How To Open Communication

Life happens and then you scramble to make the best of the situation. Today’s story.

We were foster parents advocating for reunification with each placement. Knowing what we know now, we would find other ways to support family reunification. With our last placement, relatives were contacted weekly for months according to the social worker, but did not want to take placement of the child nor have any communication with us. Then, mom tragically passed away while fighting hard to regain custody of her child. We were told that if we didn’t want to pursue adoption, the child would be placed in additional foster homes until a permanent placement was found. We loved him so much and ultimately decided to adopt as we couldn’t imagine him bouncing from home to home until he found permanency. We know he clearly has living relatives including a half-sibling who he has never met at the aunt and uncle’s choosing. This half-sibling lives with them. We know our son would value these irreplaceable connections with family, but we as adoptive parents don’t know if it is our place to initiate them – especially since the aunt and uncle don’t seem to be interested in contact at this point. The social worker did provide us with their phone number and our contact information was given to them months ago. Do we reach out? Give the aunt and uncle space to come to us? Wait until our son is older and let him decide? Adoptees, what would you have wanted adoptive parents to do?

The first response came from an adoptee – Call them. Talk with them, verify the information you’ve been told, set up times to talk or see each other. Keep trying, even if they aren’t responsive. This child has already lost so much, he needs his family connections honored.

Some further information on this situation – we had been told by a third party not to contact them as they were very hurt by the situation with his mom and that they were not ready to have a relationship or contact. However, I have never personally spoken to the family, and agree that the foster care agency could have said one thing when the family actually said another. I would love for nothing more than my for my son to have these family connections and family mirrors. My biggest fear is that I don’t want to cause more pain or sever the relationship further if they indeed were not ready and I seem disrespectful for not following their wishes. I know they are on social media Maybe being honest and saying all that might be the best approach when initiating contact?

Another adoptee responds to this with – A third party told my biological dad’s family the same thing (biological dad died when I was a baby). They stayed away based on the fact that they knew they had no power and the information said third party had given them. My adoptive parents never reached out to them because the same third party had told them that my biological family didn’t care about me. I didn’t have them as family as a child (and honestly I STILL don’t have a real family relationship with them) as a result. Suffice to say, it has literally ruined that part of my life.

An adoptive parent shares – I had a very similar situation with my son. Child Protective Services case worker told me they contacted his siblings adoptive parent twice and that they wanted no contact. After my son’s adoption finalized, I just decided I had to reach out anyway – the adoptive parent on the other end started to cry when I told her who I am. She said she is so glad I found her number, and that all Child Protective Services had asked was whether they would be a placement resource! She had never told Child Protective Services that they didn’t want contact. The result? These two brothers have a close relationship and see each other several times a month, sometimes multiple times a week. Definitely call.

Bottom line – Until you hear it with your own ears (or see it with your eyes, etc), I would not trust what the system says someone else says.

Not Good Enough

Today’s story –

I am a adoptee. Here is the issue, My daughter just had my first granddaughter on Sunday and she is absolutely perfect. But the problem is this, I now am living in daily fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of something happening, fear my daughter won’t need me anymore, fear I won’t bond or connect with the baby. I feel like I’m going crazy . Like today she told me to come over and then a little while later she said I could go home.. not in a mean way.. just wanted time with the dad… well, I didn’t let it show in front of her but I literally got in the car and balled my eyes out and then had a panic attack, feeling like I wasn’t good enough, that I wouldn’t see her again, that she didn’t need me or want me around… I know all of that is completely crazy but my mind won’t let me accept that. Is this normal for adoptees?, is this even normal for non adoptees? What can I do to get through this??

The first comment was – I am donor-conceived and my mother is not, but her own parents were absent/abusive. My mother is like this but she doesn’t have the courage or self-awareness to say it out loud. You did great by not putting this on your daughter’s shoulders.

The next one was – I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I’m not an adoptee but I do have an adult daughter and sometimes it’s hard when it seems like they don’t need you. But they do and they reach out when they do. We raise them to be independent but it hurts when we did it too well. She’s definitely going to need you.

Here is the next one – I’m not an adoptee and I’m answering because you asked if it’s normal for non-adoptees. I have TOTALLY had these exact feelings with my oldest; however I’m from a trauma background and have zero relationship with my bio mother – I think it may be normal for anyone coming from a trauma background. What I did was just be honest with my daughter and told her that I’m sure it was from my background and that I didn’t want her to feel responsible for my feelings but I wanted to be sure it was me and not true – we talk a lot and have a fabulous relationship. I have these feelings SO MUCH LESS NOW because she reassured me I had nothing to worry about – she accepts my worries and I accept that she is a private person and just has me around less than I originally thought would happen – I hope that helps you. And congratulations grandma!

Then there was this – That’s a totally a trauma reaction. The level of emotional response is way out of balance with the request.. and you know it… which only makes you feel even crazier, right?

So I’m gonna say something major in you baby adoptee brain has been triggered by the birth (sooo normal! ) and you now have a wonderful opportunity to find that wound and heal it. And it sounds like very expected abandonment stuff.. not being worthy of what you now see in the mother-child bond. The baby in you is crying for that experience and mourning you didn’t have it. Let your baby self cry it out and at the same time, mother yourself and know that you are worthy and deserved what your grandchild has. An adoption competent trauma informed therapist can help!

Then she adds – I used to believe that I had done enough work that I was always going to be in control.. and then, I lost my mind one day in the middle of the SPCA over a kitten. Like I became this crying, hysterical, screaming Karen .. and that is not me! That’s the day I learned that no matter how much you think you have healed.. sometimes the weirdest thing worms it’s way in! And boom.. you’re a sniveling mess lying on the kitchen floor.

Yet another shares this – My mother spent several years in an orphanage as a child and she is like this—if I reschedule a coffee date or something like that she feels abandoned and devastated. It breaks my heart. I love her so much and never want to cause her pain. I know therapy has helped her some.

A second woman confirmed – It is a trauma based response. I experienced the same sort of thing when my daughter got pregnant with my grandson. I was terrified and an emotional wreck thinking I wouldn’t have a relationship with the baby when it was born. Everything triggered me and despite my daughter reassuring me she wanted me involved – internally I felt it would all dissolve because of course, as an adoptee how do we trust we will be loved, included, not rejected ? I now have a wonderful relationship with my grandson and he is the joy in my life. I still feel that fear sometimes but I have gotten more confident that we can get past the bumps and not every bump means the end a relationship and bond.

Another woman shared – I am not a adoptee, my biological dad left and my biological mom got me and my sisters out of foster care. (Just for back ground) I just had a baby 6 months ago and my mom felt the same way. She was raised by her grandparents because her parents didn’t want her and couldn’t provide for her or my uncle. I think it’s definitely a trauma based thing, but I can tell you from the other side, I would cry for my mom at night when things got hard. I never once thought I could do it without her but also telling her was hard. Your child needs you always, a baby doesn’t change that.

A woman who gave her baby up for adoption writes – I feel like that about my daughter and she’s 31. (Found her when she was 18.) I am in therapy and am working on it. I think the important thing to realize is that these are thought distortions. They are your mind’s way of protecting itself, but this time it went out of control…. Like emotional keloids.

An adoptee writes – This is trauma talking! Trauma lies. It’s the brain telling you your trauma will repeat itself. My therapist has me do several things to combat this. One is I talk back to myself, out loud, as if I’m defending young Andrea or sometimes a friend. It feels really silly but we’re so hard on ourselves, so defending a child or a friend is so much easier! Another activity is to write down all those worst case scenarios and plan them out. What would you actually do if it happened? Then it might not feel so realistic and you’ll feel some measure of being in-control again. Also, my brain demands proof that it’s lying or it won’t shut up.

After Terror, Come Babies

I’m not certain what this image conveys about what we teach our children.  Like many people on this date, my thoughts return to 19 years ago and a photo we took of our 6-1/2 month old oldest son sitting next to a TV with the image of the Twin Towers burning real time.  One of those iconic things one does in an attempt to capture a moment in history, which we instinctively knew it was.

So my thoughts turned this morning to the orphans of that event.  These children are what comes after 9/11. Gabriel was born six days after the death of his father. They are the joy, the salve, the ointment. They’re the love.

“I could only imagine how much courage someone could have to go into a situation like that,” says Lauren, who was born less than three months after 9/11.  Her father died after running into the South Tower to save others.

Ronald lost his dad at the Pentagon while his mother, Jacqueline, was five months pregnant with him. (She was working on the other side of the building during the attack.) A high school basketball player, today Ronald Jr. wears the number 33 on his jersey, the age his father was when he died. “I feel like my dad is watching me,” he says. “Every move I make, he’s here.”

Robyn was born seven weeks after her father died.  She says the loss has given her a different perspective from her peers. “I’ve always been aware of the world.  The world should be a place where it’s okay to be who you are, and to love whom you love and believe what you believe. Underneath, what we’re made up of is the same.”

Allison’s father was on Flight 11, traveling to be home for his daughter’s imminent birth – has learned that her sadness is also coupled with happiness.  “There’s always an empty spot.”

Sadly, death is a part of life, no matter how that death happens.  At this time, there is a lot of death all over the planet and the terror of never being certain if one will be infected with this virus and lose their own life to it.

Appearances Matter

A woman has guardianship of 6 year old twin girls.  Their mother is incarcerated but they have some contact.  The father is dead.  Recently, one of the girls said –  “I don’t look like you (taking about her hair). I want my hair to look like yours, and my eyes are different than yours.”  All are Caucasian.  The little girl is fair with blue eyes.  The Guardian has olive skin and dark hair.  She wanted to know the best ways to address this concern.

One adoptee that responded was harsh but truthful.  “None of what you said was validating. You even called your phrases platitudes! All you did was list the reasons she’s not allowed to feel as she does. Regardless of what emotion they express regarding their losses, your response should be, ‘You’re right’.”

“I would have wanted to hear that I had every right to be sad that I don’t look like my caregiver. Then I would have wanted my caregiver to grieve with me.  Many of us adoptees began processing our grief and are STILL processing our grief in our 40s 50s 60s and beyond. What a difference it would have made if the adults in our lives could have put words to that grief, acknowledged our losses, and helped us process those feelings in a healthy way.”

Another said – Here’s the thing: Kids are smart. They know when you’re offering them platitudes, when you’re repeating the things you’re “supposed” to say. Worst of all, they know when those things you’re “supposed” to say don’t resonate with them because you received them from other people who are like you.

Tell them the truth: We look like the people whose genetic material we inherited. Therefore, we look like our biological (and not our adoptive) families. One day, when they have children (if they have children), their children will look like them because that’s how nature designed people to work.

Like all organic things, we take our appearance and our genetic composition from the people who formed us organically. Adoption is not organic, and therefore these children will not look like the people caring for them.  Because love doesn’t make you a parent. Genetics do.

My image of the book cover came from an adoptive mother’s suggestion, though she added – It didn’t seem to impress my daughter, but some kids might like it. We talked about it a lot. She really wanted us to look alike. She is Asian, I am Caucasian with blond hair, so we are very different. We had some matching outfits that she loved, but finally she straight up asked if we could have the same color hair, so I had it dyed a dark brown for quite a while. That seemed to do the trick for her. I’m not sure if she grew out of it or if it met her needs, but she’s a teen now and it doesn’t come up anymore. She’s fairly open about her needs and concerns, so if it was still a thing for her, I think she would tell me.

Many adoptive parents are quick to brush their own discomfort aside and attempt to distract the adoptee from it. Adoptive parents, please develop the courage to face the depth of loss adoptees experience and sit with them in it awhile. Doing so will bring healing and healthy relationships so much sooner.

Grief That Never Ends

Ferera Swan goes on to say –

Adoptees are often challenged to defend our perspectives on adoption, our very lived experiences invalidated by those who have never lived a day of adoption in their life. This very interaction is a reinforcement of our trauma, yet people wonder why so many adoptees come across as “angry”. Not only have we lost our mother, we’re now being challenged to explain all the mechanics of how it can possibly still affect us just as profoundly as adults—even when the research on maternal separation is crystal clear.

In general, the public tends to reduce this experience to mere “emotions or feelings” adoptees have about adoption, when a significant part of our trauma also involves what happens on a biological, neurological, and developmental level as a result of maternal separation. Just because most people can’t authentically fathom this kind of loss doesn’t mean our trauma isn’t real or valid.

Instead of attempting to compare our loss with other things—nothing compares to losing your mother—or listing all the reasons why you think we should be grateful (that’s not what grief has ever been about), please have the courage to listen to what we have to say.

She says in a comment –

You are absolutely welcome to share any of my public posts. I’m so sorry that your relatives have approached your trauma in such dismissive, harmful and hurtful ways. I can relate to severing ties with those who prefer our silence—we learn a lot about our relationships when we begin speaking our truths.

A commentor had said –

It will be interesting to see how many of my relatives respond with memes about gratitude and the importance of growing up and getting over things. Sometimes the responses are about unconditional love (which has been weaponized in my family). at least a few will pass it by without any comment, because pretending unpleasant things don’t exist is another favorite tactic. Maybe someone will pause to think. I have broken with a number of people in the last couple of years. I finally stopped being so afraid of rejection that I remained silent.

Finally, one commentor noted –

The laws of secrecy and lies that punish a child for the benefit of the adults is ridiculous when we become of age.

Adoptees are treated like second class citizens who have less human rights that most people take for granted.  Time for a total change in how we care for vulnerable and at risk children.  And mothers should receive full support to remain with their babies whenever possible.

You can keep up with Ferera Swan at her website – fereraswan.com/swanproject/heartbroken-infants

Oh What A Beautiful Baby

Magnolia Earl is the 2020 Gerber baby seen here with her adoptive family

Magnolia Earl is the winner of the 10th annual Gerber Baby search.  She’s the first Gerber spokesbaby to be adopted. Magnolia is from Ross CA and was picked from over 327,000 entries submitted. She has “captured the hearts of the judging panel with her joyful expression, playful smile and warm, engaging gaze.”

“At a time when we are yearning for connection and unity, Magnolia and her family remind us of the many things that bring us together: our desire to love and be loved, our need to find belonging, and our recognition that family goes way beyond biology,” Bill Partyka Gerber President and CEO said in a press release.

Magnolia’s parents, Courtney and Russell Earl, have two other daughters, Whitney age 12 and Charlotte age 8 (who is also adopted).

It would appear that Gerber has been actively seeking more diversity. Past winners have included the first Gerber Baby with Down Syndrome and the first of Hmong descent. Ann Turner Cook, the very first Gerber baby, is still featured in the iconic charcoal sketch done by her mother in 1928 and seen on most Gerber packaging since 1931.

The issue of trans-racial adoption remains highly controversial and images of Magnolia in a headwrap set off divisive debates on social media. I know this because I wandered into one that has kept my heart’s attention since last night.  So, this morning I wanted to educate myself about what seems to be the contentious aspect of the baby being photographed in a headwrap.  Truly, the adoption issues should be front and center, though it does appear that aspect is part of the marketing effort by Gerber.

So, regarding the headwrap.  This usually completely covers the hair, being held in place by tying the ends into knots close to the skull. As a form of apparel in the United States, the headwrap has been exclusive to women of African descent.

The headwrap originated in sub-Saharan Africa, and serves similar functions for both African and African American women. In style, the African American woman’s headwrap exhibits the features of sub-Saharan aesthetics and worldview. In the United States, however, the headwrap acquired a paradox of meaning not customary on the ancestral continent. During slavery, white overlords imposed its wear as a badge of enslavement and afterwards, during Jim Crow it was part of the regulations.  Over time, it evolved into the stereotype that whites held of the “Black Mammy” servant.

The enslaved persons and their descendants have regarded the headwrap as a helmet of courage that evoked an image of true homeland-be that ancient Africa or the newer homeland, America. The simple head rag worn by millions of enslaved women and their descendants has served as a uniform of communal identity.  At its most elaborate, the African American woman’s headwrap has functioned as a “uniform of rebellion” signifying absolute resistance to loss of self-definition.  Which gives me pause in the case of a black baby adopted into a white family.

Tying a piece of cloth around the head is not specific to any one cultural group. Men and women have worn and continue to wear some type of fabric head covering in many societies. What does appear to be culturally specific, however, is the way the fabric is worn; in other words, the style in which the fabric is worn is the ultimate cultural marker and a studied way of presenting the self based upon an idea of how one ought to appear to others.

A woman of African ancestry folds the fabric into a rectilinear shape usually ties the knots somewhere on the crown of her head, either at the top or on the sides, often tucking the ends into the wrap. African and African American women wear the headwrap as a queen might wear a crown.  Some African American women played with the white “code”.  Flaunting the headwrap by converting it from something which might be construed as shameful into an anti-style uniquely their own.

African American women demonstrate their recognition that they alone possessed this particular style of head ornamentation.  Donning the headwrap is an acknowledgment of their membership in an unique American social group. Whites have often misunderstood the self-empowering and defiant intent, seeing the headwrap only as the stereotypic “Aunt Jemima” image of the black woman as domestic servant (putting the image of the Gerber baby alongside the iconic one on social media has set off discussions related to race rather than adoption and that was the predominant energy in the discussion I found myself in last night).

The more complicated truth regarding the headwrap is that it acquired significance for the enslaved women as a form of self and communal identity and as a badge of resistance against the servitude imposed by whites.  The headwrap worn by African American women was forged in the crucible of American slavery and its aftermath.  Modern African Americans consciously adopt the headwrap to mark their cultural identity and in solidarity with the black women who were often forced to wear it in the past.

The research paper I read was based on comments made by approximately two thousand formerly enslaved African Americans who recounted their experiences and contributed their oral histories to the Federal Writers’ Project in 1936 to 1938.  There is much more about the symbolism and history of headwraps at this link – http://char.txa.cornell.edu/Griebel.htm

Just A Fact

Adoption is taking a mother’s child from her. You cannot argue this fact. You may seek to be an exception but you are not. You are really just the same as every other person who has ever adopted a baby.

How do you go to the hospital and walk out with someone else’s baby ? Their BABY ! Someone’s baby she spent 9 months with.

Why is the suicide rate so high for adoptees and also for natural mothers and never discussed ?

It is true that sometimes caring for a child outside her primary family is necessary.  It should be rare.

Some answers to the above from a “woke” adoptive mother –

You basically delude yourself into believing the lie that this is a “good” thing.

It starts with the narrative from adoption agencies. They parade “first moms” into the orientation meetings to tell you how choosing adoption for their babies was the best decision they ever made. They believe the lie, too.

You listen to your friends and family members who have adopted children. You see the beautiful families they built. They all seem so happy. You want that for yourself.

You are chosen by an expectant mom. She tells you how grateful she is to have found you. You tell her how brave she is. You really feel like you’re a team doing this together.

Here comes the hard part. The birth. I have never felt more uncomfortable as when I was in the labor room with my son’s mother. She was alone and asked me to be with her during her planned c section. If not for her being alone, I wouldn’t have gone in with her. I felt like a total intruder.

Our minds are powerful. We can convince ourselves of just about anything. Even justifying taking someone else’s baby. That’s my cross to bear. Now that I’ve acknowledged the cold hard truth of it, I can do my best to help our kids understand it.

Without Us

It is difficult being a woman.  It is difficult being a mother.  It is difficult being a wife, a daughter or a sister.  Sometimes it is difficult having women friends.  Today is International Women’s Day.

I was in a difficult romantic relationship with a dangerous man. He lived in dangerous ways and he was dangerous for my own self to be with. More than once he physically hit me. I’m not denying that my own behavior may have pushed him over the edge those times but I also know that whatever holds a man back from harming a woman, if he is able to break through that barrier even once, the risk then exists that it will be easier for him to go through that same barrier the next time. So eventually I left his physical presence. I planned my leaving carefully to be able to safely go. I saved money from what was allotted to me for groceries by buying wisely over a long period of time and I left without saying goodbye. After I was safely at a distance, I notified him that I wasn’t coming back.

It took that courage of leaving to put me into alignment with meeting my husband, so I could live in this deeply nourishing place where I feel very safe and am contented. And it took other actions too, like being brave enough to place a personal ad in a weekly entertainment newspaper in St Louis, without which I would have never come in contact with the man I married a little over a year later. Traveling through life is a lot like being in a car where I always know that I can never actually get truly “lost”. All roads eventually go somewhere and one can always backtrack and find a “somewhere” that we recognize. Leaving can be like backtracking to where you were comfortably confident in your own self, after the damage an abusive relationship can inflict upon a person. I know that all experiences – the good and the bad – end up somewhere else eventually. In that there is a great deal of comfort and a real confidence for living through it all.

My family supports the regional women and children’s shelter.  They support women and their children to survive domestic violence and end up in a better place.  They help keep mothers and their children together.  If you have the opportunity to do anything that will keep a mother together with her children, please consider doing so.  The future of our humanity depends on us being here.

It’s Better To Know

Searching for where an adoptee came from requires a special kind of courage.  It might be opening up a “can of worms” has my dad always believed.  There could be disappointment.  The relatives one finds are real people with real flaws and also a kind of beauty because they are a connection.  It is better to know who you are rather than live in a mystery.

For an adoptee, the connection to one’s ancestors has been broken. That matters.  When adoption is in one’s family history, those impacted only want answers and the truth. There isn’t a desire to disrupt anyone’s life. If relatives want to meet – wonderful – those I have met have been very helpful in filling in the understandable gaps in my ancestry.  Sharing the stories we weren’t there for can help us to heal.

Loss of the most sacred bond in life, that of a mother and child, is one of the most severe traumas and this loss will require long-term, if not lifelong, therapy.  If not therapy, then answers and a knowledge of something that is real and not falsified.

Finding one’s roots does not deny the love and value that one gives to the people who were there in life thanks to adoption.  The aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents in my own life are treasured and held precious even if there is no true genetic bond with these.

A life can be symbolized by a circle – birth, maturity, old age and death – completion, rebirth or heaven.  Coming to know my roots has also been a kind of completion, a bringing the arc of my life full circle.