Friday, January 23, 2015

I HATE the term "Natural Parent"!

I once attended a Book Club where somehow, during the course of the night, we got onto the topic of "natural" births versus drug-assisted births.  I don't even remember if that particular topic related to the book we were discussing at the time or even what book we were discussing in the first place, but I do clearly remember the heated debate which followed and ended up dividing a roomful of neighbors and friends as a result of judgments and assumptions- both expressed and not expressed- based on everyone's differing experiences.   It wasn't a pretty situation.  In fact, the divisive atmosphere was a bit like this brilliant ad.

As if the contention in the room weren't enough to deal with that night at book club, there I was- the only infertile woman in the room (that I'm aware of)- sitting awkwardly in silence- not just because I felt such arguing seemed unnecessary- but because I couldn't offer up a valid opinion of my own on the subject even if I wanted to because I have ABSOLUTELY NO EXPERIENCE in such matters.  I kind of wanted to disappear from the room or somehow make myself invisible that night but I think I ended up laughing uncomfortably and just hoping the evening wouldn't end up in a fist-fight or a full-out brawl.

You see, some of us don't have a choice in the first place of whether to give birth naturally or with the assistance of an epidural or whether to deliver vaginally or by C-section because some of us never conceive or give birth at all.  Does that fact make me any less of a woman or less of a mother?  I don't think so and I'm pretty secure in my belief, but every once in a while I'll read something or hear someone say something which pricks a sensitive spot in my heart.

Earlier this week I was scrolling through an online forum of birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees and I came across something that really rubbed me the wrong way.  No- that's not entirely truthful.  To say it rubbed me the wrong way is minimizing how it made me feel.  It's much more accurate to say that I felt like I had been slapped in the face after I read it.  And it's not so much the term that was used but the intent and attitude which accompanied its use that left me feeling so invalidated.  What on earth could cause you to become so upset? you're wondering.  I'll tell you: a birthmother used the term "natural mother" to describe her relationship to the child she placed for adoption and with that child's adoptive mother. 

Now I am well aware that there are differing opinions about what terms to use when describing certain aspects of adoption- and not everybody knows what is considered less offensive or most appropriate- which is why discussing and sharing positive adoption language and terms is so important.  However, even when one uses the generally preferred and agreed upon terms, say "Birthmother" for example- someone is bound to be offended.  I think the most important thing to keep in mind when talking about adoption (or anything for that matter) is "How might this term make another person feel- even if I don't intentionally mean for them to feel that way?  What are the underlying implications of the words I'm using?"

For example, before I became an adoptive mother I'm sure I probably used the term "put up for adoption" rather than "placed for adoption" to describe when a mother chooses to place rather than parent a child or to describe orphans who become available to be adopted by others.  Although "put up for adoption" is much better than "gave away" or "given up" (I'm cringing just writing that phase out!)  think of the implications a term like "give up" reflect for both a birthmother and an adoptee- or even an adoptive parent.

For a birthmother the phrase "give up" implies that she didn't put much thought or care into such a crucial decision- the child is just something to be discarded or that placing a child for adoption is as simple as giving away something that is not needed or wanted.  NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!

For someone who's been adopted, to hear the term "gave up" implies that they weren't wanted or loved in the first place- that they were "given away" or abandoned.  What a terrible thing to hear or believe!  I would hate for my daughter to overhear someone erroneously say that she was "given up" for adoption.  It is a huge insult to both her and her brave birthmother who gave her life and made us a family.

As for using the term "give up for adoption" in front of adoptive parents, other than my feelings I expressed in the previous paragraph, part of me wants to laugh because it makes it sound like the adoption process is no big deal- like there's no waiting or background checks or approval and no legal process involved- and of, course it's totally free- kids are just given away like free puppies or kittens.  Do you see what I mean?

So back to what I read which left me feeling so insulted: As an adoptive mother, when I read the term "natural mother" I automatically thought  "Hmmm- if she's a natural mother because she gave birth to her child, then as an adoptive mother I guess that makes me the opposite of natural- unnatural.  And unnatural equates with fake, phony- not real.  So I'm not a real mother because my children don't come from my womb?"  Can you see why the term "natural mother" might strike a sensitive chord in mothers who didn't bear their children?

It wasn't just adoptive parents who took issue with the term "natural parent" but those who had been adopted as well.  One such woman responded:

 I just have to put this out there... I hate the term "natural mom". It makes it sound like adoption is unnatural or that my dear mom, whom I love so much, is somehow unnatural in her role. I may have been adopted, but there is nothing unnatural about my mom or our relationship. Can we please stick to biological or birth mom? Thanks and sorry for the rant.

In her defense, the birthmother who started the online thread shared that her child's{adoptive} mom is just fine with her using the term "natural mother" and they have a great relationship with each other.   If it works for them, great.  As for my situation and the relationship I have with my daughter's birthmother, I would never want to risk saying or doing anything which diminishes the sacred role she plays in our lives.

Fortunately, I've witnessed something very beautiful in the adoption community and that is when members of the adoption triad become fiercely protective of one another.  So when I read the term "natural mother" in the online forum and I felt my anger rising I was very relieved and touched to find that the very first reply was from a birthmother who graciously expressed:

I promise I am NOT saying this to be rude or discredit anything you have said, because it is wonderful. But I know the term "natural mom" is kind of... invalidating. I am a birth mom, and I feel like calling myself "natural" mom would imply there is something unnatural about my son's mom. Is there a different term you could use? I think it is important, while we are in the subject of healing and being kind to birthmothers, to also be kind and loving toward adoptive mothers.

I happen to know the birthmother who replied with such sensitivity and I personally thanked her for her response.  Unfortunately, she took a lot of slack for expressing her view and had a lot of criticism thrust upon her, quite ironically, by others who have been through the same incredibly tough and sensitive situation she has gone through of placing a child for adoption.   (Even after she started her statement out with "I'm NOT saying this to be rude or discredit anything . . ." and after she repeatedly apologized to any who took issue from her words).

Needless to say, the thread on the online forum started to grow and just got uglier and uglier.  Much like my book club experience I described at the beginning of my post, there were many judgments, assumptions, and even some misunderstandings among the group's members which resulted in divisions and alienation rather than fostering an atmosphere of unity and support for each other and a safe exchange of ideas and perspectives without fear of sharing.

Although I was tempted to make a comment in the online forum I bit my tongue and decided to save it for now- in my own blog post.  So here's how I feel about the issue in one sentence:  I HATE the term "Natural Parent"!  There- I said it.  I got it off my chest.

Tell us how you really feel, Mary, Don't Hold Back. ;)

I guess what I'm trying to say is we're all imperfect, but let's all try to be a little more aware of what we say and consider how it might affect others.

"But it's someone's fault if they get offended."  some might rationalize.  That may be so, but it still doesn't make it right to say it.  Especially if the consensus is that a particular term is hurtful or offensive.

I will close with one of my all-time favorite adoption-related quotes from a wise birthmother, Desha Wood, who has beautifully expressed that what makes adoption so miraculous and unique and ultimately possible in the first place:

Birth parents need adoptive parents.  Adoptive parents need birth parents.  Adoptees need birth parents and adoptive parents.  We're all in this together.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fundraiser For Foster Family to Modify Van For Wheelchair-Bound Son

This morning in my Facebook news feed I came across a fundraiser for a foster family who needs to make modifications to their 15-passenger van in order to accommodate the needs of their 4 year old wheelchair-bound foster (soon to be adopted!) son.  I happen to know that installing a wheelchair lift and tie-downs to a vehicle can be very costly since a family in my neighborhood needed to raise funds to modify their family van as well for one of their medically fragile wheelchair-bound sons as he grew bigger.  [When their son was a baby and toddler it was feasible to get him in and out of the van in his wheelchair, but children GROW and wheelchairs are not light to lift- not to mention it is not easy to make room for the extra medical equipment a medically fragile child must have.] 
Click HERE to read about how a fellow foster mom, Duck Mommy, started this campaign to help her "foster parent mentor."  Or click on the link below to go directly the to the Fundraising Campaign.

I was very impressed with the family who will benefit from this fundraiser, as described in their campaign page.  I underlined the part that impressed me most- What great examples to the rest of us!
 "Kim & Bill White have been foster or group home parents since 1992. In that time, they have provided a safe, loving, and generous home to literally hundreds of foster children and troubled teens. They have picked up newborns from the hospital, helped teens prepare to age out of the system, and everything in between. Most foster families have some restrictions on the children they are willing to accept, but not the Whites. They have parented a teen mom, children of all ages with significant behavioural problems, and medically-needy infants- including one sweet baby who came to them terminally ill and died in their loving arms."

You can't help but want to help this family somehow after reading that, right?  Especially in view of the fact that this foster mother so willingly serves others but is not the type to ask for help.
If you are not in a position to donate please help by spreading the word! 

Best of luck, White Family!

Monday, December 22, 2014

I Support Adoption from Foster Care

I am sharing this on behalf of a Bloggin' Mamas Social Good Campaign. Bloggin' Mamas and Element Associates are donating a toy to a child in foster care for every blog post sharing this  information, up to 25.
Today, 402,000 children are in the foster care system in the United States. Nearly 102,000 children (under 18 years of age) waiting for adoption. During this holiday season, there is an extra push to help them find homes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AdoptUSKids and the Ad Council recently unveiled a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) designed to continue to encourage the adoption of children from foster care with an emphasis on the importance of keeping siblings together. Check out this PSA video from the Ad Council:
Since the launch of the campaign in 2004, more than 22,000 children who were once photo-listed on the AdoptUSKids website are now with their adoptive families and over 35,000 families have registered to adopt through AdoptUSKids. Many times, there are siblings also listed.  Approximately 23% of children and youth actively photolisted on the AdoptUSKids website and waiting for placement in adoptive homes were registered with one or more siblings. Sibling relationships are often the longest-lasting relationships for children in foster care.
For more information about adoption, or about becoming an adoptive parent to a child from foster care, please visit or visit the campaigns communities on Facebook and Twitter.

DISCLOSURE: I was not compensated for this post. I am donating this space towards sharing this message. Bloggin' Mamas and Element Associates will be donating a toy to a foster child in exchange for my post, in support of AdoptUSKids.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

If the Couple from UP Adopted . . .

The first time I saw the movie UP I was so, so sad at the part when Ellie and Carl are in the doctor's office and Ellie looks downward and is dejected and heartbroken about the apparent news that she won't bear any children.  My heart literally ached during that part. 

I also have to admit, however, that after seeing the movie my husband and I both thought "They could have adopted." (That is not to say that adoption is necessarily a simple process or a decision that is easy to come to for everyone).  But Hey, it's a movie- couldn't the creators have woven adoption into the storyline if they wanted to?

Some talented editors from Disney Pixar have merged together characters and scenes from Tangled, Despicable Me, and Toy Story to depict just that: What might have happened if Carl and Ellie had adopted.  Very clever. 

The most touching part to me is how adoption can affect generations- as shown by Carl and Ellie's grandchildren (the little girl from Toy Story 3 times TWO)! 
Here's the clip if you haven't already seen it:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Next Step: Mediation and Pre-Trial

Jack and Jill had another court hearing this past week regarding their future.  At their their last Permanency Hearing, reunification services between their mother and DCFS were discontinued so their mother must now fulfill any unmet requirements of her Service Plan without the help of DCFS- even though the Division has provided her with plenty of resources and support over the last 15 months of having her children in their custody and even though the judge has already given her at least one 90-day extension. 

Although services between DCFS & Jack and Jill's mom have been discontinued she still has supervised visits with her children at the DCFS office twice a week for two hours each.  These visits will continue until her rights are officially terminated which leads to the next big question, "Will her parental rights be terminated?  And if so, when?"- which I'll try to explain in a minute.
The other major development since the last hearing is that Jack and Jill's Permanency Goal has officially been changed from "Reunification" to "Adoption".
The whole legal process regarding their permanency is kind of confusing.  In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago I thought that this past week's hearing was the one where Jack and Jill's mother's parental rights would be terminated but it's a little more complicated than that:  Although the paperwork has been filed by DCFS to terminate her parental rights, there are going to be a couple of more hearings before the judge actually determines if that will happen:
The first hearing is not technically a regular hearing but rather a Mediation- which will take place over a month from now.  Although mediation will take place at court, it won't take place in a court room and the judge won't be there presiding or making any decisions.  Rather, a mediator who is also an attorney and an objective third party will talk with both parties (their mother, being one party, and my husband and I, being the other party) and try to come up with an agreement to avoid having to go through another trial.  Other people in attendance are their mother's court appointed attorney, the children's Guardian Ad Liteum (the attorney representing their best interest) and of course, the caseworker or anyone else involved in the children's case.
It was a couple of months ago that Jack and Jill's caseworker first mentioned to me that Mediation might be an option in their case.  I had heard of using a mediator in divorce or child custody cases, but had a vague understanding of how it works in foster care cases.  So I did a little research and came across this helpful and very easy-to understand information packet put together specifically for parents and guardians by New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts & The Children's Courts Mediation Program (2007).  (Click on the picture for the entire document). You can find other examples of mediation in different states by clicking here.  I think the Child Welfare Information Gateway is a very helpful resource, by the way.
"Why Mediation?" you ask.  Here are the reasons why Mediation takes place in child abuse and neglect cases, as explained in the packet.  I circled the reason that best fits our foster children's case.  Click to enlarge.

Basically, things aren't looking good for Jack and Jill's mom.  She could very well lose her parental rights.  But rather than having to put her through another trial where "evidence" is presented attesting to the fact that she's an unfit parent, the legal/child welfare system is giving her a chance to possibly voluntarily relinquish her parental rights and thereby avoid having to go through yet another trial.
Regardless of the outcome of the Mediation- whether she decides to relinquish her parental rights and we can agree on an open or semi-open adoption, for example, or if she wants to fight till the very end to regain custody of her children-  the results of the Mediation will then be presented to the judge at the next formal hearing known as a Pre-Trial Hearing.  Depending on that Pre-Trial Hearing, there will be another hearing/trial where it will be decided if her rights will be terminated or not.  But like I said, if she decides to relinquish then there will be no need for a hearing to Terminate Parental Rights. 
At this point I think Jack and Jill's mother is going to keep fighting till she legally can't be given any more extensions or make any more appeals.  On the one hand, she knows her children have been well taken care of  in our home for over a year now and that our family loves them and she has expressed her thanks to me for that.  But even so, Jack and Jill are still her children (even though she hasn't been raising them for over a year now and they've spent more time in our home than anywhere else and she has never technically raised Jill nor has Jill known any other home than ours) and I can't imagine what it would be like to be told by a court of law- not just someone's personal unfavorable opinion of you-but through actual evidence and documentation and a legal trial- that you are unfit to parent and therefore, have to lose your children.  Even if much of where she is right now is a direct result of choices she's made, it's still a crappy place to be in.  For that reason, we've been trying to see things from her perspective. 

As for my perspective and my family's perspective, I think I've written enough in the past not just about Jack and Jill's case but with some of our other foster children about how difficult and emotionally draining the process can be of welcoming them into our home as helpless little strangers and loving them as if they were our own children while being very well aware of the fact that they aren't our children and then becoming attached to each other just to get our hearts broken when they leave and in some cases becoming sick with worry about the environment they're returned to live in. 
This is a VERY emotionally-charged process for everyone involved and that is why I am very nervous for the Mediation but hopeful at the same time that at least concerns for the children can be voiced in the open and examined and there will be some communication even if there's no apparent resolution.  I guess in a way I'm thinking of the Mediation process as the beginning of closure which is a relief for me because I'm getting really impatient with things being dragged out when it's apparent to many what the best interest of these children is.
Summary/Timeframe of Upcoming Events in Jack & Jill's Case:
Mediation Hearing- End of January
Pre-Trial Hearing- Mid- February
And then . . . Who Knows?!
The Best Case Scenario is that we would be able to adopt them sometime in March of next year.  But we have learned that in the world of fostering and adopting NOTHING IS PREDICTABLE and there are always unexpected twists and turns.