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.