Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The adoption profile book

    During this period of waiting for the court system to get around to looking at our paperwork, I have been fine-tuning our adoption book. Now, obviously I am not really in a position to give advice on this, seeing as no expectant mothers have looked at our book or chosen us yet, so I can't tell you about how effective our decisions were. (Update: The second person who saw our book chose us!)  But, I am going to walk you through my thought process as I put together our book, and link to some of the websites that I found helpful.

Choosing a format:
        You will have 3 main choices on this: 1) a photobook, such as the kind you create on Shutterfly or MyPublisher or Snapfish; 2) a handmade scrapbook that you can make copies of; 3) paying a professional to make one for you. The benefits of using software to create a photobook is that it is really easy to edit and change, which is why we chose this format. You have tools to line up pictures evenly, you have many options for color schemes and embellishments, if you take a picture that you love on your family vacation next week you can add it in with minimal effort, and you can order extra copies at the click of a button.  Plan on making your book paperback to save on costs, and make sure you check with your agency about the length that they are looking for. Some agencies have a 10 page maximum, others 20, and some are unlimited, so make sure that you check on that before you get started!

Our layout: 
        After several revisions, here is how the final draft of our book is laid out.
    • Cover: 2 pictures-- a large one that takes up most of the page that has all 3 of us, and a smaller one in the margin of just me and my husband. Our first names are on the front of the book, along with 3 text boxes giving basic information about us (I'll explain why I did this in a bit). The cover is very bright and colorful.
    • Page 1: A small picture of me and my husband and the "dear birthmother" letter. We didn't title it "Dear Birthmother," that is just what they tend to be called. 
    • Page 2: About us (how we met, what we enjoy as a couple), 3 pictures
    • Page 3: 5 pictures and a quote that we like
    • Page 4 & 5: About my husband-- one page of pictures, one page of text
    • Page 6 & 7: About me-- one page of pictures, and one page of text
    •  Page 8 & 9: Lifestyle-- captioned photos of us traveling and doing different day to day things that we enjoy, like eating at restaurants, going to art museums, horseback riding, hiking, etc.
    • Page 10 & 11: Meet our family-- captioned photos and brief information about our parents and siblings
    • Page 12 & 13: Holidays and birthdays-- captioned photos of pictures taken at Christmas, Thanksgiving, during summer holidays, and at birthdays talking about our traditions
      • Update: Something included on this page is a big reason why Anne chose us. One of our quirky little holiday traditions is the same as a tradition that she grew up doing. She told us that seeing a picture of that literally gave her goosebumps to know that we had a connection both with big things and little details. You never know what is going to help the bioparents feel connected to you-- just show them your life.
    • Page 14 & 15: Miscellaneous photos of things that give a glimpse into our life-- playing at the Children's Museum, watching the goats on a farm, Disneyland, swimming in the pool at the grandparent's house, feeding the ducks at the park, etc
    • Page 16 & 17: Our home and neighborhood-- we don't tell exactly where we live (our agency doesn't allow that level of identifying information in your book), but we describe our neighborhood, our town, and our house. There are pictures of some of the rooms in our house (the playroom, our son's nursery which will be redone for the new baby) and then pictures of us taking walks around the neighborhood and playing at the park on our street. 
    • Page 18: More miscellaneous captioned photos-- our dogs, meeting Santa, a couple of shots from a professional family photo shoot a few months ago, and just random playtime pictures
    • Page 19: Why we are adopting, with 3 family photos that we took when our son was in the NICU.
    • Page 20: Dear baby-- a letter to the baby. It may seem kind of cheesy, but I thought it was a sweet touch to end on. There is also a professionally taken family photo of the 3 of us on that page.
Advice I found:
Here are some tips that I found that were helpful in putting together our book. By now, it shouldn't surprise you when I say that I spent a few days researching the best way to put together a book before I actually started!
1. A picture with a good story is better than a picture where you look good
          The first draft of our book was full of pictures where I looked pretty: my hair was neat, my makeup looked lovely, I was smiling evenly, and my eyes were open and bright. Basically, it was a book of the types of pictures that you get printed and framed and display in your house. After letting it sit for a few days and revisiting it with a fresh set of eyes, I realized that the pictures as they were didn't show anything about us other than the fact that we are a fairly attractive, reasonably photogenic couple. Sure, you could read the captions to get details, but there wasn't anything eye catching about the pictures that would make you interested in reading the captions and text. We were hugging and smiling beside the pool, we were smiling standing in front of a Christmas tree, we were smiling outside sitting under a tree. It was boring. It was generic.
          So, I cleared out the pictures and started over. Let me tell you, there are pictures in this book that would never be framed and hung on my wall! There are pictures taken on vacation where my hair is a mess and I have on no makeup because we got up early to do some excursion or other. There are pictures taken of us on hikes where I am a total mess (one picture is of me scaling a rock face literally covered in dirt). One is from Christmas morning where I am in baggy sweats, no makeup, and my hair is in this awful, messy ponytail; but, I am laughing and it shows one of our Christmas traditions. These aren't pictures that you would look at and think "Wow, she's pretty!"  but they are pictures that give a glimpse into our lives, activities, and traditions. [As kind of a funny story update to this, when we met Anne one of the first things she said is "Oh wow, you're so pretty!" See, apparently that didn't always come through in our photo book! :)  ]
         The thing that helped me bring my selections back into focus was to remind myself that we are not going to be chosen based on how we look or how attractive we are-- we are going to be chosen because someone believes that we would be able to provide a good life for a child. For that to happen, they need to be able to see what our lives are like. 

2. Make sure the cover is eye-catching
        Every agency does things differently, but most give an expectant mom several (5-20) profile books to look at. Sometimes they look at them right there at the agency, and sometimes they take them home. Think about this: the last time that you had to look at 15 of something, how engaged were you by the time you got to about number 7 or 8? I won't grade more than 5-7 term papers in one sitting, because they all start running together and I lose concentration. Even when you are looking at vacation photos that friends or family members post on Facebook, how many do you get through before you start losing interest? I had watched a few episodes of one of the many tv shows about adoption from the expectant mom's perspective, and a couple of them even showed the moms flipping through the books quickly saying some variation of "I don't know, these all look the same. None of them stand out to me."  The point is that we wanted to design our cover in a way that it would grab someone's attention if we were unlucky enough to be 12th or 17th in the pile that was handed to the expectant mom. There were 3 things that we did to try to achieve this:
    • The picture on the front is not a professional photo. Our agency (and all but one website that I saw) recommend having a professional photo on the front. This means that all of the books that she will be looking at begin with a large photo of a couple nicely dressed and smiling politely at the camera. In order to stand out, we went a different direction. Our cover is a photo that was taken at a park this spring-- we are in brightly colored, casual clothes, and our son is smiling but excitedly pointing to something off in the distance. Not only is it eye-catching, but we felt like it gave a statement right off the bat: this book shows us being ourselves and is a real glimpse into our everyday lives. 
    • We included brightly colored, magazine style text boxes. There is no requirement that she has to read every book cover to cover. If the book doesn't look interesting and she sets it aside, it doesn't matter what kind of wonderful information about ourselves we have included inside. So, we decided to make sure we gave her a reason to want to read our book to learn more about us. They are these very brief little summaries that start to give the impression that we are interesting, fun people with a nice life.
    • It is colorful. Again, most recommendations that I saw advise a large, professional family photo that takes up the full page, or at least most of it. Ours is more like what you would see on a magazine cover: there is one large photo, our names in large print, and color text-boxes around the margins.

3. Wedding photos: yay or nay?
         This is a pretty hotly debated topic when it comes to the adoption book. Seriously, I've seen intense arguments break out on adoption forums over this issue. There are a few reasons for why you should include some wedding pictures, but they typically boil down to the fact that your whole family is together and looks nice, and there's a good chance that those are probably the most attractive pictures of you that exist. But, there are also several arguments for why you shouldn't: those pictures are probably pretty old, they don't really tell anything unique about your lives, and they may stir up painful emotions for the expectant mother (especially if your tastes are similar and the wedding you had has some commonalities with the wedding she envisions for herself). I don't really think there is a right or wrong answer, but we decided not to include them. The reason we left out wedding photos is simply because they are nearly 9 years old and we have much more recent professional photos of the entire family together (from just last year, actually). Those wedding photos don't say anything about us that she wouldn't already know (we've been married for several years), so we didn't see any reason to include pictures that are nearing a decade in age.

4. Useful captions
       Most pages will end up being a combination of pictures and captions. Given the nature of how humans tend to behave when looking at such a combination, the order of where the eyes will go will likely be 1) pictures 2) captions 3) larger text boxes. Make the captions engaging enough that she will want to read your text boxes for more detail. For example, on one of our pages we have a picture of ourselves sitting on the edge of a creek. The caption talks about how that is a creek that is on our family's property, and how much we love spending time outdoors on our vacations to see family in other parts of the country. If there is a picture of your family camping, don't just label it "family camping trip"-- that is obvious. Tie in something about if camping is a yearly family tradition, or something interesting about what you usually do for your family trips.

5. Be clear about the benefits of your home, family, and lifestyle
      Almost every expectant mother considering adoption has a motivation that boils down to some variation of the idea that she believes that  another family would be able to provide her child with a happier, healthier, lifestyle than she could, herself. The specifics of this will vary, but the foundational idea that the child would benefit from being raised by someone else tends to be there. Some expectant moms have specific benefits that they are envisioning for their child: education, religion, traveling, a large family, etc. We tried to make sure that we framed all of the information that we included about ourselves in our profile in the context of how that feature is a benefit. For example, I am a college professor, and I currently teach all of my classes online. I could have just said that, and she would have been able to see that I have a good job and that's that. But I made sure to explain that teaching online classes provides the amazing benefit of being home with my son and allows us to do fun outings during the day and spend quality time together, while still being plugged into a career that I love. To be honest, it took a lot of revision to find the balance of clearly showing "here are the benefits of our family" without sounding arrogant or prideful. I had a couple of people proofread our book for us before finalizing it, and that was always one of my top concerns: "Make sure you mark anything that sounds like I am bragging."

6. Show that you enjoy being around children
      I had a really hard time figuring out a balance of how many pictures of our son to include in the profile book. We wanted to convey that we love being parents, have lots of fun with our son, and include him in everything. But, we also didn't want to fuel any concerns that we may love an adopted child less than we love him. After talking to a few people, we decided not to exclude any pictures just because there were already too many other pictures that included him. If a picture showed something important about our lives, it was included. Others pointed out to us that the expectant mother will want to see that we are involved parents, that we enjoy being parents, and that we have a kid-friendly lifestyle. Adoptive Family Circle even suggests including pictures of yourselves with friends' children or nieces and nephews if you do not have other children to show that you like spending time with kids. One concern that I have seen surface is that a childless couple who has pictures of a pristine home and yearly trips to Europe and evenings at fancy restaurants may come across as having difficulty making lifestyle changes to accommodate children.

7. Language
     The other issue that is strongly debated is what language to use in the adoption book in reference to the child: your child versus our child. The most common recommendation is you use "your child." The child is still hers. It is living inside of her, she has made no final decisions, and she still has every right to change to her mind. But, there are many people who say that using "our child" reinforces the idea that you will love the child as your own. In fact, on one of the message boards an adoptive mom mentioned that she asked the biological mom what made her choose them. She responded that theirs was the only book that used "our child," and that alleviated her concerns that the parents would not love the child as much as they would have if it were their biological child. So, there are benefits of each. For us, however, it just felt more respectful to say "your child." The only exception to this is when we are talking about our lifestyle and things that we someday hope to do as a family (trips we have started talking about, for example). We did say things like "we are excited to someday _______ with our children" or "we love that our kids will have the opportunity to _______."  

So, those are the basic tips that we found around the web that were useful for us as we created our book. Here are some other great pages with more detail:
Adoption Star post 1
Adoption Star post 2
Adoptive Families Circle tip page
Adoption Advisor post 1
Adoption Advisor post 2

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