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.