Split Between Privilege and Denial, The Truth Brings Wholeness

by Luanne

I finished a book the other day, and I’ve had an irresistible urge to talk about it to every person I’ve seen since then.  Have you had that experience from reading?

If you want to feel that way, read Catana Tully’s Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity.

It’s a book about adoption, but then it’s not quite about adoption.

Tully was born to a Guatemalan woman of African origin, but she grew up in the household of a German family living in Guatemala. She became a proper German young lady and eventually moved to Germany, where she became a fashion model and movie star.

Although many questions arise for the reader about Tully’s background, the girl herself doesn’t question the narrative she has been given by her German mother.

Only belatedly does Tully realize there is much to be learned about her origins.

Tully moves to the United States where she suffers an identity crisis. She isn’t African-American, although she is a Black woman. Eventually, she realizes the hard truth that she is racist toward African-Americans because she has so absorbed the subtle teachings of her childhood.

She studies and ultimately teaches Ethnic Studies and learns that she has been colonized by the German family who raised her. She begins the long struggle to learn who she is and from where she comes.  To do so, she must search for her birth mother (who has since passed away) and her birth father. Along the way, she meets her birth siblings and another father who tells her that he is her birth father. Additionally, after years of a difficult relationship, she reunites with the German sister who was old enough to be her mother and helped raised her. All this is necessary for Tully’s identity education.

I found Tully’s search to be suspenseful and fascinating. The book reads like a mystery or detective novel in the latter half.  The reader learns the truth along with Tully.

What makes Tully’s story similar to the stories of other transracial adoptees, such as my children who were born in Korea, and what makes it different?

The way Tully absorbed the culture of her German mother and didn’t really “see” herself as the birth child of a Black woman seems true to the experience of many transracial adoptees.

Where I think it differs is here:

SPOILER ALERT

It’s not only where her experience differs, but something that upset me on behalf of the young woman Catana Tully. She was never legally adopted by her German family. Therefore, when the mother dies (the father had been gone for years), the older (bio) daughter inherits the estate, but Tully does not. Tully writes about this injustice, but presents it fairly objectively. Rather than Tully telling the reader how to feel, the reader must pick up the responsibility and get angry (and I sure did).

So Tully had no legal rights as a daughter of the only family she knew at the point that her German mother died.  That she was loved very much is evident, but she was betrayed by this loving parent who didn’t do right by her in death.

The way the book ends answers most of my questions, although I still felt that the German family was an enigma. But what was important was that Tully’s birth parents came to life for me and surpassed the German mother’s heavy influence. Tully’s life seems to blossom into wholeness by the last words of the book.

The only weak point I could find is that the book could have used another editor’s eyes for typos, but I’m picky about those, and many readers might not even notice them.

Split at the Root is a well-written and thoroughly engaging memoir even for those not interested in adoption, and for anybody connected to adoption it is a must read.

The R-Word

by Nina Liane Richards

Tommy Jacobs had a nose that was scrunched to his face and buck teeth. His voice was high pitched and a little nasally. His ears were big and clung to his head a little too tightly—like God had flattened them with a hot iron. He hugged his textbooks to his chest when he walked and his feet waggled around oddly.

He sat at the back of the school bus where people laughed at him and call him names. They threw paper at him while calling him “The Amazing Retarded Bat Boy” like they were at some overpriced freak show—taunting and poking their fingers through a barred cage.

Middle-schoolers were so cruel.

Every day on the bus ride home, he was prodded by grimy hands and pelted with wadded up pieces of soggy paper. Tommy cursed at those kids who made fun of him but they never stopped.

Every day as he passed my seat to get off the bus he stopped to look at me. He always smiled, his eyes sparkling with kindness, his nose wrinkling even more. He always said, “I hope you have a good day, Nina.” Then he continued through the gauntlet of nasty pre-teens, continuously teasing him all the way to the bus door.

At school Tommy and I started walking to classes together—our classrooms were next to each other. During our walks he talked about his day and even tried to tell me jokes. I didn’t get them but I pretended to because I wanted to hear his laugh—a seldom heard sound. For the first time, someone was finally laughing with him, not at him.

Walking to my seat on the bus home, a chorus of “Nina and Tommy sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G” accompanied my entrance. “Tommy is Nina’s boyfriend!” They sneered.

“He’s not my boyfriend!” I screamed. My face grew hot. I felt boxed in. Caged. Scared. Furious. I realize now that this is how Tommy must have felt every day.

He tried to sit next to me. He tried to be my friend. He tried to reach out to me. One day of being teased and I couldn’t take it. I wish I had had his strength and courage. I had already caved to peer pressure. “Get away from me, you retard!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.

I could see the tears welling up behind his eyes but he didn’t let them go—he was stronger than that. He was certainly stronger than me. He nodded silently. Then he took his seat at the back.

“I hope you have a good day, Nina.” He said sullenly as he stepped off the bus.

To this day, at twenty-five years old, I am still ashamed of what I said. The look of pure betrayal on Tommy’s face will haunt me forever.

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Question from the editors:  If you have personal experience, do you think that adoptees are more in tune with outsiders and/or more apt to need to conform?

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This piece was originally published thirteen months ago, but we want to share it with new readers. In the meantime, Nina has gotten married, thus the change in her last name.  Also, since her piece was originally published, bullying has been in the news even more.  And a group has been formed to educate the public against the use of “the R- word.”  Here is a link to the Spread the Word campaign.STW-Partners-Un-Dated-Dark

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption..

by Marisha

Tara Bradford has initiated an exciting new series on her blog. As an adoptee and an adoptive mother, she has a wealth of experience from both perspectives which can inspire and enrich the rest of us. Follow the link below to read her description.

Thank you, Tara!

Smore Stories – Daring To Journey Through Adoption...

Tara Bradford

Tara Bradford

Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part V: The Finding Place

SHE ONCE WAS LOST, BUT NOW SHE’S FOUND

by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

Photos by Juliet Ercolano (photos of Juliet by Lisa)

For years, we’ve had the story wrong. I am not sure whether I heard it wrong or the original information I was given was in error.

Let me back up: The day I met my younger daughter in a hotel room in Nanjing, China in December 1994, I swore I was told by our translator that the baby was “found by a police officer at a station and taken to the family planning clinic. They then took her to the orphanage.”

But, apparently, that’s not what actually happened.

When Juliet and I visited her orphanage on our recent trip to China, at one point the director sat down with us and opened Juliet’s file. (We had sent this special request through our contacts at Children’s Hope International months before arriving and were assured looking at the file was no problem.)

Through Savor, our translator, we were told that one-month-old Juliet was found by workers one early morning in July 1994 at a women’s health/family planning clinic, and was taken from there to the Changshu Social Welfare Institute, from which we adopted her five months later. Not a single station (bus or train) or police officer involved! (I am embarrassed to confess that it took me until earlier this year to discover, online, that Changshu doesn’t even have a train station!)

As Juliet and I recovered from our surprise, the director gave Savor and our driver the address of the clinic, and we headed out.

On the way, I once again found myself feeling a little nervous. What would the place look like? How would Juliet feel when she saw it? Would we both dissolve in tears, knowing we were staring at the spot where she was left by her birthmother one summer morning?

We got those answers very quickly, as the clinic was not far away. On the way over, Juliet and I held hands in the backseat of our driver’s car and didn’t say much. Instead, we peered out the windows, both lost in our own thoughts.

About 10 minutes later, the driver pulled into the driveway/parking area of a large, modern, sand-colored building with brown marble steps and an aqua sign saying世代服 Shidai Family Planning Service. 

We hopped out of the car, and Juliet and I looked around silently. We immediately noticed that in order to pull into the parking area in front of the clinic, we had driven through an open metal accordion gate and past a little guardhouse.

Juliet and I were walking over to it when a middle-aged woman wearing worn jeans and a flowered blouse came out of the clinic’s front doors, curious about who we were and what we wanted.

Speaking Chinese, Savor explained and a big smile broke out on the woman’s face. Apparently, this woman worked at the clinic back in the summer of 1994, and remembers “a few baby girls being dropped off here.” She proceeded to tell us that birthparents would wait until dark and then climb over the gate (closed and locked at night, and much higher than the one there now) so they could place their babies carefully up on the steps of the clinic’s front door, safely away from passersby on the street and any danger.

“We would find the babies when we came to work in the morning,” she said, through the translator, “and bring them to the orphanage.”

Juliet asked me to take her photograph with the woman, and commented afterward “Is it weird that I am smiling? I just feel like smiling knowing this lady was there when I was found!”
I told her that there were no “shoulds” when it came to her feelings. I snapped a few shots of the worker and Juliet, as well as some of Juliet in front of the building. Then I handed the camera to Juliet, and she took a few for herself.

I admit that I had a feeling of unreality while clicking the shutter: It was almost impossible to envision my daughter, now a beautiful, healthy and strong 19-year-old, as a helpless, month-old baby wrapped in a blanket and left on that stone step landing. The disconnect was just too much for me.

And later that evening, over dinner, Juliet told me that she felt the same way.

“I am glad that I got to see where my parents put me, but honestly, Mom, it doesn’t seem real,” she said. “One thing that made me feel good was hearing that she climbed over that high gate to make sure I was safe. All this time, I was picturing myself on a train station platform, with lots of people just walking by, maybe not caring or even not seeing me. At least, this way, I know they wanted me to be safe and go on to a better life.”

Read about the trip Lisa and Juliet too to China in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part I

Read about the monuments in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part II

Read about Juliet’s foster home in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part III

Read about Juliet’s orphanage in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part IV

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For Lisa’s story about picking up baby Juliet from China, read this post and then this one.

Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part III: The Foster Home

Read about the trip Lisa and Juliet too to China in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part I

Read about the monuments in Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part II

Part III: The Foster Home

Story by Lisa DeNike Ercolano
Photos by Juliet Ercolano (photo of Juliet was taken by Lisa)

I still dream at night about the babies and children we saw at Alenah’s Home.

The big sunny playroom at Alenah's

The big sunny playroom at Alenah’s

Tucked snugly away amongst a series of other traditional Beijing hutong houses, sunny, well-scrubbed and cozy Alenah’s is home to about 20 orphaned babies and children with special medical needs.
This spirited little boy was very friendly and loves visitors!

This spirited little boy was very friendly and loves visitors!

There’s the baby girl with big, serious eyes and a rosebud mouth. She has a congenital heart condition and needs surgery, and all she wants is for someone to hold her and sing to her. (Juliet did — for about three hours!)

Juliet holding one of the babies at Alenah’s

And then there’s the six-year-old boy who is paralyzed from the waist down from a previous surgery to repair the meningocele he was born with. Certain that others will reject him, this clever boy puts up a defensive front whenever approached. But if you show him you are really interested in him, he opens up like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

These children and more come to Alenah’s from orphanages and other sites throughout China to receive expert medical care available in the capital city.

But just as badly as they need medical care (surgeries, medicine, therapy), they need love — and lots of it. And they get it at the home, which is staffed by 14 gentle, caring “ayis” (the Chinese word for “auntie” or “caregiver”) and a series of loving volunteers.

The ayis and some volunteers in the back courtyard at playtime

The “ayis” and some volunteers in the back courtyard at playtime

Alenah’s is run by Children’s Hope International, the wonderful adoption agency that brought Juliet into our lives. (CHI is headquartered in St. Louis in the US and in Beijing in China.) Melody Zhang (Zhang Wen) is the director of Alenah’s and of the Beijing Office of Children’s Hope there. Deeply committed to children’s rights, Melody and her team at Alenah’s have managed to care for more than 70 of these children since the home opened in 2004, and 20 of them have been adopted.
Meal time is a very happy time at the foster home

Meal time is a very happy time at the foster home

Juliet and I fell in love with the children there and are looking for ways to help them. We would love to be able to return next summer and spend a few weeks helping the caretakers.

If you want to know more about Alenah’s Home and its mission, watch this little news clip about it:

http://www.adoptblog.childrenshope.net/2013/05/a-visit-to-chi-foster-home.html

Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part II: The Monuments

Read Back to Where She Once Belonged, Part I

Part II: Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square/The Great Wall

Story by Lisa DeNike Ercolano

Photos by Juliet Ercolano (photo of Lisa and Juliet was taken by Tim, their guide; photo of Juliet was taken by Lisa)

Of course, for years, we’d seen it in pictures and on TV: Tiananmen Square, the 4.8 million square-foot plaza that was the site of the 1989 pro-democracy movement and subsequent government crack-down.

“Oh my gosh, there he is: Chairman Mao! Ni hao, Mao Zedong!” I said excitedly to Juliet, as we stood in the square and looked at the giant portrait of the infamous leader hanging on the scarlet-wall of Tian’anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, that leads into the Forbidden City. “Remember when you were a little girl, and thought his name was ‘German Mao’?”

The afternoon before, we had arrived in Beijing, the capital city of the People’s Republic of China, bleary-eyed and jet-lagged after a 14-hour flight from Washington International Dulles. (Juliet slept a lot, and I watched every episode of “Louie,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” that they offered on our United Flight.) By the time we got through customs and security and made our way to our hotel, we were beat, and happy just to walk the streets of Beijing near our hotel, enjoying watching passersby and poking into shops and restaurants.

On the morning of our first full day, our guide, Tim (his chosen English name) and a driver picked us up in our hotel lobby and we set out on the first item on our itinerary, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, to be followed by a chance to spend the afternoon climbing the Great Wall.

I was almost awestruck standing before Tiananmen, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace, knowing that it dated to the Ming Dynasty in 1420 – years before Columbus discovered America! You could feel the history! We had hoped to view Mao’s remains in the crystal coffin inside of his massive mausoleum, but our visit fell on a Monday, when it was closed, so I had to satisfy myself with looking at the building from the outside, and snapping photos of the imposing sculpture of China’s workers that stands outside. We also posed in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and saw the Great Hall of the People – all edifices that we had read about for years.

We spent about three hours inside the Forbidden City, which was home to China’s emperors for more than 500 years. Again, the sense of history was palpable. Our guide helpfully pointed out the symbolism inherent in the architecture, as we gaped and took photos. I loved stepping over the traditional Chinese thresholds as we went from section to section, and was delighted when Tim informed us that Chinese thresholds are thus designed because “ghosts don’t have knees, so they can’t walk over.” We viewed the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the golden throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony, and my imagination flashed back to film “The Last Emperor,” which told the story of Puyi, China’s last emperor, which was filmed there.

While I was captivated by the sense of history and the architecture, Juliet enjoyed snapping photographs of the other tourists, which not only included other waiguoren (foreigners), but also thousands of Chinese tourists from all over that vast country. We found especially darling the small children wearing traditional Chinese split pants, which allow the wearer to relieve himself freely, anywhere and anytime!

In the afternoon (after a quick buffet lunch where we learned that the Chinese don’t believe cold drinks are healthy, even on 90-degree-plus days!), we tackled the Great Wall. Tim wisely chose to get himself a cup of tea and stay behind while Juliet and I headed up the surprisingly steep, worn stone steps to the first fortification in sight. Again, we were awed by the knowledge that some sections of this world famous landmark date back to 221 BC! Almost equally awe-inspiring was the fact that so many Chinese women were scaling these steep steps in high heels and platform sandals!

Before leaving, Tim helped us bargain for tee shirts proudly proclaiming “I Have Climbed the Great Wall of China.”

Next up: Our visit to Children’s Hope’s Foster Care Home

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.

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!

Suggesting A New Image for Adoption

by Jaye Roth

Jaye blogs at Jaye’s Brain about “family, my 25 jobs, and brain cancer.”

After struggling through German Literature (The Song of the Nibelungs: A Verse Translation from the Middle High German, Hermann Hesse, that sort of thing;) and a single day of Russian Literature (you didn’t need a Swastika but I had the feeling it would have helped), I found my needed credits buried deep in the hidden pages of Shakespeare. I totally “got” the damned spot that the lady was trying to wash out, and even in my early 20’s I deeply understood that the “lady doth protest too much” was a lesson hand-made for me: the more I told people it didn’t matter to me, the more it appeared as if I did have something to hide.

I’m talking of course about my adoption (again).

I always thought adoption was kind of interesting in general–the way I find the difference between sushi (yummy) and cooked fish (gross) interesting. Everybody has an opinion.

In a similar way I found my brain surgery interesting: “All this would be fascinating if it weren’t happening to me.” There were certainly days that adoption felt like that.

Mostly, even in the challenging adolescent years, I felt that I was lucky to have my parents, George and Bernice, and that they were lucky to have me. There was a connection there that couldn’t be explained to others, and I gave up trying to explain it. I felt that the word “chosen” was a bunch of crap, but it was OK to say “wanted.” Chosen made me think of meat, hanging in the window at the local butcher. We didn’t talk gushy love stuff around the house too much, but it was understood that we were all on equal footing, and no one was chosen over the other.

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Language for the practice of adoption often includes the popular terms “triangle” or “triad.” I have no issue with these terms designed to depict the bond between the birth mother, “child” and the adoptive mother. The family that is formed–the good, bad and ugly–will always have an asterisk by its name (in the hearts of some) like a steroid-injected major-league baseball player. That is why I used the popular multi-colored puzzle cube for my own adoption image: three sides just didn’t seem complete to me. Where the triad gets the conversation going, the cube adds room for deeper dimension and inclusiveness.

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My personal cube illustrating my top thoughts about my family starts with my earliest memories, my middle sister (mother to two adopted children, domestic and international) and my lost sibling. An entire side of my cube would have to be devoted to Helen, who lived less than two days. My mother told me this story when I was much too young to understand what she was saying. Unlike my“chosen story,” which was repeated over and over again, I never heard this tale from her again. I remember it as “mother couldn’t have the baby (physically forced to delay giving birth until a doctor could arrive). Involuntary manslaughter by today’s standards? Perhaps. Rather than dismiss this drama as a sad thing that happened before my time, I have come to see it as integral to the family story.

When you twist the cube, you get all sorts of possibilities. Often you can’t get it back to the original colors and patterns. Sometimes you get aggravated and throw the cube against the wall. (Oh wait. That’s me). For some people, it is easy to solve. There are, of course, more sides to some stories than others; I like the image of the cube as a way to begin breaking away from the idea that adoption only affects three people. Adoption affects the world, one family at a time.

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!

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