Never Enough Love

My beautiful kids resting at home

My beautiful kids resting at home

by Luanne

When the kids were really young, we used to attend a local group for families brought together by international adoption.  I remember one group potluck, seated at one of those very long banquet tables covered with paper, and hearing, but not really listening to, a guest.

He’d been asked to attend our group because he was a therapist experienced at dealing with kids who were adopted, particularly through international adoptions.  Most of the kids in our group had been adopted from Korea, although there were a few from other countries.  This therapist happened to be Asian.  He sat next to our family and that of a close friend and rather awkwardly tried to start conversation.

We were absorbed in our beautiful children and their immediate needs.

Remember: we were absorbed in their immediate needs

“I want to tell you a story,” he said.  I nodded politely at him, then went back to wiping chins, pulling Marc back into his chair, and so on.

“I want to tell you a story about one of my patients.  She was adopted as a 3-year-old from Korea.  Adopted by an American couple.”  I divided my attention between being respectful to this stranger and watching the kids.

He continued.  “This girl grew up to be a beautiful young woman, but unfortunately, she became extremely promiscuous.”

Why is he telling us this sad story? My family was young and beautiful and perfect.  I really didn’t need to listen, but his expression showed that he felt that he was imparting a great wisdom to us.  Something that had to do with all our children.

As he continued telling his story, he tied the girl’s promiscuity to her lack of self-esteem and her adoption.  When he finished his story, we murmured our thanks and smiled at him.  He picked up his paper plate and fork and moved to the next table.

After all this time I’m grateful to this man for his sad story

My first mistake was thinking that love conquers all.  When my kids were little, we didn’t have the internet.  It wasn’t easy to do any kind of research and when you did it, you had to have an idea of what you were looking for. Research was time-consuming, tedious, and frequently didn’t yield the results that would have been most helpful.

I say this because I admit that I was a typical adoptive parent of the era—somewhat clueless.

My second mistake was not understanding that it wasn’t the behavior that I needed to focus on, but the underlying cause for the girl’s behavior.  That having been adopted is a big deal and the feelings that arise from it can’t be erased away with the felt eraser of love.

All these years out, I wish I had understood what he was getting at and had found a way to do more valuable research earlier on.

While the behavior this therapist’s patient had exhibited wasn’t something that cropped up in our family, I needed to understand more about the emotional issues that adoptees often face.  These include a sense of abandonment and low self-esteem and how they play out, sometimes subtly and sometimes extravagantly, in their lives.

Something to read up on

If you’re an adoptive parent, one subject that I think is valuable to consider early on is that of “love addiction.”  This subject came up the other day in my interview of Elaine Pinkerton, writer of The Goodbye Baby.  Love addiction is actually a very common disorder and certainly not confined to adoptees, but it’s an area for research for adoptive parents.

If your child doesn’t suffer from an attachment disorder, it’s possible that he or she is at or near the other end of the spectrum: craving love and attention and friendships to satisfy that “hole” inside.  Sometimes what can seem to be a positive trait, like popularity or a desire to please, can even be too much of a good thing.   Some people respond by becoming love avoidant, but it’s all part of the same problem.

One book which can get you started in learning about the subject of “love addiction” is Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody.  There are many more out there.  Our adoption agency did give us some great advice at the beginning, all of which I took to heart.   But it seems to me that all adoptive parents can benefit from educating ourselves as much as possible about adoption issues.

The Diary of an Adoptee: Interview of Elaine Pinkerton about “The Goodbye Baby”

by Luanne

I found it difficult to put down Elaine Pinkerton’s published diary The Goodbye Baby once I began reading.  At first, I was caught up in the mind of an adolescent girl who is both intelligent and a little clueless about herself.  Ultimately, I was drawn into the struggles of the woman the girl had become.

The book’s subtitle is A Diary about Adoption, and while only a tiny proportion of the entries actually mention adoption issues, clearly Elaine’s life had been greatly shaped by the events of her adoption which occurred at the age of five.  Eventually, Elaine re-read her diary, and by doing so was able to begin a healing process from the “bruises of adoption.”

Today Elaine is a very self-aware, spiritual, and quite “centered” woman.  Sharing her diaries with the world is a generous and courageous act.  As an adoptive mother, I found them to be eye-opening.

Like any good reading, Elaine’s book left me with a few questions, so I asked the author herself and she was kind enough to respond.

Q:  When you were writing your diary as a teen, did you have any fantasies about the purpose of your diary or what would happen to it?  I noticed that years after you began your diary, you bought yourself a copy of Anne Frank’s diary. After you read it, did you feel it altered your own diary writing in any way?

A:  Never in my wildest imaginings did I think that my diaries would be re-visited. They were written just for my own release and comfort, not for posterity. It never occurred to me that anything would happen to the little books in which I faithfully recorded daily thoughts and activities. When I read Anne Frank’s diary, I entered into her world. As I recall, after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I regarded my own diary-writing as a more important activity.

Q:  You call a negative state you have experienced “Edgar.”  Is it depression or is it something else?  If so, how is it different?  If it’s depression, why do you call it by a name and not by the clinical term?

A:  The reason I’ve labeled my depression “Edgar” and not just “depression”…one of my literary heroes and spiritual leaders, the late Hugh Prather, called his own sadness and doubt “Edgar.” In lectures, of which I attended many, Prather would describe waking up each morning and finding that his nemesis, a depression he referred to as “Edgar,” was right there on the pillow, teeth bared and ready to gnaw away at heart and soul. Prather spoke of beating “Edgar” back into his cage and locking him up.

Q:  You seem to have been quite “boy crazy” as a teen.  On March 6, 1962, you recorded that you were dating 16 boys.  Do you feel your adoption played into that in any way?

A:   It was hard, as I reviewed the old diaries, to read about that period of my life. I absolutely cringe at how boy crazy I was. The obsessiveness came from my hunger for love and acceptance. Despite the evidence that my adoptive parents loved me, I felt that I was a disappointment to them. And of course I knew that my birthmother didn’t love me, so I was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” I was trying in vain to prove that I was worthy of love. Instead of love, I went for popularity. And it was never enough.

Q:   Later in the book, I was saddened to watch the old Elaine hanging on for Jack and then hanging on for Sam (even when she very articulately conveyed why Sam was bad for her).  I have been studying Pia Mellody’s work on “love addiction” and have become convinced that therapists who work with people who were adopted should have much knowledge about this subject in their “therapy toolboxes.”  I also noticed that you read Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much.  Do you feel that love addiction was a component in your relationships with men and if so, from today’s perspective, how did you break free from its grip?

A:  Women Who Love Too Much:  I felt that book could have been written by me, or even about me. The paradigm in my dating life was that the nice suitors, and there were some, had to be losers. Otherwise, why would they be interested in me? As Groucho Marx commented, “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me for a member!” I went for the men who did NOT place me on a pedestal or who ultimately did not treat me at all well.  It was yet another manifestation of adoption-induced low self-esteem. Breaking free from this form of love addiction took years of therapy and a lot of spiritual development. I studied and practiced Buddhism for a period, joined an Episcopalian church and attended faithfully. I prayed to overcome my self-punishing thought patterns. Slowly, imperceptibly, in small increments, I became more mentally healthy.

Q:  Did you revise the diary (other than eliminating passages) or change names?  If so, why?

A:   The diary is not revised other than changing names. I chose passages carefully, taking several years to prune out day entries that shed little light on my adoption perceptions. The everyday material is sometimes shortened (leaving out the entire account of a day) but not rewritten. A few names were changed to protect the privacy of my ex-husband and my children. The “bad boyfriends” (long-term adult relationships) names have been changed. The ex-husband’s and deceased second husband’s names are changed. Names from the distant past, e.g. adolescent friends, were kept the same.

Q:  Was your high school drinking typical of the era?  Was it related to your adoption?

A:  I was not alone in my excessive drinking, as my girlfriends were equally over the top. I was not even the worst. We lived in a university town and UVA was known as a “party college.” The college social life, which we took part in, was definitely an influence. In the style of “Mad Men,” everybody seemed to consume large amounts of liquor. Not my adoptive parents, however. I knew that they did not approve of my drinking and this made me even more convinced that I was a disappointment to them.

Q:  Did it help you (as an adoptee) to have a bio brother growing up with you?  Did it make it more difficult in any way?

A:  My brother was the favorite of our adoptive parents, or so I thought. We were four years apart and I had very little to do with him. If anything, having my bio brother as part of the “new” family made it more difficult.

Q:  I want to know more about the meeting with your birth father. Is there anything else you can add about this experience?

A:  I’ve written about a much-later meeting in my recent blog post “The Dad I Scarcely Knew,” though this was after the reunion described in my book. As far as the trip to California in my diary, I was very conflicted. On the one hand, it was remarkably generous and “progressive” (for the times) of my adoptive parents to authorize such a trip. It was my first time in an airplane, going from Virginia to California. On the other hand, I felt that Giovanni was beneath me socially. From his Navy days, he had a tattoo on his forearm and that seemed like a label for “low class.” Virginia was a very snobbish place, after all. My feeling about “the birthparents” all along had been that they were beneath my adoptive parents economically, culturally and socially. Whether this was conveyed from my adoptive mom and dad or was just something I invented is hard to say. At any rate, I felt awkward and out of place during my entire California visit.

Q:  You mention at one point after meeting with Velma, your birthmother, that you believed that she didn’t approve of you.  I was surprised to hear this because even with your personal problems you sounded like a person a mother would take great pride in. Why did you feel that way?  After I learned that your long view backwards was that Velma suffered from mostly untreated mental illness, I wondered if it was difficult to read her because of her own instability.

A:  Strange as it may sound, my birthmother seemed resentful of my apparent success. The first time she came to my home to visit me, I had just published Santa Fe on Foot. I took her along as I arranged book signings and celebrated the book’s debut. She felt left out and complained that I was “too busy” to meet my half sister. She completely did not understand my joy at the book’s publication, instead feeling that the spotlight should have been on her, not my literary success. I believe that Velma’s instability was indeed the obstacle to my understanding her or her accepting me.

Q:  At the end you mention that you will be meeting your half sister.  Did you meet her?  Have you written about this meeting?  Are you still in contact with her?

A:  Meeting my half sister is still on my “to do” list. I want to make sure that she wants to meet me, as if might be as unsettling as my interactions with Velma. I’m awaiting some kind of sign from her that she would like to meet. Right now there is a lot going on with my own family, and I am focussing on trying to help with some domestic situations. I’ve decided to help bring about a meeting with my half sister if she shows any signs of wanting that.  My half sister said, about our mother, that I “was the lucky one,” as she was sent to a detention home as a teenager. She also told me that Velma tried to give her (my half sister) up for adoption. I gather that she did not have an easy growing up. If and when the time is right, I would be very open to meeting. The situation is still a work-in-progress.

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Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books.

She is a world traveler, an educator focused on working with young children, a labyrinth facilitator, and also an avid skier, hiker and marathon-runner.  Elaine still resides in Santa Fe with her loving feline companion, Thomas Cromwell, and is already in the works on her next novel.

In her memoir, The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine Pinkerton reveals the bruises of adoption that have impacted her from the tender age of five. It tells the author’s journey as she is coming to grips with her lifelong wounds from her very own adoption. It is an exploration into self-discovery and the attainment of authenticity. The story of The Goodbye Baby is told through essays and diary entries that span over four decades from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Elaine hopes that by sharing her inner-most thoughts with her readers, they will feel informed and inspired – her overriding mission with the book is to serve as a resource for other in the adoption community who are struggling with their own adoption.

To follow Elaine and her work as an author:

Elaine’s Blog: elainepinkerton.wordpress.com

Follow Elaine on Twitter: @TheGoodbyeBaby

Like Elaine’s Fan Page: Elaine Pinkerton at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632

This story is a “must read.” It’s about a little girl who never knew anything positive until she came to this foster home.

 

Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane Blog

 

The above description fit me perfectly.

Yes, me… perfectly.

Marie came to live with us at the age of 6.  She had been picked up off the street at 4 in the morning, barefoot, in her underwear, looking for food.  We took her in as an emergency foster placement because I knew American Sign Language and Marie was deaf. She looked like a wild animal…disheveled, matted hair, flaming eyes of distrust, so filthy everywhere that even an hour in the tub did not wash off all the grime.  Her teeth were dingy yellow, and her body was emaciated.  Being the “good” middle class mother that I was, I cleaned her as best I could and then I took her to buy some clothes.

In the store, she immediately disappeared.  I impulsively called her name, (as though she could hear me.)  When I finally found her, she was in the candy aisle, shoving candy bars into…

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Adoption and Parenting: 2 – 6 years old

[Every Friday for the first two months of 2013, DWLA will feature a story from Barbara Shipka’s blog about her personal experiences with adoption and parenting.  We will sample a story from each of eight categories: 1) Before; 2) In Peru; 3) We’re Home; 4) 2 – 6 years old; 5) 6 – 12 years old; 6) 12 – 18 years old; 7) 18 + years old; 8) Musing / Thruout.  Barbara’s son Michael’s video was showcased in Gifts to the World.]

Ah, Rapture!

by Barbara Shipka

Michael and FiretruckMichael’s heritage is the jungle of the Amazon.

I adopted him when he was 10 weeks old and…eventually…he and I arrived in the US together.

When he was two and a half years old we went to a 4th of July Independence Day parade in a small town outside of Minneapolis. Lots of kids, floats, beauty queens doing the Queen’s wave, and FIRETRUCKS! With SIRENS!

Michael was sitting on my shoulders so he could see. A Firetruck blew its siren just as it passed right in front of us. My sense was that he went into a state of rapture and passion.

From there on, Life was about Firetrucks. For Christmas…Firetrucks! For his birthday…Firetrucks! Books from the library…Firetrucks! And then one day a Firetruck came to our neighborhood and he got to sit in the driver’s seat. OMG!

And, through all that, I wondered…

What would have ignited that same level of rapture and passion had he grown up in the jungle where there were no Firetrucks? I KNOW it would have been something. I just don’t know what. Nor does he…

[Photo by Barbara, Minneapolis, 1994]

###

Barbara is a single mom and was in her mid-forties when she adopted her son, Michael.  He was 10 weeks old at the time. Together, they spent many months navigating through the rather overwhelming legal processes for adoption in Peru.  Today, as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Michael is majoring in Native American Studies.

For much of her career, Barbara has been an executive leadership coach and organization effective consultant for Fortune 500 companies.  Another part of her career has been working in education and with non-governmental organizations in Europe, The Middle East, Africa, and The Caribbean.  Over the last twenty years, in addition to becoming a mother, she has also become an author and artist.  You can learn more at http://www.barbarashipka.com

These blog posts are snapshots from Barbara’s collection of stories about her experiences of their life together from March 1991 to today.  Visit her blog, Adoption and Parenting, to read more of her stories.  When you arrive, click on “Label” under “Home” where you see the tabs Recent…Date…LABEL…Author.  This will rearrange the stories into 8 categories:

Categories via 'Label'

“But how are you going to understand her when she starts to talk?”

by Lisa Ercolano

Juliet had only been part of our family for two weeks when I got my first introduction to the confusion and curiosity that international/trans-racial adoption can spark in some people.

My little daughter was bundled like a burrito in a puffy red snowsuit and slung on my chest in an infant carrier while I went about the task of doing the weekly grocery shopping. As I placed the Romaine lettuce, bananas, yogurt, milk and other foods onto the conveyor belt, the middle-aged cashier craned her neck toward Juliet and peering hard, said bluntly “Is that YOUR baby?”

Proud as could be that this gorgeous six-month-old was, indeed, part of our family, I patiently explained that Juliet had been born to her first parents in China, but they were unable to raise her, so our family had adopted her and would have the privilege of bringing her up. As the cashier scanned and bagged my groceries, we continued to chat about adoption, and the many female children in China that were in need of homes.

“There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” said the cashier, as I was paying and getting ready to be on my way. “How will you guys understand her when she starts to talk? Do you speak Chinese?”

That may have been the first time someone asked me a silly question, but it sure hasn’t been the last! As any Caucasian parent of a child of color knows, the questions and comments come at you hard and fast – and from seemingly every direction – when you are out in public together.

During another trip to the supermarket, a well-meaning but ignorant older woman stopped to admire the baby and pronounced “She must love the color red, coming from a Communist country the way she did! And rice. She must love rice. All Chinese people do.”

I forced a smile, muttering something to the effect that Juliet was only a baby, and hadn’t tasted rice yet, and certainly hadn’t expressed preference for any colors. Then I went on my way as fast as my legs could carry me. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to laugh, or cry.

If I had a dollar for every person who told me that Juliet would someday be great at math, the violin, and martial arts, I’d have a nice nest egg. Those kind of  comments were especially difficult to deal with, as the people making them seemingly meant well. Yet they reflect certain stereotypes about Asians and were offensive to me in that way.  My daughter was, and is, an individual.

So my stock response was to say “That’s very nice of you, but she’s certainly too little right now to do math, play an instrument, or take self-defense classes. It will be fun to see who she is as she grows up.”

And it has been fun.  As it turns out, Juliet is pretty good at math, but doesn’t like it much. She definitely loves rice and Chinese food, but also digs into a Chipotle chicken burrito, cheese pizza or sushi with equal gusto.

Instead of choosing to play a musical instrument, she began begging for ballet lessons almost as soon as she started to talk, and has spent most of her non-school hours in the dance studio since then.  She doesn’t have a favorite color; her preferences vary from day to day, depending on her mood and what she is wearing.

And, to my knowledge, she has never set foot in a karate dojo, though she continues to be asked by classmates and peers if she is a black belt. She’s heard that one – and so many others – so many times that she just sighs in response.

Guilt? Who Me?

Food for thought. It’s long, so grab a cup of coffee or, better yet, green tea.

Allies and Agitators

This is a transcript of a presentation that Martha Crawford, LCSW and adoptive parent and Joy Leiberthal Rho, LCSW and Korean Adult Adoptee gave for AFCAF/NY (Adoptive Families with Children of African Heritage and Their Friends, NY) in collaboration withFCCNY (Families with Children from China Greater New York) and the Adoption Initiative of St. John’s University, New York:

 

 

The Sense of Guilt and the Capacity for Concern in Adoptive Families.

Martha:

 

I am Martha Crawford, and I am a therapist with a generalist practice – who happens to be an adoptive parent.

 

I have had, before and since we adopted children – many clients, friends and colleagues who were adopted and who have taught me a great deal. I have also worked with, professionally and in the adoption community – a good number of adoptive parents – although in my view, far too few seek support…

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Open Adoption Bloggers

Open Adoption Bloggers.

Recently, DWLA posted several stories about open adoption by a birthmother and an adoptive father.  If you want to read more about open adoption, you can find more stories through this site.  Here is the “about” description on the Open Adoption Bloggers blog.

My name is Heather Schade. I’m the caretaker here at Open Adoption Bloggers.

I started this blogging network because I believe in the power of telling our stories and listening to the stories of others. In the very beginning, it was stories that demystified open adoption for me and made it something I not only agreed with in principle, but really wanted for our family. Stories turned unknowns like “contact” and “visitation” into regular people sharing phone calls and meals. Stories from other adoptive parents let me make sense of the role I play in our personal triads. The honest words of first parents made me more sensitive to my kids’ birth families. Listening to the stories of adopted adults helped me to be–I hope–a more empathetic, aware parent with my kids.

When I’ve struggled with our own adoptive relationships, knowing there are other people who have faced the same worries has eased the loneliness. And when I stumble on a blog of someone who’s been living open adoption for years and years? I’m almost turning cartwheels at all their insight into what lies ahead.

Beyond the sterile research studies and mass media pieces, I think it is our stories that show the world the reality of and reasons for what we do in open adoption. And that give us a sense of comraderie as we live out openness–something which is all at once completely normal and completely counter-cultural.

The heart of Open Adoption Bloggers is the list of 300+ bloggers writing about their open adoption experiences. Writers from all sides of open adoption gathered together in one spot– place for us to find each other and for others to find us. We also gather for Open Adoption Roundtable discussions and host the Best of Open Adoption Blogs awards.

My husband and I are the lucky parents of three young children through open adoption. You can read more about our family and my thoughts on adoption at my blog, Production, Not Reproduction, which has been named a Top 25 adoption blog by Adoptive Families magazine, About.com, and Circle of Moms. My writing has been published in Adoptive Families and I presented at the Symposium 2011 Opening Adoption: Realities, Possibilities, and Challenges in Richmond, Virginia on social media and open adoption.

Questions? Ideas? I’d love to hear from you. Please contact me at admin [at] openadoptionbloggers [dot] com.

Adoption and Parenting: We’re Home

[Every Friday for the first two months of 2013, DWLA will feature a story from Barbara Shipka’s blog about her personal experiences with adoption and parenting.  We will sample a story from each of eight categories: 1) Before; 2) In Peru; 3) We’re Home; 4) 2 – 6 years old; 5) 6 – 12 years old; 6) 12 – 18 years old; 7) 18 + years old; 8) Musing / Thruout.  Barbara’s son Michael’s video was showcased in Gifts to the World.]

We’re Flying!

by Barbara Shipka

As I see it, in this lifetime, the best way for Michael and me to be able to together was for him to be born into a country where adoption by foreigners was an option.

He ‘called’ to me. I had gone through the process to adopt years earlier and, at that time, decided not to. This time, it was somehow certain and inevitable. A ‘knowing.’

Nonetheless, even with that ‘knowing,’ during the months of challenging experiences in Peru, it was unclear that we would reach a positive outcome. There are even more stories to be told, but enough for now.

I will never forget the sensation in my heart and body as the wheels of the airplane left the ground of the Lima airport.

Hugging this little bundle of infancy, this soul newly embodied, in my arms, I reclined the seat.
[Photo of Michael and Barbara, first days together in Lima, Peru, Winter 1991]

###

Barbara is a single mom and was in her mid-forties when she adopted her son, Michael.  He was 10 weeks old at the time. Together, they spent many months navigating through the rather overwhelming legal processes for adoption in Peru.  Today, as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Michael is majoring in Native American Studies.

For much of her career, Barbara has been an executive leadership coach and organization effective consultant for Fortune 500 companies.  Another part of her career has been working in education and with non-governmental organizations in Europe, The Middle East, Africa, and The Caribbean.  Over the last twenty years, in addition to becoming a mother, she has also become an author and artist.  You can learn more at http://www.barbarashipka.com

These blog posts are snapshots from Barbara’s collection of stories about her experiences of their life together from March 1991 to today.  Visit her blog, Adoption and Parenting, to read more of her stories.  When you arrive, click on “Label” under “Home” where you see the tabs Recent…Date…LABEL…Author.  This will rearrange the stories into 8 categories:

Categories via 'Label'

Blessings from Two Families: An Open Adoption at Christmas

by Andy at Our Life in 3D

When my wife and I decided on adoption to start our family, we did not have any preconceived ideas on how. We first considered international adoption, but the time was not right for that. So we researched domestic adoption agencies, deciding on Bethany.

We loved how the birth mother could pick her forever family. It seemed more like destiny or fate somehow. Not only was she choosing a family similar to her lifestyle, the reverse would be that she, and her child, would be similar to us. While that was not a deciding factor, we thought it would help in the transition success.

During our first adoption we met a quiet pretty young lady and her mother. The birth mother, having difficulty with this life-changing decision, wanted to be assured she was making the right decision. She wanted pictures and open communication to help set her mind at ease. We had not considered open adoptions, pro or con, prior to that. We just knew we wanted to start a family.

What a blessing that decision turned out to be. We never looked back. That first year we were surprised time and time again by the love and thoughtfulness coming from the birth mother and grandmother. Gifts would appear for Christmas. And then again for our daughter’s first birthday, along with attending her party. Then came Easter, along with signed cards and frequent calls and emails the entire year. We saved and dated these cards for a later time.

Opening a card from a special Grandmother

Two years later we were ready to grow our family with a second adoption. We went through Bethany’s process and were lined up with another potential birth mother.

Once again we were met by a lovely young lady, her mother and sister. The difference between this meeting and the first was we hoped for a second open adoption, based on the love and how well our first one went.

Once we met this family in person it was a done deal. We never knew if this second birth family had considered staying in touch or not after the adoption. We pretty much acted like this is how we like to do things, since we had one adoption under our belt already. And by the looks of things so far, I believe they have no complaints about our decision.

This second family has been such a blessing to our family as well. They call, email and send equal amounts of packages in the mail, all filled with love. And, while it might be human nature to send love for their own child, each family sends gifts in the mail for both children, knowing they are now sisters and ‘family’. It is really touching to be a part of all this love and never in a million years would we have thought adoptions could be like this. What could be better to a child at Christmas than four loving grandmothers?

Every Christmas has been the same. First one huge package shows up in the mail and then another. This Christmas was no different. The Friday before Christmas one huge box arrived in the mail. Then Saturday another huge box arrived at our front door. And then again, Christmas eve, our girls got to open another generous gift box that got lost in the mail the week before. If a box ever shows up on our door step our girls just naturally think it is for them. And they are usually right.

We try to film and photograph each ‘opening of presents’ so we can reciprocate the love by sharing (back) the gift opening experience with thoughtful the birth family. Take a look:

The love these birth families send practically doubles our girls’ Christmas. They enjoy the gifts. They enjoy the attention. They love that somebody is thinking about them. Last year when I was unemployed over Christmas these girls had the most lucrative Christmas yet. They didn’t suffer at all.

We are always amazed at the packages from these families. The best and coolest clothes our girls own came from these birth families. Each gift is individually wrapped. The box is stuffed full of presents. And the gifts are usually covered by all the mail peanuts for fillers. As Mom and Dad, we really look forward to the opening of every box as they are always full of surprises.

The kids have to dig to see if they found all the presents. We just watch their faces light up. It’s a lot of fun! One year I got home early and let the girls open their gift box with their nanny, before Mom got home. I didn’t hear the end of that poor decision for weeks!

Boo in the Zoo 019

Watch their faces light up…

Boo in the Zoo 017

Last year our second child’s birth family visited us for Christmas. We all had lunch at a favorite local restaurant. We talked and laughed. This wonderful family just held and hugged and smiled with our daughter the whole time, usually with our 36 month on their lap; even while they ate. As parents, we loved so much to see the huge smile on our daughter’s face all afternoon. You have to be happy to see your child so happy and loved.

When we went to the parking lot and said our good-byes the birth grandfather snuck off to his car. He returned with two life-size gift bags, one for each of the girls. We were awed! How can you not love to see your kids so happy? And not love this family in return?

Forgive the bravado here, but you have to actually see what’s inside these packages! These bags aren’t filled with candy and trinkets they just bought the weekend before. The bags are filled with the most beautiful clothes and dresses you can imagine for a couple of toddlers. Check out the smiles and the riches from this wonderful afternoon:

What could be better than four grandmothers at Christmas? The more love the better!

Now some of you may be wondering how are we going to handle this in later years when stories of adoptions and birth mothers are shared, given the history from these birth families?

We are very clear each and every holiday. When the girls receive gifts from the birth families we tell them who they are from and that these people love them very, very much. We save and date each card received to show the history of love. We look forward to any visits from these families so our girls can attach an actual face to the names we tell them.

We tell them the gifts are from their birth grandmothers and their daughters, just like family. And that’s the way we consider these ladies. These ladies are their grandmothers both figuratively and literally. They love our kids every bit as much as we do. And we love these families just as much. Going back to the beginning of this tale, we feel we have been blessed to have such wonderful people placed in our lives via the Bethany process. Destiny. Fate. An act of God.

Some people may be leery or scared of an open adoption; to have the birth family so close. I would say, first, it would depend on the situation, the nearness and nature of the birth family. We feel very fortunate for our adoptions to be tied to two such wonderful families. We were blessed in our situation.

My blog is one way I try to stay in touch and show the development of our girls with family and friends. If you have ever read my blog you would know that there is very little that I don’t share. Its one way to reciprocate some love back to our birth families. Hopefully, they won’t spend any long nights wondering; any more than any family would do.

I don’t know if it works or not as I can never put myself in their shoes. This past December we received an email from one of our birth families inquiring about our schedules over Christmas and Christmas wish lists for the girls. This email contained a super little Christmas gift for my wife and I this time. This is part of their message, word for word:

” I look forward to reading it (the blog) everyday. I love the pictures and the videos of the girls. I feel like I’m a part of their lives even though I’m not physically there. You both are great parents. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. I don’t think anyone else is doing a better job than you both are. Enjoy the rest of your holidays, tell your parents hello! We love you all.”

Wow! Merry Christmas to us! How can you repay that? How can you not love four grandmothers for Christmas?

Adoption and Parenting: In Peru

[Every Friday for the first two months of 2013, DWLA will feature a story from Barbara Shipka’s blog about her personal experiences with adoption and parenting.  We will sample a story from each of eight categories: 1) Before; 2) In Peru; 3) We’re Home; 4) 2 – 6 years old; 5) 6 – 12 years old; 6) 12 – 18 years old; 7) 18 + years old; 8) Musing / Thruout.  Barbara’s son Michael’s video was showcased in Gifts to the World.]

First Mother’s Day

by Barbara Shipka

Michael was now five months old. I had been told the adoption process would take about two weeks. I planned for six weeks…just in case. Three different friends had come for two weeks each.

Now I was on my own as a new mom. I had gone straight from being a confident business professional to feeling totally incompetent. The experience left me breathless!

We had been in Peru navigating a challenging adoption process for almost three months already…with no end in sight. And now there were new complications in our process as my first Mother’s Day approached.

The outcome of the adoption was uncertain. Michael might now be allowed into the US. Then what?

And in the meantime, I felt lonely and despairing with nothing to do but wait as money and my consulting business evaporated. I sobbed as I tried to wash away my fear and self-pity.

A German entrepreneur was staying at the same small hotel as we were. He was overseeing the building of a school in one of the barrios on the edge of Lima. He knew how down I felt.

As the day of the school opening approached…which just happened to be Mother’s Day…Robert asked me whether Michael and I might like to attend.

Even though I’ve seen such scenes many times before, I was amazed at the physical poverty in the neighborhood! No running water, no electricity, etc.

Cholera had recently arrived so the price of admission to the school (including new school clothes…a la the photo) was for the mothers to attend a class on cholera prevention.

As the program began, Robert introduced us. One of the mothers got up and came over to me with a Mother’s Day gift! Here were these women who had NOTHING…giving ME a gift! Imagine! It was a butter dish.

In that moment, I understood at a very deep level how completely and profoundly I also was living in poverty. The difference was that my form of poverty was spiritual rather than physical.

More than 20 years later it still brings tears to my eyes to remember the grace and healing that occurred for me through that gift. Those mothers…who had nothing…giving to me. Such generosity! And, at a deeper level, they also gave me a sense of belonging to the community of motherhood.

[Photo by Barbara, Lima, Peru, Spring 1991]

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Barbara is a single mom and was in her mid-forties when she adopted her son, Michael.  He was 10 weeks old at the time. Together, they spent many months navigating through the rather overwhelming legal processes for adoption in Peru.  Today, as a junior at the University of Minnesota, Michael is majoring in Native American Studies.

For much of her career, Barbara has been an executive leadership coach and organization effective consultant for Fortune 500 companies.  Another part of her career has been working in education and with non-governmental organizations in Europe, The Middle East, Africa, and The Caribbean.  Over the last twenty years, in addition to becoming a mother, she has also become an author and artist.  You can learn more at http://www.barbarashipka.com

These blog posts are snapshots from Barbara’s collection of stories about her experiences of their life together from March 1991 to today.  Visit her blog, Adoption and Parenting, to read more of her stories.  When you arrive, click on “Label” under “Home” where you see the tabs Recent…Date…LABEL…Author.  This will rearrange the stories into 8 categories:

Categories via 'Label'

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