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Was the IRS Targeting Adoptive Parents?

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Let’s face it: No one likes the IRS. But lately, the organization has had more reason than ever before for raising ire. There are allegations that they unfairly targeted certain groups for evaluation of their nonexempt status. And now, it appears they were also targeting another group—adoptive parents.

The adoption tax credit is meant to make the adoption process—which often costs tens of thousands of dollars—more affordable to lower-income families. It allowed you to get back more than $13,000 of the costs of the adoption. For my family, it meant we could recover the bulk of the costs of our adoption (minus that pricey airfare to China!). But the adoption tax credit changed in 2009 to make it fully refundable—a boon to low-income families who could now get all of their adoption fees reimbursed at tax time, instead of possibly waiting for years to get the full credit. And so, the IRS decided to flag 90 percent of those returns, requiring the families to produce receipts in very short time frames to substantiate their claim, then holding up the paperwork–and the refunds—for months at a time. The IRS claims that since generous tax refund programs like this are prone to fraud, they reserved the right to delay all of these refunds.

But in the end, the government found that almost every single one of families who claimed the tax credit deserved it—less than 2 percent of adoption tax credit claims were denied for lack of paperwork, and there were no criminal or fraudulent cases sent to the authorities. The government had to pay $2.1 million in interest to people who were left waiting for months and months without their refunds—and that’s not counting the millions in man-hours spent for IRS agents to review all of this perfectly legit paperwork.

But few people talk about the impact of this delay on these families. There’s the added stress of trying to document and find receipts for every adoption expense—stressful when so many adoption fees, especially in international adoption, can be hard to document. And after the mountains of paperwork of putting together the adoption, this just seems to add insult to injury. There’s also the fact that so many of these families, who make on average about $60,000 per year, are counting on getting their refunds in a timely manner—people who often took out second mortgages, held second jobs, fund raised or otherwise begged and borrowed and stretched to cover these daunting expenses. (And odds are, the interest the IRS paid didn’t hold a candle to the interest these people were potentially paying on maxed out credit cards or lines of credit.)

Hopefully, with the new scrutiny the agency is facing in the wake of these scandals, this won’t be a problem for future adoptive parents.

What do you think? Should the IRS have held up the refunds for this long?

Image: Tax form by Creativa/Shutterstock.com

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How 3D Printing Could Change My Daughter’s Life

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

The first few times I saw news reports about 3D printing, I thought it was pretty ingenious. People could use it to build 3D models of vases or even, a 3D model of a fetus from an ultrasound.

But now, I’m completely blown away by what it can do. This past weekend on CBS News Sunday Morning, they showcased how scientists are using 3D printers and living cells to craft new human tissue. So far, they’ve used it to build tumors from cancer patients’ biopsied tumors, which will enable them to easily grow several copies of the tumor and test out a number of different treatments at once, to figure out what’s going to work best on each patient’s particular cells. But the other application they showcased is the one that intrigued me more: They grew a human ear.

You see, my daughter was born with microtia, a birth defect that impacts her ear. She has a normal ear on her left, but her right ear is small and misshapen, and there’s no ear canal. So far, it hasn’t impacted her life too much—she hears pretty well (better if she actually wears her hearing aid), she has both of her ears pierced, and other than a few questions from her classmates, it’s pretty much a nonissue for her. We love her “special ear,” and she knows it’s just something unique about her. But I know how kids can be cruel, and I worry that as she hits the teen years, she’s going to become self-conscious about it.

Right now, there are two ways people can replace a microtic ear with one that looks more like a traditional ear. They can get a prosthetic, which looks more natural but usually has to be removed for bathing, swimming and sleep. Or they can go through a series of several painful surgeries to sculpt a new ear, using either Medpor, a medical-grade artificial scaffolding, or a rib graft. But the results of the plastic surgery aren’t always great, and I’ve seen too many ears that look “off.” I wouldn’t subject my daughter to that without her being totally on board with it.

But with the 3D printing, a sample of cells could be cultured, then “printed” out in the exact shape of her ear. She could have a brand new ear in a few weeks—and it would simply be one surgery to remove the microtic ear and place the new ear beneath the skin.

What’s even cooler is this new bionic ear that someone else created, an amalgam of the 3D printing using living tissue and technology. So maybe she can skip the hearing aid and hear on her own, through her new bionic ear.

I’m already dreaming up ways that this technology could eventually be used—to grow new body parts for people who lost a finger or a hand. To build new kidneys or a new lung for someone in need of a transplant. To repair a broken spinal cord. But right now, I’m just focusing on that miraculous homegrown ear.


Image: Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Cornell University, with an artificial ear grown using 3D printing, by Lindsay France/Cornell University

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Stuck: The Current State of International Adoption

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

 Six years ago today, my husband and I officially put our hats (and about 75 pages of documents) into the ring in the hopes of adopting a second child from China. And if we hadn’t been lucky enough to find our daughter on our adoption agency’s list of children with known medical needs, we would still be waiting for China to match us with our child—with no end in sight to our wait. (Currently, the people at the “front” of the line for adopting from China have already been waiting six and a half years.)

We are not an anomaly, as a new documentary, Stuck, shows in dramatic detail. New regulations put into place by the U.S. and other countries to help stop corruption in international adoption haven’t been as successful at stopping it as everyone had hoped. Instead, it’s slowed down the process to adopt a child to the point where it now takes nearly 3 years to complete an adoption—and it’s led to many more children growing up in institutions, where they are often neglected and left ill-equipped for life after the orphanage. The documentary offers sad glimpses of life in the orphanages in Vietnam, Ethiopia, Romania and Haiti—and tells the stories of several families who were “stuck” at various points in their adoption stories.

I have to admit—the trailer for the documentary made me worry it was a little bit too much in the vein of “Let the Americans come in and save these poor orphans.” But after watching the movie, it’s clearly more balanced. Its message is that every child should have a family—and if one isn’t available in a child’s home country, if there’s another family with open arms across the border, let the child go there rather than languish in an orphanage.

If you’re considering international adoption—or know someone who is—definitely check this movie out. It’s a great way to get a real sense of what’s happening in international adoption right now.

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Is Adoption from China Ending?

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

In the last 30 years, nearly 100,000 children from China have found new families around the world, thanks to one of the most stable and popular international adoption programs. And I’m the mom of two of them. My family was created there, when my husband and I adopted our two amazing daughters.

But a lot’s changed over the past eight years, since we first met our oldest daughter in a Civil Affairs Office in China. Since then, China and the U.S. both signed the Hague Convention governing international adoption, which required checks on the histories of all children, to determine if they are truly orphans and available for adoption. (This is to help prevent the child trafficking and corruption that has occurred in some international adoption programs, including China’s.) China instituted new limitations on the parents who would be eligible to adopt from China—though the parents who met those new limitations are still stuck waiting to be matched with their children (six years later and the wait is still growing, thanks to a 20,000+ backlog of parents hoping to adopt from China). China’s wealth has been increasing, which means more children are being adopted domestically, and more parents manage to afford the fines the Chinese government levies on families who go over the one-child limit. And China may be holding still other children back in their orphanages, hoping to take care of their children within their own borders.

And so, it was no surprise to me that the numbers of international adoptions from China had dropped precipitously yet again. Last year, only 3,311 were adopted internationally from China throughout the world—compare that to 2005, when we adopted our oldest, and 7,903 children came home to the U.S. alone. And the other number that was equally interesting—75 percent of the children adopted would be classified as special needs, as they were older or had known medical issues. In fact, that is how we managed to adopt our second daughter—we would still be waiting for a match, six years later, if we hadn’t found her on our agency’s “special needs list.”

Adopting a special needs child is currently the only viable option for most parents looking to adopt from China, as the wait for a “healthy” baby continues to grow—and will likely reach nearly a decade of waiting within the next few years. But it’s not an option for everyone—many countries won’t even allow their citizens to adopt special needs children.

We are thankful that it was an option for us, and that we’ll be celebrating five years with our youngest daughter later this year. But for many other prospective parents, the China adoption program seems to be another door closing, and another option for building a family gone.

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Did You Read “We Found Our Son In a Subway?”

Friday, March 1st, 2013

If you haven’t, grab the tissues. Published in yesterday’s New York Times Opinionator column, We Found Our Son in a Subway tells the story of a man who found a baby in a subway station, and was given the chance to adopt him by a kindly judge. When the man and his partner married, they could think of no one more appropriate to pronounce them a family.

We first shared this family’s story here at Parents nearly a decade ago, not long after their adoption became final.

It’s a powerful story. For families created by adoption, it often feels as if fate may have played a hand in bringing you together – whether you are chosen by the birth family, matched with your child by bureaucrats  half a world away who you will never meet, or you find a baby in the corner of a subway station. Somehow, by luck or chance or happenstance, you find each other, and you find love and you find family. And the judge in the story obviously saw the perfect family waiting for this little boy in the kind couple who found him and fought for him.

It’s an incredibly touching tale, and one that’s definitely worth the read. But what’s even more beautiful, at least in my eyes, is that the comment section is overwhelmingly filled with positive and loving messages toward this family. I think even a decade ago, this heartwarming story would’ve been met with a lot of hatred and homophobia – and to me, that’s almost as powerful as the story itself.

Let me know what you think after you read it! I’d love to hear your take on the update – and on our original story.

Image: Drawing from Matthew Jacques/Shutterstock.com

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Parenting With One Hand Behind Your Back

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Mommies are supposed to be able to leap tall buildings with a single bound  and perform other feats of superhuman strength. I’ve carried my daughters around even when my back was out, kept the household going through a severe bout of the swine flu, and walked the dog when I had a gimpy leg.  But all it took was a quick snap of the wrist in karate class this weekend to really throw me for a loop. Consider a broken wrist my kryptonite.

I’ve lost complete use of my left hand, which for most people wouldn’t be a big deal. But I’m a lefty, and my right hand has generally just been there for show. And so I am left navigating the world with just one subpar hand, trying to relearn how to do things like make sandwiches, dress myself, and brush my hair.

It’s not going very well. I can’t wear anything but T-shirts and sweatpants, so I look like a shlub everywhere I go. I have bed head and not in a good way, unless my nine-year-old puts my hair in a ponytail. And somehow, already, the cast is starting to smell funky.

As a writer, I usually spend most of my days clattering away on a keyboard. But one-handed typing takes 10 times as long, and so I’ve resorted to voice recognition software. Talking to write seems to be almost as challenging as one-handed typing. But at least the words come a little faster (even if they’re sometimes incorrect).

I feel bad for my husband. Even when we’re both at full capacity, managing the chaos in our house requires all hands on deck. But right now, the only chore I can still muster is unloading and loading the dishwasher, unless it has a lot of heavy dishes in it. So his plate is overloaded. Fortunately, my daughters are old enough to take on a bit more here at home – not that they are exactly chomping at the bit for a chance to take out the garbage or fold laundry. But maybe this will teach them a little bit more responsibility.

And I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself. I can’t take care of my kids the way I used to, can’t hug my daughters before bed at night. The things I like to do for fun tend to require two hands – you can’t play bass guitar or bake cookies with one hand. I have to bum rides from my friends, and get chauffeured anywhere I need to go. I feel like a loser, sitting on my couch in PJs, watching TV and nursing an aching arm while my husband manages everything else.

Right now, I’m making it job number one to regain my left hand as soon as I possibly can. I am following a superhealthy diet for bone growth – no wine or caffeine or carbonated drinks, and plenty of healthy foods, like low-fat dairy, veggies, and lean meat. I am getting more sleep. And the following doctor’s orders to T.

I’m trying to stay positive about this. My kids will learn more responsibility. I may start eating healthier. My right hand and arm will get stronger. And we will make it through the next six weeks, even if my house ends up looking like a disaster.

But in the meantime, I need some advice from moms who have been through this before. Any tips for better one-handed grooming? Any suggestions for getting the kids to pitch in? Any ideas for helping me feel a little less useless?

Image: Wrist cast by SFC/Shutterstock.com

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Pregnant Over 50: What Are the Risks?

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Writer Judith Lederman shared her story of being pregnant at 53—and just this weekend, gave birth to her twin sons. According to her doctor, high-risk OB/GYN Alvin Schoenberger in Novi, MI, attempting pregnancy after the age of 45 is not for the faint of heart. “There are some risks that are increased just because of your age, and have nothing to do with pregnancy, such as heart disease,” he says. “But advanced maternal age also puts you at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, preeclampsia, miscarriage, stillbirth, placenta previa, and increased risk of having kids with congenital anomalies.”

These increased rates of complications are significant— children born to mothers over 45 have a one in 40 chance (or even greater) of having Down Syndrome. In his practice, it’s rare for patients over 45 to attempt pregnancy. ”In the early 40s, some of these risks are increasing. But pregnancy in your late 40s a little more uncharted waters, and over age 50 I’ve only had one patient. It’s simply not that common.”

Before you consider an over-45 pregnancy, you need to consider what risks you and your child will face, and what you would do if, for instance, some of the prenatal testing indicated Down Syndrome or another chromosomal abnormality. You may also need to consult with a fertility specialist, as achieving pregnancy after 45 without intervention is uncommon. “It’s a rare, rare, rare mother who is 50 years old who hasn’t had some form of fertility treatment,” says Dr. Schoenberger.

If you are considering pregnancy over 45, Dr. Schoenberger advises you to get fit—and get informed—pronto. “Stay in good shape, ideally be at ideal body weight, and exercise,” he says. “You also should know all the statistics of what you’re getting into, especially the increased risk for chromosomal problems. And make sure you think about the other end of things. You need to consider what happens when your child is 15 and you’re not in good health or not even around.” That’s especially important if your child does have Down Syndrome or another issue that may make it difficult for him to live a fully independent life as an adult.

But as long as you’re in good health—and you’re prepared for any potential worst-case scenarios—pregnancy over 45 (or even 50) can be a possibility.

Image: Pregnant woman by Nizzam/Shutterstock.com

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Mom’s “Birth Announcement” for Son Shines Spotlight on Older Child Adoption

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Odds are, you probably have thousands of photos of your children stashed on your hard drive, stuffed into scrapbooks or displayed in picture frames. But for kids who aren’t adopted until they’re much older, baby pictures can be hard to come by, if not downright impossible. For photographer Kelli Higgins, that issue hit home—two of her children, Latrell and Chanya, were adopted by her when they were 10 and 5 years old—and came to her family without a single baby picture.

Fast forward to this year: As Kelli prepared to do a baby portrait for one of her clients, Latrell mentioned how he wished he’d had a baby picture of himself. While the family joked about him in all those classic newborn poses, the idea stuck with Latrell and his mom. “I was very sad too because I didn’t have any photos of him either,” Kelli told the Today Show. “I think it’s really hard to have children and not know what they looked like when they were younger.”

And so, Kelli arranged a photo shoot for her son and crafted a standard baby announcement, sharing the news of her son’s birth—13 years later. The images went viral, and Kelli hopes that they bring attention to the 100,000+ older children who are available for adoption here in the U.S. through the foster care system.

What do you think about her birth announcement? If you’ve adopted older children, how have you dealt with the lack of baby pictures and other mementos from their first years?

Image: Latrell’s birth announcement by Kelli Higgins Photography

 

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