Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Birthmother" Continued

My thoughts 72 hours after my last post I Call My Child’s Birthmother “Birthmother”

Thank you for all of your feedback and different points of view. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

My intent in asking the questions I posed in my last post was to create an open dialogue between all sides of the adoption triad in an attempt to lead to increased awareness and understanding. Even if we don’t agree with each other we can certainly learn from each other.

With that in mind, here’s what I learned from your comments:

•  Not surprisingly, It’s a toss-up: Of the respondents* so far roughly half found the term “birthmother” to be offensive while the other half found the term to be non-offensive . There is also a definite pattern here . . .

• The women who see the term “birthmother” as degrading are women who placed babies for adoption 20 or 30 years ago, whereas the women who have no problems with the term “birthmother” are those who have placed babies for adoption in the past decade.

• Many of the women who placed their babies for adoption 20 or 30 years ago felt like they were coerced or shamed into doing so. Furthermore, more than one such respondent reported that her baby’s adopted parents had resentment or ill feelings towards her- How terrible!

One conclusion is that birthmothers take a much more active rather than passive role in the adoption process than they did in the past. Thank goodness for reform!

•  It appears that the majority (if not all) of the newer generation of birthmothers have open adoptions and feel valued by their baby’s adopted parents.

One conclusion is that open adoption is not only beneficial for the child but for birthparents as well.

•  Of those who responded who were adopted, none call their biological mothers “birthmother”.

•  NONE of the adopted parents who responded consider the term “birthmother” to be derogatory. This is the case with my husband and I. (Besides, the term “Birthmother” takes up a lot less syllables than “the woman who, after much consideration and prayer, decided it would be in her child’s best interest to make an adoption plan and chose us to be the parents of her child.” Or “The woman whom we honor and revere for her selflessness and mercy in giving us the chance to build our family”.)

•  If I’m not mistaken, all of the adopted parents who responded (except for one who adopted internationally and has a closed adoption) appear to have semi-open to open adoptions.

•  NO MATTER WHAT TERM IS USED SOMEONE IS BOUND TO TAKE OFFENSE. Therefore, the best thing to do, as mrs. r. suggests, is to simply “ask them how they feel about it”.


•  I sincerely hope that those of you who have had traumatic experiences from adoption can gain support from one another. Adopted or not, if you view your parents as “monsters” or if your family thought you were “bad” that sounds downright heartbreaking. For those of you who feel like you were coerced or shamed into placing your babies (or coerced and shamed into doing ANYTHING, for that matter) I commend you for speaking out. Your voices need to be heard as awareness is the first step to change.

•  Adoption being an industry solely motivated by money and making more of an effort to help unwed mothers and their children stay together was a common theme in some of your comments. I’ll have to chew on those thoughts for a bit and let them digest before sharing my thoughts on the subject . . . perhaps in a future post.

•  One aspect of adoption [as viewed through the lens of a market economy and supply and demand] which has always been disturbing to me is the fact that the "cost" of children varies by race. Furthermore, how do you put a price tag on a human life in the first place? Awkward subject, but money is a necessity in adoption as medical and legal expenses exist and babies and children aren’t handed out for free (at least the last time I checked).

•  In terms of blame, I think it’s important to separate the actions of people (which can be good or bad) from the institution of adoption itself. I appreciated some of your insights on the matter:

“Adoption is not perfect, but it's not perfect because people aren't perfect.”

“Are there bad adoptive parents? Absolutely! But that's a problem of PEOPLE, not adoption.”

“People are not dysfunctional because of adoption. Adoption can sometimes be dysfunctional because of people. That's that.”

•  I’ve heard adoptive couples and prospective adoptive couples refer to the parent of their child as “our birthmother” and I can see how that either makes it sound like she’s literally the one who has given birth to them- (kind of creepy)- or it implies ownership. I’ll steer clear of that phrase in the future when referring to my child’s birthmother so as not to get anyone confused about my dear ol’ mom.

*I am happy to report that the majority of the comments I’ve received stuck to answering the questions I posed. Unfortunately, not everyone is mature enough to express their opinion without attacking others on a personal level and I’ve also received comments which weren’t able to stick to answering the questions without harassing and judging others. Differences of opinion are inevitable but it becomes very counterproductive when someone has an attitude of “This is how I feel and you should feel this way too. If you don’t then you’re stupid/heartless, etc.”

I refuse to publish comments which are blatantly disrespectful and intentionally hurtful towards other commentors or myself. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO FOSTER HATE AND JUDGMENT THEN YOU’RE READING AND COMMENTING ON THE WRONG BLOG. Seek elsewhere.

Christina, in answer to your question I don’t believe anybody’s comments here have implied that you should or should not be bitter. (If I need to delete a comment let me know). Although I didn’t coin the term, my definition of a “meanie” is someone who puts down another person simply because they don’t agree with their beliefs.

On an end note, perhaps my favorite comment so far is one that showed great maturity and was an excellent example of a healthy relationship between birth parents and adoptive parents being united in LOVE:

When speaking of her children’s birthparents Sally Bacchetta said,

"No title or label diminishes either their importance in our lives or mine.  Neither of us is threatened by the other.  That's the power of love."

Thanks for the dialogue- I'm going to bed!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Call My Child's Birthmother "Birthmother"

Why I call my child's birthmother her birthmother:
Because she gave birth to her. 

Seems simple enough, right?  Apparently not.

Evidently there is a bit of controversy in the adoption world surrounding the nomenclature of women who give birth to children and place them for adoption.  Perhaps I was too naive or idealistic before I adopted for thinking "Why would something as beautiful as creating families through adoption be considered controversial?"

If you don't think adoption is full of controversy, you will quickly discover it certainly is once you've started the adoption process, adopted, or placed a child for adoption.  Better yet, start publicly writing about your experiences and you will most assuredly receive immediate criticism for your viewpoints and experiences- whatever those happen to be. 

You may also learn something new about yourself in the process of sharing your story.  For example, apparently my husband and I are selfish "baby-shoppers" as are all prospective adoptive parents- something I was unaware of until I wrote an editorial in my local newspaper.  Who knew!  Furthermore, I am a horrible person for loving my foster children as if they were my own children (which, as one commenter informed me, can cause excess trauma and confusion on the part of foster children).   What can I say- I have a tendency to err on the side of too much love rather than not enough.  Guilty as Charged!

Although adoptive parents and those who have been adopted receive their share of prejudice and criticism, I have found that it is the birthparents and expectant parents who all too often receive the brunt of harrassment and mistreatment from adoption critics. 

What is most disturbing to me is that much of the condemnation heaped upon birthmothers is from other birthmothers who have been in their exact situation and whom you would hope would thus be filled with a greater amount of understanding and compassion. 

Take, for instance, Jill's thoughts on the matter in her recent post Name Calling:
"One of the first things I noticed when I encountered adoption meanies on the interwebs was that many of the birth mom meanies consider the phrase "birth mom" to be the vilest of insults. One compared using it to using the N-word. And I thought, wow, really? Because I've never heard "birth mom" used as a put-down, an slam, an insult, a verbal weapon, or a dressing-down."
"The meanies feel that calling a woman a birth mother is insulting, akin to referring to her as an incubator or a breeder. Again I think, really? The only names that would suggest to me that woman was an incubator or a breeder are ... well, incubator, and breeder.
The meanies would much rather be referred to as natural mothers, first mothers, or original mothers. All three of those make me a little uncomfortable. Because if I'm Roo's natural, first, original mother, what does that make Roo's mama? Unnatural? Second? Unoriginal - an impostor? Pshaw. I don't buy that for a second. Roo's mother is her real, natural, actual mother. I didn't place with a robot or a cardboard cutout."
I've come to the conclusion that the birthmothers who are the most critical of adoption in general are those who placed their babies in an era where open adoptions weren't as prevalent as they are today and/or the agency they worked with used "coercive tactics" (whatever that means) pressuring the prospective birthparent to place for adoption. 

Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't the fact alone that a pregnant woman is consulting an adoption agency or looking at profiles of adoptive parents in the first place attest to the fact that she has thought out her options and is considering adoption?  (Unless, of course, she has no free will in the matter and has been FORCED to place her child for adoption, a hypothetical and highly unethical situation).  But whether the birthparent decides to place or parent their child IT IS THEIR CHOICE so can it really be considered coercive, manipulative or predatory for prospective adoptive parents to address the woman who is considering adoption as a "birthmother"?   Is "prospective birthparent" better?

I've already shared my opinion:  I Call My Child's Birthmother "Birthmother" because she gave birth to her.

What are YOUR feelings on the matter?

If you have placed your child for adoption do you find the terms "birthfather" or birthmother" to be offensive?

If you are an adoptive parent , how do you refer to your child's biological parent(s)?

If you are adopted, what do you call the people who conceived you and gave you birth?  

The Lending Library

I recently used a wonderful resource for the first time: The Lending Library sponsored by Utah's Child & Family Services Adoption Connection.

The Lending Library contains books and DVD's on subjects such as Family Relations, Grief & Trauma Healing, Special Needs Adoption, Parenting Advice- all of which would most certainly be helpful to foster and adoptive families. 

Q:  So what are the "rules" about the lending library? 

A:  Anyone who has been touched by adoption can can use the lending library and can check out a total of  three books or videos for a total of six weeks.

I was able to "order" a book online and had it sent to me through the mail free of charge (very quickly I might add) and I didn't even have to pay the postage to mail it back!  Cool beans.

I found The Lending Library to be very useful and extremely user-friendly.  Check it out! (pun intended)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Spreading Sunshine

I figured it's an appropriate time to spread some sunshine since I'm trying to soak up the last few weeks of summer before it slips away.  (Plus, if I don't force myself to sit down and finish this post RIGHT NOW it may never happen!)

As promised, here's a little more about the blogs that received the Sunshine Award from me last month:

Popp Life-  What I admire about Maggie, the foster mother and author of Popp Life, is that she shares the good, the bad, and the ugly that come with being a foster parent so that others can better understand the process.  Even when things aren't so rosy [she and her husband are currently coping with the heartache of a disrupted placement, for example] she is able to maintain a positive attitude and keep things in perspective.  I might add that Maggie is a former caseworker which would certainly be beneficial to seeing both sides of the story.

I was particularly touched when Maggie shared a post about comforting her foster children who were upset about being in foster care.  She reassured them that they were more than "foster kids" in her eyes and in God's eyes.  It's evident that she and her husband are able to separate the actions of the children they foster from the children as a whole- What a great skill! 

Maggie and her husband are willing to open up their home to older children and sibling groups (something my husband and I have yet been brave enough to do!) and they don't let lack of space keep them from taking placements.  Kudos, Brian and Maggie! 

The Happiest Sad- Jill is one of the most articulate birth mothers I know of.  She's also smart enough to know that you shouldn't end your sentences with a preposition (but I'm sure she'll excuse my previous sentence anyway).  Jill has been chronicling her personal story on her blog mostly for her birthdaughter "Roo", and "to make sense of things", and to let others know that birthmothers have their baby's best interest in mind when they make the difficult decision to place.

I love that she uses humor in the midst of such serious topics.  For example, regarding people's judgments and ignorance about her decicion to place her baby for adoption, she says:
"Excuse me, but I didn’t give her away. I didn’t put up an ad on Craigslist, “I’m giving away my baby, does anyone want her?” I placed her for adoption, but I certainly didn’t and wouldn’t ever give her away. I gave her a family"
Another educational post about grief after placing is here.

I also have to commend Jill for her exhaustive list of couples waiting to adopt which she updates and organizes by State.  

One last bit of interesting information about Jill- she is also currently hoping to adopt . . . (a husband, that is).

Feigning Fertility- Ashley became a mother for the first time through the miracle of adoption and she became a mother for the second time (fairly  recently) through the miracle of assisted reproductive technology.  Ashley is extremely open with her experiences and she can be hysterically funny with her bluntness.   For example, the sidebar/intro to her blog reads what you can expect from her blog:

"the thoughts and experiences of a blunt woman who has found the blessing of motherhood through adoption and fertlity treatments. Different process, same basic feeling of sitting in a room with your nether-regions exposed for all the world to evaluate".  Hilarious.

Ashley did a great job answering the question "Can you love an adopted child as much as a biological child?" in this post and she explored the topic of adoptees connecting with their biological families in this post.

I love what Ashley had to say about mothers in this post:
"Motherhood is an action. Sure, it can be the actual giving birth and raising of a child but what life has taught me is that what makes a mother isn't the child looking like you or genetics. It's how you love that child.
Time has taught me that just because your arms don't hold a child doesn't mean you're not a mother. Even if you've held the child in your arms and don't right now, you're still their mother because your heart is full of love for them.
So if your arms were empty yesterday my heart goes out to you. You are a mother because your love for your child makes you one."
Stare If you MustFelicia had me at the clever title of her blog.  As a mother of seven children-two of whom were adopted through the foster care system and one adopted internationally, Felicia has surely had her share of stares, judgments, or ignorant comments about her large, transracial family. 

Speaking of which, I loved what she had to say regarding race in this post:

"I really don't care if folks stare at us either, I know that for the most part they are curious.  I don't mind if they ask questions either.  What I do mind is when they choose to say negative things to us in front of my children.

Yes, that has happened. We have been accused of taking our children from their culture and how they won't be raised right. Well, I'm not sure what my children's specific culture would be, my little ones are black, Puerto Rican and white. I hope she doesn't want me to raise them to be in jail like their dad. Honestly, I think of them as Americans.

Ah, but I am not naive. I know that there are things that they need to learn as black children in America. I know that they will have difficulties  and will be judged based on their skin tone.  They need to be prepared for that.

Sometimes it is hard because I don't see skin tone, I see my children. I wish that the rest of the world did too."

Felicia has also brought up her experiences unique to explaining adoption to children adopted from foster care, the loss of biological siblings of her  foster and adopted children, and  ironically, racism in her Guatemalan daughter.

I appreciate the honesty she pours into her writing about such delicate subjects.  And as if being a mother isn't a big enough job, Felicia is also in the National Guard (She's one mama who actually does wear combat boots!) and she is going back to school to earn a Master's Degree and teaching certificate in Special Education.

Four Kids and Surviving- This is the only other blog (besides Ignore the Crazy) written by someone I actually know IN REAL LIFE!  Shannon and I lived together and worked together as missionary companions for our Church over ten years ago.  We lost touch, but thanks to Facebook and blogging I was able to catch up on her life and I was especially excited to learn that she adopted her three children through foster care. 

After Shannon and her husband tried to have children for five years with no success, Shannon felt inspired to move to another state and become a foster parent.  She and her husband got their first placement- a sibling group of three- just days after they had become licensed and that is how she was led to her children.  Some people do actually find their children through their very first foster placement!  Shannon's story starts here and it's pretty amazing. 

Each Day Brings a New Adventure- This blog is written by someone who is "doubly" affected by adoption: Amanda was not only adopted, but she is also an adoptive mother who has a great appreciation for open adoptions.

Not every account of reuniting with birthparents has a happy ending, but Amanda's account of meeting her birthmother Lori will give you chills- she wrote about it as a guest blogger on the r house in three parts beginning here.  For further reading see "Layers".
Ignore The Crazy-  Rebecca is a former roommate of mine so I may be a little biased in choosing her blog.  She has adopted two African American children who complement her blond-haired, blue eyed girls.  Her youngest daughter was born with Down Syndrome and her adopted children have special needs as well.

One of the most significant things Bek has said about adoption is
"Adoption is loss and trauma. Even when it is "right". It's also ok for my kids to love and miss their other mom-- no matter who she is or what she does. You DONT have to wrap it up in a nice package with a bow. Relationships are messy and weird and useful and fulfilling--even the hard ones."
Rebecca is thankful for open adoptions and although she recognizes the importance of telling her children their adoption stories, she also feels bittersweet about the sad and hard parts that can be part of their adoption story.  See this post to read more.

Andy's Clan-  Although I've never met Sheyann in "real life" I feel like we've been life-long friends.  Sheyann is not afraid to be herself and there is no pretense in her writing which drew me to her blog in the first place.  She and her husband are parents of a darling little boy, Andy; (hence the name of her blog) whom they adopted and they are hoping to adopt again.  Sheyann freely writes about the frustrations surrounding infertility, the adoption process, and preparing to do foster care.  Did I also mention that she is a registered nurse, a photographer, a chef, and she can sew too?  I think I just found me a SISTER WIFE! (A little bit of Mormon humor; and for clarification, No- we no longer practice polygamy)  

Where the Wild Things Are-  Heidi and her husband Tim take an active role in promoting adoption and foster care (Yes, Heidi is the same Heidi  I refered to in my last post).  The Naylors have adopted four children,  the latest of whom came to their family last year as a result of them searching through their state's Heart Gallery of Waiting Children.  I love reading about how each of their children was divinely placed into their family in the Lord's timing, after much waiting.  You can read their story here or full story here.

Adoption is Full of Miracles-  Megan & Shane are such big advocates for adoption that in addition to their "regular" family blog they have kept their adoption website up for the purpose of promoting adoption and highlighting other families who are hoping to adopt.  Change of Heart is a recent post of Megan's which I found particularly poignant and you can read more about their latest upcoming adoption miracle here.

Adoptee Voice- Why don't more men blog?  Peter is a gifted writer who shares his perspectives as a Korean American adoptee and explores issues of international adoption and transracial families.  It was from his blog that I learend that Korean adoptions will be halted in 2012.  Unfortunately, Peter's blog is on hold and understandably so  as he is busy with graduate school and has recently undergone some family tragedies.  The good news is that he is considering making a book out of his experiences with adoption.

In My Life- Kylee is a teenager whose family has fostered over fourteen children, including her two adopted brothers.  Kylee seems far wiser and more mature than her seventeen years as she shares her passions for foster care and orphans.  She  also recently spent some time in Peru at an orphange.  Very commendable.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Traumatized Children

Every time I hear an account of a feral child or read or hear about a news story or book about children who were raised in truly heinous conditions- (any book by Torey Hayden or Dave Pelzer, for example) I am immediately fascinated and horrified at the same time.

My first instinct is to try and distance myself from any unpleasant emotions which may be stirred up inside of me and look at things in a purely objective manner as a social scientist would. Perhaps that is why I studied sociology rather than social work in college- it’s somewhat akin to someone who is fascinated with the human body immersing themselves in physiology and anatomy courses but shying away from anything having to do with First Aid for fear of ever having to get any blood on their hands.

So when I attended two classes at the Families Supporting Adoption National Conference last week- one on Adopting Older Children from Foster Care and the other on Trauma & Brain Development I found my head saying things like “Fascinating research.” “Interesting case study.”

My problem is that I never succeed in staying fully objective. In fact, most of the time I fail quite miserably. Why? Because each “case study” is not just a case study but an actual person and because I’m human, when I hear about other humans in their most fragile form (children) who are suffering I can’t just easily dismiss their experiences and pretend to be disaffected. When I hear about somebody else suffering a little piece of my heart aches, too. Perhaps I sound a little too sensitive or melodramatic, but that’s the way I honestly feel. And although many times I wish I could be more logical and rational and less emotional maybe it’s not such a bad thing to acknowledge my feelings. After all, if I had never listened to my feelings in the first place I wouldn’t be a foster parent today.

With that preface, let me share a couple of things I learned with my head and my heart from the classes I attended on Adopting Older Children and Trauma & Brain Development.

Heidi Naylor did a wonderful job sharing her family’s story of adopting children though the foster care system. I had read her story before, but hearing her share it in person and watching tears form in her eyes as she showed the “before” picture of her three year old son high on methamphetamine (before he was removed from his home and entered foster care) and the “after” picture of a smiling, healthy little boy who is now part of a her family, in addition to her three other children who joined the Naylor’s family through adoption and each of whom have special stories of their own, all I can say is WOW.

In her presentation on Adopting Older Children, Heidi brought up some common challenges and characteristics typical of older children in foster care including drug exposure, ADHD, lying, stealing, hoarding and gorging, aggression, defiance, lack of eye contact, and attachment issues. Makes you want to sign up and be a foster parent right this minute, huh?!

If I’m like some of you reading this right now I’ll admit that just hearing that list can scare the crap out of me. Perhaps that is why many adoptive couples prefer to adopt newborn babies with a “clean slate” rather than an older child who is more likely to have “baggage”. But Heidi brought up a very good point: She asked “If your child was born missing a hand would you still love them?” Of course! NO child is perfect and even children who haven’t been adopted or been in foster care or children who have been raised by terrific parents can have problems.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about and dealing with foster children’s possible behavioral “problems” is this: THESE CHILDREN ARE NOT “BAD” CHILDREN. THEY ARE SIMPLY REACTING TO THE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THEY WERE RAISED.

Which leads me to the topic of Liz Rivera’s class: The Effects of Childhood Trauma and Brain Development. Let me first give you some background on Liz Rivera: she works for the Utah Foster Care Foundation training foster parents and she has worked in the child welfare system for over 16 years. She is pursuing a doctorate degree and has done extensive research on how early trauma (beginning as early as in-utero) can affect a child’s developing brain. By trauma I mean anything from malnutrition, exposure to drugs, abuse, and neglect. Needless to say, she knows her stuff.

Liz’s presentation was a condensed version as it was only an hour long and it is usually three to four hours. The “jist” of what she had to say was this: Early childhood trauma creates physiological changes and responses in a child’s brain. The part of the brain which focuses on “survival” and getting immediate needs met is the most developed part of a traumatized child’s brain whereas the areas of the brain which require “higher functioning” and deal with regulating emotional responses or censorship are less–developed.

The two most important bits of information I came away with from Liz’s class were that:
  • The prime directive of the brain is SURVIVAL. How does this apply to dealing with the behavior of a child with special needs? It is important to remember that the child is acting out of survival and to ask yourself: What purpose is this behavior serving? Which is a much better approach than labeling a child as bad or delinquent and being annoyed because their behavior happens to be inconvenient or embarrassing.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is NOT a disorder, but a natural response. I couldn’t agree more. I think that many times people are labeled as having a “disorder” or being “mentally or emotionally ill” when in reality their responses are quite rational given the circumstances they’ve experienced. (However, I do think it’s important to recognize such a debilitating condition so the “disorder” part of the name is just a technicality so that it could fit somewhere within DSM classifications)
I’ll use the example of a veteran of war since PTSD was first used to diagnose soldiers suffering from what is sometimes called “shell shock”: If I were sent off to war and lived in a combat zone and then had to come back to regular civilian life I would be surprised if I didn’t suffer from nightmares and flashbacks interrupting my nights and days or if I didn’t become hyper vigilant when I heard certain sounds or sights or smells, which would certainly make it hard for me to function. It’s a wonder to me that all veterans who have served in war zones don’t have a hard time adjusting to “normal” life.

On the same note, when a child has been raised in an environment of abuse and neglect- a virtual “combat zone” within their own home- and then they are removed from that familiar environment and placed into a new, unfamiliar environment away from their regular caregivers is it any wonder they have a hard time attaching or that they literally “act out” what is familiar to them? This all goes back to what Liz Rivera taught in her class: the prime directive of the brain is SURVIVAL, so these kids may not attach for fear of being abused or abandoned and they are thus labeled as having “Reactive Attachment Disorder”. Or they may be skeptical of trusting others in authority since the authority figures in their lives have disappointed or betrayed them in meeting their needs; thus they are labeled as having “Oppositional Defiance Disorder” or “Conduct Disorder” . Or they steal and hide food because they are unsure if they will be fed consistently and don’t know if they’ll have another meal which seems like a strange and foreign concept to people who have never had to worry about starving, but which is a very common compulsion and survival method for those who have faced starvation.

In the case of hoarding food, Heidi shared the example of when her daughter was first placed in their care: She would literally have eaten so much that she would have thrown up (if her new parents would have let her). When Heidi brought it to her doctor’s attention he said that this little girl was simply “catching up” from not being fed. Heidi addressed the problem by having a shelf full of easily accessible foods- apples, bananas, fruit snacks, etc.- that her children could take anytime they felt the need (with the exception of right before mealtime) so that they would know that there was always enough food in their home and they would never go hungry.

I guess my point in all of my ramblings is that yes, children who have not had their needs consistently met- especially during the first few years of their lives when attachment is CRUCIAL- are more likely to have some issues and behavioral problems as a result. However, one of the “myths” about foster care which Heidi explored in her class was that “Foster children have been abused so much that they’re really beyond repair”. I think that same myth exists about children who have been raised in orphanages in terms of neglect and their ability to form healthy attachments. But Heidi ended her presentation by saying “Love, acceptance, consistency, ownership, accountability, structure, guidance, & security can & do make miracles happen!”

Very encouraging and inspirational.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

2010 Families Supporting Adoption National Conference

Over the weekend I attended the 2010 Families Supporting Adoption (FSA) National Conference.  It was inspiring and educational as always and it was nice to rub shoulders with so many friends of adoption.  I only wish that my husband could have been with me this year, but he was somewhere in the mountains with a bunch of scouts at Scout Camp!

Here's a few inspiring things/quotes I heard at the conference (and a little background on each as well):

I think the most inspiring presentations I attend are the panels where birthparents and adoptive couples share their personal stories.  At one such panel composed of birthparents (I loved that a birthfather was there to share his perspective!), birth grandparents, adoptive couples, adoptive grandparents, and caseworkers for both the birthparents and adoptive couples, a birthmother made the following comment about the family-specifically the adoptive mother- she placed her child with:

"I feel like we struck a deal in heaven"

Pass the Kleenex!  It is always affirming for me to hear from all sides of adoption- especially birthparents- that they knew their child was meant to be in the family they were placed in, which most definitely goes along with the theme of this year's conference- "Together By Divine Design"

Speaking of which . . . here's a comment a wise adoptive father made (who was sitting at my table for lunch on Saturday) in answer to a prospective adoptive couple's inquiry who were just getting started in the adoption process:

Q: How long is the average wait for an adoptive couple using LDS Family Services?
(Great Question!)
A:  I think it's just like the Theme of the Conference says: "By Divine Design". 

(In other words . . . it depends/It's the Lord's Timing/each case varies).
Which can be hard to hear when you're waiting, but it's TRUE!

Adoption can be wonderful and full of joy- but that joy would not be possible without the profound losses and griefs of all involved: birthparents who lose a child or perhaps the dream of raising a child with a supportive spouse, adoptive couples who have to let go of the idea of having biological childen or who have already lost children to miscarriages or stilbirth or lost time and personal anguish from repeated unsuccessful fertility treatments, in general LOSS OF CONTROL over a very important aspect of your life which most people seem to have control over.  (And I'm not even touching on the loss that adopted children may feel throughout their life for their bio family- I'll save that topic for others who have experienced it firsthand)

Because there is so much loss involved before adoptions take place I think it was appropriate (and not surprising) that two of the presentations I attended touched on Elizabeth Kubler Ross's Stages of Grief, a model which was originally applied to people facing terminal illness, but which can certainly be applied to other losses as well.

I thought it was interesting that in both classes which mentioned grief  both  presenters [an adoptive woman in one case who shared her experiences with dealing with infertility and in the other case a birthmother who had placed a child for adoption years ago and is now a caseworker/counselor for birthparents] noted that the "Stages of Grief" are not necessarilly steps that a person goes through in linear order- like a checklist full of items to be easily crossed off- and then you're all done grieving, but rather, one can jump around to the different stages at different parts of your life, skip a stage, or be "stuck" in more than one phase at a time.

Perhaps this wasn't a groundbreaking discovery, but it was nice to hear others say that, because suffice it to say, I can relate.

I also thought the clip that Laurieanne Thorpe shared in her presentation- illustrating how some people just expect others to "GET OVER IT/STOP IT!") - was hilarious and on a more somber note, Anna Quindlen's definition of grief which she shared as "the continual presence of an absense" was so succinct.

Another touching comment which a birthmother shared [who was attending mrs. r's and alison lowe's class on adoption advocacy] regarding what she tells people when they ask her how she could have ever placed her child for adoption was "I didn't lose a son, I gained a family!"  What a beautiful perspective.

Speaking of grief and loss and regarding adoptive parents and birthparents I heard it said that "adoptive couples and birthparents have a lot in common in terms of experiencing loss and grief."

In a class which focused on understanding birthparent grief  I heard a lot of references to the author James Gritter who said in his book Lifegivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption,

"Lifegivers and caregivers do not share or compete for the same roles; they have separate and distinct responsibilities to meet. With this fundamental understanding, birthparents and adoptive parents are not rivals; they are compatriots in the exciting task of shaping the life of a much loved child. A child counts on the steadiness of his everyday parents and savors the continuing interest of his lifegivers."

(Thanks for the complete quote, Tara!)

More about a few of the classes I attended at the Conference which addressed issues specific to adopting older children or special needs children (foster care) in a future post.