Friday, March 25, 2016

Two Equally Real Families

I saw this quote the other day and it was a great reminder for me to try and see things from the perspective of someone who has been adopted:

 (To learn more about the author of this quote and her experiences click here)

I also readily admit that I grew a little uncomfortable just reading the quote.  As an adoptive mother, part of me doesn't want to acknowledge the rift my children may feel concerning their biological families and their adoptive family.  I don't like the concept of anyone having to "choose" between families or of placing blame on or possibly feeling resentment towards one family- it creates an "us" versus "them" mentality and that kind of reasoning taken to the extreme is like setting the stage for a contest in which there can only be one winner for the coveted title of "Real Family" when, in fact, in adoption there are no winners or losers but two equally real families who happen to share a child.

I've always considered myself to be fairly open with my children about their histories so that it's just a fact that they started out with a biological family (or solely a birthmother- depending on their story) before joining our family through adoption.  I also see the wisdom in keeping things as age-appropriate as possible so that I don't have to give them details they might not understand or might not be ready to process just yet. 

For example, ever since my oldest daughter was pre-school aged and cognizant that babies grow inside of their mommies I would offer up the explanation to her that "mommy's tummy is broken" and that is why she grew in her birthmother's tummy rather than mine.  "Mommy's tummy is broken" is a much more appropriate explanation to a young child than "I have no problem ovulating and daddy's sperm is fine but any fertilized eggs have trouble implanting in my uterus due to extensive endometrial growths despite repeated surgeries and medical interventions to help suppress the growths."  Yeah . . . I think anyone can see why "Mommy's tummy is broken" will suffice.

When it comes to my oldest daughter's "other" family, I've always been cautious about how to tell her that she has biological half siblings- not because I was trying to keep it a big secret from her but because I was afraid of the questions and issues it would lead to, namely, Why did my birthmom choose to "keep" them but not me?  And I really HATE to use such a simplistic word as "keep" rather than "parent" for the same exact reasons I felt uneasy with the causality surrounding term 'let go of' in the quote I shared in the beginning, but I am thinking about how my daughter or anyone who has been adopted, for that matter, might perceive things.

Because of my concerns, I was so relieved at M.'s reaction when I told her that she has biological half sisters.  She didn't ask anything whatsoever about "How come they're with my birthmom and I'm not?" but rather, she became excited and announced, "I have sisters!"  Incidentally, they know about her as well although they have not yet met in person.  M. was especially excited to learn that two of her bio half-siblings are older sisters because she's always thought that it would be cool to have an older sibling.  Which, incidentally, makes me wonder if it's really such a bad thing to adopt out of birth order when there are so many older children available for adoption but that's another subject for another post!

I also laughed when M. enthusiastically and matter of factly told me, "So now we have 9 people in our family!"  (Five in our family plus her birthmom and her three biological half-sisters).  I immediately envisioned her telling all her friends and everyone at school about her new-found discovery and I tried explaining that they weren't in our family but they were part of her biological family.  It didn't seem to make much of a difference to her and she still didn't see what the big deal was with me having her call them "biological sisters" rather than just simply "sisters."  My daughter's inclusiveness taught me a lot that day.

For now we're good with M.'s knowledge of having biological half-siblings in addition to her little brother and sister, but what happens the day that my daughter does ask me "Why did my birthmom choose to 'keep' them but not me?"

Here's what I can tell her:

-Your birthmother wanted you to have a mommy AND a daddy.  (She's heard this fact before but I will repeat it to her as often as necessary.)

-Your birthmother knew from experience how hard it is to be a single parent.  

M. can learn more details from her birthmother when they both decide that the time is right.  She does know that the reason her "other sisters" are referred to as half-siblings is that they have the same biological mom but different biological fathers.

As for my two youngest children- they have a biological (full) baby brother as well.  At this point I'm uncertain if he is still in the care of their birthmom and although they've met him a couple of times it's been over a year since they last saw him and I honestly don't know if they even remember him.  It's nice to have pictures of them together for any future inquiries.

When the time comes that my two youngest (now only 2 and 3 years old) ask: "How come my birthmom ended up with our baby brother (if only for a time) but not with us?"  the answer is a bit complicated because the circumstances surrounding their adoption from foster care are so different from when we adopted our oldest daughter through a private agency with no state involvement whatsoever.  

How do you explain neglect and drug addiction to a young child?  I have learned through other foster adoptive families to explain drug addiction as a disease so when my youngest children do ask the hard questions I plan on saying something to the effect of, "Your birthmom had a disease which kept her from raising you.  That disease is drug addiction."   I might also add- it's scary when two of your children have a high genetic predisposition towards drug addiction on not just one but both sides of their bio family's lines!

In summary, I don't ever want to keep the facts about my children's first families and how they came to be in our family a big secret, because their other families are just as "real" and valid as our family. They deserve their due recognition.

However,  I do want to use discretion in sharing that information with my children in a timely and age-appropriate manner.

Friday, March 11, 2016

I Foster; Therefore, I Facebook Stalk

Okay, I admit it- I have totally Facebook stalked the parents of my foster children and/or the birthmother and birthfather of two of my children who I am not Facebook friends with.  (Please tell me I'm not the only foster parent out there who does this!)  

However, I don't like the word "stalk"- that makes me sound so creepy and well . . . voyeuristic.   I much prefer words such as "investigate" and "research" over "stalk".  

In all seriousness though, my "research" or "data collection" has had some major advantages.  Had I not facebook stalked the birthfather of two of our children I would never have had some truly priceless photos of him lovingly and playfully holding them in his arms when he was a part of their lives.  I also would not have had access to a couple of photos of my children's biological parents together- when they were together, that is.

Through Facebook:

*I was able to reconnect with the adoptive mother of one of our former foster children (it was a kinship adoption).  Through that relationship I was able to pass on to Rose's new mother a bunch of baby pictures of Rose when she was in our care.

Through Facebook:

* I was happy to learn that the father of one of our former foster children is doing well in his work and that his little boy (who was just a somber baby when in our care) looks like a typical happy, healthy child who remains the apple of his father's eye.  I was further delighted to learn that this child's father was no longer a single parent because he got married (not to the mother of our former foster child who lost her parental rights to their child; that outcome would not have been a good one.)

Through Facebook:

*I was surprised to find that one of our former foster children's moms had a new baby.  I wasn't able to ascertain if she was still with our former foster child's father.  I was even more surprised to discover that her oldest child- our first foster placement who was just a pre-schooler when he was in our care- now has a facebook account of his own as he is heading into the teen years!  I laughed when I read "My mom finally let me have a facebook after begging her." and I thought it was sweet to see Justin post a photo of himself holding a baby in his arms with the caption: "My Baby Brother."

In general, I feel hopeful when I learn that the parents of our foster children have a steady job, are working hard in recovery, and appear to be doing well.  

I also get really nervous for the parents of our foster children when they continually brag about explicit drug use, post an abundance of cleavage selfies or pictures of themselves in suggestive poses which would make the Kardashians look downright wholesome, or use a picture of themselves pointing a weapon at the camera for their latest profile picture- even if it is "just a joke".

Such instances make me wonder "Do you realize that your current or potential employers or law enforcement or ANYONE can see what you're choosing to make public on the internet?"

Recently I've been thinking about Jack and Jill's birthmom and how she is doing.  Actually, it's more accurate to say 'How can I not think about her?'  Sometimes my youngest children will look at me and in their faces I see a facial expression of their first mom stariing right back at me.  Although I send their bio mom pictures of "our" kids regularly and I have her number, I recently became a little concerned when she wasn't responding to my texts.  After doing some investigating on her facebook page I discovered that she was not in a good place, which meant, through the process of elimination, that neither was Jack and Jill's baby brother- if he's still in her care, that is.

I became worried when I read a particularly troubling status update by Jack and Jill's birthmom and then her posts stopped abruptly. Further investigating led me to discover that she is not just figuratively 'not in a good place' but quite literally not in a good place- as in jail.  Again.  This time on a totally different charge than her last booking.  It was evident from her mug shot that she's been using again.  So sad.

Time for another confession: I readily admit that on more than one occasion I have searched the public online County Jail Inmate Roster to collect info about the parents of my foster children.  I've done this both  before meeting them for the first time to know what to expect and even long after their case has been closed- to see how they're doing.

Sometimes I envy other adoptive families who have healthy, open relationships with their children's birth families because face-to-face contact and accessibility is not a problem or threat to their child's safety. 

Then again, sometimes I'm honestly relieved that I have a valid excuse not to have to worry about navigating a face-to-face relationship with Jack and Jill's birthmom.  Don't misunderstand me- I fully recognize that it's because of her that Jack and Jill are in my life.  She carried them in her womb which is something I couldn't do for them.  But it's also because of her choices and the choices of their birthfather that they were removed from their care and placed into foster care to begin with.  

It's not all black and white.  I experience all sorts of ambivalent emotions when I think of the role Jack and Jill's birthmother has played in my children's lives ranging anywhere from pity for her to resentment of some of the choices she's made and how those choices have affected or will affect my children's futures to admiration for the choice she made to finally put her children's needs above her own wants by relinquishing her parental rights.

In the end, what is best for my children takes precedence over what I personally think or want as an adoptive parent.   Because of that, I want to do all in my power to collect as much information as I can for them about their first parents (even if that means resorting to Facebook stalking) until it's an appropriate time for them to meet their first parents again in person, if that's what they desire.

My Adoption Truth: Joy

I rarely post pictures of my family on my public blog, but this morning my heart was filled with overwhelming JOY as I looked into the faces of my two youngest children who have been with us for two and a half years now but who have only been "official" members of our family for under a year.