You Can’t Always Trust a Kid’s Reaction

by Luanne

The other day I had a discussion with a few people on our Facebook page about an article in Adoption Voices Magazine that guest blogger Lisa posted.

But this blog post isn’t about that article—it’s about where my mind ended up.

As the conversation went on, the mention of race in adoption came up, and as my mind usually works, I was soon off on my own mental tangent.

I remembered a story our case worker had shared with us during our first home study. She was very good about bringing up issues, such as race and forming a transracial (called interracial in those days) family. The story went that a Korean boy was adopted by a white couple in the Midwest. They raised him in an area which happened to have very few Asians—so few, in fact, that the boy grew to be seven or eight and he had never seen another Asian. One day he watched a television show about the Japanese, and he laughed and made a derogatory comment about their looks. That’s when his parents understood that he didn’t realize he was Asian.

Her story made an impression on me and on my husband, and we knew that our children needed to be helped to understand and develop their own identities.

However, when our son Marc was in 4th grade, my analysis of the case worker’s story added a new layer of complexity.

I believe that it’s possible that the child did know at some level what he looked like and that he was “different” from those around him.

Here’s what happened. One night Marc was reading his homework on the floor of the family room and started laughing. I asked him what was so funny.

He kept laughing and pointed to a passage in the book. I read it and . . . you know that expression, my blood ran cold? It did.

Marc was reading an assigned book, The Story of Doctor Doolittle. Have you read this book? If you’re white, have you read an original version in recent years, with an enlightened view of race, or as a kid “back in the day”? If you’re not white, what did you think or feel when you read it?

There is a character in the book called Bumpo, the African prince. The way he is portrayed—both in text and illustration is clearly racist. In fact, Bumpo wishes to be white so he can marry Sleeping Beauty.

Marc’s school, the best private school in our town, was literature-based and founded on principles developed by Mae Carden in the thirties. The school hadn’t veered much from the decades-old curriculum and this book was on that curriculum.

I was more upset upon discovering what Marc was reading than anything that had happened up to that point about my kids. I felt betrayed by the school. When Marc started at the school there weren’t many minorities there, although each year more and more attended and by the time he was in the middle school grades, there were many Asian and Latino and some African-American children at the school.

I felt sad that Marc had to read something so racist, provided to him by adults he trusted.

I felt angry at the school.

I felt confused that, although Marc had been raised to respect people of all races and he knew he himself was of a minority race (in his community), he was laughing.

Although I’m dead set against book censorship, there is a big difference between banning books from libraries and choosing the best possible selections for curriculum.

So I called the school, of course, to complain. I met with immediate resistance and deflection. They had me speak to the teacher who assured me that Marc had not had a problem with it at all when they read it in class.  It was a humorous passage, the class had found it funny, and they had all laughed. I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

Think about that a minute. OK, think about it after you get around that pissed off feeling you’re experiencing right now.  He had already read that passage in school. So why was he reading it at home and laughing at it?

When I asked him why he was laughing and expressed my dismay at the overt racism, he gave me the “it’s no big deal” reaction and indicated I was over-reacting.

I concluded that he wanted to draw my attention to the passage to help him sort out his own feelings, but he was unable to be direct about it because he himself was confused and disturbed deep inside.

Later, I further concluded that as one of the only minority kids in his class at that time, he was embarrassed and wanted to show the other kids that he wasn’t different from them. That he wasn’t, in fact, the African prince.  That he didn’t have to wish he was white to marry Sleeping Beauty because he was already white, just like them.

That’s why I think that the story about the Korean boy responding negatively upon seeing his first Asians is more complex than on first thought.  On one level, the boy identified so strongly with his Caucasian family and community that he didn’t understand what he was seeing. But on some other level, he did know he was different and that being different was a very uncomfortable place for him to be.  A way to get around thinking of himself as different was to make other non-Caucasians the “Other.” (If you wonder why somebody could have knowledge and not have knowledge at the same time, you haven’t met anybody in denial ;)!)

What happened with the school and the book?  Because the school was sensitive to attempts at book banning, they made me fight them on the issue. But a compromise was effected when I presented them with a fully researched alternative list of books which had some of the same positive characteristics as the book in question and none of the racism.

One last thing. I want to make clear that even as this incident was happening, the school had already begun to change in positive ways as the administration and some teachers were replaced and the demographics of the city changed.  Although it had always been the best choice for my kids in our town, it became a much stronger and more inclusive school than it had been originally. I don’t want you to think I’m writing this to bash the school that caused my children much happiness.

Help Us Celebrate!!

It’s been ONE YEAR today that we started the blog Don’t We Look Alike?, and what a ride it’s been!  We’ve learned a lot about adoption and related issues and have met some wonderful bloggers and other individuals along the way.

Coincidentally, this is also our 200th blog post!!!

English: Independence Day fireworks, San Diego.

English: Independence Day fireworks, San Diego. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luanne:

When my husband and I adopted our two children in the 1980s, the only thing we knew about adoption was what we learned from local sources. My brother was adopted as a baby when I was eight, so adoption was familiar to me (link to my very first blog post about my brother). When we decided to adopt, we first thought of fostering because we knew the need was great, but we were told that because we didn’t have any children we didn’t qualify and were encouraged to adopt a baby for our first child. That seemed like good advice.

To do so we were asked to attend an “Adoption Information Meeting.” That evening five agencies were represented, and the bottom line was that if we wanted to adopt a baby we could go through Bethany, which represented Holt in Michigan.  Through that agency, we could adopt a Korean baby.  Within a year or so our son was in our arms. We then requested another child through the same agency because we felt it would be in our son’s best interests to share ethnicity with his sibling. Things were different in the eighties than they are today, and I still believe that was a good choice.

At that time, we didn’t have the internet to get information. Our information came from adoption-related sources, such as our case worker, the agency, other parents from our city who had adopted, etc. When the kids were little, we were connected to this network, but when the kids got older and were extremely busy with other activities and we moved away, we became less tied to any “adoption community.”

We never lost sight of our own notion that adopted children and children in transracial families couldn’t have their special circumstances ignored. But it often seemed like we were the only people around us who felt that way. People insisted that they “never thought” of our son or daughter “as Korean” or “as Asian” or “as adopted.” We would grit our teeth because ignoring realities doesn’t do our children any favors.

It wasn’t until Marisha and I started this blog that I found a whole community on the internet of people who “get” what adoption means, who understand that adoptees undergo trauma (often as infants), and that there are many political issues related to adoption which need to be considered. In fact, it feels as if the issues of adoption are just heating up.  Adult adoptees are leading the campaign to reform the way adoption works in this country.

I also didn’t know diddly about open adoption until reading like mad–blogs, articles, books. Open adoption is very different from the situation of my children’s adoptions, so it’s been such an educational experience for me to learn so much about it from the mouths of others.  We don’t know yet what adult adoptees are going to tell us in the future about their open adoptions, but I want to keep up on all this because it’s so important.

I feel passionate that reform is needed in certain aspects of adoption and foster care issues, while I am realistic about the impossibility of a system which works perfectly for every circumstance. I believe that the interests of children should be put ahead of the interests of adults.   I’d like to see our society work at becoming a “village” that cares for the various needs of foster children and children in need of adoptive families.

Thank you to all our readers and those who have participated in discussions on our blog.  And thank you to the other bloggers about adoption and foster care who share your hearts and experience with the world.

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Marisha:

I have done quite a lot of reflecting lately about this past year–mainly regarding my adoption. Seeing as this is the first year anniversary of our blog, I wanted to write a post about how amazing it is for me to see how much I have learned about myself, my mother, and other adoptees and parents.

I see most of my progress in how I now react to the different situations I am put in regarding being “Asian” and being “adopted.” The stigma has slowly started to drain away, and I am happy to feel a sense of relief when I think about my own adoption issues. In the past I would be overly sensitive and get hurt too easily by the comments someone would make to me such as the “tsunami in Japan” incident or my middle school crush telling me “I’m only into blondes.” I used to think that those comments were a reflection of how people saw me, or that I wasn’t good enough. Instead, I resound in knowing that most of those incidents and experiences have in fact, nothing to do with me or who I am on the inside or outside. Being comfortable in one’s skin is never easy– it would be false to think that one can fully live a life of confidence and not have any insecurities or flaws within them. I have accepted my flaws and faced my insecurities. I face them every day, in fact.

I am so thankful for my mom for being patient with me these past 25 years. This blog has not only bonded us even more, but has given us an honest outlet to communicate with each other about the problems we both are facing in life and with each other. It has been a rocky year personally for both of us. I have done some things that I am not particularly proud of, but have learned from them and found it easier to move on from the past because I have given myself the time to understand my issues of abandonment and insecurities about being an Asian-American adoptee.

At the same time, the amazing adoptees I have been in contact with or have shared some of their stories on our blog or on their own blogs have educated me. They help to fill a void–that feeling of being alone. It has given me a comfort to know that I am not alone in this. That a lot–if not most– adoptees face the same feelings I do at some point in their lives. I am inspired by that.

This next year is full of excitement. I ring in the one year anniversary with the blog by announcing my new journey. I will be playing one of my dream roles: Mimi in the musical RENT! I have waited my whole life for this moment, and I feel as if it has come at the perfect time for me to start this next chapter as a proud adoptee and woman. I have learned to not let my race or my cultural position define me because at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. What you choose to do and how you choose to live your life is material enough to create a success out of oneself. I am so proud to see the world start to change to give opportunities to people like myself, despite what we look like on the outside or where we come from.

Thank you for tuning in to the blog every week and thank you for allowing me and my mum the freedom to share our stories without judgment. I look forward to many more stories in the future from us and especially from all of you!!!

To help us celebrate, please consider donating to help foster children.  As an example, here is a news story about an Arizona charity (not yet rated by the BBB or Charity Navigator) which seeks funds to send foster kids to summer activities of their choice.  We donated for dance classes for a boy who wanted to take dance. Click this link to read the article.  In the article is a link to donate.

Reunion Between Birthmother and Child She Couldn’t Keep: A Review

by Luanne

Cover of "Reunion: A Year in Letters Betw...

Cover via Amazon

On the advice of Carrie Mulligan @CCMFeltHats, I read Reunion: A Year in Letters Between a Birthmother and the Daughter She Couldn’t Keep. I’m so glad she mentioned it because I hadn’t heard about the book before. What an experience!

In 1996, Katie Hern, a 27-year-old woman who had been adopted domestically, located her birth mother, Ellen Carlson, and initiated contact. They began their reunion through a series of letters and then emails and eventually met in person.

Because both Katie and Ellen are excellent writers, they allow readers into their lives, their personalities, and their emotions in ways that left me feeling as if I knew them both personally and had been witness to their reunion.

Although I prefer Jaye Roth’s image of a Rubik’s cube as a metaphor for adoption, this book discusses the adoption triad or triangle because of how Katie negotiates her new relationship with Ellen, while handling her position in the family she grew up with. Since I am an adoptive mom, I am the 3rd point of the triangle, and so it was really refreshing for me to read a book by the other two “points.”

Ellen is an educated woman who is thrilled to be in touch with the baby, now an adult, she gave up for adoption over a quarter of a century before. Even so, she makes missteps as she has to learn how to understand Katie’s perspective. She’s a willing student.

Katie, who has been the family peacemaker, learns how to teach Ellen to understand where Katie is “coming from.” Katie has a lot of feelings to deal with—feelings she didn’t expect to have.

As they learn how to relate to each other, they learn more and more about each other. They identify similarities and differences.

Katie admits near the beginning that a lot of literature by adoptees “pisses” her off. She doesn’t want to self-identify as a “mythic hero” or “survivor,” as Betty Jean Lifton would have her do. She thinks that the term “adoptee” sounds “like something you need a prosthesis for.”  Above all, she doesn’t want anybody to tell her how she should feel or think about being adopted.

But as the reunion goes on, Katie becomes introspective, learning more about herself, her feelings about having been adopted, and how adoption might have helped shape her personality and outlook on life. She comes to believe that she has a “fluid” identity because she was adopted.  This means that there is a lot of “shifting” involved.

As things go on there are changes, where the relationship between Katie and Ellen deepens.  Rifts occur. I’m not going to ruin the ending by telling you how the book ends regarding their relationship.

The only other thing I’ll mention is that I’m really glad they decided to put Katie’s brother Matt in their letters. I think his story, albeit through Kate’s eyes, is a good addition to the book.

I can’t wait to hear what y’all think about the book!

How Kate Helps Out

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the fourth and final installment. Part one is found here, part two is here, and part three is here.

We asked Kate to detail her volunteer and paid work in the field of adoption, and she kindly complied.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

One thing I’d like to mention is that I could not do ANY of the work I do in the adoption field if it weren’t for  the support and encouragement I get from my husband Tom and my children, Chase, Joshua, and Amilya.  They are the reason I do this. They make my life complete, and my happiness endless.

Connecticut Adoption and Family Services (CT-AFS, formally CARA)

After having our home study done by CT-AFS (formally CARA), I volunteered my graphic design experience and helped redesign their business cards and brochure. I worked with clients of theirs to help them design their profile/birthmother letters.  This led to my speaking at their informational sessions and on their PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis, as well as being a mentor for their clients.

The Director of CT-AFS asked if I’d consider being a respite/foster mother for newborns which paid a stipend.  Other agencies that didn’t have a foster mother also placed newborns with me through CT-AFS, and I was a DCF sanctioned respite for the newborns of a member of my support group.  Most came to us right out of the hospital and many were premature babies.    The newborns were with us for up to five weeks. I have recently given up this position to enable me to spend more time with my children this summer.

I did find it was a great way for my children to gain an understanding of what adoption is and how special it is.  Often I would be involved with the birthmother, which ranged from meeting her at the hospital to having her to my home to visit her child. Often the adoptive parents would have visits with the babies while in my care. On several occasions, I was honored to be able to place the child in their arms for the first time.  My own children were present at times and saw how a new family was made and how emotional and special this was.

Only once did any of my children feel sad when a baby was leaving us. My oldest son was particularly fond of one newborn we cared for, and the day we brought the baby to meet his forever family, Chase didn’t want to say goodbye.  We sat and talked about it, and he eventually decided that he did want to say goodbye and the adoptive family graciously let him hold the little one and say his goodbye.  He told me on the ride home that he was glad he changed his mind because he was happy when he saw how happy the family was to have their new son.

I was called with no notice to take a newborn baby girl several years ago.  The birthmother was a young girl who was unsure if she wanted to place her daughter.  I invited her and her mother to my home to spend the day with our family and see what a family by adoption was like.  On a nice summer day her mother and I sat with her on our back deck watching my children play and we talked for hours.  At the end of the day she tearfully told me that my family had made her see how much better a life her daughter could have if she chose adoption for her.  And her biggest realization was that in a family by adoption there are no real differences.

In 2012 the Director of CT-AFS asked if I would be interested in being a co-instructor for their PRIDE classes for state adoption, which also paid a stipend.  They have now merged with Waterford Country School which does therapeutic state adoption and in the fall I will begin teaching the PRIDE Classes and have begun speaking on Waterford Country Schools PRIDE class panels on a volunteer basis.

In 2009, I was awarded the Joseph and Barbara Sheffey Award for my work in the adoption field.  This is an award given by CT-AFS each year to someone who has worked to help further adoption through their agency.  It is made even more special to me because Joseph Sheffey was the Director of CT-AFS (then CARA). He was very helpful and supportive of us when we started our adoption journey.

Sandra, the Director of CT-AFS, has been my main source of information when something comes up in my support group that I do not know the answer to.  She has done research for me and helped me many times over the years.

Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group

It was during our wait to adopt that I started my first adoption support group via email with four women I had met on adoption forums online.  We became each other’s support systems and lifelong friends.  Since I was a stay-at-home mom when Chase came to us, I decided to start up another support group and use my experience and that of the others in my first group.  CT-AFS advertises my group in their newsletter and their social workers help spreading the word about my group has helped keep my groups going over the years.  Now ten years later “Kate’s Online Adoption Support Group” has over 30 families currently and is run using Yahoo Groups.

It is so gratifying to be part of my members’ adoption journeys and to know I had a small hand in forming new families by adoption.  I have gotten to meet so many of the children and been able to watch them grow and, in some cases, to watch the families continue to grow through adoption.  I have several families who have adopted that stay in the group to offer their invaluable experience to the members.  We have several get-togethers a year, and there have been some great friendships formed.  As our next get-together is rapidly approaching, my family and I are looking forward to seeing all the families and their children.  We love opening our home to give everyone an opportunity to connect in person with the people who have given them support and strength through their journey.  It is a wonderful feeling to watch these children play with mine and know I had a small hand in getting their families started.

CAFAP (CT Association for Adoptive Parents) and Hearts, Hands and Homes

A wonderful woman, Alana, who worked for CAFAP and now for HH&H, introduced me to a program they have which supplies clothing to foster and adoptive families at no cost.  I now help by opening “Karen’s Kloset” several times a year. I help keep the facility stocked by soliciting donations and sorting the clothes as well as spreading the word to foster and adoptive families through my support group.

Board of Directors

I have served on the Board of Directors for several adoption agencies over the past 10 years and would like to think that I have contributed ideas and helped further the growth of adoption through this.

One of the agencies, A Little Bit of Heaven, is run by a very special woman, Betty Smith.  Betty and I met over 10 years ago when we were both starting the process to adopt.  We shared the ups and downs as we both went on to adopt three children and formed a lifelong friendship.  The reason I accepted a position on her Board of Directors when she opened her referral/adoption agency was because I knew she was entering the business for all the correct reasons.  She wanted to make the dream of being parents a reality for others.  Betty has also been a wonderful source of information for me to help answer questions that come up in my support group.

Kate’s Story: The Interview

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the third installment. Part one is found here and part two is here.

Luanne’s interview of Kate Donovan Hodgkins

*What kind of goals regarding children did you enter adulthood with?

I had thought about adoption before meeting my husband, Since my husband’s brother was adopted, he was very open to the idea of adoption.  Our plan was to adopt a child and then have a biological child.  Ultimately, we wanted two children.

Shortly after Chase’s adoption was finalized, we learned that I was unable to conceive or carry a baby because of uterine cysts. Having adopted once already and not being able to imagine loving a child any more than I did my son, I did not have any issues with not having a birth experience. 

*How did you first get started on the path to fostering children?

While waiting to adopt a second time, we decided to do respite care to see how it would be with more than one child in the house. After doing respite care several times, our son came to us and we stopped.   Later, I was approached by the director of a local adoption agency I had done volunteer work for over the years and asked if I’d consider doing respite and foster care for newborns being adopted domestically.  We’ve had babies with us anywhere from one to five weeks. 

*When did you first get licensed for foster care? What did you go through to get licensed?  Do you have to reapply, and if so, what is the process like?

We had been licensed for our second adoption and we just had to update it to foster/respite.  We had already done the PRIDE classes required by our state, so we did not have to do any additional training other than for medically complex and CPR for children and infants.  It was not a difficult or invasive process at all.

*How did you choose whether to adopt from foster care, a local adoption, or an international adoption?

We started off looking into adopting through our state and also from Romania, but while we were researching our options we found the state route was less likely to be a newborn and we did want a baby.  Then Romania closed their doors to US adoptions and being concerned that this could happen again if we went international, we decided to adopted in the US through private domestic adoption.  At this time, several countries were increasing the amount of travel needed to adopt and we felt that it would be less travel and expense to adopt in the US. 

For our second adoption, we decided to look into state adoption again.  We were happy having had the newborn experience and were open to adopting an older child.  We hoped that we’d be able to adopt a child younger than our son, but we were open to a child up to three years old. 

*What has surprised you about your children?

Perhaps the fact that I could not love my children more than I do had I given birth to them.  I think many people going into adoption question if they will bond and love a child as much as they would a biological child. 

*What would you like to see changed in the system?

From a mother’s point of view there are things that I wish my son hadn’t  had to go through, such as visitation with his birth parent, but I also understand why the state tries for reunification.   I would like to see a better system for visitations that is less stressful for the children.  

*What qualifications do you think it takes to be a foster or adoptive parent?

Patience, patience, patience!  With foster parenting, it is often necessary to adjust your parenting style for the needs of each child and that takes patience, understanding and flexibility.  I’ve heard it said many times that all you need is “love,” but that is not always enough.  Many children in the foster system need much more than just love, and although my state strives to provide the necessary training, more training is needed, in my opinion.

*Do you have resources that help you?  What are they?

We have found various agencies over the years that have helped us in many ways.  We’ve used Birth to Three, Building Blocks, IICAPS, Care Coordination, UConn Health Adoption services, as well as therapists and other clinical help.  But the one thing that seems to be our best resource is other adoptive parents.   Talking with others who have gone through or are going through what you are going through is key to helping you feel you’re not alone in some of the struggles that arise.  We’ve used many of the local agencies that provide help for children of adoption and have found most to be very beneficial. 

*If you are or were a foster parent, do you continue a relationship with the children after they leave your care?

We are very fortunate to have several families that keep in touch with us, and we love to see the children grow up.  This past Thanksgiving we had a visit from a family that adopted a little boy that we fostered right out of the hospital, and we see several at a yearly picnic we attend.  We get email and pictures. We all get so excited to see how they are growing. 

*Do you have a little story about your children you would like to share?

Chase with his birthmom

Chase with his birthmom

When Chase was about one year old I started telling him the “story of his adoption” at bedtime.  This became a nightly ritual, and there was no way he would let me rush through or leave anything out.  He would be quick to correct me and tell me what I omitted.  He started asking at night for us to tell him his “doption story,” so we dropped the A in adoption and began calling it his doption story.  When Joshua joined our family, Chase insisted that we tell Joshua his own doption story nightly and this began to get rather lengthy at bedtime when our daughter joined us.   We explained that we would have to alternate their stories, and this continued for many years.  It was a way for us to tell our children about their adoptions starting at a young age and giving them a gradual understanding of what it meant to be adopted. 

Recently my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and my daughter started asking many questions.  As we explained to her that Josey was not adopted, Amilya’s reply was a sad, “she won’t have a doption story.”  It seemed to sadden her until we explained that she would just have a different type of story that her mommy and daddy could tell her at night.  She was satisfied with that answer thankfully.

*What bothers you the most about the situation your children have been put in?

It bothers me most that my daughter has medical issues that were caused by her birthmother’s lack of prenatal care and drug use, which caused her to be born three months premature.  With each new diagnosis, I found I would have anger directed at her birthmother. 

*Have you volunteered or worked with any agencies for foster children or adoptions?  What did you do? What were your reasons for doing so? Do you feel you made a difference, and if so, how?

Over the past 10 years I have volunteered by speaking on a panel for state adoptions both for DCF and for local agencies, CT-AFS and Waterford Country School.  I have also spoken at the CT-AFS informational sessions.  I have run online adoption support groups for over ten years for those just starting or in various stages of all types of adoption country-wide.  We currently have 33 families in our support group, and we meet in person several times per year.  I have volunteered for CAFAP and currently volunteer for Hearts, Hands and Homes by opening their clothing closet for foster and adoptive families to get clothing at no cost and to solicit and take in donations. 

*What do you want the general population to know about adoptees?

Adopted children are “forever” children; they are not disposable.   Adopting is as much a commitment as giving birth to a child.  

*What do you want the general population to know about the foster system and the adoption system?

Neither the foster or adoption systems are perfect, but I’ve found many of the people in this field are very dedicated to the children. They have a very difficult job at times. 

*Has your experience with fostering and adoption affected your politics?  In other words, is it a topic you watch for during election season?

Absolutely.   Most recently in our state, the adoption tax credit was the hot topic.  Many families that want to adopt cannot afford the costs of adoption or the added cost if the child is medically complex or has therapeutic needs.  This tax credit can make a difference in the amount of children that get placed as families are more able to adopt with the help of this tax credit. 

* Have your religious beliefs been a big part of you becoming an adoptive parent?  If not, what do you think motivates you?

For me the motivation to volunteer and work in the adoption field was born from frustration.  I didn’t have much knowledge or help during our first adoption and started a support group online to help me connect with others going through the same things.  I continue my work in the adoption field to help others in hopes of lessening their frustration some by connecting with others who have gone through the same frustrations and can lend their experience. 

*What else would you like to say about your experience?

The road to adoption through domestic adoption and through state foster to adopt was very bumpy with many ups and downs along the way. However, I would do it all again in a heartbeat to have my children.  It is an emotional journey and it can have the most wonderful outcome.

How We Became A Family of Five

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the second installment.  Part one is found here.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

When we decided to adopt a second child, we began the process through the state and then did respite care while waiting for a placement. It helped keep our minds off the wait and gave Chase a chance to see what it would be like with another child in the home.

Two years later,  almost to the day (one day shy of the date we got the call about Chase), we got the call about a little 7-month-old boy who was being placed for adoption through our state DFC.  Joshua’s adoption, although not quite the adventure we had with Chase’s, was another miracle.

Chase now had a little brother and we had a complete family.  Joshua’s adoption was a legal risk situation, and we had a very long legal battle to adopt him.  There were court ordered visitations with his birthfather that were very difficult for Joshua.  He had separation anxiety when social workers would take him for his visits and would have night terrors the night of visits.  We went to every court hearing and tried to be advocates for Joshua. We knew he was meant to be our son and we never lost sight of that goal.

In April 2007  we got a call that Joshua’s birthmom had given birth to a baby girl at 27 weeks.  The baby was only 2 lbs 2 oz, and they were not sure if she would make it.

Three months later, when we weren’t expecting it, we got a call asking if we could take the baby for a week or two respite. She was now out of the hospital and a little under 5 lbs.  Mom had disappeared after giving birth, but the birthfather was visiting daily.  His son was going to adopt the baby so she’d be with family.

Two days after we picked her up, we got word that the paternity test came back showing that the man named as father was not the father.  Because she was Joshy’s half-sister we could adopt her without going through a lengthy process.  When our social worker asked if we’d be interested in adopting her, the boys and I had already fallen for her. My husband just turned to me and said “go buy your ruffle butts.”  His way of saying yes to adopting her.

In September of 2007, Joshy’s adoption was final.  Joshua got to put the seal on his adoption paperwork, and Chase got to bang the judge’s gavel.  We were now legally a family of four–and soon to be five!  The judge told us she was looking forward to seeing us again soon to finalize our third adoption.

In August 2008, Amilya’s adoption was final and we once again sat in the judge’s chamber. As before, Joshua put the seal on Amilya’s finalization and Chase got to bang the gavel.  We were very content and looking forward to our future as a family of five.

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Chase has been on the honor roll at school and loves to play soccer and swim.  He is a healthy, happy, loving boy and is very open about his adoption.

Over the years it became evident that Joshua struggled with  ADHD, OCD and PDD. He has been getting therapy and working hard to overcome the challenges this presents.  Josh is an intelligent, happy guy who loves life and always has a smile for everyone.

Amilya was diagnosed with Broncho Malacia and severe asthma at a very early age, but she does not let her medical issues get in her way of living her life.  She is a trouper and takes most everything in stride.

Watch for Luanne’s interview of Kate next Friday, June 21!

The Story of How Our Son Joined Our Family

DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the first installment.

by Kate Donovan Hodgkins

In January of 2002 we signed up with an agency in California and began the wait to be matched.  In the eleven months we were with them, we were constantly advised to offer more money for “birthmother support.”  Then we were told that because we were in New England we would be very hard to match. And that we would have to fly to Texas before we would be able to fly home to Connecticut with a baby and that we would have to fly back to Texas to finalize the adoption.

In addition, we had little contact from them and could not get our calls returned to have questions answered.  They put up someone else’s picture with our profile and it took quite some time for them to correct this error.  They lost not just one, but two of our photo albums.  In the eleven months, we did not get one call about a possible match.   At that point, we put our contract on hold and started to look elsewhere.

After more research we found a referral agency and signed up with them.  Then the whirlwind began.

At 6 PM on December 16, 2002, we got a call that a possible birthmother wanted to talk to us by phone from Utah.  At 8 PM she called and we had a conference call with Nichole.  We talked to Nichole for an hour, and it felt like we were instant friends.

We hung up after the call and asked each other, “Do you think she liked us?!?”  The answer came in less than 5 minutes when the social worker called us back and told us that Nichole had asked if she could keep us.

That was when she told us that Nichole was in the hospital and our son was about to be born.  After the initial excitement the panic came: what do we pack, who do we call, are we prepared enough to bring a baby into this house immediately.  A thousand thoughts raced through our heads, and I don’t think either of us stopped smiling that night.

After getting the packing done, we started to call family and friends to say we would be leaving in the morning for Utah and had no idea when we’d be home, but most likely not for Christmas or New Years.  Nobody complained about the late night calls–everyone was as excited as we were.  I don’t think my mom slept for the 2 ½ weeks we were gone; she was so excited to have a grandbaby boy coming.  At 79 years of age she didn’t think she’d have another grandchild, let alone a boy (she had two granddaughters).

We got the call at 3 AM that Chase was born, weighing 5 lbs 7 oz and 18” long.  He was 6 weeks premature and they had to induce labor because his heart rate was dropping.  At delivery they found he had the cord wrapped around his neck.  Chase had premature lungs and was immediately moved to a larger hospital’s  NICU where he would spend the next 2 ½ weeks.

Our flight left Hartford, CT on time and arrived in St. Louis, MO on time.  However, shortly after landing, severe thunderstorms closed down the airport and we couldn’t get a flight out until morning. This delay was also a blessing in disguise.  During the past year of adoption research, I had made friends with a group of women across the country who were all also adopting.  One couple, had just adopted their daughter three months earlier and lived in St. Louis.  They came out to the airport to see us before we flew out to Utah.

Finally at 2 PM on December 18th we arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah.  We followed our social worker to the hospital, where we immediately went up to the NICU.  There we found Chase’s birthmom, Nichole, sitting on a stool watching over Chase until we arrived.  Nichole and I locked eyes and both started to cry and hug each other.  I knew at once that our family had just increased by two, not just one. My husband, in all his wisdom, took a picture of Nichole and I with Chase as soon as we met–tears and all.

We could not hold Chase because he was on a respirator, but we could touch him and talk to him and love him.  I’ve never seen so many wires going into a child and so many beeping machines keeping track of all his vital signs.  But it didn’t faze us at all, neither my husband Tom, nor I had any fears after seeing Chase.  Somehow we both knew he was going to be fine and we had no concerns at all about his health.  Hard to put into words, but we both felt very calm and at ease when we met Chase even with all the beeping and the noise of the respirator.

We stayed with Nichole there at Chase’s bed for a couple of hours, then we all had to pry ourselves away.  We took Nichole out to dinner, then went to the agency’s office together and signed all our paperwork and cried some more.  Afterward, we took Nichole to her apartment and stayed into the wee hours of the morning chatting and laughing and crying and looking at pictures of her family.  When we left to go back to the hospital at 2 or 3 in the morning it was a bittersweet goodbye.  Nichole was flying back to South Carolina in the morning, and we were very sad to see her go, but so thankful for the gift she had given us.

We agreed from the beginning that we wanted to have an open adoption with Nichole, not something we had really thought we’d want until we met Nichole and Chase.

For the next two and ½ weeks we were pretty much permanent fixtures in the NICU. We gave Chase most of his diaper changes, feedings, and all his baths.  The hospital allowed us to stay in a house across the street.  We only had to walk out the front door, cross the street and walk in the back door of the hospital.  Right inside the hospital was the cafeteria and by the time we left we didn’t even have to tell them what we wanted for breakfast, we’d get to the counter and our bagels would be ready.  The people that worked in the hospital were about the nicest,  most compassionate people we’ve ever encountered.

The third day we found something missing in Chase’s area.  No more respirator!  He had been taken off the respirator and his nurse was there to met us and tell me I could hold my son for the first time!  You talk about an emotional moment!  Picture this, me holding Chase with tears streaming down my check, my  husband taking pictures with tears on his face and our son’s tough male nurse crying right along with us.

His nurse gave us a picture he had taken for us while the respirator was being taken out, it was Chase with his middle finger up, telling the world what he thought of that machine.  It was the most amazing thing to finally be able to hold my son and I never wanted to put him down again.

Now Chase could be fed!  But it quickly became evident that Chase was not able to take a bottle.  He didn’t have the suck swallow breathe reflex yet.  So for the time being I fed Chase through a tube that went in through his nose into his stomach.  The nurses would set up the end of the tube for me with a syringe of formula and I’d slowly push the plunger and feed Chase.

Before we knew it Christmas was upon us and although several of the wonderful people at Heart to Heart had extended invitations to us to join them in their homes for the holidays, we opted to spend the holiday with Chase.  We decorated his area with Christmas cards and the hospital staff put up a sign with Chase’s name with Christmas decorations on it.  Tom and I headed to BabiesRUs and bought the Eddie Bauer stroller/car seat combination.

Soon Chase could start wearing his own clothes and since none of the clothes we brought with us (newborn clothes and 0-3month) would fit, we were off to buy preemie clothes.

We spent Christmas dinner in the hospital cafeteria with another couple we met whose daughter was also in the NICU.

On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I went to dinner at a Japanese steak house around the corner from the hospital. We hadn’t ventured out much beyond the NICU and our room and decided a nice meal out was in order.  We had a wonderful time, sitting with a family who so excited to hear about Chase.  Being in Utah was a very different experience then living in Connecticut.  The people are very very friendly and just think the world of anyone adopting. We were treated like royalty wherever we went.

We were at Chase’s bedside at midnight toasting with plastic champagne glasses filled with sparkling cider provided by the hospital staff.   We rang in the New Year with Chase. Everyone in the NICU milled around and visited and took pictures.   Definitely a New Years we’ll never forget.  We even have a picture of Chase holding one of the champagne glasses.

That night, Chase began taking a bottle, after days and days of trying.  On New Year’s Day, they tried Chase out for twelve hours in the car seat, hooked up to monitors. This is a common test for premature newborns leaving the NICU and even more so with a travel across the country ahead of them.  Chase passed the test with flying colors and had surpassed the five pound mark.  That meant he could leave the hospital and fly home!  He was released from the hospital at 10 AM on January 2, 2003.  Two hours later, we got a calling telling us that the interstate compact was done and we could fly home.

I never really knew what it was going to be like to be a mom. Now I can’t even imagine life without being a mom.

Kate with Chase

Chase is very fortunate to have a very loving  birthmother in Nichole.  Chase calls her either Mama Nichole or  MaCole.  We send her pictures and we do phone calls. Chase loves to talk to her and we are so blessed that she choose to do what she believed was best for Chase.  Open adoption isn’t always right for everyone, but we have truly been blessed to have Nichole in our lives.

Watch for the next installment of Kate’s story next Friday, June 14!

A Pink T-Shirt re-post

imagesby Luanne

This post, originally published on July 16, was the 2nd one I wrote for our blog.  It’s about the moment when I knew Marisha was going to be my daughter.  I thought I’d trot it out because some of you might feel like you know both Marisha and me a lot better now and get a kick out of it.

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T-shirts wallpapered the shop. They hung three deep up to the ceiling and stacks of them rose from every surface. A tiny pink one called to me. But I didn’t have a baby girl at home to wear it. At least, not yet.

When I paid for it, my husband said, “Isn’t it too early to buy something?” Yet as we left, it felt important to me that I was carrying my first gift for the baby we were adopting. It was February 1, and we had finalized our paperwork with the agency the previous September.

Now we and our three-year-old son Marc were waiting for a baby girl from Korea to complete our family. We planned to name her Marisha. Three years before, Marshal and I had gone through the same wait for Marc. That time we hadn’t known what to expect with a new baby. This time, we had already gone through exhausting nights and broken lamps and mashed-banana baths. We had discovered that dogs make good vacuum cleaners underneath the high chair. And how to change a diaper in ten seconds if necessary.

When we waited for Marc we didn’t know if we would get a boy or girl. He came home to us from Holt International, through an agency called Bethany. Their rule was that prospective parents couldn’t request the gender of their first baby. That was fine with us. We expected to hear about our first child sometime in the fall. That summer, Marshal and I made a trip to visit family in Canada. On August 19, as we drove back to Michigan, I felt a thud in my chest and looked over at Marshal behind the steering wheel. “We’re having a boy,” I said.

“What?”

“We’re having a boy.”

Marshal tipped his head and glanced at me. “How do you know? What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know. I just know we’re getting a boy.”

Two months later, we got the call from our case worker that we were, in fact, getting a boy. What was more remarkable is that our baby was born on August 19.

Now it was 3 1/2 years later, and Bethany had let us choose the gender of our second child, so we requested a girl. As I imagined baby Marisha, I hoped she would be strong and smart and healthy. If she were pretty, that would be great, too. Why not have everything when you’re daydreaming?

I began to feel even more impatient than when we had waited for Marc. Marisha was getting Marc’s oak crib and changing table. The antique dresser from my great-grandfather’s farm in Caledonia, Michigan. Although I worked in our small family-owned business and was a grad student, I felt that I didn’t have enough to do to get ready for her.

The first photo

Finally, we heard that she was coming home in May. Our case worker came over with a document and photo of Marisha. Even in her sleep, she looked wise and boasted a thick cap of black hair. She was living with a foster family in Seoul until she could be released. She was born, that’s right, February 1, the day I bought the little pink T-shirt. I wasn’t there physically when she was born, but I was with her on some other level, just as I had been with Marc.

I can’t help but wonder if others have had similar experiences in their own families.

A Story of Open Adoption

by Kristie Hoyt Gonzales

Adoption was always something I knew I wanted to do. In college I had the opportunity to study abroad and work in an orphanage. I fell in love with the kids. Leaving them was hard and I knew I wanted/ needed to do more.

Four years later I traveled to Guatemala for work. I fell in love with the city and the children. I was able to visit the special needs orphanage and my heart was broken for these children. In both Mexico and Guatemala, when I would arrive at the orphanages the children would smother me. They craved attention, contact, interaction, and mostly love.

And they had so much to give. Their hearts were big and open even in the face of adversity. They just wanted what everyone else wanted: a family, someone to hug them and tuck them in at night, comfort them when they fall, someone to read them a story while sitting in their lap, and someone to tell them they ARE loved. My heart broke every day I left them, and then when I returned. I wondered if they ever found someone to love them; a family of their own.

When my husband and I started talking about having a family we knew we wanted to have a child of our own and then adopt internationally—and from a Latin American country since we both spoke Spanish. After a few years of trying I was told it was pretty unlikely I would ever have kids and we knew that adoption was always the way our family was meant to grow.

We decided to adopt an infant since you only bring home your first baby once. That means we went domestic. We were open to transracial adoption and searched for an agency that would meet our needs, even though it meant going out of our home state. After a long process to enter the waiting pool, we were matched one week later. With TWINS!

But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel it would happen, so much so we never even asked the gender of the babies. Three weeks later, late at night, the phone rang. It was an out-of-state number and I had all the numbers for the agencies and our social worker saved so I wasn’t thinking it was the call. But I answered and I am so glad I did. She told me we were matched for a little boy, and that the birthmom wanted to talk to me tonight! What? Tonight?! But Tony was working and it was past 10PM where she lives. “Call her anyways” is what I heard. I responded with a shaky “ok” and a “what do I say to her?”

Over the next few weeks we talked often with our birthmom (she has asked to remain anonymous). We developed a close relationship and she asked us to fly out for the birth. YES! YES! YES! But Hudson came early and fast and we weren’t able to get there for the birth. We had to be in state for at least two weeks waiting for our Interstate Compact Papers to fly home and had plans to visit some of the sights with our birthmom. However, since Hudson was born prematurely, those two weeks were spent in the hospital, which had a weird loop hole: even though all papers were signed and he was legally ours, birthmom still had all medical rights. This meant we couldn’t visit our son in the hospital without birthmom and she had to be in the NICU, so as a couple, we couldn’t spend time together with our new baby.

It was a very hard and difficult situation on everyone. Our birthmom, who had planned to say good-bye at 48 hours and then take time to grieve before we all went out for the first time, couldn’t leave. She had to be there, had to see us interact with our baby, the baby she just gave birth to, had to give the doctors permission to speak to us, watch the photographer take his newborn hospital photos with us, and put her grieving on hold. We had to put our bonding on hold and it became an awkward situation for all involved. To make things worse, we were the ones driving her to and from the hospital to the hotel we were BOTH staying at. Her counselor was with two other birthmoms during that time that were giving birth. We all wanted to be a family, but we also needed our space, which we didn’t get.

Fast forward a few months.  The grief that our birthmom had been compartmentalizing erupted. And she took it out on the only person she could and that knew about the adoption: me. I fought through it, was her punching bag, tried to set boundaries, but also keep with our openness plan. Our agency told us to cut off all contact and change my phone number, but I just couldn’t do it–to her or my son. After a few months, I was finally strong enough to set and keep boundaries. This was the best thing I did!

After a few months of no contact, our birthmom had the time she needed to grieve and I had the time to focus on Hudson and form an attachment. We now text often, talk on important days, and are planning for her to visit. Even though our relationship wasn’t always easy, I am so grateful for our birthmom, for sticking through the rough times and not listening to others to end contact because we wouldn’t have the relationship we have now. We have trust, we check in with each other (and not just about Hudson). We have a relationship with each other.

But our adoption story doesn’t end there. We knew our family wasn’t complete and we had love in our hearts from another child. It was still weighing on our hearts to adopt internationally. Knowing we wanted our children to have the same ethnicity we changed from adopting from Latin America to Africa. After researching different countries we felt led to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We chose DRC for the process and the fact you could adopt independently with lawyers in country versus using an agency. This adoption is a completely different experience. We are currently waiting for a referral and are excited to see our family completed.

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Kristie Gonzales is an Early Childhood Education Specialist. She says, “Adoption was always something that was on my heart and when I couldn’t get pregnant, we knew adoption was always meant to be how our family would grow. My husband, Tony, and I pursued an infant adoption and we were open to a transracial adoption. Our blessing, Hudson, came into our family through an open adoption, and we are currently pursuing an international adoption from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

Kristie Hoyt Gonzales can be found at www.ourjourney2forever.wordpress.com

Was it Enough?

Question to Parents (or Prospective Parents) in Open Adoptions:

A question was posed the other day by Tao from The Adopted Ones Blog .  How would you describe the training and focus you received from your agency on the notion of “openness”?  “Was it a one-hour class type thing – or a major focus in how it would look and ways to document it?”

If you already adopted your child or children, is the “open” part of open adoption what you expected? What you were told to expect by your agency?  Has anything surprised you?  Has it been better or more difficult than you expected?

We thought about setting this up as a poll, but really we don’t know what parameters to place.  Without hearing from you, we don’t know how good a job the agencies are doing about preparing adoptive parents for open adoptions.

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