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.


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 Adoptive Parents

Adoption is an emotionally charged experience.

No matter if you come to adoption from infertility or because of a faith calling, it involves the lives of not just the child, but the lives of the child’s birth family and extended family. Adoption has an impact on the siblings the child may have in either the biological family or the adoptive family, the community in which the child lives, and the schools the child attends. Entering into an adoption relationship should be done only after much soul searching and with an open and committed heart.   

Keeping that in mind, as you find yourself in the adoption process, you should remember that as adopting parents you have both rights and responsibilities. Regardless of how you come to adoption – after experiencing infertility, having biological children, or through a sense of calling – these rights and responsibilities are an important part of the journey  

The rights include of adoptive parents include:   

  • The right to be treated with respect and honesty. 
  • The right to have emotional support before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process. 
  • The right to review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it. 
  • The right to receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to health information about the child you are adopting, including any prenatal drug exposure or communicable disease. 
  • The right to refuse the placement of a child whose needs exceed your ability to care for that child 

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include: 

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty. 
  • Create a “go-to” person or team who is familiar with adoption issues who can help you answer your questions, and support you with your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • Ask questions!  
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you file a petition for adoption with the court. 
  • Process your infertility losses. Understand that having a child through adoption is not a “cure” or fix for infertility. Use the services of a counselor, pastor, or trusted friend who understands what you have been through and will help keep you moving forward. 
  • Be honest if your plans change. If you become pregnant during your adoption journey before the placement of a child into your home, place your adoption plans on hold. Focus on one birth at a time! 
  • Ask for medical records and review them with your child’s medical professional. 
  • Be realistic about your abilities as a parent. 

While these are general rights and responsibilities for adoptive parents, adoptive parents also have more responsibilities to their child that are unique to adoption and are key to developing a healthy sense of identity in the child.

These responsibilities include: 

  • Being honest with your child about the adoption piece of their identity. 
  • Speaking respectfully and lovingly of your child’s birth family. 
  • Using positive adoption language. 
  • Remembering your child’s story is their own and share it only with those with a true need to know. 

No single list is all inclusive. Remember the Golden Rule as you meet expectant parents and develop a relationship with them as your child is growing.  Above all else, you have the responsibility to understand the adopted child carries a piece of their biological family with them forever, and this should be celebrated!    


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.

 


The Math of Relationships

Relationships. Are good relationships a math equation?

When both sides give 50 percent effort to making the relationship work, it must be a good relationship because 50 + 50 = 100Oh, just meet me halfway! That’s all I’m asking of you, right?  

Realistically…good relationships are not math equations. Why not? There are simply too many variables. Time, energy, control, desire, needs, values, goals, personality, chemistry, effort…each of these variables can come into play in a relationship at any given time on any given side. Whether it’s a friendship, a romance, a working relationship, or an adoption relationship, what makes the relationship work  depends on any or all of those attributes. And the mixture of these elements can change from day to day, hour to hour. 

What does this have to do with open adoption?

It can’t be said enough. Open adoption is all about relationships. It IS relationships. It is the relationship between adoptive parents and birth parents. It is the relationship between adoptive parents and their children. It is the relationship between birth parents and the children they have placed for adoption. It is not only about keeping in contact, although keeping in contact is certainly an element of open adoption.  

The thing is, if contact is the only variable in these open adoption relationships, they start to look like those math equations. Isn’t that what keeping score becomes? Adoptive parent first texts birth parent, and if birth parent does not respond, adoptive parent does not believe any further effort needs to go into reaching out to birth parent. So what is wrong with that? Potentially many things. Birth parent may not have the time to respond when the text first comes in. Or she may be having a rough day and can’t emotionally bring herself to respond. Or is afraid to respond at that time.  

So many variables.  

In the interest of healthy open adoptions that foster confidence and love between the children placed for adoption and their birth families, the adoptive parents should get out of the score keeping, math equation type of relationship. Send those texts, even if there is no response! Stop only if the birth family specifically asks for that to stop. Have letters and hard copies of photos ready to send, even if the birth mother’s address is not current. Someday your child will be happy to see that you loved his birth family enough to share his life. Offer a specific date for a visit and be willing to be flexible. Don’t wait for your child’s birth family to ask! Not even if it is the birth family’s “turn” to make arrangements. Not even if it is tiring for you to be the one to always be the contact initiator.  

Not even if. 

Score keeping math equations? Or healthy relationships?  

It’s all in your hands.   


Priorities: Getting Out What You Put In

What are the key ingredients to making an open adoption actually be an open adoption?

Aren’t open adoptions just open because birth parents and adoptive parents agree that the relationship is an open one, share phone numbers and have an occasional visit?

Let’s return to the basics. It’s often been said that open adoption is a relationship. In all actuality, open adoption is not a relationship, it’s several relationships. It’s the relationship between adoptive and birth parents. It’s the relationship between adoptive parents and adopted children. It’s the relationship between birth parents and the child they placed for adoption. On top of this, let’s throw in the relationship the child has with grandparents, both through adoption and birth. And what’s the relationship between siblings…those in the family who lives together day-to-day and those who are seen during visits?

So back to the ingredients. If we are going to have this thing called open adoption, and it involves all these relationships, how will it look and how does it work? There are many cliches that come to mind, including “you get out of it what you put into it.” The crux of most relationships comes down to this  simple saying.

Think about a great relationship that you once had, but no longer do.

Maybe it was a relationship between your best friend in high school. Maybe it was your first love. Maybe it was with a co-worker from your last job. Why is this relationship no longer great? In all likelihood, it’s not because of some huge argument. Relationships tend to drift away because they are not made a priority. Things happen. Phone calls or texts don’t get returned immediately and then become forgotten. The in-box of the email keeps getting more and more new emails on top of the original from that friend. The talk of “we should get together someday” never actually makes it to an actual date.

Now think of a relationship you are still in and all is going well. It’s a safe bet that phone calls and texts are returned. Conversations happen regularly. Time is spent together. Plans are made—and kept. The vague “someday” becomes “next Friday”.

Not all relationships are meant to last forever. There are good reasons why certain relationships are not a priority. A former co-worker with whom you shared an occasional drink after work is not the same as the person connected to you through a child you both adore. Adoption, on the other hand, is a lifelong set of relationships.

In an open adoption that works well, the relationship with the child is the priority. Because it’s a priority, you plan ahead. You put dates on the calendar. You answer texts. Not only do you answer texts, you initiate texts or calls. You don’t worry about whose turn it is to do what.

And you do this open adoption relationship thing because you know the child benefits.

The child knows they are loved. They learn their identity, both from the birth parents and from their adoptive parents. The child can deal with reality, not fantasy. And in the end, this set of adoption relationships helps create an adult who can create healthy, loving relationships of their own.

Healthy, loving relationships. Isn’t that what we all are hoping for?


40 Weeks and a Circle of Support

Everyone knows that pregnancy lasts for nine months. 

It’s divided into three trimesters, each with three months in it. Everyone knows that pregnancy lasts for nine months. Unless you’re pregnant and waiting to deliver. Then you remember it’s forty weeks from conception to delivery. And if the due date for the blessed event is set for July or August in humid Indiana, it seems as if those forty weeks turns into an eternity. It certainly doesn’t help when people start asking the expectant mom “so you haven’t had that baby yet, have you?” (Feel free to insert your own sarcastic response here…)

The emotional waiting time is different for those involved adoption.

For the potential adoptive family there are no visible signs of pregnancy. There is the uncertainty of not only the baby’s birth, but what will happen after the birth. Will there be a baby coming home with them or not? For the expectant parents, the emotional waiting time is complicated. Preparing to give birth and preparing to say good-bye all at the same time is not for the weak-hearted. No one can predict with 100% accuracy how they will handle any given situation until they have been in that situation.

For everyone involved in the waiting game, there are just as many people on the sidelines who also want to know what is going on. They want to know the timelines too!

Is the baby here yet? Do you think the expectant mom is going to follow the adoption plan? Will she be ok if she does? Are the adoptive parents ready? Have you all met each other?

All this brings up another question, and that is—do you answer these questions?

And if you do, how many times do you have to answer them? Does everyone you know deserve to be in on the action?  Do you record your answer to the most frequently asked questions then just hit “play” when one of these comes up?

While those pre-recorded answers might be nice, another way handle them is to create your circle of support. The people in this circle are those who care about you and have your back. Face it, not everyone deserves to know all about your business. Once you have determined who is in your circle, create a group text or email chain. Let these people know they will have answers as you are ready to share them. Send out the information on your time table. And for those who don’t make the circle, be ready with your “mind your own business” answer. A simple “I’m not ready to talk about that” or some variation of this should be enough.

The forty weeks of pregnancy is a long time to wait.

The unknown amount of time for adoptive families is a long time to wait. Make the wait more bearable by sharing what needs to be shared with the people you know, trust, and love because you know they trust, respect, and love you right back.


What do you think when you hear the word adoption?

Adoption is one of those topics that everyone—yes, everyone—seems to have an opinion and story to share. There are the people who know and want to share adoption horror stories. You’ve probably heard the stories of expectant parents who scam desperate couples out of tens thousands of dollars. Or the stories of adoptees who become psychopathic murderers. Or the stories of abusive adoptive parents who are more interested in having a servant than a child. No matter what side of the adoption triad is being discussed, someone is ready to rain on the parade with a terrifying tale of adoption gone wrong.

Then there’s the flip side of the horror stories…tales of sunshine and lollipops. In these stories, the adoptees are perfect and become big stars and never cause their parents a minute of worry. The adoptive parents, with big homes and bigger hearts, make parenting look like a walk in the park. They never struggle, they never doubt, and they have the perfect answer to every question their child asks. Birth parents? In the tales of sunshine and lollipops, the birth parents make a brief walk on appearance, tearfully kiss their baby good-bye, and then conveniently disappear into the sunset.

How do you react when you see a story about adoption in the news or on the cover of People magazine? Do you ever stop to wonder why this story is even being published? Most of the time, these stories are meant to tug on the heartstrings. Tugged heartstrings are good for ratings and sales.

Is there anything wrong having your heartstrings tugged? No, not necessarily. But if your entire perspective of a situation is based solely on emotion, you may not be dealing with the entire story. And when it comes to adoption, there are real people involved. These real people have feelings, thoughts, and lives that go on beyond the event of adoption.

So when you hear the latest news about another celebrity adopting a baby, it’s ok to be happy for that celebrity. It’s also ok to think about that baby’s birth family—and recognize that the celebrity’s joy comes at the expense of a birth family’s grief. For another perspective, it’s ok to recognize and celebrate that the baby will be afforded every advantage in life. Yet that child does not get to have what most of us take for granted…knowing and being raised by the people who gave us life.

Think critically about the adoption stories you hear. Be curious about the motive of the storyteller. Because you will be curious and critical, you don’t need to worry about the horror stories. Because you are curious and critical, you don’t need to elevate birth parents, adoptive parents, or adoptees to sainthood. You are able to celebrate the joy of day-to-day life, where some people’s lives are touched by adoption


Words Matter: Telling Your Child’s Story

As a society, we tend to throw around words that then become labels.

Words serve as codes and conjure pictures in our minds. These pictures then shape our attitudes. Attitudes become beliefs. And these beliefs are what we pass on to our children.

Here at ASC we have long advocated for the use of positive adoption language. Positive language serves to remove both stereotypes and judgements. For example—to say a woman gave up her baby evokes a pictures of an uncaring woman who just quits. She quits being a mother. She quits caring for her child. She is then deemed a quitter. This is negative language at its worst. Positive language says a woman placed her child for adoption. She made an adoption plan. The picture that comes to mind shows a woman with purpose and intent. Far from being a quitter, this woman is choosing and acting in a way that provides love, care, and stability for her child.

The use of positive language for your child’s story may involve more than just those things related solely to adoption. There may be pieces to your child’s story that involve birth parents who use drugs, have mental illness, or are in the United States illegally. It can be easy to use that shorthand and refer to the birth parents as addicts, or crazies, or illegals. What will your child think of their birth parent if this is how you think of them?

Here’s a quick guide to positive language for situations that may apply to your child’s adoption story.

While not all the words on the left are negative in and of themselves, they should be used with caution. Don’t let the “less positive” become just a label!

As you wonder who your child’s birth parents will be, or wonder how your child’s birth family is doing now after the placement, practice using the more positive language. If you slip up, give yourself some grace. Just keep on going. This is not an all inclusive list—if you’ve got a term or phrase to share, just let us know!