Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is Semi-Open Open Enough?

Erica and Tyler are sick -- horribly, no-fun-at-all, wishing-they'd-gotten-flu-shots sick. This is especially sad because tonight was the night that we had planned to drop Ashley off at their apartment for a few hours so they could have their Christmas celebration.

Is Ashley devastated? Heartbroken? No, she's fine. She's mildly disappointed, but she understands that this is not a cancellation, it's just a rescheduling. Our visits happen frequently enough that there is not an extreme amount of pressure on any individual visit. The Christmas visit with Ashley's brother and first mom will still happen, just later.

A few minutes ago I received an email link to this article. I really feel for these people, and I hope they get the photos and letters back. But at the same time, I found myself thinking, "Wow, how sad to have all your 'memories' of your birth mother fit into one folder." It's not my place to judge; I don't know all the circumstances. Maybe for this family and first mother, this was the best possible arrangement. And, admittedly, it's still a step in the right direction from the old, closed adoption model. I had no such folder when I was 24.

But I'm glad that Ashley's memories of her first family will be more plentiful, and that they will consist of real experiences, rather than pieces of paper in a folder. I understand that such openness and the possibility of real relationship isn't feasible in all cases, but it's what I truly wish for every child.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More Thoughts

I grew up with amazing parents. I mean really, two of the most rock-solid people you could ever meet. They are the base on which I stand. I was loved, I was cared for, I was supported.

But it wasn't enough. I grew up, and I functioned. I passed in the world as whole. But I wasn't whole. I was nurture devoid of nature. I was missing an essential element that I needed for psychological health.

It is true that biology does not make a parent. There are plenty of people in the world who have no biological children of their own yet are amazing parents; my husband is one of them. There are also plenty of people who give birth or provide the genetic material for a child, but, for various reasons, don't seem to know what to do after that.

Angry adoptive or prospective-adoptive parents who comment on blogs (not so much this one, but others I have read), I hear you when you say this. I really do. I also hear you when you say that there are worse things than being adopted. It is worse to endure horrible physical and psychological abuse at the hands of a biological parent. It is worse to grow up without parents at all, raised by strangers in an institutional setting. I get that. I hear you.

But I am also begging you to please, please hear me when I say this one simple thing: if you remove a child from his or her biological family and completely cut off all connection with and knowledge of that family, you are doing harm. You are depriving the child of something essential, something necessary for psychological health and well-being. From the child's point of view, biology does matter.

Now, we can argue all day about where that harm falls on the scale of things, but that's not really the point. I'm asking us to aim higher than "better than terrible." I believe that, whether we adopt or not, the children of the world are our responsibility -- all of our responsibility. I know that many of you share my view. In fact, some of you feel so strongly about this that you have decided to forgo having biological children of your own and to instead devote your energy and resources to taking care of children who are already living: children who need parents, and in some cases, not only parents but parents willing to take on the challenges of caring for children with significant special needs. You have chosen adoption as your strategy, and I am not saying that you shouldn't adopt.

But I also believe that our ultimate goal should be for all children to have not only adequate food and shelter and love and care, but also psychological health and connection to their roots and heritage. If we can love children who are not our biological offspring enough to adopt  them and bring them into our homes and our hearts to be raised as our own children, can we also love them enough to want them to have the whole package?

I think we can all agree on the goal of having happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. Disagreements happen on the level of strategy. I understand that we live in a world that is far from ideal and that my goal is a lofty one. Adoption is a flawed strategy for a flawed world. It is not in itself something holy. It is crucially important for all of us who are connected to adoption to keep this in mind, and to continue to have thoughtful, critical discussions about this human-created institution. Yes, there are many situations in adoption may be the best strategy under the circumstances, but there are also many, many situations in which it is not. Let us please all continue to explore alternatives when they are viable.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Family Preservation

Adoption has shaped my life, from my very first breaths until the current day. I am an adoptee, an adoptive mom, and an adoption blogger. I think about adoption and its implications every day. And I am going to tell you something that will surprise some of you and will not surprise others at all. I do not love adoption.

There have been some fabulous conversations in blogland this week as a result of this post and responses to it, such as this one and this one. There have also been some hurtful things said.

There's a lot that I could write in response to all of this, and I may try to write more later, but for now I am motivated to try to briefly formulate my own statement of beliefs.

I advocate for open adoption because I believe that if adoption happens, it is absolutely essential to the psychological well-being of the child that some form of connection to the biological family be maintained. But I also believe adoptions should happen less frequently than they do. I believe stronger efforts are needed to keep biological families together whenever possible. I believe that, as a culture and a society, we are too quick to rush to adoption as a solution before exploring other options, and I believe that this failing is rooted in a common misconception: biology doesn't matter. But biology does matter. The bond between a child and her biological family is real, and anytime that bond is severed, whether in infancy or in a later stage of childhood, there is pain and trauma.

Sometimes I feel like I am standing on the edge of a cliff, shouting this into the wind: Biology matters. Biology matters. Biology matters. The words come back to me, unheard. But I will keep shouting.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Grief and the Adopted Child

My adopted daughter is sad. Not every minute. In fact, for the most part I would describe her as a happy child. One of the great joys of being her parent is the way she expresses delight ... how she lights up over little things, like the small pink Christmas tree she bought for her room with her allowance. I love it when she smiles at me. I love it when she skips. I love it when she sings in the shower. And boy, does she sing in the shower!

But I'm not fully embracing all that she is if I don't acknowledge that sometimes she is sad. Lately she seems to be grieving the siblings she doesn't get to see. She hasn't wanted to talk about it much yet, but I know. I see that she has hung the sister's letters on her bedroom wall. I see that her eyes are red as she slips her family photo album into her desk drawer. She has two brothers and a sister, biological siblings, who were a part of her life when she was younger. She hasn't seen them in years, and because of circumstances that are currently beyond our control, she doesn't know when she will see them again. Think about that for a moment. Put yourself in her shoes. Imagine that kind of loss.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Adoption is complicated and hard. It almost always involves pain and loss and trauma. Yes, there is a joyful side of it too, but the joy is not the whole story. As an adoptive parent, my tendency is to want to focus on the positive, but it is my job to make space for the mourning. My daughter is sad because she has a reason to be. Yes, she gained an adoptive family, and in so many ways she is thriving and doing well. And yes, because of our commitment to openness, she has been able to maintain a relationship with her biological mother and to form a new one with her youngest brother. But she still lost so much. 

She is grieving because she needs to grieve. This can be a hard thing for adoptive parents to accept, but it is part of loving a child who has come to you by way of loss. 

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