February 21, 2007

Case Western Reserve coach and his family pass first exam; real test is days away

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The next time Case Western Reserve University Swimming & Diving Head Coach Chris Conlon's cell phone rings, it could mean an addition to his family—perhaps even during the upcoming University Athletic Association or NCAA Division III championship meets. His wife Elizabeth and six-year-old son Joshua are also awaiting a call, as the Conlon family is not having a baby, rather adopting one.

Originally, they thought that one child was enough. However, as their biological son grew, so did their desire to have another child. Elizabeth had serious complications with Joshua's birth, so after talking with doctors, the couple decided to start researching adoption.

"My first pregnancy was extremely difficult; I nearly died. We decided that it was too dangerous for me to go through it again," Elizabeth explained. "Adoption has always been something we have pondered, and the added risk just made our decision easier."

Adoption 101

So back to school it was for the two who first met while attending graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The Adoption Network in Cleveland holds a seminar, Adoption 101, which informs families of the process as well as helps them weigh the pros and cons.

"We were already set to adopt, so the pros and cons for us were more about what type of adoption we would want to try," Chris said, "whether it would be private or public adoption, international adoption or if would we want to try fostering."

The one thing the Conlons knew for sure was that they wanted Joshua to remain the big brother. Therefore, they decided whatever route they took, they would not adopt a child more than three-years-old.

"We decided last February we were going to try private adoption and we found our agency, A Child's Waiting, in Akron," Elizabeth said. "The first thing we did was fill out an application to see if they would even consider us. Twenty-four hours later, in our mailbox, was our first set of paperwork to fill out."

A Child's Waiting handles both public and private adoptions. The public route is free and means couples are adopting a child from the foster care system. In private adoption, a birth mother works with the agency to place her child. Private adoption can run anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000.

"It's hard financially for us," Chris said. "But once we made the decision this is what we were going to do, I knew we would figure it out."

An open book

Closed adoption means the parents-to-be don't know who the birth mother is, and she doesn't know them. Open adoption is everything else. The Conlons felt it was important to be able to build a relationship with the birth mother and for the mother to be able to have a relationship with the child as time goes on, so they chose open adoption.

"I think open adoption scares people because they don't understand it," Elizabeth said. "It could mean you know who she (the mother) is and she knows who you are and that is the extent or it can mean that you go out to lunch every Friday. It can be everything in between, and we had to decide as a family what we were comfortable with."

The Conlons decided they would keep in touch by phone or email with the birth mother, and that once or twice a year they would get together for a special occasion. They thought it important for the baby to know its mother's story as it gets older.

"I think the hardest part about adoption is that our joy will come out of her grief and loss," said Elizabeth.

Passing the test

The next lap for the swim coach and his family was to see whether or not they were fit to be the parents/family for a child.

"They perform a site visit at your house and fingerprint you," said Elizabeth. "The social worker talked to each of us individually and then for three hours as a family. When you give birth to your own child they ask you if you have a car seat and then send you off. If you want to adopt there are a few hoops to jump through."

After some training and completion of the home study, which was done in mid-May, they signed their final paperwork. They received their first call that day. The agency informs the family about anything major that could affect the health of the baby and when he or she is due.

"You basically have 15 minutes to say you are or are not interested," explains Elizabeth. "If you are, you quickly put together a letter to the birth mother. You have to realize that they are asking 10 other families. The birth mother usually narrows it down to three families, whom she interviews, and than picks one."

The Conlons would get a call every seven to 10 days from Memorial Day until early fall; the average number of calls before a family matches is usually 10. Chris said that the hardest part for him was when there were certain situations presented to them that he felt were not right for his family.

"We had to keep in mind what was important for our family, and we had to keep Joshua at the front," said Chris. "How was this going to impact him? That was a difficult thing to go through."

Getting an A

Chris and his wife had three interviews, and in the first two they felt like they didn't click with the birth mother. When they had their third—and what would be their final—interview, they had a good feeling.

"We found out the mother was 22-years-old and a college student," Chris said. "She liked music and wanted a Christian family. Interesting enough, her father is a college coach, who has taught and coached different sports all over the country, so she understood what I do."

On the way home from that interview on October 18, 2006, Chris and his wife felt confident, enough so that they thought they would even get a call that night. Just as they pulled into their home in Shaker Heights, the cell phone rang.

"We were stunned and just looked at it," said Chris. "It was the social worker, and she said the birth mother wanted to speak to us. She then told us she picked us to be the parents of her baby."

Doing some more homework

The Conlons have since spent time getting to know the birth mother. She is due with a baby girl this month. Chris and his family are now in a holding pattern as it is up to the mother when she will ultimately place the baby in their family.

"You have to be flexible, and there is always a risk," Elizabeth said.

The birth mother has the right to wait 72 hours before she legally relinquishes her parental rights, so there is always a chance she could change her mind. The Conlons hope that the relationship they have built with her will make her feel confident that she is making the right decision.

"Worrying about the possibility of her changing her mind would take us away from thinking about all the great things that are ahead, like getting the baby's room ready," Chris said. "And after Elizabeth's experience in having Joshua I guess I would feel the same way about making sure everything was ok with a regular birth."

Busy at school

Chris has more than a newborn on his mind these days. He is beginning to train a select few Spartans for the NCAA Championships.

"Perfect timing," Chris laughed. "Through all of this, I learned with Joshua that none of it is on your time. You try to schedule accordingly what works for you, and it never does. I have such great support, that if I needed to be gone for an extended time, everything would be fine."

"The team prepared well all season and will be able to stay on track to be successful, despite the commotion," Chris added.

Posted by: Heidi Cool, February 21, 2007 05:18 PM | News Topics: Athletics, HeadlinesMain

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