*I must start out the post warning any readers that it will be long. This is also OUR personal experience and we realize that others will have positive experiences. We felt it was important to share OUR story for others who are considering using Valley of Hope in GA*
Our journey with Valley of Hope started long before I ever made the first phone call. We are in the process of our second adoption and decided this time to go the "do it yourself" route versus signing up with one agency. My husband and I are very open on our "checklist" so we felt like by networking on our own, we could possibly save some money and feel very confident that we were working with ethical agencies/case workers.
At the time, Valley of Hope would not only post available situations on their website, but they were also very active in posting harder to place situations on message boards that are made available to adoption professionals to post these types of situations (they no longer post situations on their website) I tried very hard to do as much homework as I could on all the agencies we were considering sending our profile to. In the case of VOH, I couldn't find much information. I found one feedback on one site that seemed very positive and then I had a member of some adoption message boards I frequent send me a private message to let me know that she had used VOH and successfully adopted her second child through them. She was also very pleased. I found no negative feedback anywhere online and I searched multiple sites.
Prior to being completely homestudy updated for this second adoption, I noticed that VOH had posted a situation where they were needing an adoptive family for a 2 year old little boy. There was a lot of chatter about this on the adoption forums, so I sent VOH an email requesting more information. Erin, the director, called me that night which was very impressive to me. Our experience up to that point is that it is hard to find ANYONE in the adoption industry that returns a phone call/email within a reasonable amount of time. I chatted with Erin and we quickly figured out that it probably wouldn't work for us because we weren't completely homestudy updated and they were looking to place this little guy ASAP.
The second time we worked with Valley of Hope was actually the first situation we inquired about after D from CC had come to get all the info on our homestudy update. D had told us that she would be writing it all up and if something came up during that time, it wouldn't be a problem for her to get it finished up quickly so we felt confident inquiring about online situations. This time, they were looking for a family for a 4 year old little boy. Again, we contacted Erin and quickly threw together a profile to send to her so that we could be shown. This was on Wednesday, Feb. 18. We didn't hear anything on Thursday and honestly just assumed they had picked another family. Again, this situation was one where they were trying to do placement ASAP. Friday, we found out we were actually one of two couples that they were considering. We again were working with Erin, the agency director. At this point, she had us sign the VOH agreement and then proceeded to put us in direct contact with the agency that had the situation (SIDE NOTE: VOH works as a referral service for other agencies as well as having situations from their own agency in GA). We found out on Saturday that we were not picked for this little boy.
We did not hear from Erin for a while after this, but on March 10 she sent me an email wanting to know if we might be interested in having our profile shown on March 17 to a birthmother having a boy. While emailing, she told us she was on the way to the hospital to present profiles to a birthmother who had delivered twins earlier that day. We decided we wanted to be shown to the mom of twins, and again we weren't picked. We did decide though to go ahead and have our profile shown to the lady on March 17.
I will stop and say that up until this point, although we felt that sometimes we had to email and ask to get an answer instead of them just calling/emailing to give an update, we felt like communication was decent. Erin is very pleasant to talk to on the phone and honestly, seems like someone I would be friends with if we lived in the same city, etc. She seemed to have a heart for these birthmothers and really seemed to be on the up and up. It was also at this point that Gloria, a caseworker with VOH, called me to introduce herself, ask some questions about us, etc. I had honestly wondered up until that point how Erin did everything, so I wasn't surprised that she would pass us on to one of her caseworkers and I enjoyed talking to Gloria very much. She reminds me of my mother in law, very sweet and caring.
After the 17th, communication grew sketchy. I was asking what this lady thought of our profile and was told she had taken it home to view with the birthfather and grandmother. They were supposed to get together for lunch on the 19th and Erin hoped she would have a decision. The 19th comes and goes and we don't hear anything, so I email to ask. Birthmother had canceled. The 20th comes and goes and again, I had to email. Still no word from birthmother. Honestly, I was frustrated. Not because the birthmother appeared to be MIA, but mostly because I felt like it didn't take much to send a simple email saying "we still don't know anything" versus me feeling like I am worrying the snot out of them. I guess I just wanted them to take some initiative to email me. On the 21st, after an eventful day here at our house, we returned home that night to have a message from Gloria on the home phone asking us to call her ASAP. That the birthmom in GA had decided she wanted a family that lived closer to her (she was wanting an open adoption), but they had a situation in TX that reminded her so much of our story with Mary Elizabeth and seemed a good fit for us. I was frantic. I just KNEW this was our baby and even though it was 8:30pm our time, I tried to call Gloria on both her cell and at home. No answer. I sent an email. I was so anxious because Gloria had made it sound like they needed to act quickly (baby was already born) so I emailed Erin (director). She emailed me back with the information and I was shocked to see the fees were $31K. Honestly, I was devastated. For the first time in this second adoption, I had THE feeling and I just couldn't believe that this wasn't going to work (we can't pay $31K) Also, I was a bit peeved that Gloria would even call when they know our budget is $20K max. I didn't say anything though because I felt like the budget aspect maybe just didn't get relayed to Gloria or they got excited because of the circumstances and thought it might work for us.
I should also stop to tell you that we were also busy contacting and working with other agencies during this process. While doing this, we were told by two different agencies that we needed to be careful with Valley of Hope. Neither would give us any specifics and because of this, we took this info like a grain of salt. So far, our experience, although a tad bit frustrating with communication, had been quite pleasant. We had never seen anything we felt would be considered unethical when it came to VOH's practices with birthmothers. We were very convicted that we should only send our profile to one situation at a time, so it was a lot on our plate to juggle all the info we were receiving from different agencies. This is what we had signed up for though!
Fast forward another week and we are being shown through a different agency in FL. On Thursday night, Gloria calls because they have a situation that she thought might be of interest to us. An expecting mom in GA that is having a baby girl and due any day. We can't move forward because our profile is in FL. On Friday morning, we find out birthmom in FL has decided to parent so I call Gloria to let her know we would like for our profile to be shown. We are told and J and I both understand that this expecting mom is not firm in her decision to place, and honestly, we are completely fine with that because we want any birthmother to parent if they can! No fees are due at match because of her not being firm in her plan to place; therefore, all fees will be paid at placement. Sounds great to us. I leave to go out of town and get a call from Gloria on Saturday. Great news! Erin has shown the e-mom our profile and she likes it. She never said the words "you are matched" but she did say that the only thing that the e-mom wanted to know is if we are open to visits two times a year. Absolutely. Gloria is excited, I'm excited, everything looks great. I call J. I call our immediate family and friends. Trying not to get too excited and yet, we are now just waiting for her to go into labor. Over the next few days, we think of a few questions and would email Gloria, who was usually great about getting the answers for us. When is mom due? March 30. Mid-week we got an email that sounded a bit off and I began questioning if we were truly matched with this e-mom. J calls Gloria to make sure I didn't misunderstand the conversation on Saturday. Yes, she tells him, we are the ONLY family that is open to this situation and we are matched with her if she indeed decides to place. We wait and wait and are told that Erin is taking her to the doctor on Friday. Surely they'll induce right? She's four days overdue! Friday night we find out that they can't get in touch with birthmom. They've tried to call Thursday and Friday with no answer. Why didn't Erin take her to the doctor? Well, that was only going to happen if it rained and it didn't rain. J and I are freaking out. Did she go MIA? Is she at the hospital alone? Has she changed her mind?
Saturday morning, April 4, Gloria calls while I am out with my mom. She has an update. Sure enough, e-mom did go to doctor on Friday. He moved her due date back to April 10. Everything looks great and Erin is actually taking her to dinner that night and then to go apartment shopping. Are we available to do a conference call with the e-mom and Erin that night? YES! We are so nervous all day...what do we say to the e-mom? We've never done this before and honestly, we are probably more nervous than the e-mom. Saturday night, we jump every time the phone rings and by 8pm (9pm GA time), we realize that this conference call is probably not going to happen. As time ticks by, we get more and more upset. Why wouldn't they call or email us to let us know that e-mom didn't want to do it? Erin has a blackberry...a simply "she was scared" email would have been fine. Seriously. We knew that this was the first time she was going to be seeing a printed copy of our profile so of course, your mind goes to all of "those" places. What if she decided she didn't like us? I send an email to Gloria and Erin...can we please get an update?!?!
Sunday we went to visit with our dear friends as they joined their church. Afterwards, we went to lunch and J and I at this point are such a nervous wreck we can't even focus on lunch. I'm realizing as I type this that I have forgotten to tell you that we haven't told our kids. I beg J to go out and try to call Gloria for an update. What happened last night? Is everything ok? He goes and makes the call, getting Gloria's machine. I should also take this moment to tell you that I hate bothering people on a Sunday. It's a day of rest. We shouldn't be doing this junk on a Sunday, but I am quite certain that we are going to have ulcers if we have to wait until Monday to find out what in the world happened Saturday night. Gloria calls and bless her heart, she feels horrible because Erin did call her to let her know the conference call isn't going to happen, but she thought Erin had contacted us as well. She had no idea that we didn't know anything about the visit. Everything had went fine, but she was just still uncomfortable with actually talking to us. Yes, she saw our printed profile and still liked us. Now we just sit back and wait for labor.
Honestly, I wish I didn't even have to type this next part, but I do.
We spent Sunday afternoon chilling out, taking naps and spending time with the kids. It's Spring Break this week and we don't know if we should take that trip to Chattanooga or not. What if she goes into labor? J heads out to run a few errands and I open up my laptop to check email. There's an email from Erin. Either Gloria didn't tell her she had talked to us already or she decided to go ahead and send us an overview of how the visit went on Saturday night anyway. At any rate, as I read the email, I was shocked at what I was reading. Things like:
"I am trying to balance gentle, fact based persuasion with being an objective friend for her. I have found that if you become more like a friend to them, they are more honest about their intentions to place."
"I also told her again that any financial assistance will be provided to her after she places and the revocation period is over. She made comments like “I have to do the plan”, meaning the adoption plan, and then later said “I really don’t want to give up my baby”.
"She has not asked to see any other profiles, but still has not stood firm with a commitment to place. We all think she really doesn’t have a choice and with me staying in touch with her and being a friend to her that the time comes, we hope that she will place with you."
"She is very sweet, but it is very hard to figure her out. I think I will just keep plugging away and being her friend and hopefully she will get closer to confirming her plans to place and stay consistent with this plan."
Now, some of you reading this may think, "what's the big deal?" The big deal is that what you just read are DIRECT QUOTES from the email that Erin, the director of Valley of Hope, sent to me. These are HUGE red flags that, in my opinion, showed Erin trying to coerce the e-mom into placing her baby for adoption. Now, I understand that each situation is different, but there was never a point in the email where Erin said, "I've offered to help this mom get the resources she needs to parent" I honestly still scratch my head at why Erin sent me that email. I guess she wanted to reassure me that all was well, but I was blown away. I spent the next few hours literally sobbing for this poor e-mom. Was she not being given any other options? This SCREAMED unethical counseling practices and I was so MAD at MYSELF for not doing more thorough checks on Valley of Hope and Erin.
The email also went on to say that the e-mom had actually gone on Friday to the ER and been told that she wasn't due until early MAY!
J and I prayed Sunday night as we were just stunned at this turn of events. Don't get me wrong, we KNEW that the birthmother was not committed to placing her child for adoption, but we didn't realize it was because she wanted so badly to parent. We knew we had to back out of this match.
We called Gloria, our caseworker, on Monday morning and get her machine. Two hours later with no response, J called the agency number and asked for Erin. She was out of the office, but they would let her know J had called. Then he emailed Erin. By lunch, J was livid that no one had returned a call. I was just numb and mad. Finally, Gloria called Jonathan back and he told her our response to the email (she had already seen the email, Erin had sent it to both me and Gloria). J basically told me that Gloria just didn't seem to get it...what we were upset about. I wasn't on the phone call, so I can't tell you what was said, but I do know he let Gloria know that we were not comfortable with the situation and no longer wished to pursue it.
Again, we thought this was the end of the story. It was not.
J got home from work and I had a killer migraine. I took the meds that knock me out and woke up a while later with J standing at the foot of the bed looking shocked. I sat up, thinking something horrible was wrong, and he mouthed to me that it was Erin on the phone. At that moment, I realized he had a cell phone to his ear! I could hear her talking about how she would never push a mom into placing, that they always offer support to birthmoms who wish to parent, etc. I honestly figured she had called because Gloria had called to tell her that we had backed out. When J hung up, he told me that he didn't think Erin had even talked with Gloria. She was calling him back from the earlier message at the office. Erin was very kind and seemed very sorry for the lapses in communication. She also let us know that this situation was very unusual in how everything had occurred. It was at that point, that she told Jonathan that was why she had not matched this e-mom yet. What?!?! Yes, she was matched, she was matched with us. Gloria had told us this twice. No...no, Erin assured us that although the e-mom had seen our profile and liked us, she had never picked us. We were shocked. Wasn't this the whole reason J had called Gloria a few days earlier and she had assured us that yes, she had picked us. Now we are finding out from Erin, the director, that Gloria, the caseworker, had been incorrect. How's that for communication? Again, J told Erin we were not comfortable with the email and that we did not wish to continue with the match, or whatever this was. The last thing I heard Erin say was "I'm sorry you weren't happy with how things were handled" In my opinion, that's not an apology.
So, we will no longer be working with Valley of Hope. Although my gut tells me that these women mean well, it's obvious that to me that they are forming opinions for what they think these birthmoms should do and then counseling in that direction. EVERY WOMAN REGARDLESS OF CIRCUMSTANCE should not only be given the option of parenting when it comes to adoption counsel, they should also be supported in exploring those options at any time in her pregnancy or after giving birth. J and I do not wish to adopt a child where the mother desperately wants to keep the baby and just doesn't know of the options that are out there.
Was it hard to walk away from this? Yes and no. No, because we know ethically, how Erin counseled this birthmom was not right. Yes, because we worried that they would just turn around and find another family for this baby without the adoptive parents ever knowing what had just happened.
I am happy to report that I did receive an email today from Gloria letting us know the e-mom has decided to parent. I'm not sure what happened after we backed out, but I do know we prayed for this woman and her unborn child every day from the minute we heard about her and I will continue to do so.
I never thought I would be typing this about Valley of Hope, but I have realized that unless I tell our story, someone else might get involved with this agency without knowing the whole story. My prayer is that Erin realizes that most importantly EVERY woman that they represent DOES have a choice and that adoption is not always the BEST option. My prayer is that Erin and Gloria both know that we aren't trying to be mean spirited in posting this, but that what happened to us did happen and it should have been handled much differently. They should have never been looking for families to present if the e-mom was saying the things she was saying. They should have gotten all the information about the e-mom and her situation prior to asking us to present, as we found out lots of information after we were "matched" that was very disturbing. Many of these things we found out only because we asked, not because they were offered to us.
I hope that this is the only post you will find that is negative about Valley of Hope. I hope that their practices will change so that no one else goes through the same thing we did.