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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Sharing the cake

Why do their houses look different?
Why are people standing outside?
Why are children not at school, or the men at work?
Why are there no gardens?

Can you see the Park in this area?
Yes
Does it look like a nice place to play?

No, not really.

The above were some of the questions and conversations had en route from Rondebosch, a suburb with lovely leafy open spaces and parks, en route to Delft.

Notorious Delft – Delft that makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Delft that is also full of families and people trying to get things to work for all the right reasons.

The conversation was with an ‘almost 4’ year old who was accompanying his mom and myself to drop things off with a friend of mine whose house burnt down 2 months ago. His mom was preparing him for the fact that things would be a little different to what was used to seeing in his day to day life.

We also spoke about the SONA events that had occurred the previous night and how his mom and I felt re: the different political parties responses.

His mom mentioned that Julius keeping issues re: poverty on the table was so important but also it felt scary to think of him being in charge, even though things definitely needed to change.

‘ Why is it scary mom’ piped up the voice from the back seat.

A-hem… mom looked across at me.

I waited to hear what his mom was going to say;  After another um, ahem moment offered to share what I had voiced to my almost 2 year old son already, not because he understands yet, but because I want to figure out how to explain our unjust, unequal past to my son. Something that I realised I was going to need to do at some stage when he was strapped to my back on voting day last year.

But, back to my inquiring little friend.

Me: So, let’s say that everyone likes cake.
Yes.
Me: And we handed out cake to people, but we had a set of rules that said that only some people could have cake and not other people – how would that sound to you?
Would you be okay with being told that you had to watch other people eating cake?
NO – that’s not fair.

Okay, how about if you had the cake and we said that we all needed to share our cake with people. Do you think that this would be an easy or tricky thing? What would happen if someone came and grabbed your cake, or you were scared someone would come and grab your cake?
I would grab my cake and make sure that no one could grab it.
So actually sharing your cake, even though it would mean that everyone got cake can feel hard? Yes!

That’s a bit like what is going on in our country.
DO we believe that everyone should be treated the same? That God made everyone the same?
Yes.
Well, as crazy as it might sound, not everyone thought like this and some people made really mean, or bad rules saying that some people could have things but not everyone.In our country, the people who could have the cake were the white people, and other people weren’t allowed to share the cake with them.
Now we have new rules but still not everyone has cake.

Does that make sense?
Yes.

Okay, well what if instead of cake, we said nice houses, or nice schools or comfortable things.
At the moment, different people are trying to figure out how to help make sure everyone can get these things and for some people it feels kind of scary to share, some people don’t want to share and other people want to share but aren’t sure what that looks like.

Okay.

And then another why followed….

Don’t ever stop asking these questions little man, your why questions might very well hold answers, compassion and solutions for some of the consequences of bad rules.  

In the meantime we need to figure out how to share the cake better, both in attitude and practical action.

Choosing Children. Or Not.

Adoption as a choice.
Not a default. Not because of. A choice.

This is a vent post.
I am currently frustrated. Intensely, immensely frustrated by a post I just read on a friend’s facebook wall where someone stated that to actively choose to adopt or stay “sterile” for the sake of not having children, and so that you could have sex without procreating, he didn’t believe was biblical.

Song of Songs seems to suggest otherwise.

He also believed that women are saved through childbirth – a little out of context as the Word clearly states that women and men – both are only saved in the Christian faith through the Cross. In other words through Jesus.
That aside.
When did we become the police of people’s choices to have children, or not to, or how to?

I selfishly love the spaces & freedom my friends who choose not to have children invite me into. Not because I don’t want to be a mother. But because it speaks to other parts of who I am and who they are.
Before we got married my guy and I spoke about how we were going to grow our family. My vision was ALWAYS adoption. It was just a matter of when we were going to adopt.

Not because I want someone else’s child, but because the reality is that there are children who need to be in families and I wanted to be a mother and actually, I still continue to want to be a mother.

I don’t have strong need to be pregnant. The only time I did have strong need for this was after 6 months of considering this as a possibility and knowing that it mattered to my husband AT THE TIME and wanting to honour him in this – the perfectionist in me felt the need to get this right. Sadly, we had a miscarriage, but even so, according to the Gynae, there was absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant should we CHOOSE too. See that word? It’s been a loud one in my head and heart.

We did adopt. We have a gorgeous one year old son.
We want him to have siblings. We have recently wrestled and worked through which way we want to grow our family next. We have prayed about this. We have spoken at length to each other. We have sat with the options individually. We have had to take a long hard look at our motives and ourintentions and selves (the good and the ugly) and come to a decision.
A decision based on CHOICE.
A decision based on who we are, where we are, who our son is and what we believe about parenthood.

Regardless of whether people come to the point of adoption through the initial plan A or a journey with the grief of infertility or a journey of life not working out quiet the way they envisioned with a partner – It’s a CHOICE. It’s a choice to love another. (Like you choose to love your partner who wasn’t born to you). It’s a choice to do midnight nappy changes, feeding, teething, hospital visits, interrupted sleep, reallocating budget. It’s a choice to be a parent – regardless of whether we get there through sex, adoption or marrying someone who already has children.

It’s a choice to not be a parent too.

Our lives exist outside of our children, we are people apart from our children and they are people apart from us.

We have the freedom to choose. Most of us reading this anyway.
Maybe we need to honour other’s freedom in this too.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the Birthday Candles

I lit a candle tonight and reflected on the fact that we get to celebrate my son’s first birthday soon.

We get to celebrate the laughter, the giggles, the mischief and snuggles that is fully him.

We get to reflect on the joy of the last 6 months of being his parents. The joy in seeing him sit up, cut teeth, crawl, walk and speak his first basic words to us.

Before we celebrate the sweetness of adoption though, the bitter part of the grief of adoption has shown itself.

I told him his basic adoption story again this evening – he has heard it before.  It is his story after all, as much we are a part of it and he is a part of ours.

His story, the details of which are his to hold onto or tell as he grows.

Tonight on reflecting on our beautiful son and how awe inspiring it is to see him growing before our eyes, I was reminded of the fact that he is going to have things to deal with that we can’t pretend he isn’t.

I was reminded that  for 9 months, he grew under his birth mom’s heart – and as much as people say that adoption is when a baby grows in your heart instead of your womb, this baby grew under a heart in another’s womb and that is a part of his story.

It is a part of her story and now it is a part of our story too.

A friend recently reminded me that the Psalmist speaks in Psalm 139 of being knit together in a mother’s womb and not being hidden from the start.  She reminded me that my son was known from the start as much as we didn’t know him from the start.  I was reminded this evening that as much as adoption was always part of how I planned to grow my family one day, of the conversations my guy and I had prior to marriage that, this plan brings with it a story of loss for two others – but that they are known too.

Tonight I want to make sure that he knows that we will stand next to him in responding to the things that are going to be his to deal with as he matures into manhood.

More than that, before we think about candles on cakes, tonight I lit a candle and want to honour a birthmother, who a year ago was preparing for labour and to relinquish (the details of this are hers and his) the baby who became our son.

I want to honour her simply for being his other mother.  We don’t know her and she doesn’t know us and yet our life stories are intertwined.

So before the candles celebrating a year of life are lit, there is another life I want to honour tonight and have no idea how do that.

Other than to pray.

To hold the space with my son and to say to this other mother that you are a part of our story always.

In a respectful way.

In a way which honours a decision you made.

In a way which honours our son.

In a way that honours the unknown between us and yet shares a life.

Tonight I simply want to honour you.

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JUST STOP it already…unless you have the go ahead!

When I have to body block you, a stranger in a shop, in order to reduce the stress my child is experiencing from you repeatedly trying to take him out of my arms, it’s my more polite way of shouting JUST STOP IT.

My child is a cute, engaging little PERSON and when he is comfortable with people he knows, he will demonstrate this through smiles, baby talk and choosing to engage.

However, he is a little PERSON and is allowed to choose how he does this. When you are an UNKNOWN PERSON to my little PERSON and he chooses not to climb out of my arms into yours, this is entirely appropriate.

I baby wear (strap him to my back) my son rather than putting him in a pram in order to protect him OFTEN. On the occasions where I have had to put him in a stroller, I have been dumbstruck at the liberties that some people have taken in getting into his space. So much so, that despite his size (he is a big boy) I have had to strap him to my front so that he can choose to turn his head and hide in my shoulder when he has needed to.

The challenge in this isn’t that he is adopted and we don’t match racially.
This is a boundary thing.

We have grown accustomed to a certain level of conspicuousness –despite mixed race families becoming more common, people still are interested, curious and sometimes just rude really. I am aware too that as he gets older, and even now, that there are conversations that we choose not to have repeatedly in front of him regarding his adoption. Not because he hasn’t heard the details already, but because there is more to his world than just being adopted.

This morning, immediately after the body blocking incident we were due to go and see a friend.

I am grateful to him for letting me vent. I am grateful that we have these friends for being mirrors and for the stories and wisdom that they share from their parenting journey (and VERY grateful for the gift of a baby carrier before our son came home!)

He listened to me vent and then shared a story of how JUST STOP IT translated into asking someone, a strange person, to please delete photos that they had just taken of his daughter off of their phone.

The initial response was that the photos were just cute and that they would send them to him. He firmly repeated his request, affirming that he was sure that the photos were cute, but it wasn’t appropriate. This was done, with a bit of a huff, but it was done.

The next morning, they bumped into this same person who reflected that she had been thinking and:

Actually, you were right – I have been thinking. Your child needs to be protected and it’s not appropriate to allow people who are unknowns in your world to be walking around with photos of her’.

My friend went on to tell me more stories about how his daughter’s space and right to privacy required other JUST STOP IT moments. His wife and I have often spoken about JUST STOP when it comes to people offering food, trying to cuddle her or engage her when she doesn’t want to be engaged.

This isn’t about wanting to helicopter parent or creating crazy bubbles around our children. It’s not about not wishing for them to explore the world and meet different people. In fact, it’s the opposite.

It’s about teaching them that it’s okay to have boundaries.

It’s okay to not be okay with letting strangers or unknown people into your space.
It’s okay to say please stop.

My son gets given options about how he wants to greet people. He can choose to go to them (if he knows them and is in an engaging mood), he can high 5 them and sometimes simply acknowledging them by gazing at them is enough for him – he is only 10 months old. Gazing at this stage for him is acknowledging.

My son is adopted – something that he didn’t get to choose.
The day he chose to snuggle into my shoulder, rather than going to a friendly unknown person, clutching the back of my (needing some firming up) upper arm, I realised that we had grown more into family.

My son is allowed to choose. We want him to have choices that are appropriate and that he can make as he grows older. For now though, we get to make choices to protect him so that his world can expand and stretch and become an adventure of discovery.

There are lots of people who get this. Who get that babies and small children are SMALL PEOPLE with their own personalities and their own needs; who respect that though they be little, they can also make choices.

Our children need to be allowed to learn about go-ahead options and what these look like. We model and teach them what these look like.

So please, not just for my son, but for babies and toddlers and children, just stop it …unless you have the go ahead.

First prize for our family

Recently my guy and I decided that the time was now for us to start the process towards becoming a family via adoption. In fact after during our December holiday we agreed that by March we wanted to initiate the process. Our December holiday included conversations with friends who have adopted, who work in the space of adoption, who have birth babies and adopted ones but claim them ALL as their children. In fact, it’s been interesting chatting to friends who chose to adopt first around their fear that they may not love the birth baby should they fall pregnant as much as they do their first child.

Before we even said yes to maybe I like you enough to exclusively figure out what life MIGHT look like with you as my SO (significant one) we had conversations that included the A-plan.

The Adoption plan.

FF 3 years, a cross country move back to the homeland (me) and figuring out what it means to be a CapeTonian person (him), a marriage, miscarriage, job changes, moving homes and lots of dreaming about what do we want our family to look like and the plan A of including adoption is and was always there.

It’s been sad, frustrating, interesting and sometimes bizarre listening to people’s responses when we say this. Responses that have included:
Are you giving up on birth babies? (According to the doctor for those of you who have asked, wanted to ask or the thought had crossed your minds, there is absolutely NO reason why we shouldn’t fall pregnant if we choose to. In fact I checked this again last month during a consultation with him).
ADOPTION for us is is NOT PLAN B if plan A failed. It was always part of plan A. Regardless of how our children arrive, they are our plan A for having kids.

It’s not the same you know: Yes, we do know. We do know that there are no guarantees of genetics or medical history or knowing how stressed the mom was or the level of prenatal care and antenatal care that our future small person received. We know that we don’t have the experience of bonding as a family during a pregnancy of kicks, nausea and bathroom runs. I also work in a space where children have been loved, had parents make informed decisions about how to raise a child and yet are dealing with Autism Spectrum, ADHD, learning challenges, anxiety and other things like managing my feelings (to name the safe ones).
None of the parents whose children are said to be atypical dreamt of these things either so maybe my fears around not knowing how our children will turn out are as grounded in the unknown as they are in my known working world.
I also work in a space as well as have friends who will tell you that every pregnancy and bonding experience with their different children has been different – sometimes guilt inducingly so.

Horrific stories of failed adoptions: I have the (mis)fortune of being able to tell heartbreaking stories of failed parenting in families where mothers’ carried their babies to term despite addiction and violence and everything else and as support therapists are working on how do we love and embrace these families and children to wholeness. I know social workers who have to make calls on removing kids from families or families who weren’t adequately ready, supported or prepared for the challenges of adopting children with learning and attachment issues.
– AND the list goes on….

WHAT I DO KNOW IS THIS:

Neither Charlie nor I believe that becoming a parent is about being in the delivery room.

We know that our future child’s story has to begin with loss and temporary care and this makes us sad – for the moms’ whose decisions to not keep a child (regardless of the reason) as well as for the child whose story doesn’t get to start in a nursery that has been colour coded and prepared from before the due date of pregnancy.

We do know that we are in a community of family and friends who are waiting to meet our children-however they arrive & that we are in the privileged position of being in a community where adoption is normal. Where diversity is normal. Where blended friendship and family circles are normal.

We also know that there are amazing professionals who can walk alongside us when we hit hiccups.

We do know that we need to be thinking through what it means for our transracial family to thrive in a country still wrestling with identity which is linked to race.

We do know that there are a lot of unknowns and things that we still need to figure out but that we don’t have to have all those answers now.

My first experience of ‘motherhood’ was thanks to a little guy who climbed onto my lap and into my single woman heart as a weekend and holidays ‘family’ and I know that as much as I celebrated his adoption, my grief at saying goodbye to him forever when he was adopted was harder for me than losing my pregnancy was last year. I knew what comforted him, what he ate, how to manage tantrums when he was with me, what choices were helpful and which weren’t and we figured this all out as we got to know each other. I am not made to be a temporary foster mom – very clearly!

During a conversation about adoption the amazing guy I married said ‘being a dad is a choice – there are many men who father babies who don’t choose to be dads despite being physically present’.

We know we are choosing to do this.

We are choosing to love, live and grow our family with a small person whose presence in our lives is being welcomed and prepared for. As individuals, as a couple and within our broader community.

I sat in church this morning watching the families around me. I was saddened that people think, for us, that this is a plan B. There was a poignant moment as I watched a small person snuggle into their safe grown up’s neck and arms and just relax – and remembered what it was to have someone trust and KNOW that in that moment I was his. His fingers fiddling with my hair and head resting on my shoulder as we sang. THAT had nothing to do with where he came from and everything to do with where he belonged at that moment.

I can’t wait to see my guy hold a small person that way.
I can’t wait to get to know the quirks and wonders of the world through the eyes of a child.

I am petrified at how life will be changed. I can’t wait.