Talking adoption… when questions are asked.

What happens when you have a family member who is adopted and other family members start asking questions about why, where, how?

How do you manage this?

My husband and I have been very clear from the start that we believe that our son, and any future adopted children’s beginning stories will belong to them.  This means that we don’t ever discuss where their birth/ first families are or why we ended up as families.

Do we believe that there is a shameful secret around this?  Most definitely not. Even if the story has hard, sad, crazy, wish we didn’t have to talk about this one day, or maybe the story is the ‘ideal’ as much as adoption stories can be the ideal ito content.

We  ascribe the following:

It’s not our story to tell.  Not even as immediate or close family. Or friends.

It’s not our story to tell.  Which means that even well meant, seeking more understanding questions might be left feeling unanswered simply as our son’s right, as well as his first family’s right to privacy takes precedent in this.

Not because we think that family doesn’t matter, but because we are recognising that there are more things to consider than just close family and friends in this.

We love how much our family and friends celebrate the joyful one who is our son.

We also hold a space that we don’t get to share with anyone else, around parts of how he became our son.  There are elements of gratitude but also elements of grief in this.

Another tricky part of this is navigating GENUINELY curious question from children in their efforts to understand. We need to answer questions generally without allocating any of the answers to our son’s story.

Huh?

The reason for this simply is that general answers, (Like sometimes first mom’s can’t look after their children because… economics, relationship, life seasons) need to be given in a way that leaves the final answer with we don’t know why.  This is something that is for him and his first mom to know. Maybe he will know that information, by we don’t know.  This is part of his private story.

As our son’s parents, we get to give him the detailed version of the story-  and we don’t want to be correcting myths or well intended things that he might hear in passing that have been communicated along the way.  The truth of his adoption story will always be known by him, along with this is your private story and we, as his parents, are responsible for helping him share this appropriately as he grows.  Once things are said, they cannot be unsaid or taken back.

SO in our family – and we recognise that other adoptive families might choose to do this differently – if you have children or maybe you are asking these questions, or are an adoptive family trying to navigate this, below is some of what my husband and I  are asking be used in response to these questions:

  • We use the term first family to cover first mom and other first family members-  as much as we are the family our child is doing life with, there was another family  he was born from first.  Before us.  It also makes explaining two families a little easier for us when we have already introduced the concept – whether clearly understood or not just yet.
  • There are lots of different reasons for why first families (moms, dads, grandmothers and all the other adults in a child’s life) might not be able to look after a baby that grew in the first mom’s tummy.
  • We don’t know the reason why *insert child’s name* was adopted
  • Some of the reasons might be that the first mom was too young, or maybe didn’t have enough money or enough resources to look after a baby. Another reason might be that the mom didn’t plan to have another baby and so she needed to have someone else look after the baby.  We don’t know why *insert child’s name* first mom made this decision.  That might be information that they have or don’t have-  but it’s private information and so we don’t know.
  • You might be wondering who helped the *insert child’s name* join our family? There are people called social workers who look after children and try and make sure that every child whose first mom can’t look after them gets to join another family.
  • When children are adopted most of the time, the first family isn’t a part of the child’s life anymore.
  • Alexa and her husband always wanted to adopt – even before they got married, they spoke about this. About choosing to have children whose first mom’s couldn’t help their babies get big.
  • Adoption means that there are two families for *insert child’s name* – one they were born from and one that they live with forever – one day *insert child’s name* might have a lot of questions about this all and then it’s up to his mom and dad to help figure this out.

Some questions to help both adults and smaller people process this include:

  • Do you think that this might be confusing for him sometimes? Or maybe it might make him a little sad?  What do you think would be something that might make him happy about being in our family or community? What makes you happy or sad in this story? Does anything worry you in this?

Practical ways of talking about this might include:

  • Using one piece of paper, drawing two different families but putting a line down the middle to explore the two families.
  • Using play dough to create families and social workers and explaining the story.
  • Using photos to tell the story of families becoming family and internet sourced scans of pregnant bellies.
  • Using different feeling faces along the way.

 

We are aware that we might seem over protective, unwilling to share or over sensitive in this.It’s not about us though – it’s about our children. It’s about figuring out how to best love them, allowing our broader community to be loving them well and modelling the values and core beliefs we hold as adoptive parents in this.

It’s about ensuring that their story remains fully theirs.

 

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In your eyes I see me

In my son’s eyes and through our relationship I am finding out things about myself – some just at a greater depth than what I knew existed. Some new.  Some expected, some unexpected – both affirming and areas for growth.

Last month was a month which magnified so much of all of this.

The discoveries of new.

The knowledge of what was known.

The challenging space of dealing with what was known intellectually but I was confronted with emotionally and physically.

I feel like I am still playing catch up.

Like at times, a lot of time, I need to remember that I can breathe out and not just in.

Last month saw the whole household hit with survival spaces in different ways.  The car broke down twice.  The dog spent a night at the vet.  My husband was ill.  I was ill and bed bound – something that hasn’t happened in months and months.

My son.

This was the hardest part of all.  My son was ill and just didn’t get better.

Despite the conservative alternative approaches.

Despite the modern medicine approaches.

Despite resting.  Despite everything we tried.

He just kept getting worse.  It was exhausting.  It was frustrating.  It was perplexing.

It left me feeling helpless and questioning the parenting decisions that we, I, had made around certain issues.  It left me searching for concrete answers and affirmation.

I found myself often looking into his big beautiful eyes and seeing my reflection and in doing this needing to confront my biggest, deepest fear.

My biggest fear is losing someone close to me.

During all the screenings for adoption, we were asked about out biggest fears.  My gut response is this:

‘to lose someone close to me’

I recall this fear when my mom was in hospitalised for a triple heart bypass 6 years ago.

I recognise this is in my worry when my husband used to ride a motorbike to work in wet and windy conditions and I would hear ambulance sirens from our apartment.

This past month though I had to live through it.  I have only once been able to acknowledge to a friend how afraid I was without bursting into tears.

Right now, the floods are threatening once more.  The floods are getting less though.

I am so grateful for the fact that we had doctors who picked up a rare and uncommon, but not unusual, to quote the paediatric cardiologist, illness.

I am grateful for doctors who were honest enough to say that they were concerned by the fact that my son wasn’t responding to the ‘big gun’ medication and that while the tests were all showing indications of different things, that my son wasn’t responding to the treatment of these.

I am grateful for doctors who are humble enough, professional enough to consult colleagues and talk through possibilities and options.

I am grateful that the day after the turnaround happen, our paediatrician said to me that he had gone home and was starting to feel desperate himself about what would happen next if the strategy we were employing didn’t yield a positive response.
I am grateful for nurses that were compassionate and understood that making sure my son was comfortable despite the raging, repeated temperature spikes was as important as observations and the clinical parts of their work shift.

I am grateful for friends, like Belinda, who came and helped me make my son comfortable, repeatedly.  Who in her professional role as a nurse knows things, who in my role as friend knew what I needed emotionally and physically to get through this.

I am grateful for visits and meals and prayers from many people.

Right now, I am grateful for the space to remember to breathe out even if there are still tears in this

The day my son was admitted to hospital I thought about Mary (Jesus’s mother). Elizabeth (John’s mother),  Hannah (Samuel’s mother) and committed my son to God.

My heart was at peace.

It was also aching.

After repeated days and nights of him struggling to breathe, of seeing him not responding to meds, of seeing the impact of his body trying to deal with different things (and now the peeling skin as a reminder of what his body has dealt with), of eventually feeling fobbed off with this is “just” and recognising that this was more than that, I am grateful to God for the peace that came in that commitment.

I am grateful in a weird way for a nursing sister mom who verbalised that this fear wasn’t ungrounded if we hadn’t made the decisions in managing this like did.

I am grateful for a demanding, busy, mischievous, chatty, dancing, affectionate little boy.

So, now I get to breathe out.

And remember that we have lived through this fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not my story to tell

We were joined just over 6 weeks ago.

6 weeks of getting to know each other.

In these 6 weeks we have had to navigate being a new family with a baby, but who isn’t a new born.

We have been exceptionally grateful for the conversations, the listening, the facebook groups talking around things from a transracial adoption perspectives, adoptive parents, birthmoms perspectives and adoptees perspectives that happened in the build up to meeting our boy.

We ventured out the house for rambles, just the 3 of us in the first week of being together.

In the first week of being together we had already run into questions and statements– some well meant, some simply curious and some just inappropriate re: how our family was joined.

We have had to navigate some racial stuff.

We have had to navigate questions around his story.

We have had to navigate questions around the adoption process and costs.

All of this is stuff beyond simply being a family. Beyond simply being a new family. Beyond the (happens to all I know) unsolicited comments and advice.  Comments and advice which I know are well meant but don’t always acknowledge that adoption starts with a relationship (or more than one as between birthmoms and adopted families there are foster/ place of safety placements for adoptees too) ending.  So regardless of how cute, or little, or challenging our children are, when we adopt, our families start with navigating a grief.

My own story involves having being intimately involved in another little boy’s life who called me his mamma for a season despite my reminding him that I couldn’t be. Having to step back from his life was one of the hardest things I have ever done (He is in a permanent placement now with siblings and I celebrated the sweetness of that despite the bitterness of saying goodbye.  He taught me much about parenting and loving babies and being available when you don’t ‘feel’ awake, rested & sociable enough!)

My own story involves having to face an awareness that the grief that I have around this creates empathy for my son’s birth mom and yet is not the same.  The grief of knowing that you have to say goodbye to someone and step back from their lives and yet they are very much alive.

We, my guy and I, both believe that our family story isn’t just ours as the adoptive parents.

 

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Not every adoptive family will feel this way. The internet is full of public disclosures by adoptive families.

Our family being an adoptive family is already public – we can’t pretend that we are genetically his!

Our family story also belongs to his birth mom, as well as to him.

We adopted by choice. He needs choices to navigate the world as the world gets bigger and he engages more of it.

It needs to be his story to tell.

Deeply grateful for friends and family who have honoured this space as well as created safety for us as a new family to be a new family, regardless of our incredible boy’s age!

Enlarging hearts

Enlarging hearts

For the past 3 weeks I have struggled to sit down and focus on writing a blog for someone on practical attachment strategies.  I am excited about this field.  I am passionate about this field.  Yet, I struggled.

It was only when journaling that I realised I didn’t want to be writing this for people, I wanted to be doing this with our own child.

A friend asked me recently how the wait was going.

I told her it was getting longer.

I had said that some mornings I wake up and think ‘it’s one day closer to THE day’, but my heart is wanting to start counting hours and not the days anymore.

The nappies are waiting for a body to be wrapped around.

The bottles are waiting to be used.

Our community is waiting for an excited & (I am anticipating!) overwhelmed, this is it message.

We are sitting with an increased awareness of the absence of the next person who is going to be a part of our family.

‘Your heart is enlarging and it’s a stretch and it’s a sweet pain’ was her response.

Oh.

I want to stamp my feet and ask how long will this continue.

Me – the planner, who for the last 5 years had been able to vision for the year ahead – even if the details weren’t fully known, there was some sense of this is where I was headed.

Now, we know that we will be parents to a small person.

We just have no concrete timelines.

Yesterday, a friend said to me you are in a long labour.

It’s not just about being pregnant anymore.

It’s about waiting to see that face for the first time.

In person.

It’s about meeting this small person who we are going to be honoured to parent.

I sighed a deep breath out.

Our hearts are enlarging.

Our hearts are enlarging and as much as we are relishing the late lie-ins and the spontaneous meals in the park, or walks, or doing what we feel like when we feel like, there is an increasing awareness that someone is not with us.

Our hearts are enlarging and we appreciate the well-meant ‘enjoy the season’, ‘make the most of each other’ and all the other comments, but I am struggling with the challenge in this season without any fixed timelines.

There is a real tension of being fully aware of the joy in the present (and there is much!) but the longing for what we are waiting for too.

Sometimes this longing is painful.

I knew that this would be a waiting thing.  I don’t enjoy waiting things generally.  I am someone who gets up and makes things happen.

And in this I can’t.

I can pray.

I can cry when it gets too much.

It helps – I guess like it has for many mothers whose pregnancies or labours have felt indefinite at times!

I can share this with safe people.

I can respond with ease when people ask how the wait is going.  It was liberating this past week to say to a friend who is on her own adoption journey, that the ‘enjoy just the two of you’ are getting frustrating. We really do enjoy just the two of us, but we are ready for it to be three of us too.

We have been dreaming of parenting through adoption since before we got married.

In December we decided to start our process in the first part of this year.

In April we had our first adoption screening interview.

Our hearts are being enlarged.

We wait.

[p.s. I  finally did finish the other blog – Head over to the heartmamablog.co.za for more info :)] 

Adoption – before the child arrives – stuff.

I am not an expert in this.  I am in this.  This being our journey towards hearing that we are approved as adoptive parents and waiting to meet our small person. Along the way we have been asked by some people to voice what is helpful in terms of support and then an even more amazing question has been posed to me:

“and please tell me what isn’t helpful – we don’t know how to navigate this, so make a list, write a blog please.”

According to my Facebook feed there are a lot of do and don’t lists out there. Around adoption. Around marriage. Around singleness. Around *insert the most recent one YOU read here*.  Some of them are helpful and some of them have frustrated lots of my friends. Here are my suggestions, rather than directives, discovered in collaboration with other moms.

Yip. I did what any modern day mother to be does and sourced some input from adoptive moms on Facebook (as well as in person). I hope this honours what the moms shared with me.

DISCLAIMER: “One size never fits all!” so different people will have different needs.  I am writing this, not just for me, but with other’s input – who are not me.  Out of relationship, in your space, with me, or someone like me, this needs to be figured out!

I guess that would be my starting point:  What is your relationship to me and what will it be to my child?   Out of this relationship space, with any new mom& dad, I would suggest that the following things are helpful:

  • QUESTIONS & CURIOUSITY: ASK! Think about what you are asking though – one mom asked that people think about how they are asking as well as why they are asking.  If it’s clumsy curiosity that can be navigated VS wanting to tell a potential adoptive parent how or why they should or shouldn’t do this.  Part of why the adoption screening process is intense is to allow for things to be thought through and for parents to be prepared.
  • JOIN ADOPTION SUPPORT groups: If you are on Facebook you can access these. It was noted that it can get tiresome having to answer questions around the details. Joining a support group on social media helps you process with us, as well as being a resource for you in terms of details and dynamics. It also shows us how much you are interested in and are wanting to support the journey!
  • BE EXCITED with us – like you would for any prospective parent. Pregnant tummies and boobs don’t grow, but the process is intense in different ways as shifts, preparation, screenings and decisions are being made.

It’s helpful when people are excited with rather than simply judging the process or the potential outcome. Hearts are growing and making space for another human- some days these are more fragile than others, and so while not hormonally driven, we still need to work out how to honour them.  Our process might seem intense to you, but it’s about making sure that our future children get matched as well as possible with their future parents.  It’s about having healthy parents – much like your scans and screenings and nutrition, in hope and faith, help grow a healthy tummy baby – our prep process helps grow healthy families.

(P.s. Not all babies raised by their birth moms turn out uncomplicated, so adopted children may or may not either! “Children have glitches sometimes” to quote a child I work with: part of a good adoption prep process explores and prepares parents for these possibilities).

  • Being EXCITED SPECIFICALLY FOR THE CHILD who is coming: Regardless of the reason why people have chosen to grow their family through adoption, whether it started by choice or infertility, a family is about to grow.

It’s hard for people who have struggled through an infertility journey to have to listen to well-intended comments that they will now fall pregnant.  There might be lots of anecdotal stories to this effect, but this can offer intense frustration rather than hope for people who are excited about one child and people are already talking about another.

In chatting to someone about adoption, and how we can fall pregnant but are choosing this, the nearest they had which they could relate to was that once they had given up on a 2nd child and got a puppy, pregnancy followed soon after. so not really like us but this was well intended and meant to be a shared understanding. Instead it was a bit perplexing. The longing for a child yes – we both related to that but our choice in this wasn’t heard nor was the sad irony of comparing an adopted child to a puppy which wasn’t worth pressing into at the time – however, my social filters were 😉

  • BABY SHOWERS: This might seem tricky as the due date isn’t quite as obvious as it is for a birth mom, but actually this is one rite of passage for most parents these days.  It’s a way of acknowledging a shift (both in budget for most of us and identity for all of us!) on a journey to becoming parents. I was at a baby shower for a friend whose own story to growing her family had lots of pain and heartache in it initially – the baby shower however was one of the most joyous community oriented, celebratory events I have ever witnessed! Never mind the abundant gifts, the abundant support for this couple is what was overwhelmingly clear.  Practical preparations (guest lists and so on) for the shower had started as soon as these friends were officially approved for adoption. The final dates and logistics were confirmed once they got the call.  Other friends had their showers once their small person arrived. There are ways to make these things work.
  • ACKNOWLEDGING STARTING POINTS: Our children’s starting point won’t be with us and while this is important to acknowledge, it is also important that we recognise that in this, adoptive parents miss out on the early days spent getting to know small people in the same way as a birth mom who has kept her baby does. This doesn’t mean that adoptive moms aren’t real moms –  See below for clarification!

Adjustment, planning to be available in terms of meals and babysitting, as well as recognising that our kids need to attach to us AFTER they have attached to others matters.  This attachment process might make us seem nit-picky or super aware of being the person who baths and feeds and does the majority of the cuddling – this is all an important part of our initial story.  Starting points also include our child’s starting (birth story) – different families have different views on how much is shared around this.

Different families may do this differently – this is another relationship space which needs to be figured out!

  • THE BIRTH MOM/ TUMMY MOM/ REAL MOM thing: The government paperwork refers to adopted children as ‘being yours as if born unto you’.    That makes adopted moms A REAL mom.  The birth mom still needs to be honoured too – regardless of her story.  It helps our children deal with their two stories:  pre-adoption and post-adoption to know that there is space in our worlds for us and their birth mom.
  • If you are a person who PRAYS, PRAY for us. Pray for us in the process. Pray for us in the waiting.  Pray for our child – wherever they are.  Pray for their birth mother and carers who will be saying goodbye at different stages in their story, before we get to meet them.  Pray for our families and communities to as they prepare to welcome a new person.

Finally to paraphrase one mom 🙂

‘Stop asking when the child is coming – when we know,

we PROMISE you will know too!’

The waiting season is a hard one for many reasons  with no idea of when the due date will be.  In this time some of us are able to carry on with work and life things as they are until we get the long awaited call.  For some of us, plans need to be put in place in preparation for the call.  I know I am one of them as my work involves processes with children and I don’t get to just stop these – so while I have work timelines I don’t have much else just yet!  This isn’t craziness – it’s preparing for the next season.

We can’t wait for the official thumbs up call.

We can’t wait for the call to say there is a referral.

Thank you for waiting with us.