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.

 

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.

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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The world doesn’t work like that.

Over the past few weeks I have had the incredible honour of getting to know someone a little better who is in the same social media South African Adoption and Conversations re: race issues in SA as me.  She is someone who tentatively spoke out about the fact that white parents of black children need to remember that their children are going to grow up experiencing things around race that white people never need to think about.  She is someone who is South African. She is someone who has lost someone close to her under apartheid as a part of the struggle.  She is black.

And then the moderating of her reminder began from white people.

Assumingly good people who have chosen to adopt because they believe each child should be in a family.  People who want to parent children regardless of race.

It happened again when she shared her frustration (with evidence) of a racist encounter with an estate agent who told her a property was unavailable and yet it was available when her white friend called. THE NEXT DAY.

It makes me cringe when we, as a white community do this.

I say we as I am no more innocent of wanting to shout out loudly some days.

My most recent PAUSE moment was needing to check my own reactions to spaces I have been invited into and then question how I feel when people I am in relationship with use language or speak out their anger in a way that causes pain or unsettledness or fear in me.

Whether as well-meaning, faith filled people or not, simply as when we moderate someone’s experience of a racial interaction from outside of their racial experience not only do I believe that  we minimise their story, but we also assume we can fix it or know better.

Whether we recognise it in the moment or not.

Before my son made me a mama, while we were waiting for him, my guy and I had lots of conversations about how we wanted to manage being a mixed race family.  We realised the following:

  • While we might be given great insights into the challenges and glory moments facing people who belong to a racial group that is different to ours, we don’t have their lived realities and that it’s not random people’s responsibility to educate us. Rather, we need, out of relationship with people in our community to identify mentors and teachers to navigate things – both culturally and in terms of race.
  • Our son is our son is our son and we are his. Something I tell him often – mama is yours – but part of him being embraced in the fullness of who he is means recognising that some of the challenges that might face him aren’t challenges that we have had to deal with in our own worlds growing up.  This doesn’t mean that we make race the focus and family secondary; it means we recognise that our family has to learn new ways of engaging with the world.

It means we look at what do we need to equip ourselves and prepare him outside of what we strive to make a safe space for him within our home.  The language we use, making sure his hair and skin are cared for well, without making that the only focal point in embracing him and delighting in him as he explores the world.

  • I am (proudly) my boy’s mama – but no one is going to know or care about that when he is out on his own or an adult. He needs skills, support and insight into navigating spaces as a black man in South Africa.

Before I became his mama, people told me to just let him be my son when he came home.

He is fully my son.  This week he had surgery.  I have cleaned up the tears, the blood off his and my clothes from holding him to settle him.  I have held him or engaged with him almost constantly as he has needed through the day, and the night, so that he could rest, sleep or just be.  He is my son.  My tears have flowed at the physical discomfort and pain he has been in that I couldn’t stop and prevent and all I could do was be present with him.

I am reminded that our family isn’t always perceived as fully being just family when people glare, won’t make eye contact (and this isn’t a cultural thing), shake their heads or are simply rude when we walk past.

I am reminded that while he is still little and I am mostly around, I can field this and help navigate it, minimising its impact.  I can only do this though if I am willing to listen and learn and be challenged.

I am reminded that as he gets bigger, I won’t always be there to do so.

I am reminded as I watch him grow of children I have worked with, or been friends with who have shed tears because children wouldn’t play with them because they were too brown.

I am reminded that the world and its people see colour and that as adults we need to help children understand what that means.  I am reminded that we are in this world too.

I am reminded that this is beyond simply people being mean.  This is about a history of systemic thinking that is entrenched in us in different ways around superiority and inferiority and that we have a responsibility to navigate this out of ourselves and the world around us.

I am reminded that as much as I believe all people are created equal that the world doesn’t work like that.

I am reminded that as much as I might not agree with systems and social or business models that perpetuated race issues, and still do, that doesn’t make them not real.

I am reminded that for me to parent my son well means to embrace the fullness of his story, of who he is and that I need to do this in community.

I am reminded that I can’t pretend that these things don’t matter.

The world doesn’t work like that.  As much as we might wish it did.

 

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!

In anticipation

The Big Wait.  The Paper Pregnant with no deadline.  No timeline.  Just hope.  Lots of it.

Hope and an awareness that in the background to our story unfolding, others are happening.

One with social workers, acting on our behalf to make sure that our profile is out there for prospective matches.

One with social workers wanting to see children permanently placed with the right families for them.

Reams of paperwork we completed on file being accessed as is needed to confirm and explore possibilities.

A child, whose story we don’t know yet, having to cope with hard goodbyes and temporary hellos until we have the privilege of parenting him.

A birth mom, who may or may not still be around this child – I have no idea of her story but she is an important part of ours, not just as the birth mom of our small but as our family grows in the years ahead.

Our community.

Our community anticipating with us, praying with us, holding open hearts and dreams with us.

Our community blessing us with practical gifts.

Blessing us with a celebration and gathering of family and friends to welcome us to first time parenthood together with a shower and a braai  – my guy is an important part of this all.

Our community getting frustrated for us in the wait – more than us most days!

Our community embracing our process and while not seeing my belly grow, are making space anyway in our worlds for our future child.

Us.

Us talking about the things we are excited about and the things we are nervous about.

Us dreaming what we would like the new rhythm  in our family to be like.

Us talking about working mom, part time working mom or full time mommy space for a season.

Us talking to our families and friends about our feelings in this process.

Us accompanied by my sister in law to an adoption conference (in which she became an us as she pressed in to aspects of adoption)

Me.

Me waking up and thinking about what and how to arrange the second room.

Me reflecting on the professional things my brain knows and needing to work these through with a professional of my own in anticipation.

Me remembering the fear & grief of losing pregnancies and knowing that this is a definite thing.

Me recognising that I am not going to have all the answers and get this right every time and that showing up consistently to try and figure things out is what matters.

Ultimately God.

Walking this journey is teaching me more about faith – we hope for things that we do not yet see to quote Hebrews 11:1.   It’s confidence of what is coming. It’s assurance of what I don’t see. It’s the conviction of knowing this and preparing to do the things that need doing.

In anticipation.

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.