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.


Titus 2 Thandi said...

It's interesting how in my country, many adoptive moms don't want to acknowledge birth families at all. It's a bit sad that there's this huge sense of "He's MINE only." As if the child was assembled and placed in the family from nowhere. I find your attitude refreshing

Mary said...

Where are you from, Thandi?