November 18, 2009

Not Another Hair Piece

Yes, another. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart—one I deal with daily—and one I’ll likely be talking about for years. I even hosted a three part “hair care 101” workshop in partnership with my daughter’s salon and wrote an article on the importance of hair care for a local organization’s newsletter. But enough about me.

I just want to make a comment on how excited I am to see more and more African American women and children featured in articles and ads (in print and on TV) wearing their hair natural and “out” (as in a sort of afro style, but with a bit more definition in the curls). This is how I style my daughter’s hair most days, usually with a headband or a couple of clips—it’s how she loves to wear her hair and it looks great.

And this is how it looks when I get stopped on the street and asked if I need to be shown how to care for her hair. That said, the ones who are stopping me are older African American women. In other words, ones that grew up in a time when wearing your hair “out” was not accepted and thought of as unkempt. Interestingly enough, younger women comment positively on Ava’s hair.

I wash her hair twice a week. Daily, I wet it down, condition it, pick through it, and put styling cream in it. Her hair is in great shape; her hair stylist (an African American woman) and my black friends tell me so. And it's beautiful.

But, back to my original comment. I'm thrilled to see natural hair featured in magazines and on TV so often these days. There are also a lot of blogs focused on the beauty of natural hair (Motown Girl, Curly Nikki, AfroBella, and Nappturality, to name a few) written by younger women. I hope this is a sign of a shift in attitude toward hair being worn “out;” it seems to be a generational thing with the older crowd less tolerant of natural styles.

I just want my daughter to be proud of her hair—which means understanding the cultural significance behind, and importance of, caring for her hair—no matter what style she chooses to wear it in. And I hope as she gets older, there will be more and more positive role models to help her appreciate the beautiful hair she was born with.

(Full disclaimer: Most of us never appreciate what we have until many years later if at all; born with stick straight hair, I permed mine for years. Finally I'm okay with it now. *sigh*)

November 04, 2009

The "Openness" of Open Adoption

The term “open adoption” means different things to different adoptive families, largely due to the birth mother's preferences. For our daughter, her adoption is considered “open” yet we have no contact with her birth mom. We do send pictures and letter twice a year—at the birth mother’s request prior to completing the adoption paperwork—but that’s it, even though we are in the Chicago area, where Ava was born, once a year. We have tried reaching out, to no avail; we’d like have some contact for Ava’s sake.

Enter Kamari, baby number two, and holy cow, “open” adoption has taken on a whole new meaning. As I understand it from our adoption coordinator, this is what open adoption truly is/should be; having not been through this, it’s a bit of an adjustment right now and will take a little getting used to.

So let me back up briefly. We were introduced to our birth parents (yes; birth mother and birth father—not the norm) back in May and then officially matched (i.e. they officially chose us) in June. We didn’t go public with this—even to our families—until the baby was almost born because, well, we’d had one fall through at the 11th hour and we didn’t know how this would turn out.

The cool thing about being matched a few months before the baby was due was that it allowed us time to get to know the birth family (which is the point of open adoption) on our own, without a bunch of questions, raised eyebrows, or the like from family and friends. The concept of open adoption is very difficult for some to wrap their head around, as evident by the hoards of awfully strange (and sometimes inappropriate) questions I get asked all the time.

With open adoption, you have a contractual agreement, which may state how many visits per year you will have with the birth mom (and birth dad if he’s in the picture), how many letters and pictures you’ll send yearly, etc. This is mostly a way to ensure the birth family will be able to obtain some level of contact after the baby is born, the point of “open” adoption. [Note: if you are reading this and thinking this is just too much to handle, domestic (open) adoption my not be for you—it’s important to know your limits, as well as what you’re potentially in for.]

Many family and friends are surprised by our agreement and how many times we “have” to see the birth family. I don’t think of it as “having” to see them. They are our friends now; they are part of our family and will be for a long, long time. I think of them like an aunt and uncle, or really close friends that your child might call aunt of uncle. And, if I stopped to think about how many times a year I see some of my family and friends, I’m sure I’d be surprised by that number—but you don’t think of it that way with friends and family.

In any case, it is different and does take some getting used to. For example, when they are cooing over the baby and calling themselves mom and dad, I sort of feel like a third wheel, which is awkward—obviously I’m not a third wheel; I am mommy.

Also, we are only two months in and see the birth parents a bit more than anticipated (we’re trying to be accommodating knowing this is hard for them). But I know it won’t be this way forever. Right now it’s just so new for everyone. And, the bittersweet reality is that our happiness is their loss. I know for me, that realization helped put a different perspective on the situation; one I hadn’t previously dealt with, with our daughter’s situation. It’s not that I didn’t realize the joy I was experiencing was at the expense of someone else’s loss, it’s that that someone else what not right in front of me on a regular basis.

I am 100% in support of open adoption for many, many reasons. Now that I’m in the thick of it, though, it’ll take some getting used to, but I know the little bit of sacrifice I’ll need to make to add in two more people (people who gave us the gift of life) to our busy lives will be worth it in the long run.

October 05, 2009

Can I Borrow Your Shoes?

Being an adoptive mom, I've been asked what I think about the Anita Tedaldi situation. She is the woman would knowingly adopted a child with issues (knowingly being a key word here), and then after 18 months, claimed she wasn't attaching to the baby (and vice versa), and placed him for adoption again.

I learned long ago--especially having been through two adoptions--not to judge anyone unless you have walked in their exact shoes. Cliche, but most definitely true. We, as outsiders, can have no possible way of knowing what someone is going through, thinking, experiencing, feeling, or what circumstances influence the decisions and choices they make.

That said, because my personal opinion was asked, here's how this whole thing makes me feel: disheartened. I believe that when you adopt, that child is your forever child (as they say in the adoption world), just as if you'd birthed the child yourself. And, just like with biological children, you never quite know what you're going to get (for lack of a better way to say it). Some biological children don't attach to their biological parents, and vice versa. Some biological children have severe issues. We just don't have much, if any, control over these things.

But we do have control over how we handle the situations and issues that life throws our way. Maybe Anita Tedaldi really does feel she did what was best for the child; I don't know because I'm not her and I don't know what the situation was really like.

That said, in her own words on the Today show, she said, "I tried to do the same thing [for D] I did with my biological children." I doubt she would have placed a biological child for adoption who wasn't attaching.

Let's just hope there's more to the story than we know and that D has found a loving home. And for the adoption community, let's just hope this doesn't set us back.

September 30, 2009

Update

I have been quite remiss in posting as of late, but I have exciting news...we brought home our son (baby number two) on August 30!

I have much to write about regarding the experience, the name, having two, etc. I will be back up and running soon.

Thanks for staying tuned...

AKD

August 13, 2009

What’s in a Name, Part 2

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about names and naming a child, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. This is a new angle (at least for me) on the whole naming thing, though. Just some random thoughts and unsolicited advice.

Basically, I’ve always found it a little odd when people don’t want to tell anyone the name(s) they’ve chosen for their baby. Why not? Afraid someone might steal it? I hate to break it to you, but unless you made up the name completely, you aren’t the first to name your child that and you certainly won’t be the last. At least this is how I’ve thought about it in the past.

Or maybe you’re afraid people won’t like the name. Until recently, I didn’t get that either. I mean come on, if someone doesn’t like the name, who cares? Obviously you like it or you wouldn’t have chosen it. Names are personal and very subjective—not everyone’s going to like the name you chose. If you like it, that’s all that matters. (As long as you aren’t naming the kid after a type of fruit or a motorized vehicle. But hey, that’s just my opinion.)

Now that my husband and I have been discussing names—in the hopes of having a little one, one of these days—I finally get it.

For some reason, people feel at liberty to tell you exactly how they feel about a name when you’re just trying it on for size. Whereas, if you tell people the name you’ve chosen after the baby is born, they’ll likely not say anything negative. This won’t stop them from saying it behind your back, to your friends or family, but at least you won’t have to hear it.

There’s a certain comfort, if that’s the right word, in being shielded from people’s true feelings on a name you’ve chosen. The last thing you want to deal with as a new parent is worrying that you’ve somehow done your child a disservice by bestowing upon him/her a name your mother’s best friend’s sister doesn’t like. Really.

To all the parents and soon-to-be-parents: Pick a name and be proud. Share it confidently and don’t ask for anyone’s opinion or seek approval.

To friends and family: Bite your tongue when a friend or family member shares a chosen name with you that you don’t like. Just be thankful no one’s going to call you by that name.

I’ll leave you with this very profound English proverb:

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

August 10, 2009

All You Need are (Positive) Words

Did anyone hear the segment on Talk of the Nation (NPR) a few weeks back about the prolific use (particularly in middle schoolers) of the phrase, “That’s so gay,” and it’s implications on gay kids, society, etc.? It reminded me of a recent conversation my husband had with a seven year old neighbor girl who asked, “Was Ava adopted?” And then concluded, “So, her mom didn’t want her?”

Being only seven, we know the girl meant no harm by the question/comment. But it was what is commonly referred to as a “teachable moment” which got me thinking. Not only was it a teachable moment for the seven year old, but one for us as well.

As I thought about how to help arm Ava with a response—one that she’s comfortable with—to these types of comments, I also thought about how prior to having a child, I would have never thought to talk with my children about the appropriate choice of words when asking potentially sensitive questions. Or how phrases (like, “that’s so gay”) can be interpreted by some.

We as parents have a responsibility to help our kids navigate though language and word choice, and that becomes especially apparent as an adoptive parent. I am not na├»ve, I don’t think we can control everything our kids say—nor should we try—but we are obligated to ensure they understand the implications of the words they choose, whether you’re an adoptive parent or not.

There are a lot of adoption resources out there (especially on the web) that list what’s considered “positive adoption language.” While it is important to be aware of this language and use it—especially as an adoptive parent; sometimes we don’t get it right either!—it is also important to have open and honest discussions with your child(ren), whether they were adopted or not, to help them understand these phrases, what they mean, why/how they can be hurtful, etc.

I still get really inappropriately worded questions asked of me, about Ava’s adoption, from adults. It’s amazing to me some of the things that come out of people’s mouths, so how can we expect our children to phrase things respectfully and appropriately?

It all starts with awareness. Sometimes people have no idea how their questions or comments are perceived. I realize that, and I know most people mean no harm by their questions. But I’m also surprised. If we just take half a second to think before speaking sometimes, we might realize how a particular question could be perceived by—and be hurtful to—the person being asked.

It’s our job—not just as adoptive parents, but as parents and educators, in general—to help people, especially children, understand their word choice. True, part of this is due to the fact that we’ve become so “P.C.” about everything; in some cases I think we’ve taken it to the extreme.

But when it comes to word choice that can have a profoundly negative impact on another human being, we need to be more sensitive. Ah, those little life lessons.

July 20, 2009

References to Adoption

Since adopting, I have a heightened awareness to the mention of adoption or adoption related issues in books, TV, and movies. What I may not have paid too much attention to in the past, now often saddens, irritates, or frustrates me.

I’m currently reading a great fiction book that I am thoroughly enjoying. That is, until I got the part where the young couple is trying desperately to conceive a baby and the husband suggests adoption (which I was thinking, as they went through five miscarriages). The woman says simply: “no, that seems fake; somehow cheating.” Huh?

Wow. Do some people actually think that? That is so sad. I’m not really even sure what to say to that.

To me, the most important thing has always been loving, caring for, and raising a child. Makes no difference to me where that child came from (my belly or someone else’s); my child is my child. Physically giving birth to a child doesn’t make you any more or less of a parent than adopting a child. And it most certainly is not cheating or by any means fake.

How our families are made—be that by choice, circumstance, or any other way—is what it is. We are family and we are real.

It’s okay to say, “hey, that’s not okay” when we see or hear adoption being talked about in ways that are disrespectful or the like. One of the things that comes with adoption is adoption advocacy (thankfully, I love to advocate, loudly, for the things I am most passionate about!); it’s our job to help educate the general public, for the sake of our children—they need to see us advocating for them in a positive manner.

We can start by educating ourselves, then our families, followed by our friends. Then maybe we’ll start to see some positive adoption references in the media and in books, on TV and in movies.

Go forward and advocate!

July 07, 2009

My Unconventional Family

A couple of months ago, I attended my niece’s wedding and discovered (or rediscovered, rather), to my utter delight, just how truly unconventional my family really is. In attendance were: my daughter (transracially-adopted at birth), my niece’s estranged father’s second ex-wife (her father was not there), my mother (no blood relation to my niece, but rather the ex-step-mom of my niece’s mom, my half-sister), my mother’s step-father (no blood relation to my niece or sister, but whom my sister still calls “grampa”), and various other oddly related—or not related at all—relatives.

At one point my mother commented on what a dysfunctional family we have. Dysfunctional? I questioned. No way—we’re actually quite functional. Unconventional? Most definitely. What our family—as odd as it may seem to outsiders—has effectively done is weed out the “bad seeds” and keep all the good ones. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.

A family is a family, no matter how you came to be. If it works for you, nothing else matters. I wouldn’t trade my family for anything.

June 03, 2009

What is the Magic Number?

I always thought I wanted at least two children, maybe three. But things are just not working out (it’s been a year and a half since trying to adopt a second child) and maybe the “plan” is for us to have only one. I’m not feeling sorry for myself; I don’t work that way. I’m just trying to be honest with myself, and prepare myself (as best I can) for what the future may hold.

Let’s face it; I’m not getting any younger. I know people have kids at a lot older age than I am now, but I do not want to be 40 bringing home an infant (and, well, 40 isn’t that far away). And, we’ve got a great thing going right now: a wonderful, amazing four-year-old daughter that we feel so lucky to have, we can afford to do things we might not be able to afford with two (or three) kids (like vacations!), and we’re comfortable. By that I mean, we’ve got our “routine” down and we’re all three having a great time together.

But I have to admit, I finally understand how those women who have one or two children—but desperately want another child—feel. For the longest time, I couldn’t help but think, “Get over it, Ladies! You have one (or two) wonderful children at home. If you want another so badly and can’t get pregnant, adopt already.”

Ah, the irony of it all.

It breaks my heart to write this, let alone think it. I really feel I’m meant to parent more than one child. And I don’t want people assuming I’m feeling sorry for myself. I appreciate the sentiment and support of my family and friends—I truly do—and I know people are just trying to help when they tell me to be patient or that “good things come to those who wait.”

But having gone through this process before (though with our daughter, the whole process took just barely nine months), I know all to well that we adoptive parents do a whole lot of waiting. And let’s face it; waiting for some unknown or unforeseen future is really hard to do.

Actually, it sucks.

You feel like your life is on hold. You move along with your day to day stuff, but you don’t want to make any really big future decisions (like whether or not I should start grad school in the Fall) until you know for certain whether or not a child will be joining your family. Life just feels so unsettled.

So, for now I suppose I’ll just stay the course and try to prepare myself as best as I can (as I continue waiting) for all the possibilities: that one, two, or maybe even three child(ren) are in future.

May 20, 2009

Open + Adoption = Love

The word “open,” when put together with the word “adoption,” can be a scary concept for many unfamiliar with its true meaning and intention. I know we had our reservations before adopting our daughter. But then we talked with friends who had adopted and who had been adopted, talked with our adoption agency coordinator, and did some further research on our own.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what open adoption really means. And because all domestic adoptions are now considered “open,” I can see why that might frighten a prospective adoptive family. My hope is to help ease that fear a bit because open adoption can be a wonderful thing for everyone involved.

In a nutshell, open adoption means a sharing of information between the birth and adoptive families (the records, so to speak, aren’t sealed like back in the “old” days). It can also allow for an ongoing relationship with the birthmother (and possibly her extended family), which can be an amazing, rather than scary, thing for the child, as well as for the adoptive and birth families. But the level of information shared is up to both the birthmother and the adoptive family. Just like with any relationship, it builds over time.

The degree of openness between an adoptive family and a birth family is usually decided before the child is born and is something both parties agree to. It doesn’t mean the birthmother will be at your house every weekend (unless through the building of your relationship with her, you all decide you want to spend that much time together). But whatever level of openness is agreed upon, it needs to be honored throughout the child’s life.

Studies have shown time and time again that if a child who was adopted has some information about his or her birth family, that child may not struggle with some identity issues and the like. Think about how hard it would be to know absolutely nothing about where you came from. Now think about what it would be like to at least know the name of your birthmother and maybe to have photo or a letter from her. Even better, what if you got to meet that person and build a relationship with her?

It truly is an amazing thing—a child can never be loved by too many people.

When researching “open adoption” for this post, I was saddened by some information I came across from a few extremely negative women telling birthmothers that open adoption is a lie and that once you “give up” your child, you will never see him or her again. It breaks my heart to read that adoptive parents have gone back on their word to have an open adoption and are not remaining in contact with a birthmother. What’s even more heart-breaking (for me personally) is that I know a birthmom that this happened to.

It’s inexcusable, and frankly despicable in my opinion, that an adoptive family would not honor their commitment. Open adoption has many benefits for a child, as well as for the birth and adoptive families. If honoring the openness of domestic adoption, as well as respecting the birthmother who gave life to the child you adopt, is not something you can see yourself doing, International adoption is probably the way to go for you.

With our daughter, though we have an “open” adoption, we don’t have a relationship with our birthmother. We send pictures and letters twice a year, but we don’t hear back from her. This saddens us and we hope to one day have a relationship with her, but she isn’t yet comfortable with that. We respect her feelings. In the meantime, we honor her by telling our daughter her adoption story (at our daughter’s request) every night before bed. We share as much information as we have—including a photograph—and let our daughter know she is loved by many.

Additional information on open adoption:
http://adopting.adoption.com/child/open-adoption.html
http://www.kir.org/adoption/benefits-of-open-adoption.html
http://www.adoptionhelp.org/open_adoption/benefits.html
http://www.lfsneb.org/adoptionservices/adoption/infant/benefits.asp

April 14, 2009

A Compassionate Nature

Compassion. One little word with a whole lot of meaning. To me, anyway.

Webster’s Ninth defines compassion as a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Long before we started our family, my husband heard me say over and over again how strongly I feel about raising compassionate kids. My mantras included: no child of mine will treat others with disrespect; I have no tolerance for intolerance; and finally, I want my children to fight for what they believe in and to stand up for others. I believe compassion is at the root of all this.

But is compassion learned or inherited? Or both?

When you adopt, the ol’ nature vs. nurture “debate” comes up again and again. Not only as something we are constantly thinking about as adoptive parents, but we are often reminded of it by our well-meaning friends and family.

From a young age, my daughter showed clear signs of compassion for other people, for animals, toward her dolls; a general sensitivity to others’ feelings. As she gets older, I see her compassion growing stronger (and I have to say, this thrills me!). She recognizes when I’m sad about something and is right there with a hug and a pat on the back, and a few words of wisdom only a child could provide.

Over this past weekend, I committed involuntary cat-slaughter. (Any one who knows me well knows what an animal lover I am; I don’t even squish bugs.) Ava was with me when it happened, and handled it remarkable well; better than I did, actually. Right after it happened, she said, “Mommy, let’s say a prayer, maybe the cat will come back to life.” Every day since the accident, she asks me, “Mommy, are you still sad that you squished the cat?” When I say yes, she gives me a hug, pats my back, and tells me it’s okay, the cat is with Chani (our cat that died of old age last year) in “Chani Heaven” (as Ava calls the place where cats go).

I can’t say for sure if Ava’s compassion comes from “nature” or “nurture.” Unfortunately we don’t know much about Ava’s birthmother, nor have we ever had a conversation with her. I do know that I will do everything in my power to lead by example and continue to nurture my daughter’s compassion. Not only for the welfare of others, but for her own health and happiness.

April 08, 2009

Mini Me

Like it or not, our children are a reflection of us. Naturally, we want that reflection to be positive regarding how a child behaves and treats others. What many parents don’t worry about (okay, what many men don’t worry about; I know my husband doesn’t) is how a child’s appearance reflects on them. Such as what a child wears out of the house in the morning or whether or not their hair is combed.

Correction: what many parents of white kids don’t worry about is how a child’s physical appearance reflects on them.

That isn’t to say that if you have a white child, you don’t care whether or not their clothes are clean or their hair is combed and styled. But as transracial adoptive parents, we are judged a little differently than others. Our senses are heightened to the fact that we’re different, true. But I don't think it's entirely in our heads that people are judging us. I do think it is largely a “mom” thing though—moms are judged a little differently than dads when it comes to a child’s appearance. Sad (and wrong), but true.

Luckily, most of the comments I’ve received about my daughter’s appearance are positive and helpful in nature, for which I am appreciative. Women will approach me in a beauty supply shop (specializing in hair care products for African American women) with all kinds of advice. Sometimes the staff will even talk slower and louder, assuming I don’t speak the hair care language. Though when they examine Ava’s hair up close, they realize I do know how to care for her hair and I often get compliments, which makes me proud. (See my earlier post on the negative hair comments I've received!)

I can only speak to my own experiences, of course, but I have had friends confess that they also feel they are being scrutinized just a wee bit harsher than most parents. But hey, that’s the nature of the game. Whether we like it or not, as transracial adoptive parents we are sort of the spokespeople for the adoptive community. It wasn’t all that long ago that transracial adoption was not allowed.

We will be watched, judged, scrutinized, and the like. Not because anyone wants to see us fail, but because we’re different, in a good way I believe. Yes, we may have to continually prove we’re doing right by our children when it comes to “cultural” differences. And yes, someone will always have something to say about something we aren’t, or shouldn’t be, doing. I embrace the challenge and look forward to exploring—with my daughter and husband—just what it means to be a transracial family.

March 24, 2009

Drug Exposure

I’ve been trying to figure out how to word something I want to discuss because it sounds better verbalized than it does written. The subject is drug exposure.

But let’s back up. What’s the one thing every parent wants when their child is born? A healthy baby. Statistically speaking, I understand the rate of babies exposed to drugs is higher among babies being placed for adoption. And one of the things required of parents who adopt, before they can adopt, is that they take classes. Lots and lots of classes. From how to care for a newborn to identity issues a child who was adopted might face to in vitro drug exposure. (Personally, I think everyone should be required to take some of these classes, not just parents wanting to adopt, but I don’t get to make those calls.)

As adoptive parents, we start out very prepared. We know what to expect. And we’ve been forced to have many discussions about what we can handle. That’s one reason my husband and I decided we’d like to be paired with a birthmom who has not had drug exposure. Based on the reactions we get from some, you’d have thought we’d asked for the moon and a million dollars too, rather than just a healthy child.

Our daughter’s birthmom did not do drugs; we know there are other birthmoms out there that don’t. Because we’ve chosen to build our family through adoption doesn’t mean we should be made to feel bad if we want a drug free kid. And that’s what has happened—we’ve been made to feel guilty for wanting a child that hasn’t been exposed to drugs. I don’t think the guilt is intentional. There is a perception (based in part on facts) that most birthmoms have done drugs. Why else would they place their children for adoption, some ask. (There are actually lots of reasons people place a child for adoption; we can discuss that later.)

One difficult thing about adoption is all of the choices you have to make; all of the conversations you have to have about topics that would likely never come up otherwise. [That might account for why, statistically speaking, the divorce rate among couples who adopt is tiny (like five percent) compared to the national average which is something like 50%.]

This is what I mean by this being a hard discussion to have in written form—I would hate for anyone to feel like I’m saying anything negative about children who have been exposed to drugs. Some of our closest friends have children that were adopted, and exposed to drugs, who are thriving (and excelling), and who are the warmest, sweetest kids I’ve met. Ultimately you have to decide what you’re capable of. You want to create a family environment that will succeed—biting off more than you can chew doesn’t help anyone. For us, we’ve decided that with all the other potential issues and risks, we’d like to take one off the table (drug exposure) and go from there.

I’d love to hear from other adoptive parents to learn what your experience has been.

March 17, 2009

Whatchu Lookin’ At, Willis?

Genetics are an amazing—albeit somewhat bizarre—thing. And society’s obsession with looking like someone else (I’m talking about family members) is equally strange. Of course I say that because I don’t look a thing like any of my biological family members, but yet people would mistake my step-sister (four years younger than I) as my twin.

I don’t place much emphasis on looking like anyone else. To be perfectly honest, I never gave it much thought since no one in our family looks much like anyone else in our family and we do share the same DNA. Whenever I would see families with kids that looked exactly like them—almost like clones or “mini-me’s”—it sort of freaked me out. Being an adoptive parent—especially a transracial adoptive parent—the part about looking alike, or not looking a like, is most definitely brought to the forefront whether you want it to be or not.

I don’t mind. We live in a diverse neighborhood and have a fairly diverse friend base (another reason why transracial adoption was fine by us, and even made sense). I’m sure we attract some looks—when I’m out alone with our daughter, I think people just assume her dad is black—but I don’t pay too much attention.

Will our daughter mind when she grows up? There’s a good chance she will, but if we handle it well—as in talk about it openly and address it head on—there’s a chance she won’t. Hopefully (if we’ve done our job) she accepts the fact that none of us look alike, and knows that it doesn’t make us any less of a family.

This isn’t to say that I don’t fully understand the importance of identity and having a sense of where you came from, especially for children who were adopted. I most certainly do. And I can only imagine what it would be like to not have that link. Where our daughter is concerned, we’re fortunate to have a link (including photographs) to her birthmom. I’m sure that will help.

Back in the day, domestic adoptions were all the rage, largely because people were hoping for a child that looked like them so no one would know about the adoption (that and, well, International adoptions just weren’t happening yet). My grandmother—who tried, unsuccessfully, to adopt twice—told me stories about women wearing pillows under their clothes for nine months, and then bringing home a newly born and adopted baby in the trunk of a car so no one would be the wiser. The next day, word would spread through the town that the woman had given birth during the night. All that to give the illusion that the child was biologically their child.

I’m sure glad times have changed. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to live in a time when adoption carried such a stigma. We’re by no means “there” yet, where adoption is concerned. But thankfully I don’t know of anyone carrying home a baby in the trunk of their car. I’m also glad for our diverse and wonderfully colorful group of friends (and their children). Our daughter will most definitely know that families are made in all different ways, that they come in all different colors, and that some look alike and some don’t.

Depending on where you live, if you’ve adopted transracially, your family is bound to stand out, to attract some attention. That’s just part of the whole adoption “thing.” I offer to you this story about assumptions and people who don’t mind their own business, in attempt to help you see that no matter what the situation or circumstance, there will always be “those people” who feel they have to comment on something. I try to take it all with a grain of salt and find the humor in every situation. Here’s the story:

My sister was shopping at an unnamed box store with her three children, ages two, four, and six. A woman walking by took one look at my sister’s three children—who do not look alike anyway, aside from being a blond, a red-head, and a brunette—and said to my sister, “People like you make me sick with different fathers for your children.” The same man, my sister’s husband, is the father of all three children, just as my sister is their biological mother. But alas, the children don’t look alike and in the eyes of some people, that is somehow not okay.

Well, guess what? It is okay. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

March 05, 2009

What's That I'm Feeling?

I put a lot of stock into my gut feelings. So, I’ll admit it: I was a little excited when I recently took the Myers-Briggs personality test and it revealed that I’m borderline for having the rarest of all personality types, the one that “know[s] things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand.” This part is fun too: “They are usually right, and they usually know it.” I digress.

Why is this a big deal to me? Well, regarding adoption, it has really helped me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I truly believe that the baby meant for you will come home to you. But I rely on my gut to help the process along.

Too often people don’t rely on their gut feelings and get stuck with a job, for example, that they didn’t feel right about taking, but did anyway. Where this gets tricky with adoption is wondering if you’re playing the role of god (or whatever spiritual being you believe in).

Recently we had an opportunity to pursue an adoption through the state (our first real opportunity in more than six months). Out of approximately 80 interested families, we were chosen as one of three families to go to committee (where a panel decides who will adopt the child). We were thrilled—everything we knew about the child matched exactly what we were hoping for.

Unfortunately, right before we were scheduled to go to committee, the agency disclosed many more details about the child’s history, and the child’s foster care mom revealed some “insider info” as well. We were then faced with the difficult decision whether or not to move forward or follow our gut, which was signaling that we might not be the best match for this child, as we may not be equipped to provide the best care for this child’s needs.

As you probably guessed, we decided against pursuing the opportunity. And that was an awful decision to have to make. We felt like we were letting down a child we’d never met. We wondered if we were “bad people” for deciding not to go forward. I felt like I was playing “god” with this child’s life. It sucks. It really, really sucks to be put in this position and to keep going through this. Of course, we could have gone to committee and not been selected (keeping with the whole “what’s meant to be will be” theory). I think that would have made me feel better.

There’s a reason case workers and agency coordinators call this whole thing a roller coaster ride; they know what they’re talking about. But, as tough as it is, as strong as my desire is to grow our family, adoption is the way we’ve chosen to grow it. And I wouldn’t change that. Our child is out there. I just hope he/she will find his/her way home soon.

February 25, 2009

What's Our Destiny?

One of the best things about adoption, for me anyway, is the often unexpected delight of gaining an extended family. Many children placed for adoption have a sibling (or several) either still with the birthmom or who were adopted by other families.

Personally, I believe it’s a wonderful gift to get to know the children and/or families that are biologically connect to your child. I feel extremely fortunate to have our daughter’s birth-sibling, and the family who adopted her, in our lives.

Here are some excerpts from a rather lengthy essay I wrote about our experience thus far:

“To most, the word “destiny” means something inevitable that is meant to happen. For our family, and in particular for our daughter, it means much more. In September 2006—15 months after Ava was born—Destiny was born, and placed for adoption with a family in Illinois.

Since we live in Oregon, our initial “meeting” took place over email. Destiny’s mom and I shared stories, photos, and our thoughts and feelings about how we could ensure our girls grow up together, despite the physical distance between our families. In October 2007, while in Illinois visiting my husband’s family, we met in person for the first time.

Our hope—Destiny’s family’s and ours—is that the two girls will confide in each other when maybe they feel we won’t understand what they are going through because of our color differences (Destiny’s parents are also white). Their connection—biological, but hopefully more—will be life-long, whether they live under the same roof or not. And an unexpected, but absolutely amazing, benefit to “our destiny,” that hadn’t occurred to us before Destiny was born, is that now our family has grown beyond our daughter to include Destiny, her (also adopted) sister, her brother, and her mom and dad.

By its nature, adoption is just different. There are different dynamics with immediate family, extended family, friends, and the community. These differences aren’t bad, they just are. And I’ve always believed that if you plan to adopt, you’ve got to be pretty open-minded and able to roll with the punches—you just never know what your destiny will bring you.

Our adoption journey has led us to grow our family in an unexpected way. We are grateful that our daughter will grow up knowing at least one of her birth-siblings. We’ve formed a family bond rooted in DNA, but not limited by it. Sometimes our perception or interpretation of our destiny is not exactly as we’d hoped or planned—it’s better.”

As our journey continues, we look forward to growing our family yet again by adding another child. And with that adoption may come more family members. The more, the merrier I say!

February 15, 2009

All You Need is Love

Often I am the “go to” person to ask questions of by my friends, and their friends, who want to learn more in general about adoption. I’m sure most adoptive parents find themselves in this position. That’s okay by me because I love to talk; especially about adoption and in particular if I feel I can help educate someone who may have some misconceptions about adoption and children who were adopted.

It has been eye-opening for me, though, and has forced me to address, and answer, some of my own questions I may not have realized I had.

One question that comes up a lot is an overwhelming concern about loving an adopted child as much as a biological one. The statement, “I’m afraid I won’t love the child as much as my own,” forces you to define “my own.”

I always knew I wanted to have children; to love them, raise them, and teach them to be the best that they can be. I was never that interested in being pregnant; very little about that experience intrigues me. So, for me, the definition of “my own” has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a child came out of my body or shares my DNA. “My own” means the child that I love—that loves me back—and the one that I raise and care for. Period.

What I know from my own experience is that I cannot imagine loving a child more than I love my daughter. In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m concerned that if I had a child biologically, I might not love him/her as much as I love my daughter. Maybe it’s because she’s my first, I don’t know. All I know is that she is my world and I cannot imagine loving anyone more. That’s what I tell people who ask.

(And then I tell them “my own” isn’t considered positive adoption language, as it suggestions that adoptive relationships are less important than biological ones. Better choices are “birth child” or “child by birth.” Any opportunity to educate!)

February 10, 2009

Black vs African American

Here’s something interesting I’ve learned: white people get weird when I call my child “black.” There’s the eye darting back and forth to see if anyone heard, and the shifting from one foot to another indicating a level of discomfort. Oh, and the puzzled look that seems to be silently asking, “Did you mean to say African American?”

What I’ve learned from my black friends is that it’s a personal preference. Most people I know prefer “black.” But, because we’re such a “politically correct” world these days, people—especially white people—are sensitive (maybe overly?) to the term “African American.”

My favorite story about this is from a black man I know from England who now lives in the US. He told me that once when talking with a white woman here in town, he referred to himself in the third person as a black man, and she corrected him by saying, “you mean African American" (it was a statement, not a question). He just stared at her letting a few moments pass while she’s staring back at him as if to say, “Well, aren’t you going to correct yourself?” Finally he says, in his English accent, “I’m not from America.”

My first experience with this, with our daughter Ava, was when the neighborhood kids (twins, black) dropped by to say hello after Ava was born. When she was first born, Ava was very pale, with straight black hair. One of the twins asked, “What is she?” I was a little confused by the question, but then answered, “She’s African American.” By the look on their faces, I may as well have said she was a Martian. Then the other twin says, “Do you mean like Indian or Native American?” Now I’m staring at them like they’re from Mars, after all, they are both “African American.” My husband steps in and says, “She’s black.” And the light bulb goes on for the twins—and me—and we continue oohing and aahing over Ava.

I quickly learned that when I’m speaking to a black person, I refer to Ava as “black.” When I’m talking to a white person—other than my family or close friends—I say “African American.” It’s a whole lot easier than enduring the momentary awkward silence and the looks (though sometimes I do simply say: In general, most black people I know prefer or are okay with the term black). But, for the most part, I don't feel obligated to explain “black” vs “African American” to a complete stranger. It’s probably not really my place to anyway, what with me being white and all.

January 27, 2009

What's In a Name?

Shakespeare tells us that a rose by another other name still smells as sweet. True. But, names are very personal. And when you don’t have full control over naming your child—something that couples who biologically birth their kids have probably never thought off—that, well, kind of stinks.

There are arguments for both sides. Adoption agencies often promise birth moms naming rights, in an effort to help make the difficult, selfless decision to place a child for adoption just a little less difficult. I can understand that, I can. But at the same time, this will be your child. You will be raising this child and calling them by their given name for life. What if you can’t get behind the name a birth mother chooses?

In an ideal (adoption) world, birth moms and forever families (as we fondly refer to ourselves) come up with a name—or two, first and middle—together. But still, for what ever reason, naming is a sacred “right,” or so we are taught to believe, and even a privilege bestowed upon us as parents. It is not something taken lightly, for most people (your average celebrity not withstanding). So yes, it is sad and it does stink when we can’t name our own children. And yes, of course I am happy to have a child, so does it really matter that child’s name? (I’m a little tired of hearing comments from well-intentioned friends and family, can you tell?) It does matter, a little.

To Shakespeare’s credit, we will always love our child(ren) no matter if their name is Pilot Inspektor (actor Jason Lee’s son) or Ella, but there is just something about being able to give the gift of a name to your child. Something magical and wonderful. Though, by the same token—even though it would not have been my first choice—our birth mother gave our daughter her middle name, and that is a great gift our daughter will always have from her birth mother (we were able to give our daughter her first name, the name we call her by).

So then, why is it so important to have control over naming our children? Is that it, an issue of “control?” I’m not sure I can answer that. I think it’s the personal aspect of the whole thing. You spend all this time conjuring up a name for your child—possibly a family name, maybe one you’ve made up, or even one from your favorite character in a book—and then to be told, “Sorry. Yes this is your child, but she’s been named for you.” That stings a little.

But hey, welcome to the world of adoption, where the pros most definitely, hands-down out-weigh the cons by a mile, but the cons offer ups some scenarios you might not have ever considered.

January 09, 2009

Still Sad After All These Months

It’s been five months since we didn’t bring home Ava’s birth sibling. And it still hurts. Even though I am a firm believer in that you and the baby meant to be yours will find each other, it still sucks waiting. Especially when everything indicated that we would be bringing home a son last August.

Now we wait, and debate whether or not to look at different agencies since the one we are working with doesn’t place many children of color. As much as we want a boy, more importantly, we don’t want Ava to be the only family member of a different color. Maybe she couldn’t care less when she gets older, (she’s too young to understand now), but I feel very strongly about adopting another child of color. Not just black (although that is probably my preferred choice), Hispanic, mixed race, or the like is okay by us.

This is not meant to offend anyone or make anyone feel sorry for us, but people who have not adopted, have no idea what it’s like to not know when you might have a child. To not know whether or not you can name that child (think about it—naming is hugely important and when you adopt, you don’t always get to name your child). To have little or no control over most aspects of starting or growing your family. There is so much more, so much, that people adopting have to go through just to get on a waiting list, but it's too exhuasting to list it all out.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself—I wouldn’t change my experience for anything in the world; I have the most wonderful, beautiful, and amazing child there is (of course I’m bias!). And some might try to argue that couples going through infertility treatments are in the same boat. (I will have to respectfully disagree, and perhaps touch on that at a later date). But the waiting, the not knowing, the uncertainty, it hurts.

Adopting is tough; you have to be a strong person. But it is worth it. An interesting, heart-breaking, up-lifting, unique journey that is making me a better person. Or so I tell myself.

January 08, 2009

Hair, There, and Everywhere

Is it because of my daughter’s beautiful curls or the fact that she’s black and I’m white that so many people stop us to talk about her hair? It is beautiful (according to our good friend and neighbor, whom my daughter calls grandma and who is an African American woman, Ava’s hair is a grade of curl many black women pay to try to achieve).

For the most part, we have received positive comments from both black and white people. Only once did a woman mutter a negative comment under her breath, which I called her on, and we had a “discussion” in the middle of a store. I couldn’t say what I would have liked to say back to her, as Ava was with me and how I react is how she will learn to react to stranger’s comments about our “different” looking family and the like. So, I flashed my pearly whites and took the old adage, kill ‘em with kindness.

I was upset and shaking afterward, but I know things like that are bound to happen, unfortunately. When I spoke with my neighbor about it later, she was pretty appalled and told me just to ignore the comment, because the lady clearly had no idea what she was talking about. She’d accused me of not taking care of my daughter’s hair, when in fact, my daughter’s hair is well taken care of and in fantastic shape.

But what strikes me as interesting is that while occasionally (but very rarely) do I hear people comment on a white child’s hair (interestingly, I have only heard people comment on white kids with curly hair), I have never heard anyone say anything negative about a white kids hair. And look around. I’m not afraid to say it, there are some white kids out there who look like they haven’t combed their hair in weeks, with lopsided ponytails and some serious bedhead. So why doesn't anyone comment on that? Beside the fact that it's just out-right rude...

It is something to think about: are people commenting on Ava’s hair because it’s beautiful or because they're curious if a white woman can care for a black child’s hair? I’m sure I’ll be commenting on this a lot, as I continue to educate myself on the best ways to care for Ava's hair (yes, I actually do educate myself; I make no assumptions).

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite sites for Ava’s hair care products (I have ordered from all of these and love their all-natural, paraben and SLS free products):

Blended Cutie’s Hair Care (by Blended Beauty)
Carol's Daughter
SistasPlace

It Takes Two...

I was recently asked to write a book review for Adoption Mosaic, the fantastic organization for which I serve on the program committee. I chose to write about And Tango Makes Three, a wonderful book about Roy and Silo, two chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, who have been a couple since 1998.

In a nutshell, it’s a story about the love it takes to be a family. Penguin couples can generally only care for one egg at a time, so in 2000, when another penguin couple laid two eggs, Roy Gramzay, their keeper, gave one egg—and Roy and Silo—a chance to be a family.

Roy and Silo watched the other penguins build a nest and hatch an egg, then did the same with the egg Mr. Gramzay brought to them. They take turns caring for the egg and one day it hatches. Mr. Gramzay named the baby Tango, “because it takes two to make a Tango.” Tango is the first penguin at the zoo to have two daddies.

While working on my review, out of curiosity, I went to Amazon to see what other readers had to say about the book and I came across this lovely gem by “conservative mother”:

“This is disgusting. What is the world coming to when we have filth like this being given to our children. All this book is going to do is confuse them!”

(did I mention it's a book about penguins?!)

As a parent, and especially an adoptive parent, I was furious. This is simply a story about family bonds, and the dedication and determination Roy and Silo exhibit during their quest to raise a family. This story will help introduce children to the different ways families are created—an extremely important thing in today’s culture where families are made up of parents of different colors, two moms or two dads, and so on.

Of course I had to post a response:

“What a sad world for children to grow up in when someone finds a book about wanting to be a family ‘disgusting.’ This wonderful true story teaches children that families and love come in all different packages (think adoption, single parents, being raised by grandparents). The only ‘filth’ are comments of intolerance such as yours that have no place in a book review. My child (who happens to have been adopted) loves this book and is not the least bit confused by it.”

So, there you have it. I recommend this book to anyone—it’s a wonderful story.