Monday, April 23, 2012

Confessions of a Double Dipper

"Double Dipper." That's a phrase I encountered once on an another adult adoptee's blog in reference to people like me who have more than one connection to adoption; specifically, adoptees who adopt, adoptees who place, and first parents who later adopt. It was not intended as a compliment.

My particular category, adoptees who adopt, must seem incomprehensible to some adult adoptees and first parents. I am not someone who holds a roses-and-sunshine view of adoption. I have experienced the pain of adoption from my own side of things, and I am not blind to the pain on the first family side of the equation. I see the need for reform in all areas of adoption. I believe that family preservation should be a higher societal priority than it currently is. So, what would possess someone like me to affiliate myself an institution I criticize.
I can tell you that I was drawn to adoption in part because of these things, because I believed my awareness would make me a better adoptive parent than those of the past who held an oversimplified view. I could justify myself by explaining how my position as an adoptive parent is different than that of my parents, because I adopted from foster care or because of our high level of openness. I could tell you the story of babies floating down the river. If you are standing by a river and you see babies floating down it, you have two choices: you can start pulling babies out or you can go upstream and find out who is throwing the babies in. Both are important and necessary. My daughter was in the river and I pulled her out. But that doesn't prevent me from wanting to stop whatever is happening upstream. I look at the work Erica and her colleagues are doing through Fresh Start -- that's upstream work, keeping kids out of the system, and I enthusiastically applaud it. My long-term life goal is to play a more active role in the upstream work.

I could tell you these things and they would be my truth, but not the whole truth. Like many parents, adoptive and otherwise, I was drawn to parenting by reasons that were both selfless and selfish. My husband often speaks of "nachas"; that's a Yiddish word for the special pride that a parent feels in the child's accomplishments. It's a big part of the payback of parenting. Yes, I admit, I wanted nachas. I'd had a hit of it from my first daughter, and I wanted more. I looked at our family of three, and it was beautiful, but something, or someone, seemed to be missing. So I went looking for that missing child. Did I have a desire to contribute to the well-being of another? Yes. Did I believe that adopting an older child from foster care was a means to do so? Yes. Isn't that in itself a selfish end? Doesn't all altruism have a self-serving purpose, if we pursue it to feel good about ourselves? Perhaps. But what, really, is the alternative? In any case, I admit that I didn't adopt solely to contribute to my adoptive daughter's well-being; I did it also to contribute to my well-being and that of my husband and older daughter. Adopting from foster care doesn't make me some kind of hero; I get more than I give.

For me, there may have been an additional "selfish" motivation ... one I wasn't conscious of at the time but struck me later. I am not unaware that I have, in a sense, recreated the family I grew up in: one biological child and one adopted one. Did I adopt to fulfill some some psychological need in myself? Did I need to become an adoptive parent to understand that my mother really did mean what she said when she told me she loved me just as much as my brother.

I understand that she was right about love.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

These words by Elizabeth Barrett Browning were written for a lover, but seem applicable to the love of a parent for a child. Whichever way the child comes to you, that love cracks you open and leaves you raw and vulnerable.

But as much as I love my family -- and I love my family ... everything about it, including the inclusion of Erica and her sons -- I stand in the awareness that, in a perfect world, my family wouldn't exist. Not in its current shape. In a perfect world, children would have all of their needs met in the families they were born into and would never have to suffer the trauma of separation. It's a strange position to occupy ... and it's the price I pay for being a "double dipper."

24 comments:

  1. I LOVED this post SO MUCH, Rebecca!! I too am an adoptee/adoptive mom "double dipper", and can very much relate to everything you wrote. Thank you -- your words actually helped clarify a lot of what I've been feeling, conflicted with, and trying to better understand about myself.

    "In a perfect world, children would have all of their needs met in the families they were born into and would never have to suffer the trauma of separation" -- so true!!

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  2. Rebecca- I must point out- you may want to change the wording in the last paragraph- to I love my family- PERIOD.... not ashley and my family- since ashley is your family. As an adoptee who was also brought up in a home where my parents were able to have a biological child after me- I always felt like they were the family and I was the outsider. Not part of the actual family. ( And in truth not just my feelings- I really wasn't from whichever way you want to look at it) But in your family from what I read about what you write- It does not seem to be the same case as how I grew up and it always alarms me to hear when there are adoptive children being brought up along side bio children- because of my experience I am a little sensitive. I enjoy your blog and I enjoyed this post-( until that part;)) thank you for addressing it these thoughts and feelings as an adoptee adoptive mom- these are tough issues to delve into and I think it is great that you are!!!

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  3. BTW- I was really struggling with how to word that post and after re reading it again for the hundredth time- it still does not sound right I hope you get the gist of what I am trying to say and I am not insulting you as I respect you and your blog.

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  4. Done! Thanks for pointing that out! I actually meant to emphasize Ashley, rather than exclude her, but I can see how that could be easily misread. Really appreciate your feedback.

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  5. Thanks! Great to hear from another adoptee/adoptive mom. This was a difficult post to write because I had to dip down (no pun intended) into that uncomfortable area of ambivalence. I'm glad to hear it struck a chord with you.

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  6. As another "double dipper", I just want to say, GREAT POST!!

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  7. I was actually really glad you wrote!

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  8. I love this post!

    Parenting is selfish and unselfish. It is giving and taking. And yet it takes, I believe, tremendous courage to admit that, to put it out into our society and culture where, I believe, mothers - first, adoptive, step, foster - are expected to behave, think and support only what is deemed as "acceptable" which, often times, is no where close to reality.

    When I first came across your blog, I remember thinking . . . "Yes! This is it! This is what I fight for, what I want others to understand."

    I'm not a saint, you're not a saint, nobody is a saint. We all have our own selfish reasons for what we do. But the "strong" ones, I believe, are those who admit to their feelings, their reasons, without trying to formulate what they say to fit the box of what society expects from us.

    Your blog and Erica's blog have taught me so much. I am thankful for the honesty you both have the courage to share! You are moms that inspire and encourage me!

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  9. Thanks, Cassi! I did my time trying to formulate what I said to fit the box of what society (and in particular, the adoption culture) expected from me. Having fought my way out of that box, I'm not inclined to climb back into that one or any other. My only real option now is to struggle with these words in an attempt to ring my own truth out of them. Really, really appreciate your kind feedback!

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  10. thank you:) I had to go to work today and was anxious to get home and see your response- I did not want it to seem like I was nit picking.

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  11. Different kind of double dipper. Wonder if I am subconsciously creating a similar family, too. My sister is adopted, three bio kids and one adopted growing up. Now I have one bio, two adopted (well soon to be).

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  12. Beautiful. So well spoken. I love the river analogy and I think I'm going to post this blog on my Facebook.

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  13. Could be! Or it may just be that because we are familiar with adoption from an early age we are more apt than others to consider it. Probably a bit of both, I would guess. :-)

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  14. Finding ChristopherApril 23, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    Love this ~ "If you are standing by a river and you see babies floating down it, you have two choices: you can start pulling babies out or you can go upstream and find out who is throwing the babies in."

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  15. Thanks! I heard it somewhere once before. Seems especially apt in the adoptive context.

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  16. This is a beautiful post. I think we all do things like this. While I didn't adopt, I did have and raise a child at the same age as my natural mother had me. It has occurred to me more than once that I may be a grudge- match mother. Altough I didn't do it on purpose, although I do not regret it, in fact adore my now giant babe.
    It as caused me to stop and wonder though, what is going on here? As in how people operate. Also I have a dear adoptee friend who claims she would like to adopt because she so gets the issues and feels very empathetic. I have always felt I could not adopt because I would not have empathy but would project all my stuff on the child and as soon as I adopted would be all, "Holy shit, let's go get your mother"
    The announcement they make on the London tube, "mind the gap" makes me laugh, like it is the voice of God, mind the gap indeed.

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  17. I also had my son at the same age my biological mother had me- very strange in deed. It was also unplanned and I was relatively young and unmarried at 22- tho I did end up marrying ex husband.... anyhow- it is strange. As a younger person I always thought I would want to adopt to- to give back .... oh what a crock- I think much differently now.

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  18. I loved the analogy of the river. Some need to pull the ones floating out, others need to stem the tide. One person can't be in both places at exactly the same time.

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  19. Yes, yes, and yes.
    I'm not a double dipper, but I totally ascribe to your analogy about the babies floating down the river. I fully endorse the truth that the best #1 first plan for my son's life would have been to stay with his biological family, intact. Poverty made that impossible. We may have scooped him up from the river, but we do what we can to fight poverty upstream so that it is not impossible for others, in the future. Thank you for writing so honestly! It is refreshing =)

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  20. Thanks, Melissa! Glad you found my blog! :-)

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  21. Found your blog through BlogHer, and I'm so appreciative of your candor and insight. My family has been touched by adoption, and I have worked for Open Adoption agencies. Your comment about how we respond when we see babies floating down the river has touched me in a profound way. Thank you.

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