Ah, The Holiday Season

The sounds—bells ringing, the laughter of children, the radio stations playing non-stop Christmas music. The scents—pine trees, cinnamon, the turkey roasting in the oven. The tastes—freshly baked cookies, candy, the pumpkin pie. The feels—soft cozy socks and throws. The sights—lights on the trees and houses, Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs, Santa and his sleigh, Nativity scenes with the Baby in the manger. The experiences—visiting Santa, caroling, exchanging presents, Christmas Eve church services, dinner at Grandma’s house.

Are you in the mood? Are your senses taking in all that the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day has to offer? Are you social media ready? Does your holiday season look like everyone else’s on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram?

The holiday season is supposed to be the best, most exciting time of the year.

Remember Have a Holly Jolly Christmas? According to that song and many others, “it’s the best time of the year!”

But for many people it’s not.

For anyone who has had a loss, the holiday season is one of the toughest times to navigate emotionally. And for anyone who has had a loss that is not widely recognized or understood, it can be even trickier to navigate. Adoption and infertility are two of those losses that make the holidays especially challenging.

For women who have placed their child for adoption or who are considering placing their child, the holidays may be a reminder of profound loss. No matter her reason for placing her child, there is a piece of her that had wanted things to be different. That she could give her child the life she believed her child deserved. Adoption may have been the way in which she did give her child the life she believed her child deserved, and yes it was her choice, but it doesn’t make the grief any less.

For families experiencing infertility, the loss of being able to conceive and carry a child is felt deeply and profoundly during the holiday season. This is also true of families who have experienced an adoption “fall through”. When will it be their turn to take their child to see Santa?

While there are no easy answers to how to grieve during the holiday season, it is important to be good to yourself during the grief process.

Recognize that your experience does not have to look like everyone else’s on social media or in real life. Allow yourself the luxury of your feelings—including the less than happy ones.

And don’t forget to add a little hope to your season. This may be a dark year, but light is always stronger than darkness.

   


A Four-Letter Word that Has No Place in Adoption

How careful are you in the words that you use? How careful are the people around you in the words they choose? Are there any words or phrases that make you uncomfortable? That are overused until they lose their meaning?

There are many words used when talking about adoption.

There are words that describe the process. Words that describe the emotions. Words that describe all the people involved. Much has been said and written about the correct terminology. This is NOT one of those lectures or pleas.

This post has to do with a small descriptive word of only four letters. It is used so frequently most people do not even realize they are saying it or how it might sound to the other person in the conversation.

Ready?

Here are the four little letters… J-U-S-T. Just. As in, “If you can’t take care of your baby, just give it up for adoption.” Or “If you can’t get pregnant, just adopt a kid.” Just.

Making the decision to place a baby for adoption is emotional. It is gut wrenchingly difficult. It is not done without thought, care, or information. The emotional cost in placing a child for adoption is often life-long. There is no just about it.

Likewise, the decision to adopt a baby or child is emotional. For families experiencing infertility, just adopting involves letting go of the dream of having a biological connection to a child. For all families hoping to adopt, there is a lengthy process of background checks, home visits, and questions about motives. Adoptive families sometimes feel as though this process is intrusive and unfair. There is no just about it.

What can you say instead? Is there a replacement for just?

How about “I care about you. Can I offer any suggestions?” Or “If you need to talk, I’m ready to listen?

And if you can’t think of anything at all to say, just don’t say anything. Be a presence. Show your love. That will always be appreciated.


Dealing with Fear in Adoption

Creepy Crawlies and Things That Go Bump in the Night- Dealing with Fear in Adoption.

It’s officially fall and we’re officially into the month which celebrates Halloween. Halloween has become a bonanza for retailers, with some reports indicating that 179 million Americans spent $9.1 billion dollars on candy, costumes and decorations in 2017. Since 72% of those 179 million people decorated their homes, it’s quite likely that you’ve been seeing Halloween decorations in stores, your neighborhoods, community centers, and maybe even your home.

Halloween provides us with a safe scare. It tames down things in which we don’t really even believe and makes for a time of fun. Even on a scale of scary starting with cute kids in costume yelling “trick or treat” and ending with a big guy in makeup and a fake chainsaw jumping out at you at the local haunted house, the thrills and chills are manufactured. You know that these things are not real and last just for a few moments. Come November 1, the turkeys and Pilgrims will start replacing the skeletons and witch cauldrons that adorn the landscape.

Real fear invokes a physiological response.

Our brains revert to the defense mechanisms of freeze, flight, or fight. Sometimes the fear is brief and goes away. Other times fear lingers, lodging itself in the corners of our being and turns into a gnawing sense of anxiety.

Sometimes fears are easy to name. Some people have a fear of spiders, or of heights, or of losing someone near to them. Sometimes fears are less obvious. These may show up as worries. These worries may start when something happens…DCS takes your children away. You have a miscarriage. Suddenly you are no longer in control of things that only yesterday seemed like a certain deal.

Adoption brings its own fears to the table.

For expectant and birth parents, there is the fear that their child will hate them or someday reject them. There is fear that the adoptive parents will not keep their promises. Adoptive parents fear their child will someday hate and reject them and return to the birth family. Or that the birth family will show up on their doorstep and demand the child back. Even adoptees may have a fear of being unlovable or unwanted. And these fears are fears that often wear masks. They are less easy to identify.

What helps ease these fears?

After all, adoption is a lifetime of relationships. It’s not as if the calendar will one day turn to a new month and a new set of decorations comes into play. These adoption related fears can impact our identities. Am I really a mother if I’ve placed my child for adoption? Am I really a mother if I didn’t give birth to my child? Am I a real person if I wasn’t born to my parents?

This is one reason why openness in adoption is valuable—whether you know everyone’s full identities or even have visits.

The mindset of openness in adoption is one of open communication and honesty. You may not want to admit to feeling nervous about an upcoming placement because you aren’t certain what will happen. You may not want to admit to feeling anxious about having a visit with the other parent in your adoption relationship. But naming those feelings and bringing them out into the open is the first step in conquering those fears. 


Birthdays: From Bittersweet to Joy

The anticipation…complete with countdowns to the big day when “this many” fingers increases by one. The sound of paper being torn from the packages. The sticky fingers and face from the icing on the cake. The sounds of singing that simple little song—“Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you!” The glow of the candle. These are all rituals of celebration—symbols to mark the importance of the day a new life entered the world.

While it’s easy to join in the celebration, birthdays are also a great time to take a step back for reflection, especially for parents. In some traditions, an extra candle is placed on the cake to signify hope for the upcoming year. And in families where adoption is a part of that family’s creation, there is always another layer to consider.

A person’s birthday is the day they entered the world.

For a woman contemplating adoption, her child’s birthday is when reality hits and the “what if” starts to become more insistent. The “hello” starts to become the “see you later” that is the bittersweet part of adoption. The celebration is associated with sadness and loss.

On the other hand, adoptive parents find it easy to celebrate their child’s birthday because this marks the day their dream of parenthood is realized. And every year that passes is a recognition of their family.

Is there a way to reconcile the loss of the birth family with the gain of the adoptive family?

Well…whose life is being celebrated on the birthday? Of course, the answer is the child—the person who joins a family through adoption. And that is where the reconciliation begins. For young children, a birthday is a good time to retell their adoption story. Incorporating the birth family into the celebration is a positive way to show that child that they are loved and valued.

Birthdays are celebrated because we remember the past year…the good days and the growth. Birthdays are celebrated because we look to the future…the dreams and the hopes. In a healthy adoption, birthdays recognize that the child is shaped by the birth family and by the adoptive family. The child is celebrated for who they are and who they will become.


Dads—You Matter! 

Check out the self-help section of any bookstore. It’s likely that you will find many of these books divided by gender. Maybe this all began with Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus back in 1992. Maybe it’s biology, maybe it’s society, or maybe it’s none of these things. But when it comes to being an adoptive dad, the role of father is important, special, and unique.  

It may not seem like it. It often seems as if the women involved in adoption are running the show. The expectant mother makes the choice of adoptive family. The potential adoptive mother fills out the paperwork and arranges the appointments for meetings. Even adoption professionals tend to be women! 

So where do you men fit in?

The answer is everywhere. In every step of the adoption, you are important. While not every expectant mom chooses a married couple to parent her child, most of them do. Many times her reasoning is simply that because she is struggling as a single mother, she would like the stability that the two-parent family offers.  

If the reasoning behind an expectant mom’s decision is this stability, it just makes sense that the waiting-to-adopt dad steps up and demonstrates what kind of father he plans to be. Show her in the little things—from opening the door for her when entering and leaving the restaurant at your meetings to offering a hug as a greeting. Show her in the big things, like how you treat your wife, the expectant mom’s children, and in how you answer questions. 

The relationship between hopeful adopting parents is on display during the waiting time and during meetings with the expectant mom.

If expectant mom is looking for a stable and happy relationship between the hopefuls, it makes sense she would see a relationship in which both the husband and wife are interacting easily with one another and with her.  

Once the hospital experience hits, hopeful dads really need to shine. If the laboring or newly delivered mom needs an advocate, a hopeful dad can speak for her while the hopeful mom can be the one holding the birth mom’s hand.  

The dad’s voice, just like the mom’s, is not confined only to words.

Don’t forget that actions often speak louder than words. Being willing to hold the newborn baby or change a diaper lets the birth mom know that you will be an involved dad, which might reinforce her decision that adoption is the right one.  

Then baby comes home.

Hopeful dad becomes Dad. Countless research projects have shown the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. Birth mothers know this too—especially if she chose adoption so that her child would have an involved dad. Even if adoptive mom is the one to typically send the photos and updates, birth moms appreciate hearing directly from adoptive dads too. Dads can send those updates as easily as moms.  

Dads can and should also talk to their child about adoption. They can be the ones to answer questions about birth family. Adoption is not just a mom thing!   


The Home Study- What, When and Why

What do you think of when you hear the words “home study?”

What is your picture of the person who comes to your house to complete a “home study?” The home study process can be anxiety producing, particularly if you picture a social worker from the 1960s wearing orthopedic shoes and reading glasses.

Home studies have been called investigations, background checks, and parenting assessments. While all these may be true, that does not paint the complete picture.

At a basic and simple level, the home study is a document that gives the court reassurance that the home into which a child is placed is safe. It is typically completed by a social worker or other mental health professional. Requirements vary from state to state, but all home studies will include criminal background checks. Most home studies will also include such elements as medical physicals, financial statements, and reference letters.

All of this may seem very cut and dry.

Fill out a mountain of paperwork, wait for someone to come to your home and ask intrusive questions, and then you are given the green light to become parents. Never mind that other people get pregnant every day—even teenagers—and no one asks them for any paperwork suggesting they are capable of parenting! If this is your mindset, and the mindset of your home study provider, adoption may not be for you. Just as it is unlikely the social worker completing your home study will be a hold-over from the 1960s with orthopedic shoes and reading glasses, it is unlikely that your home study will be so cut and dry. A modern home study done by an ethical provider is more than a series of boxes to be checked.

The home study is a process and a tool. It is the means by which your home study provider gets to know you, and equally importantly, you get to know them. Your home study provider can be more than a “one and done” type of place. A good provider will be able to offer support and guidance down the road.

The home study is a conversation.

It’s a conversation about your dreams of parenting, as well as your practical knowledge of parenting. It’s a conversation about where you’ve been and where you hope to go. Most importantly, it’s a conversation about what you know about how adoption will impact a child, and what it is you still need to learn.

The home study is an education. From beginning to end, it’s an education about yourself, your relationships, and your community. You will not be expected to have all the answers to the questions, but hopefully, a good home study will point you in the direction of where you need to go to find the answers. Even more importantly, a good home study will make you think of more questions!

Yes, your home study will include the mundane pieces of your life. It will include those criminal background checks, health physicals, social histories and financial statements. Our advice? Don’t settle for the mundane. Immerse yourself in the process. Ask questions of yourselves and family members about your own history. Ask your home study provider about trends in adoption and where you might be able to make an impact. And most importantly, have conversations with your home study provider about the human side of adoption, particularly what a child who is adopted might need.

Focus your heart on your future child, then go through the home study process willing to learn and to share.

 


Celebrating Birth Families

Where’s the joy? Where’s the excitement?

When a new baby comes home, the baby is welcomed with banners, balloons, visitors, and gifts. In adoption, the adoptive family is swamped with people wanting to visit, hold the new baby and offer congratulations. But when a woman who has placed her baby for adoption returns home from the hospital, there is no celebration. She may have family near-by who want to support her and love her, but celebrating is not a part of the vocabulary.

Not to be insensitive to the grief (which is oh-so real), think about what holds us back from celebrating the birth family. Balloons and banners are not appropriate as a welcome, but the sentiment behind them might be. Is it not knowing what to say? Yes, the grief is real. No, the baby is not with her. But the woman who just placed her baby is WORTH CELEBRATING! And if the birth father was a part of the adoption, he is worth celebrating also.

The dictionary defines the word “celebrate” as to make known publicly or to praise widely. The history of adoption in the 1900s did not involve celebration, especially for birth families. Rather, adoption was the secret no one wanted to talk about. It was too shameful. It reflected “mistakes” and “sinful behavior.

Fortunately, we’ve moved beyond the secrecy and shame. But are we ready to “praise widely”?

It’s time. It is time to praise widely. Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not the time to draw attention to someone who does not want that attention. It’s not the time to start a gossip session. But it is time to remember and acknowledge the birth mother and her choice.

So celebrate that she created life.

Celebrate the strength that it took to place the baby’s needs before her own. Celebrate her intelligence in sorting through her options and making her choice. Celebrate the hope for the birth mother’s future. Praise widely!

And if balloons and banners are not appropriate, there are ways to give that recognition and praise. Visit the woman who is now home from the hospital after giving birth, even though the baby is not with her. Talk with her. Ask if she wants to talk about the baby, her experiences, and her grief. If she says she doesn’t want to talk about those things, that’s ok! Follow her lead! At least she will know you care.

Provide a home cooked meal. Go out for coffee together. If she has other children, offer to babysit for an afternoon or evening. Offer a ride to the doctor or counselor’s office. Think about what you would do for the new adoptive family, and then offer the same to the birth mother.

The days of secrecy in adoption are gone. How will you celebrate the birth families in your life?


Rights and Responsibilities for Expectant Mothers

So many times in adoption, all the focus is on the adopting parents.

People share their infertility stories or their faith commitment on social media and with friends and families. Women experiencing an unexpected pregnancy are seen as simply the way for the adopting parents to get their baby. It’s hard to get in the way of their excitement and joy, but no one need ever feel put down or be ignored for choosing to place their child for adoption. No matter how young or old you are, as an expectant mom, you have rights.

These rights include:

  • Be treated with respect and honesty.
  • Have an advocate for support before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process.
  • Review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it.
  • Receive emergency living expenses totaling up to $4,000.
  • Receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement.
  • Change your mind about placing your child at any point before you sign consents for the adoption.
  • Choose the family who adopts your child.
  • Know how the adoptive family has been screened and evaluated.
  • See, hold, and care for your baby in the hospital.

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include:

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty.
  • Let your advocate know your questions, thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions!
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you make a firm commitment to adoption.
  • Use the emergency living expenses as intended.
  • Use counseling services to help process your grief and provide a way to move forward.
  • Be honest if you are not planning on moving forward with an adoption plan.
  • Think about what type of family would be best for your child.
  • Ask what screening measures were done by the adoptive family to insure not just a safe home but one where adoption is celebrated.
  • Being available for your child when they have questions about their identity.

No single list is all inclusive. Maybe the best way to think about rights and responsibilities is to remember the Golden Rule—that is to treat others as you want to be treated. 


Social Media and Open Adoption

Social media is both a blessing and a curse.

Social media can bring bring people together or tear them apart. The ways in which people have communicated over the years has changed, and continues to change. What does this have to do with an open adoption? What does it NOT have to do with open adoption?

From sharing plans to adopt or seeking support from others in a similar situation, the connections made on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter or even Pinterest demonstrate the best of social media. Looking for other women who have placed a child for adoption? Search for groups related to birth parents. Looking for adoptive parents who adopted across racial lines? It’s there on the internet to be found. Private groups really do serve a purpose.

So what’s the down side? Where’s the curse?

One very real danger in using social media as the primary means of communication is that we talk around and about things and issues rather than talking to one another. Conversation between people becomes limited to the photo we decide to share. It’s a matter of how we tell the story. It’s easy to hide feelings behind the presentation of our best selves.

Overcoming this can be a challenge but it can be done. If your open adoption relationship began on line, you may already have a jump on the process. If your open adoption relationship came after placement, consider how you will use social media as a tool to keep the lines of communication open.

Sure—it’s ok to share those baby photos if both sets of parents agree. Your child has started walking? Saying first words? Share away! Social media is all about the bragging!

What about the things that aren’t so great?

Birth moms—are you willing to let the people who follow you know that you are having a rough time with post-partum depression? Adoptive parents—are you willing to post that your new baby cries all night and you would give anything to be able to take a shower? We always want to put our best image forward, and sometimes these things don’t translate as well in a quick post.

Yet if relationships are going to grow, thrive, and meet the test of time, the people involved in the relationships have to be able to communicate directly with one another. This is where private messaging can help. Share a little of the struggle, parent to parent. Saying you are having a rough day is not the same as saying you don’t want to continue the open part of the relationship.  Be willing to take a step back if the hard emotional stuff of the adoption is clouding your thoughts. But before you do, let the other side know that’s what’s going on. Going dark only feeds the other’s fears.

Open adoption is all about relationships.

Healthy relationships thrive with honest communication. No matter if you communicate through phone calls, texts, or even social media, take the risk of honesty. The payoff is worth the risk.

 

 


Summer Visits for Open Adoptions

Summer time. It’s that season in which we all want to kick back, take in the long hours of sunlight, and relax. It’s also a great season to connect with old friends and keep relationships fresh. This is especially true for families in which adoption is a part of the mix. Schedules tend to be more flexible, there are no worries about road conditions for travel (other than knowing where the cone zones are!), and community events and activities abound. It’s a wonderful time to keep the relationship on track with visits, make memories and start traditions.

What do you do during these visits?

If you have the kind of easy going relationship where conversation flows, this may not be an issue at all. On the other hand, if you have a more casual relationship and you are still in the “getting to know you” phase, visits may induce some level of anxiety. Sitting in a restaurant or office room somewhere can be tense and awkward. What happens if there are children of different ages—both older and younger?

Planning is the key. Keeping busy and staying active can help keep the visit moving and if conversation lags, the activity can help fill in the blanks.

With that in mind, here are a few summer time activities to get your imagination stimulated.

1. Splash Pads! These are popping up all over the place. Running through water and having water fights are fabulous ways to cool down on hot, sticky days.  Many communities now sponsor these pads as part of their park systems.  They are typically free, although if they are attached to a swimming pool such as those at YMCAs this may not be the case.  
2. Picnic in the park! Parks often have substantial playgrounds as well as picnic areas. Take along some simple toys like bubbles and hula hoops, and there is always something fresh to keep short attention spans on the alert. (Bubbles are fascinating for children of all ages. If you’ve forgotten the joys of blowing bubbles, try some today. You won’t be sorry.)
3. Paint rocks! This is part of a recent trend. Search for some flat stones, paint designs or words of inspiration on them, and then plant them for others to find. Older kids can help younger kids, adults can help all the kids, and the designs and inspirational words can prompt more in-depth conversations.
4. Have a ball! It doesn’t really matter what kind of ball your family is into, that spherical object offers something for everyone. Baseball, soccer, basketball and even playing catch—all offer opportunities for hand(foot)/eye coordination and conversation. And if those bigger balls are too much—pick up a putter and find a miniature golf course.
5. Visit the zoo! While this can be a little more pricey than some of the other options, it’s still a fun way to get out and make a special and memorable day.  

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you are all together.

Pack the sunscreen, snacks, and water so that you all stay healthy. Most importantly—don’t forget the camera (or make certain you have plenty of space on your phone) and make those memories together.