Sisters and Brothers

As an adoption professional with two children who joined my family through adoption, I would often try to get their perspective and views on things. On one such occasion, I asked my oldest, blonde haired, hazel-eyed daughter her views on the wisdom and advisability of a white family adopting a second black child. My daughter was about ten years old at the time, and she had been letting me know that she often felt different from her friends and not always a part of the family. I wondered how race might play into her thoughts.

Her answer had nothing to do with race and very little to do with adoption. Her answer took me aback—“Why would anyone adopt more than one child?” As we talked further, I realized this had nothing to do with either race or adoption. It had everything to do with wanting to be an only child. My daughter expanded her views, voicing her exasperation with her little sister and her jealousy of her friends who were only children. Only children, it seemed, were entitled to such delights as undivided parental attention and horses. And the ability to do whatever they wanted to do whenever they wanted to do it.

It is worth noting that this same ten-year-old child is now past her twenties and a mother of five. Perspective changes with age and circumstance!

But the relationship of siblings in adoption is a topic worth mentioning.

What, exactly, makes for a sibling relationship? Are siblings those people who share your DNA? Are siblings those people with whom you are raised and share day-to-day relationships? 

For families notcreated through adoption, the definition of a sibling is easy to create. It’s the bossy older brother, or the pesky little sister. It’s the person you can bully, but if anyone outside your family tries the same, that bully best watch his or her back. 

On the other hand, for families who are created through adoption, the sibling question becomes a little more tricky. Some families only adopt one child. Others adopt two or three children. Some families adopt children who are biologically siblings. Other families have biological children before adopting children. There are step-parent adoptions, kinship adoptions, and transracial adoptions. You can look at some families and know that there is an adoption story there. Conversely, you can look at other families and have no idea that adoption played a role in their creation.

It’s relatively easy to look at a single family unit and identify the brothers and sisters. No one can push your buttons like your sister! “Stop touching me! Stay on your side of the line! That’s mine!”These conversations can easily be followed with “Let’s go build a fort! Want to play a game? Can I borrow your shirt?”

Often adopted children will ask about siblings.

This simple question can mean a variety of things. A young only child asking about siblings may just be the desire to have a brother or sister in their own family. On the other hand, adopted children may be asking about birth siblings. Sometimes this is because the child doing the asking would like a new playmate. If the child is in his teens, he may be concerned that the person on whom he has a crush may be somehow connected to him through DNA. That could be gross! 

Many adoptee questions regarding siblings have to do with timing, developmental stage, and an understanding of their own identity and adoption story.

Young children are very accepting of different family roles, without a deep understanding of what each role entails. As with most things related to open adoption, the more normal and natural it is to talk about birth siblings, the fewer questions and more accepting the child will be. For a child to discover later in life that there are siblings, the questions about identity again come into play. 

What does this look like in real life? At a recent post-placement visit, big brother was happy to show off his new little brother. This young man, not quite in kindergarten, understood that his new little brother was here to stay, and that he had big responsibility in teaching him what it was to be a member of the Smith family. This same young man had recently shared a birthday party with a younger biological sibling placed in a different family. The young man knew that this other child was also his sister, and this sister didn’t live with him, and really…this was no big deal. 

It was no big deal because all the adults involved were comfortable in their own roles as parents and understood the connections between them. No one worried that the little ones wouldn’t understand. They answered questions as they arose, and celebrated the connections they shared.

Now it’s your turn. How do you—as either birth parents or adoptive parents—navigate the questions related to siblings? What do your sibling relationships look like? Any great challenges? Any great answers?

Until next time,

Diane


Why Adoption?

Ever heard the expression “I can’t see the forest for the trees?” Sometimes working in the field of adoption, this expression comes to mind, and I start to feel a little overwhelmed. Adoption is a tough way to make a living. The emotions of everyone involved generally run high. Prospective adoptive parents who may still be grieving their infertility. Birth families who are grieving the physical loss of their baby. Sitting in grief with both sides of families touched by adoption is a privilege. Yet it’s a tiring privilege.

So why do it?

I do it for the adoptees. 

Adoptees become adoptees completely through the choices of the adults to whom they are connected. Their birth parents make a choice based on their inability to provide care they believe the child needs at that point in their life. Adoptive parents choose to adopt a child because they believe they can provide for that child in ways that the birth family cannot.

Because adoptees do not have a choice in this crucial piece of their lives, it is up to the adults who did make this choice to provide not only for the child’s physical and emotional needs, but also for their identity needs.

Adoptees need to believe that they are wanted. Treasured. Loved.

They have a right to know the parts of their biology that make them a unique individual and the parts of their adoptive family that also contribute to this uniqueness.  

Adoptees do not need to be grateful to their adoptive parents any more than a biological child needs to be grateful to their parents.

I work in adoption because I want to help first moms realize that their decision to place a child was a good one and one that was not made for nothing. 

I work in adoption because I want to help the adults create the kind of environment in which to raise children that lets the child flourish. 

I work in adoption because I want the adopted child to grow up to be a confident adult who knows—really knows—that they are loved and have value. 

That’s why I work in adoption.


Unpredictability

Have you ever thought much about the expression “it’s time to rattle someone’s cage?” I have to confess, I hadn’t either. Then I came across the expression in the context of an experiment involving rats in cages. As it turns out, when a rat’s cage is rattled without warning or in a manner that is unpredictable, the rat’s stress level rises. 

This seems like a topic completely unrelated to adoption. And at first glance, it is. 

But what is predictable about adoption? 

Waiting adoptive parents can’t predict when they will be picked, what the relationship will be like, or even if the expectant mother is going to place.

Expectant parents can’t predict how they will feel as the pregnancy progresses. Expectant parents can’t predict what the adoptive parents will be like.

Let’s face it. Adoption is unpredictable. 

Back to the rattled cages. Unpredicted cage rattling causes stress levels to rise, including a physiological response that impacts the wiring in the brain. Interestingly enough, if those same rats could predict when their cages would be rattled, they did not have the same indicators of stress. Their bodies and brains could expect that particular disruption, understand it was temporary, and then move on. What researchers found is that the brain can tolerate stress if it is predictable, but even mild stressful events are intolerable to the brain if they are “very unpredictable.” (Childhood Disruptedby Donna Jackson Nakazawa, page 42.)

Some of the things you can do to alleviate the stress associated with the unpredictable nature of adoption include staying in close communication with people you trust. Check in regularly with your team that is helping create your adoption. Do your research—whether it’s related to drugs, race, or ongoing communication.  

So how are you coping with the unpredictability of adoption? Don’t let the stress of unpredictability really rattle your cage.


Shame has no place in adoption.

Shame is hot right now. And by hot, I mean trending. Social worker/author/speaker Brene Brown has made shame a trending topic. From her TED talk to her Oprah featured best-sellers to her Netflix special, Brown is tackling the subject fearlessly. 

Adoption is no stranger to the concept of shame.

Historically, adoption thrived on shame. There was the shame of infertility. Obviously, real men are able to get their wives pregnant, and real women are able to conceive and bear children. There was the shame of unexpected pregnancy. Really good girls don’t have sex outside of marriage, so they certainly can’t get pregnant. Over time, that morphed into really good girls may have sex outside of marriage, but if they give away their babies,they are inherently bad. And sadly, many adoptees have wondered if there was something intrinsically wrong with them that led to birth mothers’ decisions to place them. 

You could say adoption has been a real shame storm.  

“So, what’s the problem with that?” one might ask. “Doesn’t a little shame motivate people to do better?”

And that is where the misconception lies. There is a difference between shame and guilt.

Guiltis the emotion that claims, “I made a mistake.”

Shameis the emotion that insists, “I am a mistake.”

All of us make mistakes. Not a day goes by where I don’t realize I could have handled a situation differently, spoken a little more kindness into the world, or merely even made eye contact and smiled at a stranger. Some days—some situations—are more apparent where the mistakes lie, and on those days, my guilt meter perks up and reminds me to change what needs to be changed.

But making a mistake is different than believing my very existence is a mistake. 

As adoption has evolved past the days of “secrecy for everyone’s best interests,” it’s stigma and power to shame have decreased. This is in no small part why adoptions are increasingly more open in terms of post placement contact. This is why adoption professionals, myself included, advocate for talking with children about adoption from the very beginning of their lives. This is why ASC advocates for our birth mothers, reminding the world that strong women make brave choices.  

Adoption is about relationships. And shame has no place in adoption. Adoption is about relationships, and the healthier the relationships are, the less need there is for the toxicity of shame.


The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same!

It’s time to say “thank you.”

Thank you to everyone who wished me well as the news of my 20thanniversary was posted on social media in June. Thank you to all the families who have allowed me into their homes as I asked oh so many personal questions. Thank you to all the families who have allowed me to share in their joys and walk through the tough times. Thank you to all the women with whom I have cried over their loss. Thank you to all the adoptees who have allowed me to be a part of the struggle in their understanding their identity. Thank you to a great group of women who have allowed me to be vulnerable and a part of their struggles—I call you co-workers and more importantly friends. Above all, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Maria and Shannon who had no choice in my becoming their mother, but are the embodiment of family.

There. The mushy stuff has been said. It’s heartfelt, but let’s move on.

I first began working for ASC in 1994. After a five year hiatus from 2004-2009, I have been back and immersed in the work of adoption. Looking back at 25 years, I have been struck by a few things. 

The mechanics of the process have changed.

Oh, sure, families still need a home study to adopt a child. The basic requirements of what is in that home study have varied slightly, but not by much. As an agency and a professional social worker, my goal continues to be to help families think about what it means to raise a child—not just get a baby. Expectant moms still consider making an adoption plan because they believe they are unable to provide the care they believe their child needs and deserves at that time in her life. 

Expectant parents used to connect with potential adoptive parents by reading classified ads in newspapers. Newspapers are now  going the way of the dinosaurs. The agency’s advertising budget relied heavily on Yellow Page ads. Packets sent to expectant moms used to include a “Dear Birth Mom” letter accompanied by a very brief biography. Adoption coordinators would take scrapbooks of families with whom the expectant moms thought they might be interested. Expectant and adoptive families would meet once or twice before placement, but have very little contact before the baby was born.

After the adoption was finalized when I first began working at ASC, families would send letters and photos to the agency to forward on to their child’s birth family. Every piece of correspondence would be photocopied and placed in the adoptive family’s file. It quickly became apparent that we would not have enough storage to do this indefinitely.

Post placement visits were extremely rare. So were transracial adoptions. 

So many changes.

What hasn’t changed are the feelings underneath it all. 

At it’s heart, I’ve learned that adoption is about connection. Birth parents are looking for a connection to the family who will raise their child. Adoptive parents are looking for a connection with their child’s birth family so that they can provide their child with a solid foundation from which they can grow. And adoptees are looking for connection to the people who gave them life—both in the physical and emotional senses.

So once again, thank you. Thank you all for allowing me to connect with you.

Diane


Our Wait…

As I sit here typing this in the Notes on my phone, with my son (OMG I have a SON!) who is asleep on my chest; and it’s just been two weeks since we’ve met him! I know there are a million and one things I should be doing, but in this moment time can stand still, and chores can wait.

This is the moment I dreamt of for so long. We truly got the child we were meant to raise.

That saying was said to us so many times during our long wait.  I thought “yeah, right…whatever…” It irritated me every time I heard it. Those 10 simple words made into one very true sentence.

Our wait was a hard one. We had complete radio silence from the very beginning. I would email in to get our monthly updates; we would be out to a few expectant moms each month.  But as those expectant moms’ due dates came and went, our hopes slowly got leveled because we never got “that call.”

We are people who like control. We like to have a plan, and with adoption that’s a joke in a half! You can’t plan; don’t even try! We were not in the driver’s seat… AT ALL! We had no control over the timing or the situation. We just had to sit back and let it happen.

We tried to live our lives like normal.  Take vacations, go on dates, and be a “couple” without kids.  The holidays came and went, and that time was so hard.  We found ourselves daydreaming, and imagining what future holidays may look like.  Again, not having control over the situation was hard.

We had told ourselves that if we didn’t have any activity in six months we were going to open up to more situations. When that time came to open up, something just didn’t feel right. We didn’t feel like it was the right time to change things up. We then said we would reevaluate things at our one-year mark. We researched all the possibilities of what could happen with a child born dependent on substances. We researched drug use during pregnancy, and everything that goes along with it, trying to cover all our bases. 

I remember Diane, our social worker, saying to us that generally there are two kinds of waits.  Some couples have a lot of activity, and a lot of disruptions. Other couples have absolutely no activity then all of a sudden a match and a placement.  

Well, that was us! We had complete radio silence. 

On May 2ndwe had a scheduled call with Diane, to talk about our homework for that month and the first words out of her mouth were “Have you heard from Leah yet?” My jaw hit the steering wheel (I was sitting in my car) and my eyes instantly welled up with tears of joy.

The first part of what Diane was telling us went in one ear and out the other. I was in such shock! Shock that we had a lead, disbelief that Diane was the one giving us the news and not one of the coordinators, and complete dismay at the timing. Only twelve hours before getting the news, Chris’s Grandmother passed away. We got news when we least expected to hear what we’d been dreaming of. 

The best part, we only had to wait a few weeks for delivery, the expectant mom was due any day. In the matter of 20 minutes, our lives changed forever, getting the lead that we had dreamt of. An expectant mother had chosen us because we were active and outdoor lovers, and because of our dogs.  

We met with her the next week in her hometown and instantly had a great connection. About an hour later Leah called us to say “E” wanted to “lock in” with us!! We were so excited. She was everything we hoped for in an expectant mother. We loved her already! We began to text, and get to know each other. Three short weeks later, we got the text message that changed our lives forever. Our little dude was on the way. 

To make a long story short, we have a beautiful adoption story that took some unexpected turns but we got the child we were meant to raise.

Every hopeful adoptive parent has an idea in their mind of what they want their ‘story’ to look like, and how they think it will go. Well, I’m telling you to just throw what you think will happen out the window and buckle up, because your expectations will be rocked HARD and it will be more beautiful than you’d ever expect.

Looking back on how everything played out, God had this whole thing planned. He had it planned from the very moment we signed on with ASC, to the moment “E” chose us to parent her baby. He taught us how to be patient in a VERY trying time. He taught us that great things happen when they aren’t planned, and he taught us how to ‘roll’ with things as they come.  He blessed us with the greatest blessing possible; our son. 

We are so honored that “E” chose us. She is truly one of the strongest woman we have ever had the pleasure to meet.


A Birth Mom’s Perspective on Adoption

As I sit here and think about adoption, we birth moms preach on the amazing gift that we give. We place our child(ren) with families that can do more for them than what we ever could. We all have our reasons as to why we place our little ones, and we are all so grateful for the families our kids grow up with. 

But very little do I speak about the grief I still have to this day. Each morning I wake up, throw a smile on my face, and go about my day. However, no one knows about the empty cavity that lays within my heart that I battle every single minute. 

I did not place my son out of spite or hate. I did not place my child because I did not want him. I placed my child out of love and sacrifice for I could not give him any sort of life.

To this day, I hate driving by the hospital where I gave birth in to my beautiful, amazing, little boy. The amount of emotion that comes over me every time I pass is so overwhelming. I question if I am ever going to be able to cope with the loss I faced that day.  

Passing by that hospital makes me replay that day over and over in my head. The world stood still, and I felt alone. Completely and utterly alone. No one person was going to change that feeling for me. I had welcomed life into the world, and I had to say good bye to that life I brought. I kissed him on the head and had to simply wave good bye. The worst ripped off band aid I would ever have in my life that keeps getting ripped off while its connected to my skin with cement epoxy and any other adhesive you can imagine. 

Was my decision the right decision? Could I have done it? Could I have taken my child home?  And the worst part is I still have to tell myself no, even in this moment it is still a no.

I am not a bad mother for placing my son, yet I still face judgement by so many. So many close-minded people that spit at my name because I don’t have my son. People that think I made my decision too quickly when I waited till the very last minute to make the decision I did. 

My sorrow, in knowing I will never be called mommy by my own blood, is something that not very many people come to realize. My pain is having to watch someone else hold his hand and walk him through life. 

I sit on the side lines and simply say “good job” or “oh, wow he did that today!” 

Have you ever been placed behind bars and just told to watch? Locked down on a life you have no control over? 

That’s my loss.

And It will never go away… 

Each person to their own and how they feel. I know each Birth Mother has their own, their own loss, and we all handle it differently. But when we cheer for that baby that you finally get to hold and call your own, remember the loss. Remember the tragedy someone had to go through to make this selfless unconditional loving act that they are making for someone they brought into the world. Take a moment to let your self feel however that birth mother is feeling in that moment. Because then maybe when you start this journey, the woman you get to meet, you can look at her and say it will be okay. You don’t have to stay away. I am mommy now, but I will make sure that your child knows you were mommy first. 

Show love and compassion to the women that have made this selfless act. We are all human. No matter what our upbringing, situation, or lifestyle. 

My adoption story is amazing, and I don’t want any of you to feel as if it not. I love my son’s parents as they love me. They love my little family and we are all so happy when we get together. We call and text. We FaceTime and send pictures. We make future plans and discuss the upbringing of my baby boy. I am so very much included. But as I mentioned before what my loss feels like, no matter how involved I am I will still live with that for the rest of my life. 

I do not regret placing my boy. I have regret because I was not ready and still not to this day. 


The Two Tattoos…

Sitting across the table from a young woman who recently placed her infant son with an adoptive family, I noticed a tattoo on her inner wrist. “Tell me about that tattoo,” I asked. I was already amazed by her strength and composure. For someone who was deep in the throes of grief and sharing a life history of use and abuse from men, the inked word “Queen”along with a small crown seemed like the perfect metaphor for who she really was.

“I got this when I was with this other guy. He was the King and I was his Queen. So we got matching tattoos. He’s gone, but most of the time when I see this tattoo I don’t think of him. I just think of how strong I need to be and how strong I can be.”

While I was thinking this over, she went on to show me the inside of her other wrist. “This was my first tattoo,” she said. “I got it when I was a teenager. My mom signed for it and even paid for it.” This tattoo was simply a beautiful script with the words “Love yourself.”

“Are you able to follow that advice?” I asked. Her reply was honest. “Sometimes. But sometimes it’s hard.” 

Taking on the role of “post placement specialist” has challenged my counseling skills, my patience, and my reserves of empathy. Yet it has been the greatest privilege and honor I’ve ever had in over 30 years in social work. 

Women who have placed their babies for adoption have drawn on reserves of strength most of us could never find. My goal is to help each woman start to build back that inner reserve, step by step, bit by bit.

Queen. Love yourself. Women—we deserve to be treated with the respect due a queen. But if we don’t love ourselves first, it will be difficult to accept that respect, much less to expect it. 

For birth mothers everywhere, you have my utmost respect. For adoptive mothers everywhere, you are also able to claim that title. And for all of us engaged in adoption, remember to love yourselves. 

Queen. Love yourself.   


Come to Find Out…

Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which you start that conversation completely at a loss?

It’s like the other person has been talking to you for over an hour, but in reality you have barely gotten past the hellos. 

The fact is, none of us exist in a vacuum. We are surrounded by people and things, and these are constantly changing. Even when we are in a relationship with someone, we don’t spend every waking moment with that person, whether it’s our spouse, child, best friend, or parent. 

One of the tricky parts of understanding the behavior of others is realizing that we might not have intimate knowledge of the precipitating factorsin their lives. 

“Precipitating factors” is a fancy way of saying “come to find out.”

Here’s an example of “come to find out.” Several years ago, I worked as a child therapist in a large, urban, public school district with behaviorally challenged children. One day, around mid-morning, I received a crisis call from the third-grade teacher. “Eric” had just had a disruptive meltdown in the classroom, and in addition to calling me for help, the teacher had summoned school security. 

When I arrived in the classroom, Eric was being escorted from the room by the school security officer. I asked the officer to bring Eric to my office. Once we were there, Eric began shaking and crying. Working backward, I learned that Eric was late to school that morning because his mother had overslept. Because his mother had overslept, Eric had not had breakfast, nor had he had his medication for ADHD. I broke into my snack drawer, and Eric began eating what turned out to be the first meal he had eaten since the previous day’s lunch. 

Continuing the conversation, I asked Eric why he and his mother had overslept. Come to find out, Eric’s stepfather had been released from jail the day before, and his mother, stepfather, and assorted other relatives had been on a drinking and drugging binge until the sun was about to come up.

Is it any wonder that Eric had a meltdown in his classroom?

Navigating open adoption relationships brings its own set of precipitating factors.

Envision a Sunday afternoon phone call between adoptive mom and birth mom. Baby has been colicky and only slept about three hours from Saturday night into Sunday morning.  Adoptive mom’s symptoms of endometriosis have been acting up again, and she is clearly in pain. Adoptive dad had to take an extra shift the previous night. Neither mom or dad wants to mention any of this, because they want birth mom to feel confident that they were the right choice to raise this baby. They want her to think all is going well and that they can handle this. They also want to stay in touch with birth mother, because they genuinely like and respect her.

As the phone call starts, the birth mom seems more quiet than usual. Adoptive mom almost senses a bit of a cry, but then second guesses herself and doesn’t ask about it. Birth mom ends the call almost as soon as it begins, and stares at her phone. On the phone is a text from her brother’s girl friend, who wants birth mom to loan her $500 to bail her brother out of jail. Birth mom doesn’t want to do this, and she doesn’t want to mention it to the adoptive family because she doesn’t want them to have a reason to stop communicating with her. Birth mom had wanted to plan the first visit, but her car had broken down again on Saturday, and she didn’t have anyone who could help her get it fixed. She was hesitant to say anything about the visit because she didn’t want to raise her hopes and then not be able to have the visit. 

Neither side of this conversation has any idea what is going on before the conversation starts. Both sides are left feeling unsettled and unwelcome.

Can we ever come to find outall the factors that make for strained behavior or uncomfortable interactions in an open adoption relationship?

The answer is probably “it all depends.”So much depends on the relationship that is developed between those who are in the relationship. 

Are you open to hearing the precipitating factors to behavior that puzzles you? Or do you find yourself thinking those are just excuses? 

Are you willing to be vulnerable and share precipitating factors, at times causing your behavior to be unexpected or unusual?

Are you able to extend grace, understanding, and forgiveness?

For an open adoption relationship to work, the answer to all of this must be a resounding “yes.” Trust is built over time, with stops and starts, but the ultimate goal of open adoption is to create an environment of trust and commitment for the child. 

Come to find out, we all need a little grace and understanding in all our relationships.  


Biographers Day

Today is Biographers Day. Yes, for those of you keeping track of obscure reasons to celebrate, May 16 is the day on which “commemorates the anniversary of the first meeting of Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell in London, England on May 16, 1763, and honors all biographers.”

So why on earth is an adoption blogger even bothering to mention this, much less attempt a thoughtful blog on the topic?

This is an excellent question, and hopefully by the end of the blog there is be an answer.

I think this is worth noting because there is a little piece within each of us that wants to be known. Each one of us wants to be connected to another person here on earth. We want to be seen. We want to be understood.

All of this then connects to our own unique identity.

We identify ourselves by our work, our gender, our appearance, our religion, our neighborhood. We identify ourselves by our family affiliation—mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, granddaughter, grandson. You get the idea.

And then some of us find that we are identifying ourselves by means of how our family was created and our role within that family—primarily by the means in which we came to the role.

Confused yet? How many blogs and books are written about “adoptees?” Or “birth mothers?” Or “adoptive families?” 

Mother’s Day has just gone by for 2019, and Father’s Day is coming. Were birth mothers and adoptive mothers celebrated equally? Will birth fathers and adoptive fathers share in the same recognition on June 16? 

If someone were to write your biography today, what pieces of your identity would be most important? Or would your identity be defined by your roles? 

If someone were to write my biography today, I hope they would include such things about me as my personality. I hope they would include how I made the world a little bit brighter for someone else. I hope they would mention my amazing family—including all the quirkiness and brokenness that has strengthened me and given me insight. If the biographer wanted to mention adoption, I would agree to that being a page, because there is no doubt the institution of adoption has played a huge role in both my personal and professional life. Yet I don’t want the title of my story to be Diane, Adoptive Mother

I think I want the title of my story to be Diane, A Loving Person.

And your biography title? I’d love to share those as well.