Saturday, August 29, 2015

Considering Adopting Siblings?

Sibling adoption is a topic that is close to my heart since two of our children are biological siblings whom we adopted through foster care.

If you are considering adopting siblings from the foster care system or through international adoption or if you are just looking for some statistics, AdoptUSKids has put together the following fact sheet about "Myths and Realities of Sibling Adoption":

Click to enlarge images or view the PDF here 

Anyone interested in learning more on the topic might also refer to this post which focuses on the importance of keeping sibling groups together and this two-minute clip courtesy of AdoptUSKids about sibling adoption:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Adrianne's Story from BraveLove

Here's a video from BraveLove about how one young woman, Adrianne, thought her life was over when she found out she was pregnant.  In fact, she had taken out a loan to get an abortion before she considered adoption as an option.

I thought Adrianne's comments about how her African American culture has historically viewed adoption were insightful.  My hope is that those in her situation will find strength as Adrianne continues to share her story.

As I watched this video one particular quality I appreciated about Adrianne is her ability to offer hope to others while at the same time being realistic about the loss that comes with adoption.  As she says "When you place a child for adoption that is a loss . . . I wish that a lot more African American young ladies would take this step.  It looks bleak right now and I know it's gonna hurt and I know it's gonna be hard but you're gonna be fine."

"To be a birthmother it takes a lot of heart and it takes a lot of strength.  It is one of the greatest things a parent could ever do is to place their child into the hands of someone else to honor and love and care for them.  It's about our children and once we get there we'll be all right." -Adrianne

That's pure unselfishness and bravery right there!

Adrianne's Story from BraveLove on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Sting of Hearing Certain Phrases for an Adoptive Mom

I'm going to allow myself to be a bit vulnerable today and share some feelings of loss.  Adoption can be wonderful but it can't be ignored that it is LOSS which makes it possible in the first place.   

All members of the adoption triad experience some form of loss to some degree: Birthparents lose a child- even in cases where they willingly relinquish their parental rights and are at peace with their decision and have full confidence in the family they've chosen for their child.  

Adoptive parents, and mothers in particular, may feel the loss of not having been able to conceive (and carry or give birth to) their children.

If a child is adopted at an older age their parents may feel the loss of not having been able to raise them during their formative years and missing out on all of the first's in a child's life- first tooth, first words, first day of school, etc.

Perhaps the most profound sense of loss is felt by the child who is adopted as they lose their biological family.  If their adoption is closed they could feel an amplified loss of identity, belonging, or even information on seemingly simple knowledge many of us take for granted, such as "What color of hair or eyes did my bio parents have?"  "What were they like?" to more complex issues such as "What about my medical history- am I at a greater risk for certain cancers or mental illness or alcoholism and other addictions because of my genetics?"

I can't speak for birthparents or those who have been adopted for the obvious reason that I've never been in their situation but I can acknowledge their losses and try to sympathize.  As an adoptive parent, however, I can speak for myself and empathize with other parents who have had to grieve through losses similar to what I've experienced.

With that background let me also share some additional information about myself and my feelings about adoption:  I've always felt drawn towards adoption- I can't really explain why- but it's just been a feeling or sense I've carried with me.  In the back of my mind I thought "I would like to adopt someday" whether I was able to have biological children or not.  As time went on, this sense of adoption became much more keen and clear and transformed from "I would like to adopt someday" to "I will adopt someday."

I always envisioned becoming a parent for the first time in my 20's rather then my 30's but it turns out that I'm infertile and anyone who has dealt with infertility can attest to the fact that it can really take your life's plans for a detour.  

In my opinion, the only thing worse than being infertile is being diagnosed with "unexplained infertility".  I like there to be a reason for things- my favorite question to answer is "why?"- so when my husband and I dealt with unexplained infertility for over the first half decade of our marriage it was extremely frustrating to say the least.  It's so much easier to know how to move forward when you know what exactly it is you are dealing with in the first place.

After about five years of actively trying to conceive we had some answers to where- (and in this case, with whom) the problem lied.  I was FINALLY correctly diagnosed and treated for our fertility problems- which, in my case, happens to be related to endometriosis.  It was a huge relief to finally have an explanation to why we couldn't get pregnant.  And although at that point in time the chance of me having a viable pregnancy was still a possibility for us, we had started looking into adoption as a means of building our family as well because as with going through the adoption process, fertility treatments offer no guarantee that you'll end up with a child.  

To me, adopting our children versus conceiving and giving birth to them was no big deal.  I wanted to be a parent and the technicality of how that would happen wasn't nearly as important as making sure we did all in our power to make sure that it did happen.  My husband, on the other hand, was hesitant about adoption and it took him a while to warm up to the idea.  This totally makes me laugh now because as I continue to see the interaction between my husband and our firstborn child in particular, who joined our family through adoption as a newborn, I don't think it would be possible for any father to love his child more.

With that lengthy background I'd like to share a couple of fairly recent examples of times I've experienced some feelings of loss triggered quite simply by someone's choice of words.

EXAMPLE #1: ". . . maybe you could have had your own children."

I will be needing another surgery in the near future to deal with some of the complications associated with my endometriosis.  As I was talking to a loved one about this and we were calculating how many surgeries I've had over the years as a means of treatment my loved one made the comment to me, "It sure is too bad that you weren't diagnosed sooner.  Then maybe you could have had your own children."

I was taken aback and tried to keep the conversation running smoothly but at the same time I was caught off guard and just kept thinking, "Wait a minute- did she seriously just say that?"  Now if you are reading this and don't quite understand why a comment like that would hurt so much let me try to explain it:

The term "your own children" is basically the opposite of "someone else's children" and "someone else's children" implies that these children aren't really yours- that you are an impostor.  Or that you haven't fully earned the title of parent because your children don't carry your DNA.  Ouch- That hurts.  (As much as that comment hurt I'm relieved that at least it was just said in front of me and not in my children's presence.)

Fortunately, I know the heart very well of this loved one who made the comment and I know for a fact that she would never deliberately say anything hurtful toward me or my children.  In fact, as I was analyzing what she said (I would have much preferred to just let it slide but the words "your own children" kept echoing through my mind over the next couple of hours after our conversation to the point that I couldn't just ignore them) I'm fairly certain that her remark stemmed from her frustration for and sympathy towards me in watching me have to suffer for so long both physically and emotionally with the process of becoming a parent.

From that conversation I was reminded that when someone says something which can seem insensitive or hurtful many times that is not their intent at all but they are simply unaware that such a phrase or way of putting things could be considered hurtful.  That is why education and awareness is so important.

EXAMPLE #2: "Maybe he misses his real mom" 

Shortly after we adopted Jack he was having a particularly hard day and started whining and throwing a tantrum.  We happened to have relatives over and I felt the need to apologize for his behavior- whether it was the result of him being tired or frustrated or simply of being a 2-year-old.  "I don't know what's wrong- he's having a rough time." I sheepishly explained.  My relative quickly offered up his assessment and said, "Maybe he misses his real mom."  

Once again, I was just so startled at that comment that I didn't even have time to formulate a good response.  I would have been totally fine if the words "other mom" or "biological mom" were used- but they weren't.  Maybe Jack did, in fact, miss his birthmother, and I can totally accept that fact. What I was having a problem with is that the phrase "real mom" made me feel like my role as mother to Jack was somehow being diminished.

I understand that adoption presents a unique situation for children because they literally have more than one mom or dad- I get that it's different than the norm of one mom and one dad who conceive their children themselves.  But I think it's important to remember that ALL the parents in the adoptive child's life are real.  Birth parents are real.  Adoptive parents are real.  Both are a necessary part of the adoption equation.  When one party is labeled "real" it automatically makes the other party "not real" by default.

The two examples of  phrases I shared really pricked a tender spot in my heart.  And since I have a tendency to over-analyze things and this is, in fact, my blog, I'll explain why that is:

I think there is a continuum, for me, of certain phrases people use when talking about adoption which range anywhere from "not a problem" "that bugs me" "that REALLY bugs me" to "Did you SERIOUSLY just say that?!"  Phrases like "real mom" or "your own children" definitely belong on the far end of the continuum under the classification of "Did you SERIOUSLY just say that?!" because they're not just bothersome but they can actually hurt.

I think there is another continuum to measure how bothersome or hurtful certain phrases are which is based not on the phrase itself, but of whom is speaking.  For example, it I were to hear a stranger say, "I know a woman who gave up a child for adoption." I would assume that they don't have very much experience with adoption and l would let it slide because if they did have more experience with adoption they would most certainly use the term "placed" rather than "gave up".   Hearing a stranger make a remark like that would be bothersome.  However, if a friend of mine were to use the term "gave up for adoption" I would be even more bothered because they're my friend and because of that, I would hope they would show a bit more sensitivity and reverence for adoption.  Therefore, their response would belong somewhere along the continuum of "that REALLY bugs me".  With the two examples I shared of hearing the phrase "real mom" and "your own children" it hurt not only because it was on the far end of the continuum based solely on the phrase being said/terms used but it was also on the far end of the spectrum of the "whom is speaking" scale since it was my loved ones who made the remarks.

And now, for my final example- the end all/be all remark which, in my opinion, is the F-bomb of all adoption phrases: "You're not my REAL mom!"  or "You're not my REAL dad!" These phrases are at the far end of both continuums I've mentioned because not only is it an incredibly hurtful and personal, accusatory phrase but it can only be uttered by a child to their adoptive parent- the ultimate sting.

EXAMPLE #3- "You're not my REAL mom!".  

This example is deserving of a post all of its own. Stay Tuned.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Our Second Respite Placement- Part Two

Emily’s foster mom dropped her off to our house on a Sunday morning- just a few hours before we left to church.

Emily just turned 2 a couple months earlier and despite her very petite frame she had a very big personality and loud voice to make up for anything small about her.  Although she did cry for a few minutes when her foster mom hugged her and said goodbye (I noticed her foster mom was trying to fight back tears as well) she quickly busied herself with eating her breakfast and getting acquainted with everyone and everything in our household.

Emily was not shy at all and she took an immediate liking to our 7 year old daughter, M.  This was very fortunate because as soon as Jill (just 2 months difference in age than Emily) realized that another little girl was in our home she immediately became possessive of “my mommy”.   

As for my husband, he came home from a church meeting shortly before we left to go to church just in time to meet the latest addition of our family and help me get all of the kids and diaper bag packed up in the car.

Remember how in my previous post I mentioned that Emily’s foster mom told me that Emily preferred males to females and how her foster mom wondered if she would refer to us as “Mommy” and “Daddy”?  Well, as soon as Jack and Jill and M. greeted my husband with hugs and kisses and exclaimed “Daddy!” when he walked in the door Emily followed their lead and you would have thought she had always been a part of our family.

Emily’s preference for male caregivers definitely worked in our favor during church because Emily had no reservations at all sitting on my husband’s lap while I focused my attention on Jill who can be somewhat of a live wire. 

We made it through about the first half of the Sacrament Service without having to take any children out of the chapel (a small miracle in itself!) and when Jill started getting too loud we played a game of musical toddlers with my husband taking Jill out, me keeping Jack entertained, and M. playing the role of little mother to Emily and gently setting her on her lap and quietly looking at a board book with her. 

Occasionally Emily would come over to me and want me to hold her so we would adjust children and lap space accordingly. The funny thing is, I think I may have seen one or two members of our congregation do a double take when they saw me holding a little girl with long, brunette hair on my lap (Emily) rather than my blonde, short-haired Jill.

Foster families are used to getting stares though- whether it’s because you look like you’re running a Day Care or because not everyone in your family “matches” each other or because you suddenly show up with a new child out of the blue one day.

I’ve probably mentioned how our daughter M. has always been a natural with babies and little children.  With this recent placement she was a huge help on Sundays during church and throughout the rest of the week.  M. seemed to be initially flattered to have a new doting toddler become her little shadow- for the first few days that Emily stayed with us, that is.  Eventually, however, M. decided she needed some space and would become somewhat annoyed with Emily’s spontaneous hugs or her propensity to follow her around everywhere like a little, lost puppy dog.  “Welcome to Motherhood!” I felt like telling M. who, by the end of the week, would even go so far as to spend time in her room or a different part of the house in order to have some space and privacy.

Jack is definitely our most mellow and reserved child.  I guess in that respect he is much like me- observing things and seemingly keeping his thoughts to himself rather than having to create a lot of drama or needing to seek attention all the time.  Sometimes I attribute this to the fact that he’s a boy (and males appear much less emotional than females) but other times I feel like it’s because of his birth order as the middle child who keeps a low profile.  Whatever the reason, Jack seemed to not make too much of a deal when Emily showed up all of the sudden at our house- he just kind of went with the flow. 

Jill, on the other hand, probably had the hardest adjustment to make with a new child in our home- especially when that new child was another little girl her age.  Not only are Jill and Emily both active toddlers but they are both very headstrong in their ways and used to being the center of attention.  Jill is the “baby” in our family and in Emily’s foster family she is the youngest child.  Even if I had not known that fact, it became apparent very quickly that Emily is accustomed to having a lot of individualized attention. 

Because of these dynamics I felt much like a referee last week, constantly sorting out squabbles between toddlers when Emily and Jill would compete for a toy or to be on my lap (It was impossible to hold just one of them without the other immediately becoming jealous).

And yes, just as Jill referred to my husband as “Daddy” she would address me as “Mommy!” in her small but commanding voice several times a day. 

There was more than one incident of hitting or yelling between Emily and Jill but afterwards as I would try to redirect the girl’s behavior they would hug each other like they were best friends. 

While Jill had no problem whatsoever asserting her “dominance” over a certain toy or telling Emily how she felt Jack, who also happens to be my most conscientious child, would look at me with a shock and betrayed look on his face and proclaim “She took it from me!” when Emily would steal a toy from him. Nevertheless, he was initially too shy (or perhaps too polite?) to actually take it back from her even though he loomed over her by at least a foot or two since he’s a year older than Emily and taller than average for his age.  It took four or five days till he was finally comfortable enough to take any toys back from Emily or dare to talk back to any of her sass.

On more than one occasion Jill guarded our toy room door like a bouncer at a bar or night club.  With a furrowed brow and scowl on her face she would say, “Go Away!” and motion Emily away.  M. would start laughing when her baby sister did this and I would have to tell her to stop even though I had to bite my lip from busting up at our little Bouncer the first time I observed it.

Basically, one minute Jill and Emily would be best friends dancing and laughing together and the next minute one of them would be in tears as the result of a sudden clash of wills.

I was grateful that M. was so helpful during the week in giving Emily some extra attention when Jill was particularly clingy to me as Jill has always been a bit of a momma’s girl.   Then again, I didn’t want M. to feel like an older Duggar child taking over the role of parent to younger siblings because that’s not her job.  Because of this I would try and do something fun with M. at night after the younger kids had gone to bed- just her and me- so that she would remember that even though she’s the oldest she’s still my little girl and she can always take time to play because that’s what childhood should be about.

Of all our children I know that having Emily placed with us was hardest on Jill.  How confusing for her to watch me share my attention with another little girl so close to her age who just suddenly appeared in our home one day!  It makes me wonder how blended and step-families must work so hard to adjust to everyone’s new roles and differing personalities without anyone feeling like they are being replaced or that they have to compete with each other. 

This last placement was also a good reminder to me that Yes, it is a sacrifice . . .  but we could possibly take another child into our home.  However, it would be best to stay away from a child so close in age to and the same gender as Jill.  In other words, no virtual twinning- especially for my girls given their dominant personalities- unless the other child happens to be extremely mellow and has a personality more like Jack’s.


Q:  How would fostering affect the children already in my home?

I think there are probably a lot of families who are interested in fostering but they are concerned with how it would affect the children already in their home. It's a highly personal decision to make but I think I would offer up this bit of advice to any such families:

A:  If any of the children in your home meet the following criteria:

1) Have special needs

2)  Are very young in age

3)  Are not totally on board with the idea of more children coming into your home

. . . Then it would probably be best to focus on the needs of your own children first before trying to help anyone else's children.

Having said that (and at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite for not following my own advice), perhaps we'll wait a couple of years till Jack and Jill are a bit older till we take any more permanent placements. But who knows.

Back to the topic of how our children and members of our family reacted to Emily being placed with us for eight days:  I kept thinking of Jack- the poor “neglected middle child” and only boy in our family- being stuck in the middle of all these dramatic girls.  He’s a good sport.  I wonder if the fact that Emily was female rather than male made it easier or harder for him to adjust.  

As for me, by Day 5 of Emily being placed with us I started to wonder, “Is there such a thing as respite for respite care providers?”  Okay, maybe it wasn’t really that bad but the constant squabbling and competing for my attention between two very headstrong toddler girls definitely started to test my patience.  But that’s the great thing about respite care- you know it’s only temporary so even if (hypothetically speaking) the child is a holy terror then you have the assurance that they won’t be in your home forever- just for hours or days.

On another note, when my husband sensed that it might be a good idea for us to get a babysitter so that we could have a date night (and so that I could take a break) I actually became a little resentful thinking “If we hired a teenage girl to babysit for us for a couple of hours we would have to pay her more than we, as foster parents, are reimbursed for the cost of caring for a child for one day.”  I promise I am NOT the type of person to think “I’m going to do this thing for that outcome (reward or whatever)” but my conclusion illustrates the point that as a foster parent I definitely don’t do this for the money.

Now for the good things about respite placements in general (lest you think this is solely a post for me to vent):

When Emily’s foster mom dropped her off she had a daily schedule written out of naptimes, mealtimes, her favorite foods and T.V. shows or songs, etc.  It is SO MUCH EASIER to care for a child when you have an idea of the type of routine they are used to as opposed to getting a “regular” foster placement where you have no idea if the little stranger now placed in your care is accustomed to getting regular meals, has any understanding of what vegetables are, or is even used to bathing on a regular basis without freaking out from the running bath water!  Knowing what routines the child is used to is helpful not only for the foster child in making a smoother transition to their new, foreign environment but to the foster family as well.  

I have heard that if people are unsure about fostering or want a good introduction to fostering, they should provide respite care which is even more temporary than foster care.  Although we never did respite care until after we had some “regular” foster placements, I think that’s a great idea.  Plus, if a placement is a particularly rough one you can always remind yourself, “It’s just a couple of days or over the weekend or for one week”- (whatever the case may be).

I think another advantage to doing respite care is that you are able to get a taste for what ages/genders/severity of needs work best for your family

To sum up the recent experience of our second respite placement:  It was good to be able to help out so that another foster family could go on vacation but I sure will be happy to focus all my attention on my three children and have a sense of “normalcy” return to our family.

Our Second Respite Placement- Part One

Last week our family consisted of our own children- ages 7, 2 ½ and 1 ½ years old- PLUS a 2 year old girl we watched as we provided respite care for her foster family who went on vacation out of state for eight days.  Needless to say, it was a busy week.

This was the first placement we have taken since Jack and Jill were adopted and, therefore, it was also the first placement where we’ve had more than one child of our own to take into consideration when trying to decide if the placement would be a good fit for our family.* 

I expected- simply because of the factor of ages alone- that having three children under 3 years of age would be a bit challenging- regardless of if our 2 year old placement, whom I will refer to as “Emily”, were the best-behaved child in the world.  Age is probably the biggest factor in predicting how this particular placement would affect my children but I think that the personality types and the genders of my children also played a big part (I know, I know- I analyze things too much).  Each of my children acted a little bit differently to Emily coming into our home and I’ll elaborate on that later.

After getting the call from our Resource Family Consultant [the caseworker who works with us as foster parents and calls about potential placements which might be a good fit for our family] I asked my 7 year old daughter, M. how she felt about the idea of us watching a 2 year old girl for a week.  She seemed pretty excited and my husband was on board as well (largely due to the fact that it would only be for a week).   I was curious as to how Jack and Jill would respond to having a child so close to their own ages in our home but with their young ages I obviously couldn’t put the issue to a family vote, so I simply explained to them that we would be having a “friend” come stay with us for a week.

I was able to talk with Emily’s foster mom on the phone a few days before Emily came to our home which was very helpful.  As she was sharing information with me, Emily’s foster mom explained that this was actually the second time that Emily had come into their care.   She was with them for several months as a baby, was reunited with her father, and then just a few weeks ago she came back into their care again. 

I remembered how hard it was for me to leave Jack and Jill with another foster family last year when our family went out of the country on a family trip that had been a long time in the planning and it obviously wouldn’t have been possible to take them with us.  Even though (at that point) my foster children weren’t technically “my” children I wanted to make sure that they were going to a good home while we were gone.  Because let’s face it, foster families are like all families- there are some good ones out there and some not-so-good ones.  Fortunately, with the help of our RFC, Jack and Jill were placed with a wonderful foster family while we were gone.  It was a huge relief and blessing for me.

On a side note: Another good reason foster families should get to know other foster families in their area (besides being a source of support for each other) is to learn which families you can trust if you ever need to use respite.

I also remembered feeling guilty when we had to use respite for a few other family vacations over the years- including an anniversary trip to Hawaii.  But foster families shouldn’t have to put their lives on hold just because they have a placement.  Because of this, I wanted to reassure Emily’s foster mom that she should just try to relax and have fun with her family because we would take good care of Emily.  The morning she dropped Emily off to our house she confided, “I know that she’ll be alright while we’re gone- it’s ME I’m worried about.”  Totally understood.  

In our short phone conversation with each other, Emily’s foster mom also mentioned that their family had adopted Emily’s half-brother which is why she was placed with them in the first place.   She also mentioned that because Emily was returned to the care of her father she actually preferred male caregivers to female caregivers and she was curious to see if she would prefer my husband over me as she preferred her foster father over her foster mother.  She was also curious to see if Emily would refer to us as “mom” and “dad” which is what she calls her foster parents.

*I think it was much easier to open our home to foster placements when my husband and I had no children because it was just a matter of US adjusting to having the child in our home and adapting to their personality and needs.  Plus, we could shower a ton of attention on any foster children without having to worry about dividing up our time and efforts with any other children in the home.

It was a little more difficult after our daughter was adopted because then we had to examine how any placements would affect her as well.  [And, of course, being first-time “official” parents who were totally overly protective of her we would often imagine the worst case scenario which has a lot to do with why up till now we have only taken foster placements younger than she is].  Similarly, now that we have three children we have to assess how any future placements or adoptions might affect each of our children -taking into account their different personalities, stages in life, and particular needs.

In retrospect, I think that a childless couple would be a great candidate for fostering or adopting a sibling group.  We were too hesitant to take more than one child at a time until after we had been fostering for five or six years.  Ironically, now that I feel more open to fostering or adopting [another] sibling group I get disappointed when I am drawn to a profile of a sibling group or older child only to discover that they “must be the youngest or only child” in the family.  Families with no children in their home would be a perfect fit for these kids!