When D and I chose to grow our family through US domestic adoption, one of the scariest things about the process for me was the Family Profile Book. In the early years of this kind of adoption, they were called "Dear Birthmother Letters" and were simply that: a letter to an expectant woman describing your family and maybe sharing a few pictures. Since then it's become much more involved and most families will produce a book for their agency to share with expectant mothers.
This was all new territory for me since we were matched by the RMI government authority for Sky and Fire's adoptions. The first thing I did was canvas the internet for ideas and suggestions and while I found a few helpful websites (like this one and this one) I never found anything that described the whole process for me. I briefly considered using a company to design our book but couldn't find any with example books that really seemed like "us".
The only option left was for me to make our Family Profile Books myself. I've used Shutterfly quite a few times for to make photo albums for our family so I decided to create one with their website, since I was familiar with their platform and most of the photos I would need were already loaded onto their database.
Where to even start on a project like this? I agonized for days over how we could use just pictures and words on a page to convince an expectant woman to choose us. How do we make ourselves stand out, how do we show that we're the ones she should choose? It finally came to me during a run- I was looking at it all wrong! I shouldn't be trying to convince her to "give us her child"- that's not why D and I love open adoption. We wanted to grow our family and that meant this woman or couple would be a part of it, as well as any child they chose us to parent. With that in mind, I decided to take a different tack than most of the Family Profile Books I'd seen. Rather than using persuasion or trying to one-up other families by being the best, I would just share us. I would make a book that described our life as we lived it now. We would continue to do all the things we enjoy, simply with another child if we were chosen to parent, so that's what our book would focus on.
My first step was to make an outline of all the things I wanted to share about our family:
-Family photos on the introduction
-Break it down: D and I, early days
-How we grew to the family we are now
-Our life now
-More in-depth intros for each family member
-Our extended family
-A day in the life
-Thoughts on open or closed adoption
-Address any concerns about our life overseas
-Travel experiences with our kids
-Our parenting and adoption philosophy
Once I had the basic structure of the book, I filled it in with pictures first, and then added the text, keeping the words to a minimum when I could. Below is a page by page overview of the final product. This is the actual book, with some changes for privacy, that we sent out through our agency.
The front cover is the first thing you see when you read a book. I wanted ours to be eye-catching without looking crowded and to share, right from the beginning, what the point of the book was: simply the story of a family.
I decided to use the first page of the book for a formal introduction. It's very important to acknowledge your reader: she is in the middle of an incredibly difficult process and we as potential adoptive families need to recognize that. I was very specific with the wording I used here, choosing phrases that put her needs above ours. This book is a tool to help an expectant mother choose parents for her child and I wanted to convey that we understood that.
I chose to use a similar photo to the one on the front cover here to visually transition into the book. This one is a broader view that shows more of us, implying that we are letting someone see more of our lives. What makes you and your family unique? What are your favorite things to do? Considering starting with a picture that captures those things.
The next two pages introduce the reader to our family chronologically, starting with how we met and our marriage. I had read some advice that recommended against including a wedding picture because they thought it might make the reader uncomfortable about being unmarried but I decided to include one: our marriage is the heart of our family. Without our marriage, there would be no foundation to grow our family on. Although I disagree with the implied assumptions of the recommendation, and because there's more to D and I than just our wedding, I did only include one picture. Since travel has defined so much of our relationship, I chose to focus on that and specifically included two silly photos to keep the tone light.
Since I planned to devote a page to each family member later on, I kept the specifics of how our children joined our family brief and used pictures to show our family grow.
The next item on my list was to show how we live now and that means showing our home. I wrestled with how to show our home in the best way but could never get a good picture inside. Of course, the day before I decided to take outside pictures, they started doing trench work on our street. I ended up just having to use the pictures I could get because I needed to get the book done. Those are terrible pictures of my house but they are realistic and that's what we were going for. Since I wasn't able to get a picture of the room we had set aside for a baby, I tried to describe it in the text.
The other part of how we live now involved showing the activities we do as a family. This is a great chance to share some of your favorite hobbies and how you will do them together. One of the best pieces of advice I found said to focus on photos and this is the start of the picture-heavy pages. When someone flips through your book for the first time, they're not going to stop and read every page. If the photos catch an expectant mother's eye, she will hold onto your book and read the words later.
Once the general introductions were finished, I moved on to the specifics for each family member. D and I each wrote a paragraph about each other and made a list of our favorite things. I was on the fence about doing this because it seemed a little campy and was in everyone else's Family Profile Books but I'm so glad I did. It was so eye-opening to read what D really thought about me and I loved being able to tell him what I see in him. Again, there are lots of pictures (sidenote: D looks so much cooler than me here! I have a paddle and some coffee and he has a guitar, an anarchy shirt, and tiger. So unfair).
On to Sky and Fire's pages:
Don't forget to include your extended family! They are a part of your lives and will have an influence on anyone who joins your family. Since we live overseas, away from our extended family, it was critical to show that we remain well-connected to them. We also included some of the family we've made here as another way to stress the importance of multi-generational connections.
I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to include a "Day in the Life" page but in the end, it turned out to be the best way to share that both D and I work full time and that our kids attend a day care. It was also a good opportunity to show more pictures of our family just being a family.
Both Sky and Fire's adoptions were open adoptions and we hoped that our next one would be as well. That being said, that decision wasn't really ours to make. I wanted to make sure that anyone who read our book knew that we understood that and that we would respect whatever decision they made. We also recognized that having a child live overseas might be off-putting or scary for an expectant mother so I included a page acknowledging that and stating that concern for our children is at the heart of all the decisions that D and I make regarding where we live.
One of the benefits of an overseas life is the travel it allows and I knew that it would help our family stand out if I included pages about the trips we've taken with our children. While these pages are essentially eye candy, I knew I wanted them to come right after my reassurances regarding living overseas: now that I've assured you that our lives are safe, let me show you some of the advantages!
While pictures are worth a thousand words, eventually you do need to actually use words to reach out to your reader. I borrowed the idea of Promise Pages from another family's book and modified them to reflect our values and thoughts on adoption. These are meant to be reassurances to the expectant mother that chooses us and a way for her to anticipate how we will parent her child.
I closed the book with a simple thank you and one last picture. This is the only time in the book that we expressed our yearning for another child. Although I wanted to scream it from the first page, at no point did I want there to be any element of guilt or to imply any sadness that D and I might feel about not having a third child in our family.
Here are a few last tips: refrain from using the term "birth mother" unless you have other adopted children and are referring to their first mothers. Until a pregnant woman gives birth, she's an expectant mother, regardless of whether or not she decides to parent her child. Remember that even if she chooses you to parent the child she's carrying, she will continue to be that child's mother and should be referred to as such. With that in mind, be sure to refer to the child in question as "your child" in your book (see our Promise page for a good example of this).
For all my fretting over what to include and the quality of my pictures, in the end none of that mattered to Water's birth mother. When I asked her why our book stood out to her, she said she was looking for several things: a married couple, a multiracial family, and experienced parents (a family that already had at least one child). She didn't even remember seeing that terrible picture of the front of our house! To her, the fact that we lived overseas, something I'd hoped would be a trump card for us, was a side benefit. We had everything she was looking for when she thought about the family she wanted her child in, and that was it. Every woman will have something different that will connect her to family- your job in creating this profile book isn't to anticipate what someone else wants to see, it's to present yourselves as you are so that an expectant mother can find the family she's seeking for her child.
I hope that my sharing our Family Profile Book is helpful to you on your adoption journey. I know how overwhelming it can be to try to summarize your life in just a few pages and more than that, to try to do it in such a way so as to show it as the everything that someone else might be looking for. It's a daunting task but I know you can do it!
Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. Have you made a Family Profile Book? What did you think of ours? What tips would you share with other families going through the process?
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