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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Motherhood: Permission to have 2 plan A’s

Motherhood – such a loaded term for some people. Can we do this, do we want to do this, how should we do this?

My first experience of motherhood was the privilege of being a ‘weekend’ mom/ big sister to a little guy who was my angel. He taught me that it was possible to love someone who I hadn’t carried from his beginning with a love that is still there and that I did indeed have the capacity to make decisions that were good for him; that I had the ability to nurture and want the best for a little person that for all intents and purposes couldn’t give anything back to me really. Yet gave me something that sometimes I can’t find words for – it just was this beautiful relationship which I had as a gift (with all its ups and downs) until he got his forever family. Honestly, I struggled to understand why when we have 4 million orphans in this country why anyone would choose to have a birth baby rather than adopt one because there are babies & children waiting to be loved?

My plan A was always to create a family, Lord willing (note the ‘my plan’ in this) via adoption. It wasn’t something that I had to wrestle with, or figure out. It just made sense. I was jealous of friends who were in a place to initiate their adoption process when I knew that from a screening point of view I wasn’t in a position to offer a small person what they needed. I was jealous of friends who announced their adoptions on facebook, in community groups. I missed having my little person with me who I celebrated having a forever family (for him) and yet had to grieve that it wasn’t me.

Then I got married to a wonderful man, to a man who believes in adoption & who is wanting to adopt, but is also wanting us to birth babies, Lord willing. This is his dream. This is something that matters to him. His ‘Plan A’ for family has always included both: birth children and adopted children. What a gift of a husband I have. What a challenge to me though to consider the possibilities of birth babies as well as adopted ones? In my head adoption was the plan A. It was hard to consider anything else.

Until I had this conversation with a friend whose plan A was always to have a birth baby until she was told for physiological reasons that this wasn’t an option. I thought that she would totally endorse my position. Except she didn’t. She listened to me. She let me weep. She let me express the depth of my thoughts, and a position which I didn’t know until then that I felt so strongly about; and then she challenged me. She challenged me on the fact that God gives children as blessings. She challenged me to rethink what my wonderful man was asking; she asked me to think about whether I was in a position to honour my husband and the potential gift of a birth baby and the experiences that come with that in terms of opening up aspects of my husband that only I potentially could. She affirmed the fact that adoption was still a part of the plan.

This opened up a 6 month process of me sitting with these questions. Praying with my husband, praying alone, praying with friends. And then we fell pregnant sooner than anticipated & despite not meeting this baby on this side of heaven, discovered that actually we are “fertile” and fortunate compared to so many we know. I also discovered that actually I do want to embrace the experience of growing a small person. I do want to share this with husband.

As I write this I have the honour of being a facilitator on a weekend of equipping parents who are adopting, have adopted and considering adoption. I spent time yesterday afternoon with a little boy who has been declared eligible for adoption and who in my heart I wish we could adopt. His eligibility for adoption came through 3 months after we were married. Seeing him yesterday, in a family style home, 2 years since I last saw him, reminded me again that he is so ready for a family. And my heart is still to have a child like him be a part of ours.

I am grateful to my friend for challenging, listening, holding and responding to a space which isn’t neutral for her. It’s a space which held pain. It’s a space which provoked her needing to look at what was previously her plan A and still being able to look at me with compassion.

Today I sit knowing that motherhood is allowed to have 2 plan A’s, each plan with its own celebrations and grief. Today I sit knowing that my journey is now an “Our Journey” and that it means we both have decisions and choices. Today I sit knowing that there aren’t guarantees about how our family is going to be shaped but I do know that motherhood is allowed to have 2 plan A’s,

What does a freedom fighter look like?

This morning this went through my head after I received a message from a woman that she was furious at people’s attitudes and the stuck narrative that things were better pre-94. That she had “lost it” with someone who wouldn’t respect or listen to another man (of darker colour) doing his job because “it was better before”.

Under apartheid.

You know the days when there was a blanket quota system in place: white, preferably male and um – ja….that was about it.

What kind of freedom are we talking about when we talk about freedom fighters?
– Freedom to vote?
– Freedom to speak our minds?
– Education & health care for all?
– Freedom politically?
– Freedom to be safe?
– Freedom to love who we want to?
– Freedom to worship?
– Freedom to be who we are – male/female/ pink/ purple/ worshipers/ non-worshipers?
– Freedom to know that we matter, that people matter?

I teach a course on contemporary society and all my foreign students (whether from the rest of Africa or elsewhere in the world) comment on the fact that South Africans are obsessed with certain social interactions and dynamics (like race) that aren’t a part of the general narrative in their countries of origin – this doesn’t mean the dynamic isn’t there. It just isn’t as apparent. Day to day, people in different contexts compare what was and what is and question what will be in terms of our contemporary society’s future.

Politically and economically as a broader community we are trying to work out what economic, social and political freedom really means. People like Julius Malema, Steve Hofmeyer, political parties and others are all touting what they believe needs to be, needs to happen for us to be free as a nation. Freedom fighters stereotypically are the icons that have been part of revolutions, to see broader social change come about so that we can have discussions about our leaders, about Steve and Julius on the same social media forums without fear of reprisal – other than people disagreeing or deleting you if they disagree with you.

Yet, when I think about this woman, I see a freedom fighter too. Someone who won’t be on coffee table coasters or t-shirts; someone whose name you probably won’t have heard of.

I see a woman who found ways of helping people know that they matter despite a political system that said otherwise.

I see a woman who stood up in front of a community of displaced, formerly homeless people in a refuge in the 80’s where everyone was scared of HIV/AIDS, who shared a cup with someone living with HIV to make the point that HIV wasn’t something you could catch by simply doing life with people – doing lots of other things yes, but not through sharing life things.

I see a woman who was raised and is a part of the cultural grouping associated with the oppressor – the Afrikaaner – who rants and raves and challenges people yearning back to the days of oppression. Not out of a naive space, but out of a bigger picture space of recognisning that things aren’t all great BUT….

I see a woman who has been impacted by crime directly, overseen health care for political prisoners and gangsters, who with her husband, exposed their family to racial reconciliation weekends in coloured communities pre-94 while there was an awareness that this wasn’t the norm amongst most of their peer group.

I see a woman who has watched her husband’s retirement be impacted by the change of management, whose husband exposed things in his place of work that weren’t ethical and was then “moved out” of his place of work and left with a greatly reduced income because of it and who isn’t bitter.

I see a woman in her 60’s still advocating for fair wages, for good conditions, for people to be seen and for justice for all.

I am humbled by this woman.

I am proud to call her mother.

(Today my mom lived for me Micah 6:8… I am forever grateful for the gift of my mom and dad – we are blessed)

Poverty Pornography (2012)

Poverty pornography….is a term I was introduced to during a community visit at OWCS. My role there is to support the director of OWCS, Ricky da Silva with regards to strategy, planning and staff support.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked this term.

Poverty Porn (PP) has a kind of a ring to it.  It’s also aggressive and in your face and has the dirty feel to it that shops with blue movies and brown bags hold.  It also speaks volumes about what we do in communities and with people when rather than engage with them out of a sense of dignity, we do for, do to, and don’t meet them heart to heart.  Compassion and Justice, Micah 6:8 doesn’t allow for poverty pornography.  PP for me speaks about when we use communities to ease our consciousness’; it’s when we go to make ourselves feel better about something, like poverty by painting a wall, but not bothering to see that actually the light fittings in a school are all broken.    It’s when in lieu of asking someone how their day has been, we rather pretend not to see them.

Poverty is ugly.  It’s not something we can pretty up –however much we want to.  It is a place where in the midst of the suffering joy and peace can be seen, but not when we refuse the intimacy of an experience.  Like a person who chases the celluloid or print porn images, poverty pornography will never allow our hearts to be truly moved, or the people we attempting to reach out to, to be truly seen or heard.

Poverty pornography in some ways allows for injustice and inequality to remain pervasive as it allows the illusion of making a difference without any sacrifice or discomfort to ourselves.  It doesn’t force us to recognise where we can speak up for justice, or practically do something to address injustice from a relational stance, rather than from a distance.  The only way we can truly address the issues of injustice and poverty in our communities is when we willing to have an intimate experience with a story that becomes shared story – so rather than us and them it becomes a “WE” story.  It is not up to policy, economics or social theorists to address this actually.  Jesus stated that the poor will always be with us.  This doesn’t absolve us of caring and challenging the structures that create the poor.

Over the past while I have been considering what Poverty Pornography looks like in my community and have recently been challenged, again, by what I can do in my world that will make a difference in this space.  It means that I need to consider what dignity, respect and humility looks like when strategizing around projects and needs.  It means that personally I can’t stand up and say “it’s Mugabe’s fault” or a the capitalist system or the old refrain of the colonialists left Africa poor without looking around me and seeing where I can stand up and make a difference.

Practically, it means that I need to consider what it means for me when:

  • I know a friend who is being paid a ridiculous wage and can’t afford her children’s school fees, and food and clothing when the cost of this would match what I pay to fly to CT for a weekend.
  • It means I need to consider when I buy my 4th bible because I want to read certain passages in a different translation and the person up the street is questioning a God who seemingly shows favouritism to a few and he isn’t one of them – what is my responsibility to him.
  • It means that I need to look at what it means to live simpler so that others can simply live – AM I willing to empty out space in my wardrobe when I get new stuff, so that someone else can benefit, or am I hoarding clothes for just in case?
  • I am challenged to ask how you are, look you in the eye and say have a great day, not because I want to rescue you, simply so that I see your personhood, and am willing to hear your story, rather than make you a non-person by not acknowledging you. You at the traffic light, walking past me in the street on my run, smelling or looking different to me.

Poverty pornography means I know things intellectually, but as long as it makes me look kind and caring and good – I can post on facebook how much money I gave away or how many needy children I “blessed”, but I don’t need to be challenged or uncomfortable with the injustice of life.  It doesn’t mean I need to give everything away and live in the street, it means I need to be conscious of what I have and the responsibility that comes with that.

I dare say that that more intimate our understanding of Micah 6:8 which reads as follows in the Message, the stronger our communities will be come.  When our understanding of our neighbour shifts from someone who is just like me, to someone who is near me, around me, in my face then maybe we can’t so easily engage in a distant theoretical understanding of poverty.

But He has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.  It is quiet simple:  DO what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.

(Musings over months – 20th September – Alexa Russell)