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

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!

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.

Run to the Nearest Library or Bookstore

by Luanne

Last night I finished reading Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s memoir Three Little Words.  The book, published in 2009, tells the story of how Ashley survived in Florida’s foster care system.  Eventually she was adopted by a family with two adult sons, and she began a battle through the courts to seek justice and help for other foster children.

On Rhodes-Courter’s website, the synopsis is described this way:

“Sunshine, you’re my baby and I’m your only mother. You must mind the one taking care of you, but she’s not your mama.” Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent nine years of her life in fourteen different foster homes, living by those words. As her mother spirals out of control, Ashley is left clinging to an unpredictable, dissolving relationship, all the while getting pulled deeper and deeper into the foster care system.

Painful memories of being taken away from her home quickly become consumed by real-life horrors, where Ashley is juggled between caseworkers, shuffled from school to school, and forced to endure manipulative, humiliating treatment from a very abusive foster family. In this inspiring, unforgettable memoir, Ashley finds the courage to succeed – and in doing so, discovers the power of her own voice.

This quote is also on the website:

“I felt as worthless as the junk in my trash bag . . . once again, I was the one being tossed out and thrown away.” Taken from her mother when she was scarcely four years old, Rhodes-Courter spent the next nine years in foster care with “more than a dozen so-called mothers.” “Some were kind,” she acknowledges, “a few were quirky and one . . . was as wicked as a fairy-tale witch.” She names names in this memoir, which is also a searing indictment of an often sadly deficient system of child care. Given her experiences, one can understand why she is angry and often bitter, but the unrelieved stridency of her tone makes for sometimes difficult reading. Nevertheless, she gives a voice to countless thousands of children who continue to be abused, abandoned, and ignored, and one hopes her book will make a positive difference in their lives. Grades 8-12. –Michael Cart

I hope to write a review later, but in the meantime I wanted to urge you to run out and get this book today.  41-eXz4jWkL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_

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

by Luanne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To follow Elaine and her work as an author:

Elaine’s Blog: elainepinkerton.wordpress.com

Follow Elaine on Twitter: @TheGoodbyeBaby

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

Blessings from Two Families: An Open Adoption at Christmas

by Andy at Our Life in 3D

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

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

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

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

Opening a card from a special Grandmother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boo in the Zoo 019

Watch their faces light up…

Boo in the Zoo 017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dad’s Perspective: Our Journey Through Open Adoption

Andy at Our Life in 3D wrote an article about the adoption of his children, which was published by  his (and DWLA’s) adoption agency, Bethany Christian in their national magazine, Lifelines.

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Open adoptions seem to be the adoption of the future. Really, there is no better way. If you have ever heard stories of adoptions gone bad I think most of them revolve around hiding the truth from the kids. When the kids find out later in life or from someone other than their parents, feelings get hurt, confusion sets in and then anger.

But I’ll get off my soap box before I really get started. If you are interested in learning about how open adoptions operate and our story specifically read on. And thanks! This is really a big deal to me because of the two wonderful families that have allowed us to have our own family.

A Dad’s Perspective: Our Journey Though Open Adoption

My wife, Sabrina, and I got married in 1996.  About eight years later, we wondered why she had never gotten pregnant, so we went to a gynecologist and found out it was impossible for us to conceive naturally.  Undaunted, we went down the uncertain road of IVF procedures.  Anyone who has been down this road knows how emotional the trip can be—with extremely happy highs and tearful lows, not to mention the agony of giving your wife shots a few times a day.
Feeling frustrated amid our third IVF attempt, we attended a local adoption information meeting.  Sabrina felt we were meant to adopt; I wasn’t so sure.  Call me crazy, but as we left that meeting, I saw a rainbow in my rearview mirror.  That was my sign, and so our adoption journey began.

We researched adoption programs and agencies and chose Bethany.  We went to meetings, paid the fees, got our physicals, and completed the paperwork. We were ready to start our family!

Probably the best advice we got along this journey was not to paint the new baby’s room just yet.  It was a year later when we got our first call that some birthparents wanted to meet us.

Sabrina and I were nervous before our first meeting, but it left us more worried than excited.  One of the birthparents had some emotional disorders that we knew could emerge as their son got older.  With no training about or prior exposure to these disorders, we reluctantly decided this was not the adoption for us.  We wondered, Was this part of God’s plan or did we just sabotage it?  We had waited so long!

Our First Adoption
A month later, we received another phone call.  We met a quiet, pretty young lady.  The meeting went smoothly with the help of the adoption specialist.  We really liked the expectant mom but felt like we had botched the interview.

A few days later, we received a second phone call saying that the expectant mom wanted to meet us again.  That meeting went fine, and we laughed and cried together.  Her reason for getting together was to establish ground rules for an open adoption.

The expectant mom wanted us to send her photos frequently.  She was a sweet, Christian young lady, and she needed to be sure that she was making the right decision.  If all it took to realize our dream was to e-mail some pictures, it was an easy decision for us.  What ever it takes, we thought.

Some people ask us why we said yes to an open adoption. We say, “Why not?” Try to put yourself in the shoes of the birthmother.  To say this is a “life-altering” decision is an understatement.  As I see it, adoption is an act of love and selflessness for these women.  They love their children more than they love themselves.  That’s what great mothers do.  If we were to ruin that equation by being selfish as adoptive parents, what message would that send to our kids?

Have I told you how wonderful our two daughters are?  We adopted our second child through open adoption in 2010 from another special young lady.

All that waiting.  All those tears.  It all was worth it.  What a wonderful plan God had for us.  Our daughters are awesome!  Each day we tell them how much we love them and thank God for his gifts.

The More Love, the Better
Our journey continues to evolve.  We feel like we expanded our family twofold, and the girls are the benefactors.  Can you imagine growing up with four grandmothers?  What could be better to a child at Christmas?

Our relationship with each birthfamily is unique.  One family calls and visits more often.  The other e-mails and sends gifts in the mail.  But when they send gifts, both families send packages for both girls!  These families have embraced us as parents.  They do not intrude.  They do not preach to us about how to raise our kids.  They are simply happy to be included in the process.

Both birthgrandmothers are wonderful ladies, and we feel blessed to have them in our lives too.  They love our children so much.  One of the grandmothers caught us off guard when she said, “You are like family to us now.” Wow! The more love the better!

The Future

When our daughters receive gifts and cards in the mail, we try to explain who they are from.  We save and date the cards to show them at a later time.  We tell them that the ladies who sent them love them very much.

We will explain open adoption to our daughters at the right time. To us it is not a moment but an ongoing conversation.  You answer the questions as they come up and at a level they understand. The adoptions are not to be seen as dark or dramatic moments. Its more about how God put our family together. We actually have a “Family” cheer we do at the dinner table! We speak openly to friends about adoption in front of the girls, so when the subject comes up the girls will not be unfamiliar with it.

We are not sure what the future holds. It comes on so fast and can change in many ways. We do hope to stay in touch with our birthfamilies. We want to share birthdays and milestones with them. My personal hope is that, as we get older / they get older, our girls will know and be close to each birthmom. They can be a source of “family”, moms and siblings, after we are gone. The more love the better!

We will always be indebted to our two birthmothers for entrusting their children to us.  And we thank God for our wonderful journey, and we will be sure that our daughters know that He brought us all together.

The Healing Power of Looking Back

by Elaine Pinkerton

Writing The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption gave me a chance to put my adoption in perspective.

I was five years old when my birthmother had to give me up for adoption, and at the time I did not understand what was happening. In the era following WWII, people didn’t talk about family secrets. I mistakenly assumed that I’d done something wrong for my original mom to have given me up. Even though they were based on illogical thinking, feelings of shame and guilt grew. For years, I nursed anger, resentment and sadness about being adopted.

Elaine’s diaries

Then I decided to read all my old diaries. What I found within them was life-changing. As I read my first-hand accounts of the 1950s through the 1980s, I began to release the old misconceptions. The older Elaine forgave the young girl, the rebellious teenager, the unhappy wife. I saw, in hindsight, that I had done the best I could. I recognized many terrific accomplishments. Acknowledging myself, I became the heroine rather than the victim of my past life.

My adoption was no longer a burden. It had taken me from being an orphan to a secure home environment. Because of wonderful adoptive parents, it was a rescue boat. Since my early situation was never explained, I sometimes fell victim to  depression. Through re-reading my diaries, however, I was finally able to understand and forgive the past. Looking back on all that happened and putting my adoption in perspective was the final, unexpected gift of adoption.

Perhaps my “epiphany” is best explained in an excerpt from the Epilogue of The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption:

If it is possible that one can send a brain to boot camp, then that is just what reading my diaries accomplished. Every loss or failed relationship, or so my diaries revealed, echoed that first loss. The loss of my birthmother was one I knew so well and referred to for so long that it was all too easy to toss every loss, failure, slight, emotional hurt into the comfy basket woven from my original privation. I have retired the basket in favor of a daily labyrinth walk to shake out the negative thoughts. Most days it works.

What were the benefits of my diary-reading marathon?  No less than a remodel! Looking at vicious emotional cycles in my past, I stared them down. I grew in the courage needed to resist the voice that liked to say, “Oh, poor me. My mother left when I was just five.”

Turning off the “Oh, poor me” lament is not always easy. As life’s challenges continue, I know I’ll be tested repeatedly. To be alive, after all, is to face crises. The only people who do not grapple daily with frustration, complications, loss and the occasional disaster reside in the cemetery.

Elaine reading one of her diaries

For years, I’d been reading every book and article I could find about the adopted self, especially adult adoptees. They included Betty Jean Lifton’s novels and dozens of self-help books dealing with adoption and loss issues. Until I read the handwritten chronicles of my own life, however, the other adoption books meant little. After harvesting the diaries, I found those works miraculously lucid. The books hadn’t changed, but I had gotten inside my own skin, my own mind. I had a more truthful picture of who I actually was. The diaries provided data, the books gave me strength, and I came to see that my life was just part of a human river. Along with that realization came gratitude.

To put it another way, I got to know the real me, not some abstract construction based on self-concocted mythology.  The diaries provided missing data. Through weeping, crying, occasionally laughing, often being amazed at my stubborn inability to accept the obvious, I worked through the childhood paradigm. At the same time, I gained a new self-respect. So my original mother couldn’t take care of me and I’d been adopted. It was no worse than early challenges faced by hundreds of others.

Everything, it has been said, that happens to one before age six is cast in bronze and that what follows that is not important. I set about to disprove this. As I read about my life first hand, I learned that my initial beliefs about “not being one of the real children” had burdened me with what I think of as an “overcompensation obsession.” I married twice, carrying mistakes of the first union into the second. I hadn’t been an ideal parent. So?

That was then. This is now. I yearn for courage and wisdom. I have tried, through this book, to gain the strength to develop both. There’s something far less lofty that happened. Harvesting the journals yielded a rich treasure: I’m now more comfortable with my memories. We are old pals now.

Several points are salient: I made many hurtful decisions, but I had my reasons.  Though my choices may not have been very wise, I did my best. I wept for that earlier adopted self and put it to rest.

Best of all, my journey to the past strengthened a strong resolve to spend all remaining years on the planet more positively. After researching my life and studying its structure, I’m better at making decisions that serve me well. This is my intention.

***

Elaine Pinkerton is a long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to writing for magazines and newspapers, she is the author of several popular non-fiction and fiction books. She is a world traveler, educator focused on working with young children, labyrinth facilitator, and athlete-skier, hiker, former marathon runner. In The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, Elaine reveals the bruises of adoption that impacted her from the tender age of five. Through excerpts from personal journals she kept for 40 years, we experience her frustrations and successes as she strives to be good enough for her beloved adoptive parents and in all areas of her later life.

Elaine can be “followed” through her blog, Twitter, and Facebook page:

Blog: http://elainepinkerton.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheGoodbyeBaby

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Elaine-Pinkerton/363479233726632?ref=hl

The R-Word

by Nina Schidlovsky

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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