The Look of Adoption
I still remember the day I found out that my best friend from childhood was adopted. I was in elementary school when my mother happened to comment on it. My friend’s adoption wasn’t a secret…it just never occurred to me. The fact is, it should have been obvious because my friend was part Asian and her parents Caucasian. They looked nothing alike, yet in my mind she was just somebody’s daughter and I was her friend.
While this story causes me to smile today, I have to say I like the innocence of children that allows them to just accept people as they are. No questions asked. No stereotypes or judgments heaped on. Young children typically don’t get caught up in all the social/economic/demographic drama that seems to pollute our adult minds. Their ability to easily accept one another, despite obvious physical differences, should be a lesson to those of us who are older and supposedly “wiser.”
I believe in the importance of educating adoptive families about the unique considerations and challenges of adopting a special needs child or a child of a different racial, cultural or ethnic background. I further believe we need to assist these families in creating communities that can successfully support these types of adoptions. If we expect adoptive families to be able and willing to adopt children who need homes, then we must get creative. This is an admonition not just for social service agencies, but for individuals, schools, churches, medical and athletic facilities, libraries, and so on. In a previous blog post, I wrote about how many churches in the greater Charlotte area have banded together to help support families in their efforts to foster and adopt children in the foster care system. This is an excellent example of how ordinary people can team together to support adoption at its best and safest level.
I have been working in the adoption field for nearly 16 years now and have yet to grow tired of this amazing work. It is a privilege to be invited into someone’s home to conduct a home study or to sit across from a birthparent struggling with an adoption or parenting decision. These stories and lives are precious and deserve to be celebrated. It is also a responsibility to be borne, however. As we look out at the adoptive families in our schools, places of work and worship and play, we can often recognize the obvious physical factors that set adoptive families apart. Are we doing what we can to encourage them and to allow them to grow? Are we making strides in our collective view toward adoption? Whether we are personally connected to adoption or just part of the adoption story at large, we all have a role to play in helping this institution to thrive.
A Look at Where We’ve Come From
If you haven’t spent much time in the adoption world yet, you may not realize how far adoption has come in this country. While not without its stereotypes and stigma even today, adoption has nevertheless become a common household phenomenon, impacting most of us in one way or another. We read about it in the media, see it flashed before our eyes in Hollywood, and throw baby showers for friends and family members who are adopting. There are scrapbooking kits designed specifically for families created by adoption and a ‘National Adoption Day’ set aside each year to commemorate the lives of kids who need adoptive homes and have already been placed. In other words, adoption seems to be everywhere and our social consciousness of the issue has improved dramatically. It may be hard to believe, therefore, that this wasn’t always the case. Not so long ago, adoption was a dark and secret taboo borne by many birthmothers, adopted children and adoptive parents alike.
I can still recall the almost haunting call I received from an adult adoptee many years ago, who explained to me that after 65 years of living in secrecy, she was finally able to ask about her adoption because the last of her adoptive parents had passed away. This woman knew she was adopted but never felt the liberty of asking her parents even the most basic of questions. Why, you may ask. The answer is simple: shame. Unfortunately, this woman was born and placed for adoption in an era where women gave birth to “illegitimate” children in secret, sequestered away in secret wards, never allowed the opportunity to see or hold their child. Babies were placed based upon a social worker’s subjective opinion of families who seemed to possess similar physical attributes to the child, and then often no one spoke of the adoption after that. Ever. Even if people in the community knew a child was adopted, no one dared speak of it. I promise you, I am not making this stuff up. I have read through many old adoption files and offered counseling to other adult adoptees like the one discussed here, recounting similar stories.
I don’t mention these stories to lambast the good intentions of social workers and adoptive parents of the past. For the most part, society believed this practice of secrecy was in everyone’s best interest. Fortunately, we have since learned a great deal about the benefits of being forthright with one’s adoption story and creating various levels of openness when it is safe and beneficial for all parties involved. While stories of adoption’s past may cause us to cringe today, I believe they can also make us grateful for the progress we’ve made. They should also motivate us to continually strive to make adoption better. We can do this by ensuring openness and accessibility to a child’s adoption story, as well as making sure that those of us who have been affected by adoption in some capacity take advantage of our unique position to educate others about the beauty and strength of adoption.
We at Adoption Matters were stunned and saddened to hear about the closing of the Independent Adoption Center (IAC) on January 31.
These last two weeks the adoption community of professionals has been scrambling to get accurate information to figure out how to best support the hundreds of families impacted by IAC’s closing. Information has been slow in coming as state regulators try to make unprecedented decisions about next steps for these families.
It has been heart warming to witness the former IAC families band together through Facebook and phone calls to share the latest bit of information they have learned and to see adoption agencies and attorneys make efforts to do what they can to ease the grief for the impacted families and birth parents.
I have no knowledge as to what caused IAC to reach the point that they decided that they had no other recourse, but to file for bankruptcy. I have no doubt that their situation was complicated and that their decision was not easy, but it begs the question of what needs to be done to prevent a situation like this from happening again.
Our hearts go out to all of those impacted by this situation. A word of caution to wait to get accurate information from reliable sources before spending any more money. There seems to be confusion, understandably, about many things like the validity of certain adoption documents, namely home studies. I myself have gotten conflicting information from multiple sources over the past week. Unless you are in the middle of a placement in which time is of the essence, it might be prudent to take a deep breath and a few weeks to decide what do to and where to go next.
Oftentimes when we discuss adoption, we focus on the home study process, the waiting period, placement and bonding, and contact with birth parents. Much of this discussion revolves around first-time parents, infants and/or very young children. The truth is, however, that these young adoptees grow into adolescent adoptees. You may even adopt your child when he or she is already on the threshold of adolescence and no one has ever raised the unique concerns associated with talking to teenagers about their adoption.
Unlike younger children who are typically enthralled with stories recounting their birth and adoption, adolescents may suddenly become hesitant in approaching this subject with their peers or parents. Their developmental level allows them to begin looking at this event with greater detail, analyzing the story they’ve always known in a new way. As if the teenage years weren’t already challenging, a teen’s adoption story and any related unanswered questions may create an added layer of distress, or at the least an added layer of curiosity.
So, how should you respond as parents, and how can you prepare yourselves to address their questions without coming across as threatened or overbearing? The two articles below do a great job of defining typical concerns raised by adolescent adoptees, as well as providing practical advice to parents who want to engage their children in healthy conversations.
New Year, New Beginnings for Those Pursuing Adoption
As we usher in 2017, many of us are setting new goals for the forthcoming year. Having wrapped up the busy holidays, you may have decided that now is the time to buckle down and begin the adoption journey you’ve been contemplating. You may have already done your research and contacted agencies to find the right fit for your family, or you may just be getting ready to make that first phone call.
Potential clients often sheepishly tell me they are in the “very beginning stages of adoption and don’t know anything.” I always say this is an exciting time because it opens up a whole new chapter in their lives. I recognize that the beginning stages can be overwhelming at times, especially with the influx of adoption information available on the Internet. There are also a myriad of questions to muddle through: What type of adoption do you want: domestic, international, private? Do you want an infant or an older child? Which agency should you work with? Are you open to a child of a different racial or ethnic background? Does your family support your adoption decision? Does your family even know you want to adopt? The list goes on and on. In the midst of all these questions (and more), I believe there a few general guidelines that apply to most adoption situations. I have compiled this list below in hopes that it will provide some guidance and peace of mind as you embark on this most exciting adventure. And, if you do choose to proceed, Adoption Matters, Inc. warmly welcomes the opportunity to come along beside you. Please give us a call or send us an email and we will be sure to answer any questions you may have.
Things to Keep in Mind When Adopting:
- Choose an agency whose mission you can get on board with. Some adoption agencies have very specific outreach and/or mission goals. It will be much easier to work with them and to trust the adoption process if you agree with these goals.
- Find out if birth parents are receiving counseling. Believe me, it behooves you to be sure birth parents are receiving not only sound legal advice, but also adequate mental and emotional support. Birth mothers should also have access to regular prenatal care and resources exist to assist with this. Not every state requires counseling for birth parents and not every agency has their best interests in mind, so be sure to ask.
- Have some compassion. Try to put yourself in birth parents’ shoes and recognize the incredibly difficult and heart wrenching decision these individuals are making. If you approach this adoption from a place of compassion and respect, things will go much better for you in the future as you attempt to navigate any type of relationship or interaction with the birth parents. It will also benefit you when your adopted child has questions and concerns about his/her adoption.
- Take a good hard look at yourself, your partner, your extended family, and your community to decide what type of adoption you can best pursue. For example, can you raise a child of a racial or ethnic background other than your own in a community of friends and family that will be equally loving and supportive? Do you have the resources, both financial and emotional, to raise a child with special needs? Do you possess the willingness and patience to engage in an open adoption relationship with your child’s birth parents? The way you answer each of these questions should help you narrow down the type of adoption that is best for you. As an adoption counselor, I encourage families to stretch themselves and to conduct a lot of research so that they can be educated and make informed decisions instead of fearful ones. However, there are also instances where families say yes to a scenario they just aren’t prepared for, resulting in a lot of unnecessary stress and even sometimes disruption. Be open, but also evaluate your situation to make a strong adoption choice.
With Christmas just around the corner, many of us are pulling out the boxes of ornaments from the attic and singing along to carols on the radio. Perhaps you have children or are in the process of adopting now, but I’m guessing you probably already have some traditions of your own to help celebrate the holiday season. Whether it’s an heirloom decoration or a secretly guarded cookie recipe passed down through the generations or reading the same Christmas story aloud each year, I find that most people cherish this marking of the Christmas season. The reasons for continuing these time-honored traditions are multifold, but among the most basic is our desire to celebrate something that is meaningful to us in a way that is also unique to us.
When it comes to celebrating adoption, there are many ways to acknowledge the day your adopted child(ren) joined your family, as well. Some adoption agencies host an annual adoption picnic, for example, and invite all members of the adoption triad to participate. Those of you who are crafty may create “life books,” including pictures and stories of how your adopted child came to be a part of the family. Other ideas are having a special “gotcha day” celebration, which sometimes includes cake or a special dinner, but is more about recognizing the day your adopted son or daughter came home with you. Still others plan a special trip to the home country or city of their adopted child, as a means of connecting with the adoptee’s heritage and honoring their ethnic and cultural roots.
However you and your family choose to celebrate Christmas this year, we hope that the season is full of joy and blessings for all. We also hope that you continue to celebrate your child’s adoption in ways that are loving and affirming of this most special means of creating a family. Merry Christmas!