile book around to several friends and family members. Most of them just said "it's beautiful" and didn't give any advice, but a few did give me helpful suggestions. I also showed the book to a friend who had been a teen mom and she gave me some feedback as to what she would have thought of it if she had made an adoption plan for her daughter. That was helpful!
- Resist the urge to print captions in a fancy font that is hard to read. Fonts with serifs (the little marks that stick out from the points/edges of letters) are easier to read. Use serifs, not "sans serif" like Ariel.
Finally, a few more tidbits and advice:
If you have successfully adopted a child, I would love for you to add a comment to this post and describe your own profile and how you feel about it after the fact. If you are currently waiting and have read all the way to this point, I hope this post didn't make you anxious as I would have made me, but I'd love to have you comment about what your profile looks like and how you feel about it. Or if anyone has any advice to add to mine, feel free!