Through a process riddled with hurdles, Brittney and Sean Milligan quickly learned that one of the most important steps they could take as prospective parents was to be their own advocates. “It is so important to advocate for yourself,” explained Brittney.
As the Milligan family prepared to adopt, they began to educate themselves. They found plenty of resources. “There’s a lot of information out there and not all of it is correct,” said Brittney. It wasn’t until they started attending MAPP classes that they finally had people who could give them the accurate answers they needed.
“I thought it was really good information, having not been around children much before this. I wasn’t sure what would be an appropriate punishment for something or how to handle some of the questions she would ask,” Brittney said.
“I have spent a lot of time with kids and I still found [MAPP] helped us narrow down what we were looking for,” Sean, who happens to be a special education teacher, chimed in. “I think it’s easy to go into the whole situation with rose colored glasses thinking everything is going to be perfect. They did a good job of toning down those expectations.”
Even after the Milligan’s completed MAPP training, there was more waiting to come. Attempting to have a social worker come out and perform a home study took months. Getting the approval was one of the biggest challenges that Brittney and Sean faced. “I think it can be easy to get frustrated by how long the whole process takes,” explained Sean.
Throughout the process, the couple continued advocating for themselves and they began to understand why pieces of it took so long. “When you actually meet the social workers and realize how big their caseloads are, and how many kids they are working with, you understand a little bit better why things take as long as they do,” Sean expressed. It was with this understanding that the couple started focusing their efforts on working with the social workers.
Sean and Brittney began to attend MARE adoption parties at Jordan’s Furniture while they were still fairly early in the process. Brittney explained, “We went to a few before we were actually ready to look for a child. That way when we were ready, we went in knowing how the events worked and how to speak with social workers.” Their logic was to talk to as many social workers as possible so that they had a better chance of making a lasting impression.
Their focus on self-advocacy combined with their understanding that social workers are a key part of the adoption process proved helpful when they saw their future daughter, Grace, on the MARE website for the first time. “The first time I saw Grace’s profile, she was listed with her brother,” Brittney said. “I just kind of looked at her and had this feeling that she was our daughter.”
The next time the couple searched for Grace’s profile, she was listed individually. Their adoption worker had decided to recruit for them separately, which made the idea of adopting her into their family a true possibility.
“The first day we met her, we went to her foster home,” Brittney explained. “She loved looking in the mirror and taking pictures of herself so we were being goofy and taking pictures of ourselves. She had no problem laughing and climbing into our laps and spending time with us, and I think that was the first time I really felt like we were a complete family.” Soon after, Grace moved in with Sean and Brittney, and nine months later her adoption was finalized.
In addition to all the waiting during the adoption process, the act of becoming a family took time as well. When Grace moved into the Milligan’s house, Brittney took two months of maternity leave to stay at home with her daughter. “It was the hardest two months of my life” she explained. Going from being a single person to all of a sudden having this little person attached to my leg all day was a hard to adjust to. It’s hard for the child to adjust to that too. Saying ‘Here’s your new family. Here’s your new house.’”
Brittney and Sean were able to rely on each other throughout the entirety of the adoption journey, and this didn’t stop when Grace moved in. The couple was able to provide support and breaks to each other, making the transition as smooth as possible for themselves and Grace.
“You have to kind of be able to roll with the punches. Things are going to take longer than you want them to,” explained Sean. “You are not going to get everything you thought you would out of the process. Your kid is not going to be whatever you dreamed they’d be. Ours isn’t. She’s better. She’s also ours.” Both Brittney and Sean agree that the process of adopting from foster care is tough, but it’s more than worth it.