Anticipating My Birthmother’s Visit

Tomorrow my birthmother will be in town. Last night I watched Rain Man. Today I clearly see the correlation between these two happenings.

This poem used to served as my desperate plea:

“I wish I could turn away and move on with my life

but my heart won’t allow it when I try

That sounds so weak coming from me

a woman who overcame extreme adversities

If you don’t want me to find you

whatever the reason may be

do me a favor and sign up to the registry

Send me a few pictures, a reason, and my medical history

give me some closure and set me free.”

I used to wish that I could turn away from this search and reunion madness and move on with my life. I used to wish that I didn’t need to fulfill this selfish curiosity of learning more about my roots. I waited for the magical moment when her name would match up with mine on the registry. I thought – if only I could see what she looks like, if only! Now I no longer need to fantasize, or try to wish away intrinsic desires. Now, I can simply ask her all of the 26 years of pent up questions.

While watching Rain Man last night, Charlie (Tom Cruise) attempted to convince his brother Raymond’s court appointed psychiatrist that he should have legal custody of his brother so they could be together, as a family. Charlie said “I just don’t understand. Why didn’t dad tell me I had a brother? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it’d have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days.”  This statement cut to my core as Charlie no longer cared about the lure of a multi-million dollar inheritance, or his limited understanding his brother’s autism or the extraordinary differences between his own self-centered living in Los Angeles and his brother’s confined reality within the walls of the mental institution. He simply wanted to be with his brother. I’d imagine many adoptees can understand the beauty in seeing this seemingly incompatible duo spend these six days together.

I echo these thoughts of the convoluted and difficult to understand relationship. I find it to be superbly beautiful, uniquely refreshing and a clear definition of family. With all the differences between myself and my birth mother I nervously/contentedly await her arrival tomorrow, and look forward to allowing her to spend a few days with my family and I, AKA, her new family.

Is Adopting From Third World Countries Necessary?

A mom who gave birth to surprise twins! A not so unusual happening without the aid of ultrasounds.
A mom who gave birth to surprise twins! A not so unusual happening without the aid of ultrasounds.

Is Haiti’s instability as a nation and chronic poverty a justifiable reason for adoption to a developed nation? Surely parenting looks different for those living in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but does this automatically necessitate women making adoption plans?

Children’s Home and Adoption Program (Now called Heartline Ministries) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti used to be filled with children and the adoptions were frequent. The homes emptied of children after the 2010 Haitian earthquake as children left in droves thanks to the humanitarian parole which allowed the adoptions already in process to be expedited. This natural disaster lent way towards the perfect excuse for Tara Livesay (a mid-wife) and her staff to stop taking in orphans and to instead turn their focus solely to prenatal care and prevention work. Heartline turned catastrophe into opportunity. They reorganized their mission and began teaching about family planning and birth control – offering free Depo Provera as well as monitor women in labor, facilitate the delivery, postpartum needs and infant developmental care. The moms stop by the homes every week throughout their pregnancy and then weekly until babies are six months old. Out of approximately 350 births at Heartline only one woman placed her baby for adoption since 2009 (that child now lives with a wonderful family in Vermont and his birth mom still stops by to get photos of him on occasion)! From Tara’s experience, orphanages tend to ascribe to the belief that if women are poor they cannot parent and then proceed to help find a “better” place for the child via adoption. Tara’s co-workers demonstrate through speech and attitude they absolutely can parent their children. In Tara’s words “They can bond, they can breastfeed and they can raise the precious child because they have what they need.”

A new momma outside her home.
A radiant new momma with the skills to care for her baby pictured outside of her home.

Food and money are oftentimes tight, lack of support is commonplace and resources are not plentiful. All of these factors certainly aid in making parenting hard, but these women do not lack joy or moxie! And thanks to Heartline, they don’t lack parenting skills either. International adoption is a beautiful second choice solution to meet an unfortunate yet very necessary need. I have many international adoptee friends and others who are in the painstaking process of becoming adoptive parents to beautiful children, but are awaiting the countries process, ensuring that all ethical aspects of the relinquishment of the child are met before their children can fly out of their home country to be with them here in the U.S. I certainly am not anti-international adoption as there are many true orphans needing homes all around the world. I was, however surprised to learn of Heartline’s statistics which clearly show that moms are able to parent their children when given the tools and support. What if we worked towards establishing more services like Heartline instead of more adoption agencies in these areas? Would this take the novelty and romance out of our feel good tendency towards a rags-to-riches view of American adoptions from third world countries? What do you think?

***Photo credit: http://www.livesayhaiti.com****

“I Think My Birthmom Is Just Like You”

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Meet Valeria – a transracial adoptee.

This darling 8th grader from Southern California will surely be rocking this world with her wisdom and beautiful mind in the coming years.  After viewing Closure with her mother at the Refresh Conference, Valeria bravely came right up to me and told me that she imagines that her birth mother is just like me. I asked her why she thought this and we proceeded to have a conversation that was uniquely adult, yet sweetly innocent.  I loved her continuing spew of questions and couldn’t help but to see my younger self in her words as I listened to every single word she said.

“Do you think I’ll ever find my birth mom?” “How can I find her?” “I know that my birth mom gave me to a friend, then my foster parents picked me up from a prison. That’s all I know. With this information, how do I find her?”

Valeria and I discussed searching, and some routes towards locating her birth mother, including someday taking a trip to her birth place – Columbia. While I signed a DVD for Valeria, she asked, “Do you think my birth mom has allergies?” I was formulating my answer but Valeria’s brain got there before mine, she continued “I don’t think she does – I was stung by a bee three times in fifth grade, and it didn’t even hurt or get swollen. I’m pretty sure that my birth mom wouldn’t be affected by a bee sting either.” Her curiosity about her self, deep longing for truth and middle school youth was palpable. I could feel her words hanging in the air. I felt so honored that Valeria felt able to trust me with these questions as she sought to integrate these multiple aspects of her own identity.

I’d fashion that Valeria’s resounding beauty comes from the combination of a wisdom one can only gain from allowing strangers to adopt and parent you at an older age, combined with the safety and structure of having a home and a family. I do believe that many adoptees have this same mesmerizing spark that Valeria has, but that this sparkle can be dulled by many things – including well meaning adoptive parents not allowing these curiosities and questions to come forth, unsure if their child can handle it.  It seems obvious to me that Valeria’s future is bright, as historically some of our world’s greatest leaders are people who know how and with whom to ask the tough questions.

I am often asked to weigh in on the “correct age” to introduce conversations about their child’s birth mother, or when/if to encourage their child to begin searching for their birth parents…Let’s take a cue from Valeria (and her mother, who lovingly stood by allowing Valeria to direct where she wanted the conversation to go). What’s the harm in her curiosity? Perhaps there are unforeseen beauties within a child’s questioning. Even though our conversation centered around her story, she may never truly know how deeply impactful this conversation was for me. The ripple effects of allowing an adoptee to feel free enough to ask questions could be endless (likely both in some difficult and positive ways).

In the grand scheme of things I know that my conversation with Valeria is just beginning. Thankfully we were able to get in a final hug, but not before she asked me “Do you ever feel mad at your birth mom?”

***   This post was written with the permission of Valeria’s mother, who lovingly stated “it was as if you were the only two people in the room. It was beautiful; I saw a spark in her eyes.”  ***

Too Expensive For Black People to Adopt?

Here is a video I found, and my response to this post.

Common responses:

“We [black people] adopt all the time, but it’s not centered on paperwork and formalities.”

“Black people do adopt, but media sensationalizes those elite white people who rescue [adopt] kids so, people don’t hear about what we’re doing.”

“It’s too expensive to adopt.”

I am thankful to  have heard so many honest responses and am gathering that the definition of adoption differs amongst cultures and ethnic communities. It seems as though the black folks who responded to the last post and in this video feel that adoption means that a biologically related family member would simply take care of a child – short or long term and the lowest two rungs on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs being the most important (safety and physiology). In my professional adoption work, and continued involvement with adoption communities, I hear adoption discussed more as a permanent solution, stability and permanency being the pinnacle of the equation, and all of the needs being attended to (security, physiology, social, esteem and self-actualizing).

Thus, I still feel that my basic question has gone unanswered. Not all children are so fortunate to be informally adopted by a relative, so why aren’t black families adopting already born children of color through foster care (generally no fees – thus dissuading the argument of the high costs of adoption).?

A WORTHY VOICE: “I’ll take it to my grave.”

I was so grateful to have received a beautifully honest post submission from Jesse, a birthmother. Her voice is worthy to be heard. These are her words:

It was 1958,  I was 16 years old when I had my daughter. I came from a white, middle-class family – no one expected this from me.  I couldn’t even tell my family.  I am now 72 years old and I finally understand that all those years of therapy and trying to resolve that grief just wasn’t going to happen.  While watching the documentary, Closure, I lost my breath hearing your birthmother, Deborah say; “I’ll take it to my grave.” I now accept that the pain and anguish will go with me to my grave too, just like Deborah.  I understood Deborah’s secrecy.  I also understood her family’s anger with her for not trusting them with The Big Secret.  Explaining the lifelong grief and pain that comes with losing your baby is a hard thing to explain for anyone.  After searching for my daughter for 30 years, I finally found her 5 years ago! She denied any contact.  I learned that she is a professional musician (jazz pianist) in Chicago, this is beautiful because I also play jazz piano and my mother and both my grandmothers were classical pianists.  It is so sad that she has no idea where her music comes from.  I was able to see her at one of her performances a few years ago – anonymously, of course.  I sat just 15 feet away from her and watched her incredible talent for a couple of hours, then I got up and left without approaching her.  It was hard, indeed, but just seeing her face made the huge, gaping hole in my chest a little smaller.  I know she is well and doing what she loves.

My wish is that people – especially adoptive parents – are educated about the totality of adoption, including the dark side.  Some adoption agencies see people like me (and the other women in my birthmother group) as being bitter, angry birth mothers.  We may be that at times, but losing your child for any reason is life-altering and not in a good way.  People who lose a child due to a death have support and support groups there for them to work through their grief as much as they can.  Birthmothers are not allowed to grieve, we have no support sometimes, and in my generation, we were supposed to be quiet and disappear.  So we’re left with unresolved grief which manifests in depression, substance abuse, failed relationships, etc.  I know I did the right thing in relinquishing my daughter  but it was not a choice.  There was no choice – as it is for most of us, whether due to youth, poverty, family or societal pressure, or religious pressure.

Jesse 

Can I call you Maya?

I have a deep desire to connect with my long lost birth sister. This desire does not have anything to do with the measure of contentedness with my {adoptive} family. These things are separate.

I’d almost forgotten how bleak, frustrating and out of control those years I spent searching for my birth family felt. I’d been largely silent, choosing not to share my struggles and woes with the world – only now (through the documentary) have the main plot points and tempered emotions been shown. Closure depicts some of the thoughts I was willing to vocalize on camera, but certainly did not catch the moments of despair and the times I toyed with the idea of giving up forever. The unseen moments usually showed up in the form of anger and rage behind closed doors – Bryan often being caught up in trying to help settle me down didn’t have the opportunity to grab the videocamera (thank goodness!).

The feelings of bleakness, injustice and unfairness are creeping back as years of searching, writing unanswered letters, sending photos to somewhere, probably landing in someone’s file cabinet collecting dust, has led me nowhere. I’ve gained no ground, and know the same two facts that I’ve known all along – she was adopted to a family in Pennsylvania, and is about 20 months older than me. The fantasizing, catastrophizing, wondering and questioning continues, combined with the understanding that people have a right to their own privacy which seems to paralyze me at times. I don’t know the ethics behind attempting to find someone who may or may not want to be found. I did it once (showing up unannounced at the front door of my birth moms house), and although it certainly wasn’t the kindest of introductions, time healed some of the wounds…other wounds may never heal. The unplanned and intrusive meeting between my birthmother and I was not all for naught. Hard? Yes, but necessary. Ethical? That’s debatable.

In the meantime, while I’m seemingly stuck not gaining any ground in my search for her, I think I’ll give her a name. I’ll call her Maya – in honor of Maya Angelou: someone whom I hold in high esteem but will likely never meet. Yes, Maya it is. “Maya,” I don’t know you, but I hold you in high regards as I know you’ve been through a lot. But, sadly, I doubt we’ll ever meet.

Babies and emotional intelligence

I’ve often wondered what emotions pre-verbal babies feel when being transitioned from their birth parents to an adoptive family. I’ve wondered if young adoptees feel anything, or even know what’s going on during trauma. This video makes me think that not only do babies feel, but they are emotional sponges, feeling all that is around them. I’m glad this little child is feeling joyous emotions and crying tears of passion at the mother’s voice. If only every child’s first felt emotions were positive, too.

There are so many Davion’s

15 year old Davion went to his church one Sunday, got up in front of the congregation, and made his case for why someone (within the church) should adopt him.  His story has gone viral resulting in over 500 phone calls to the church Davion attends, apparently from prospective adoptive parents/agencies/social workers.  What was it that compelled all of these people to step forward and act? Does every older child looking for a family need to make a public plea that goes viral in order for people to consider them adoptable? Are these children truly invisible to us, until they find a way to meet us in the way we want to be met (apparently that’s via videos that can be viewed in the comfort and privacy of ones own home)?

Northwest Adoption Exchange features many children in the northwest who need homes – now. They post write ups with photos as well as featuring videos of the children telling us why they’d make a great sibling or child (oh the irony that these children are not only without permanency and stability, but that we ask them to make political, charming and persuasive speeches in order to entice others into seeing their value and worth). Take a look at Jaidin (click the link “A Family For Me Video). If his video went viral would that increase his chances of a permanent place to call home? Do we expect teens in foster care to do more than they’re already doing to finally be seen and heard?

The “orphan movement” within the realm of evangelical churches tends to focus on the international orphan crisis and domestic infant adoption, while there are still approximately 400K older kids such as Davion, and Jaidin pleading to be adopted. Are the evangelical churches making a silent claim that domestic teenagers aren’t “orphans,” in their defined sense of the word? Why do teens need to come to us in order for us to see them? With the ever growing lists of prospective adoptive parents waiting for newborns to adopt, it seems that we’re doing a pretty good job of seeing those unborn children.

Original Birth Certificates

I feel a sense of power as I sit in my office with an adopted child’s original birth certificate on my desk. The certified birth certificate will go into the child’s file, and locked away in a vault never to be seen again as mandated by Washington State law. The birth certificates list the full names of the child’s birth parents as well as the name that the birth parent chose for them. The adoptive  family does not know the birth parents last names. Nor do they know the name the birth parent originally chose for the child.

As I look at the vital document, I feel that I’m committing an infraction of sorts, in knowing that the child to whom this information belongs will never be allowed to view it.  The irony and weight of the moment is not lost, as I am keenly aware of the hours of time, money and longing that I’ve personally spent wishing for my own original birth certificate.  It’s eerie to think that a social worker in the State of Tennessee, someone not too unlike myself, filed my birth certificate away, and locked it up and sealed it  for my eyes never to see.

Why is it that I, an arbitrary social worker, gets to hold, handle, file and seal a document away? A document to those whom are not adopted, consider a vital document- one to be stored next to their marriage license and social security cards in a locked, fireproof box.  But, for the adoptee they lost that right to have access to this document, simply for being born?

I know this debate is hot and raging in many states, but I can’t help but feel a sense of debasement as I do to this child what I fought so hard for and wished wasn’t done to me.  If all individuals should have the right to know basic information about themselves, what gives a state the right to act sovereign  and supreme over an adopted child?

 

Musings of a birthparent

“She is mine in a way that she will never be theirs, yet she is theirs in a way that she will never be mine.”

I’ve spent time working with birthparents during tender moments at the hospital witnessing the handover from birth parent to adoptive parent during the baby’s first moments. After years of searching, I’ve learned more of my own birth mom and birth dad’s story and their decision for adoption. I’ve asked birthparents to speak on panels to adoptive families and most recently experienced my own personal loss in the adoption arena. I’ve gained insight into the feelings of many of the birthparents I’ve worked so closely with. Birthparents endure a deep and fairly invisible loss that not many understand. The general public is quick to speak about the happier side of the equation – the adoptive family and their big hearts, or the adorable child in the middle of it all.

Birthparents love their children. Maybe they chose adoption after showing up at the hospital with unexplainable pains – only to find out they are in labor, or perhaps they’ve chosen to place their 6 month old child after couch surfing with the newborn in tow. Whether the birth parents knew that adoption would be the right choice from the moment they found out they were pregnant, or if they changed their minds several times over the course of their pregnancy, the realization that you’re unable to provide what the child needs is not a choice that comes easily. Whether the child is now a toddler, tween or an adult, birthparents love their children. In modern adoptions, many birth parents get pictures and letter updates of their child a couple times per year, and they may get to visit the child once a year. Those pictures and letters are like gold to the birthparents. The ability to see tangible moments of a happy and well-adjusted child is paramount in a birth parents healing. The visits with the child and their new adoptive family are a mix of poisonous beauty. Both are reminders that while you’ve allowed a family to experience great joys, you suffer silently as you stare at the child you’ve birthed have an attachment with other people, and you listen to the adoptive family share specific details and facts about the child’s bedtime, favorite kind of toothpaste and they explain why the child doesn’t like to be bounced but rather to be rocked. These are details you feel that you should know.

In light of my most recent loss, I write as a “birthparent” in a sense. It’s bitter sweet to see the adoptive parents doing better than what we were able to provide. I feel overjoyed seeing this child happy, thriving and being given opportunities way beyond what I would’ve been able to do, however it pains me to have to continually realize what I couldn’t do. It gives me  joy knowing that this child is the light of someone else’s life, however, simultaneously wishing it were me providing the stable, loving family.

Birthparents bellow silent pleas of forgiveness, asking that someday their child understand their choice for placing them for adoption. Adoptees grow up thankful for a “better” life, but suffer in silence attempting to make sense of being the recipient of an altruistic abandonment. Many adoptees admit to feeling a sense of survivors guilt. Adoptive families reel and bask in the beauty of a child that was thrust upon them through extraordinary circumstances. Such complexity in the name of an unnatural need.  Adoption means that a birthparent has made a difficult and selfless choice, a lifelong choice that throughout life will remain invisible to most.