An Invitation to Contribute to “Letters for Them”

If you could write a letter to your birth mother or birth father, what would it say?

Here’s an invitation for adoptees to do just that–through a project by an adoptee at Rhode Island School of Design:

 

Hello!

I’m Robin, a junior studying Graphic Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. I recently launched a project called Letters for Them. This is to be an ongoing project, and I’m hoping some of you will join me in this work.

Kindergartner Robin and her mom, 1998

Kindergartner Robin and her mom, 1998

A little background about me and my work, I was adopted when I was eight months old from Hefei, China, and as a young child I always struggled to fully understand my story. As I’ve grown up I found that art helped to work through and express the complexity of thoughts and emotions. Even now at RISD, I’m constantly looking for ways to explore my personal history in my work.

For a while now I’ve had this idea…It all began when I found some old drawings I had made as a kid (maybe six or seven years old). They were letters that I had written to my birthparents when I was first beginning to understand where I came from. They were never sent as neither I nor my mom know my birthparents nor had any way of contacting/finding them.

One of Robin's childhood letters to her birth mother

One of Robin’s childhood letters to her birth mother

My mom and I went back to China between my senior year of high school and my first year at RISD. While there, we were able to visit my orphanage, which has changed quite a lot. We saw my file, which as we had expected, offered no new information as to who these unknown people were/are. Since then I continue thinking about what I’d want to say to them if I ever did have the chance to meet them. Letters for Them came as an idea that perhaps other adoptees think about this as well. Wouldn’t it be cool if we all had a common place to send these technically unsendable letters? Thus, Letters for Them was born.

Leter received for "Letters for Them"

Leter received for “Letters for Them”

Letters for Them is an open invitation to any and all adoptees. No matter how old you are or where you were adopted, whether you know your birthparents or not, if you are an adoptee, you are invited to participate. This is meant to be a public, open space for adoptees to write to their birthfathers and/or birthmothers.

To learn more about the project and ways to participate/get involved please visit: http://www.lettersforthem.com/.

Thanks!
Robin

Fla. social worker finds unlikely home for troubled foster child – CBS News Video

This CBS evening news story really touched me.

Fla. social worker finds unlikely home for troubled foster child – CBS News Video.

Here’s a 2nd article:

http://young.house.gov/press-release/representative-young-congratulates-eckerd-adoption-specialist-connie-going-angel

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.

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!

Why Are We Using An Outdated Word?

by Luanne

I’ve been struggling with the word adoption, as well as its variations like adopt and adopted.

When you are talking about a child and the enormous emotional terrain which springs up, around, and from adopting, it seems ludicrous to use the same word to mean other things.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, adoption means the following:

the act of adopting : the state of being adopted
Examples of ADOPTION
  1. They chose adoption because they couldn’t have children of their own.

  2. children who are available for adoption

  3. Our lawyer has handled many adoptions.

  4. our adoption of local customs

  5. the company’s adoption of new technology

  6. the unanimous adoption of the resolution by the Senate

This definition doesn’t even touch one of the most common usages: dogs and cats available for adoption.

I’m a huge animal lover, and I don’t want to mess with them finding homes.  But I feel a little squeamish about being forced to use the same word for them as for children.

On WordPress, I search for blog posts using the keyword adopt and come across posts about adorable animals in need of homes.  I read some of them and want to “like” or “comment,” and sometimes, I do, but I feel ridiculous wearing my DWLA gravatar.  Then I wonder if the animal shelter writing the blog will think DWLA is an animal advocacy blog!

Because we English-speakers adopt “local customs,” “new technology,” and resolution and bills, as well as puppies and kittens, why do we use that same word for children?

I think we need a new word.  And with a new word we can rethink the whole notion of adoption from the ground up, rather than relying on old traditions and myths.  We can make sure we do it all right this time.

Maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky, but if we start with a new word, it might just promote education about adoption in the general population.

What do you think?  Can you make up a better word?

Some cities promote "Adopt a Flower Basket" or "Adopt a Flower Bed"

Some cities promote “Adopt a Flower Basket” or “Adopt a Flower Bed”

Paris Review – “Every Adoption is a Ghost Story”: An Interview with Jennifer Gilmore by Amy Benfer

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Here’s an interview of Jennifer Gilmore who wrote the novel The Mothers about open adoption from the perspective of a prospective adoptive mother.

The interviewer, Amy Benfer, once had almost placed her daughter with adoptive parents and changed her mind at the last minute.

Paris Review – “Every Adoption is a Ghost Story”: An Interview with Jennifer Gilmore, Amy Benfer.

A “Fair” Way of Encouraging Foster Care Adoption?

by Luanne

Have you ever been to an adoption fair?  If you haven’t, maybe you’ve seen one on the television news.  You know those tear-jerker short stories they run to make you feel good about watching their network?  It would be one of those–designed to make soft hearts feel that something is being done for foster children looking for forever homes.

But are they a good idea?  I’m sure there are pros and cons.  It’s good to encourage prospective parents to consider adopting older children and sibling groups. Nothing like having someone in your face to press home the fact that it might be possible to make the lives of these kids better.

I get an image, though, of the puppies and kitties which are brought to Petsmart on Saturday morning to find them homes.  That glass case of tiny kittens curled up together is an adorable sight, but look closely, and the cats are overwhelmed and frightened by what’s going on.  They get picked up and put down and there are swarms of strangers looking them over.

But at least cats aren’t being gawked at and handled by their own kind.  I can’t even imagine what it’s like for a human child to go through this experience.  After all, most of them are old enough to understand that they are being inspected and evaluated by strangers.  Their deepest hopes and fears are stimulated by the event.

The Christian Science Monitor published an article by Alicia Morga entitled “Adoption fairs are speed dating for kids. Families need ‘arranged marriages’ instead” a couple of years ago (March 4, 2011).  In the article, Morga describes her own experience with an adoption fair.

When I was ten years old in the early 80s, I participated in an adoption fair. My family of thirteen – two parents and eleven children – was dismantled when my youngest brother died of malnutrition. I became a ward of the state of California at the age of three. By the age of ten, I was a veteran of several foster homes and, with my options dwindling, was residing at a group home – a sort of juvenile hall with the décor of a dentist’s office – where they stick the “hard” cases.

Being Hispanic and older, my stock was depreciating fast, so my social worker lined me up with about 20 other kids at an adoption fair held at the Los Angeles Arboretum.

There among the trees and in full view of the Queen Anne Cottage, at the time also the backdrop for the popular television show, “Fantasy Island,” a carnival atmosphere was devised. There were popcorn, games of chance, and games of skill. Couples and families looking to adopt milled about. Ricardo Montalbán, the star of “Fantasy Island,” was rumored to be making an appearance.

The goal of the fair was clear to me, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated; I was supposed to sell myself. I stood next to a tree and did my best to appear good.

For a while no one approached me, and I watched other kids attempt to entice the Adopters with strong throws or pretty smiles. The fair encouraged mixing by holding games of leapfrog and partnered up Adopters with foster kids. Finally realizing, similar to a game of musical chairs, that parents were being snatched up, I waded in and leap-frogged a woman while launching a charm offensive on her husband.

I was all good manners and lots of smiles. The husband was brown like me, so I stood close to him hoping he would see himself in me and she, being of a lighter hue, would see what she liked in him in me. We made small talk while I walked the fine line between being pleasing and being obsequious, being engaging and being obnoxious, being energetic and being frantic. We spent about 40 minutes together.

The couple called my social worker a few days later and expressed interest in adopting me. Technically I was given a choice about whether I wanted to accept them as a placement. I say technically, because it’s hardly a choice when your social worker is telling you to get with the program or you’re going back to the group home.

Before I knew it and before the adoption was finalized, as is typical, I was moved into their house. It was pretty clear early on that things weren’t going well. There were red flags. But much like when you move in with a boyfriend, breaking up becomes harder to do. Plus, in the immortal words of my social worker, this was “my last chance.”

Turns out I “chose” adoptive parents who were wholly incapable of handling a ten year-old stranger in their home, much less their lives. I was a child, but I had already had a whole history – one that didn’t square with their expectations for a cute young girl, but was more akin to a distrustful, jaded old maid. It was a choice for me that resulted in some very difficult years until I turned 18 and moved out.

I’m not sure what the answer is because obviously it’s important to find homes with loving adoptive parents for children who need them and want them.

What do you think about adoption fairs?  Are they a positive development, a necessary evil or an evil which should be abolished?

The Importance of Story

by Luanne

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”
― Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Everybody and everything has a story.  According to Terry Pratchett, we are all shaped by stories.  This quote might mean that reading a variety of stories helps develop us into who we are.  But, in fact, we are shaped even more by the stories which are unique to our selves.

We create stories out of our complex lives.  To understand ourselves and others around us, we tell ourselves stories that make some sense out of it all.

As Patrick Rothfuss puts it:

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

Most of us come to our consciousness with family stories told to us by relatives.  Even in families which are reticent to talk about the past, there is a pattern which is story in hearing that one has the same stubborn streak as one’s father and that he has hammer toes because his mother couldn’t afford to buy him new shoes when his feet grew.  These elements become part of the story of the child.

Some people have stories which are missing big gaps.  Imagine having amnesia in your fourth grade year.  You can remember the rest of your life, but there is a hole where an entire year should be.  Many adoptees have a hole larger than this.  If an adoptee was not part of an open adoption, it’s probable that she was not given much information about who her birth parents were, what their stories were, and what their lives were like when she was not yet born.

The person who was adopted might not know anything about her own birth or what her life was like as an infant.  When there is information shared, it can be sparse and not tied into a narrative.  It might not even be accurate.  It could be lies.

I was not adopted, and I have been told plenty of family stories.  I grew up with family stories and photos.  Many of the dots were connected for me.  Recently I’ve done some genealogical research, and it astonishes me how some of the stories I was told turned out not to be accurate.  However, the most fundamental information has been true, unlike that for some adoptees.

My children were adopted as babies in international adoptions.  We received some pages of information from the agency.  Mainly, we learned about their medical exam results while living in the orphanage (son) or with the foster family (daughter). We learned their weight and health when they were brought to Holt. But there is also information on the charts listing the ages and education levels of their birth parents, and what areas they came from.  When we read these pages with our case worker, she filled in information, providing us with story fragments.

I took all the information we had been given—both written and oral, guesses and facts—and wrote up stories for both children, providing them with a story which pre-dates their lives in our family.

It seemed important that they have their own stories.

“[T]here’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”
― Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Think of this: “behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin” [my italics].

So while it seems important that the kids have their own stories, these stories had to begin with the stories of their birth mothers.

Next time you wonder why many adoptees search for their birth families and wish to to learn information about these families, remember that you are who you are because you have your own story.  They are only searching for part of their story, a story that is important to their very identity.

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