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.

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.

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.

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.