No Tummy Mummy Crap

One of the fastest ways to trigger adoptees as an adoptive parent is to refer to their first mother as a “tummy mommy” or some similar variation, as in the book cover image here. Today’s opening comment reads – “I have two children both adopted through foster care. My son is 4 1/2 and my daughter is 2. I’ve had conversations with my 4 1/2 yo about his tummy mommy and he’s seen pics of her.”

Not surprisingly the first comments were – “Please get rid of the phrase tummy mommy.” Followed by “Yes please leave off that crap. It’s so gross.” “It reduces his mother to nothing more than an incubator.” Or this, somewhat crude comparison but totally on point – “If you wouldn’t refer to your adopted children’s father as dong daddy, or penis papa, then don’t refer to their mother as a tummy mummy.” An adoptive mother answers the question – “What if the mother wants to be called tummy mommy?” with this – “I’d tell her that I want them to know that I see her as more than that and that I want her kids to as well.”

From the LINK>Lavender Luz Opinion Poll – Some don’t like the term – either because it is anatomically inaccurate or it is reductive of the first mom. Some like “first mother” because it honors the mothering that was done from conception until placement. I have personally struggled with “first mother” as opposed to “birth mother” but this explanation has won me over to “first mother” from now on.

Another person expressed her perspectives – I can’t think of a single woman who would appreciate being known as “tummy mummy”.

My objections are threefold:
1. It diminishes the woman’s motherhood. Like it or not, she is a mother, period, not just one in the tummy (see how ridiculous this sounds when you run with it).
2. It implies that the other woman carried the child for the adoptive parents. This is untrue unless it’s a surrogacy situation. Of course, pre-birth matching may encourage this view (witness people talking about “our birthmother”), but this only exposes the manipulation inherent in pre-birth matching. A woman’s child is her child, until she makes the decision to surrender – and even then, she is still a mother.
3. It could be potentially confusing to the adopted child’s understanding of his or her other family, heritage, siblings, and so forth. What is the important thing, that he grew in someone’s tummy or that he is genetically connected to the other family? How is this phrase actually used? “You grew in her tummy but we’re your parents”? Original family isn’t reflected in this phrase, which seems intent on removing all important connections and substituting them with a biological detail that isn’t even accurate. Who needs a phrase like this, anyway?

Heck, they used to claim that kids with two parents of the same sex would be totally confused as well, and it simply isn’t the case. Confusion tends to be tossed around when people don’t like the paradigm shift. In the phrase “tummy mummy” I can’t help but hear the adoptive parent hanging onto her status as real. No need to do that. Everyone is real, even when we’re absent or not perfect (which is all of us).

A For Effort

Today’s story – I reunited with my biological family when I was 17 and have lost contact with my adoptive family since then, due to abuse/abandonment. My kids have always known my biological family as family and thankfully there isn’t any way for them to know how different it feels for me. Over the summer we moved from Wisconsin to Kansas to be close to my biological family. My birth mother and I have always had a challenging relationship and this move has made it unbearable. We moved into a house her boyfriend had available to rent and this has caused her to feel entitled to overstep when it comes to my kids and my life. She never had other kids and seems to be wanting to make up for it with mine. I’m almost 40 and am struggling greatly. Through the move, I have discovered that Wisconsin is truly home to me and my kids, and my real family, that I thought I was searching for, is the family I created back in Wisconsin. Now my kids and I are working on moving back and I’m struggling with so many emotions. I desperately want to be back home as soon as we can find housing but I know that moving back will likely server the unhealthy ties I have with my birth mom. It’s a relationship that part of my heart has always longed for but causes me endless stress.

Not all reunions work out. It is so hard to develop relationships with people you’ve not known your whole life – I know. I’m there myself.  Boundaries are the distance where I can love you and me simultaneously.

Sometimes we have to try something to know it isn’t right for us. Teaching our kids that decisions don’t have to be forever, that it’s okay to change your mind and realize you aren’t where you need to be, and to then take steps to change your circumstances as soon as you reasonably can.

The Pain of Adoption

It’s my 68th birthday and besides the usual busyness amongst so much sorrow and reasons for global level concern, I’m a bit short on time too. So sharing this worthy blog from my adoptee friend, Ande

I have been asked if I think losing a parent is the same as being adopted. No, it is not. Plenary adoption is the legal loss of identity, history, family.

Being adopted also does not mean you won’t then lose one of your Adoptive parents. Many of us do. Some to death, like I did. Others to divorce or the end of a relationship. Then, if we are able to find out who our parents are, many of us discover that they are dead, or emotionally unavailable.

People who, while still children, have lost a parent to death know that this is a pain other do not understand. The only people I have ever met who understand what that was like for me, are people who also had a parent die.

But it’s not the same as the pain of adoption.

I have lived for almost forty years with a person whose father walked away when he was a small child. I know from talking with and observing him that this loss has had a profound impact on his life. I do not in any way want to invalidate that loss. It is real, and it is painful.

It’s just not, the same. Adoption is another layer of trauma that non-adoptees do not understand. Please grant us the same respect you wish for us to show your lived experience.

Poetry For April

April is poetry month. My friend, Ande Stanley (a late discovery adoptee) wrote a poem for her The Adoption Files WordPress blog that I think a lot of adoptees could relate to, and so I share.

My parents (both adoptees) wanted their ashes scattered on Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico. We had to be careful because it is not recommended. Most likely against the law. The first time, my daughter and I went out with my dad to scatter my mom’s ashes. That was a wild and crazy ride for both of us in his boat with my dad !!

When my dad died only 4 months later, my aunt (my dad’s half sister by his second adoptive father), my middle sister and her daughter, as well as me and my daughter went to scatter his ashes also on the lake, as that was his wish, but we did not take my dad’s boat out that time. We just stood on a dock near their last residence. Some official came along because we didn’t have a permit to take our car into lake property (it is a state park). My sister was hiding the cremation box under her jacket. LOL We did get the deed done. My aunt took the photo below. Maybe I should not go into the story of how the crematorium stole my parents rings . . . always make certain you get them back is all I can say.

Feb 9 2016, Ash Day

Inside Grandma’s Womb

I think I already knew that all the eggs a woman has were there in her ovaries at the time of her birth. Since we did not grow up with my maternal grandmother (due to my mom having been adopted), I feel a definite fondness for my maternal grandmother who never had another child after having lost my mom due the the schemes of Georgia Tann during her days of stealing and selling babies in Memphis TN to enhance her own wealth. In some strange way, it makes me happy to know that even though Tann could take my mom away from my grandmother, she couldn’t take my grandmother out of the core beginning of each of us.

My mom certainly yearned to know her own mother and was devastated when seeking her adoption file from Tennessee (who denied her as her father’s status of alive or dead was not ascertained) told her that her mother had died some years before.

There is a strong maternal line running down from my grandmother to my mother to me and to my daughter and then my granddaughter. My mom looked a lot like her mother at a certain age. I love feeling that mirror showing through. It is also a happy thought that when I was in my mom’s womb, my daughter’s seed was forming and when she was in my womb, my granddaughter’s seed was forming. We are all connected. Sweet.

Shock And Confusion

Ashley John-Baptiste

I was drawn to this man’s story in The Guardian because such unexpected events are happening more often these days thanks to social media and inexpensive DNA testing.

He had entered foster care while only still a toddler. He had been in four foster homes and a residential care home, all across south-east London, by the time he aged out at 18. He had always believed he was an only child. In his mid-20s, he received a message on social media from a stranger, about 10 years older than him, who claimed to be his brother. Turned out he was a half-brother, they shared the same father. This older man had been one of his baby-sitters when he was very young. And he knew this man had at least three other siblings.

After aging out, he was rebuilding his life. He had gotten a degree and was employed as a BBC journalist. This unexpected note from a stranger on Facebook had collided with his already fractured identity, raising a wave of questions about who he was and where he came from.

At the time, the two never went on to meet in person. They messaged each other a bit for a few weeks and of course, he scoured the man’s Facebook profile, but they didn’t pursue a more intimate relationship. Years passed without any contact – until the first COVID lockdown.

His partner had given birth to his first child and they were at a hospital for a routine well-baby check. He spotted a man outside the building. They locked eyes. Weirdly, perhaps, he recognized the man instantly. He was the half-brother who had got in touch with him all those years ago. He looked exactly the same in person as he did in his profile picture.

So, he called out the man’s name and, to his relief, the man also recognized him. They stood there, outside the hospital, chatting. Time stood still. In that moment, it felt as if they had known each other their whole lives. There was a deep knowing. Nothing was awkward about it. If anything, it felt too normal.

He said at the hospital visiting his sick mother. He introduced the man to his baby. They took a photo together and even made plans to catch up properly in the near future but since that chance encounter, they haven’t met again.

For ages after that meeting, he was consumed with questions about his past. Why did social workers and foster carers tell him he was an only child? How could no one in authority not know about his siblings? Do children’s services even care about, or prioritize learning about, the family histories of looked-after children?

Sadly, he still has not had any contact with his other siblings. At this point, all he has is that photo of his half-brother who is his baby daughter’s uncle. Even so, he says this – “Although I don’t know, and may never know, these siblings on a personal level, they serve as a touch point to understanding my past and my sense of identity. Knowing they exist reassures me that I am a part of something bigger than myself. . . . knowing they are alive and well is more than enough for me.”

Believing in Colorblindness is a Privilege

Colin Kaepernick with his parents, Teresa Kaepernick, Rick Kaepernick and girlfriend, Nessa Diab

Read the link to Colin’s story at the end of this blog to understand more completely why his photo is here.

Articles that mention adoption always catch my attention. Today, I saw one in the Huffington Post – Like Colin Kaepernick, I Wish My Adoptive Family Had Talked About Race by Melissa Guida-Richards. She was adopted from Colombia in 1993 and her adoptive parents were one of many that believed in the colorblind ideology. Her adoptive parents believed that giving a child a loving home was all that was necessary. 

For most of her life, the family didn’t talk about her race and ethnicity. Actually, she was not aware of her true racial identity until she was 19 and found her adoption paperwork. Her parents had believed that if they raised her as Latina, she would be treated differently than the rest of the family. However, people often questioned her about where she was from ― particularly when her adoptive family wasn’t around. When she was out in public with her white parents, she found that she was included under their umbrella of privilege. But the moment she was out on her own, people treated her differently.

Many BIPOC adoptees eventually learn that the world is divided into how they are perceived with their adoptive families versus when they are alone. And this is especially true in today’s climate where an Asian adoptee shopping for groceries can be attacked, a Black adoptee pulled over by police is potentially in danger, or a Latina adoptee walking in their town is told to go back to their own country. Adoptive families can think that it will never happen to their child, but for most transracial adoptees, it does. It’s just part of the reality of being a person of color.

Transracial adoptees do not have the privilege of believing in colorblindness. It can be fatal for a Black adoptee to “forget” that they are Black. If that adoptee approaches a police officer the same way their white parents do, they could find themselves in danger. When adoptive parents do not properly prepare their transracial adoptee for a racialized world, they are left playing a game of catch-up that they hopefully can win before it costs them their very life.

Current policies disallow considering race when placing children in adoptive homes. This is due to laws like the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA), which prevents child welfare agencies that receive federal funding from denying or delaying a child’s placement based on race. MEPA was amended in 1996 to establish that states could be fined for using race in placement decisions. While MEPA also requires agencies to “diligently recruit families that reflect the racial diversity of the children in need of homes,” it does not fine states that fail to do so.

Currently over 70% of adoptive parents are white and over half of adopted children are of a different race than their adoptive parents. One key issue with MEPA was that, while it made it significantly easier for white middle-class adoptive parents to adopt children of other races, it neglected to require anti-racism and transracial adoption education before or after placement.

The adoption industry perpetuates the idea that adoption ends in a beautiful happily ever after. When we think of adoption as an ending, we forget that it has a lasting, constant impact throughout the adopted person’s life, not just their childhood. Race should not be an afterthought in adoption. Adoptees are often pressured to be grateful and simply be happy that they have a family, to forget all of the challenges and trauma they experience.

When you are a person of color, you know how the world sees and treats you, and when your family refuses to be open to simple conversations about ethnicity and race, you start to wonder what’s so negative about acknowledging your identity. It impacts how you see yourself and how you believe your family sees you.

The author found that her adoptive family avoiding conversations of racial differences led to her having feelings of rejection and shame. She struggled to understand how her parents and relatives could love all of her, when they refused to acknowledge a big piece of her identity. Adoptive parents need to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about race. Race may be a construct but its ramifications are very real.

At the beginning of her essay, the author also mentions Kaepernick’s interview in Ebony magazine. Worth the quick read.

Silenced Women

When I saw this graphic, it went straight to my heart like an arrow. My grandmothers, forced by circumstances to give up their first born, and in two cases only child (which includes a grandfather who never was given the benefit to know he had a son), to go on with their lives as though nothing happened.

I don’t think I’ll ever truly 100% get over it and I probably should not because adoption is still a thing that drives mothers and their babies apart. I now have an unflinching awareness of what it means to be adopted.

At almost 70 years old now, having to live through a full 6 decades before I knew the truths of my origins, I do fell as though I was born to re-connect the broken threads of my family’s beginnings, that I have somehow managed to fulfill my destiny in having been born at all.

In learning about my family’s ancestors, I also discovered what a miracle it was that in the mid-1950s, I was not given up for adoption, with my parents forced to suffer the same fate their own parents encountered. My teenage mother and my father only having just started on his university studies – both interrupted when I decided to take up residence in my mother’s womb.

My grandparents could not tell their own stories of loss that hurts for a lifetime because no one would have been sympathetic regarding their plight but for adult adoptees today, there is a growing awareness of the trauma and pain of being cut off from one’s roots and some are even choosing to attempt parenting when they had thought to give up their child and they are finding a lot of support in society all around them.

May the reform of attitudes continue to take over the dominant narrative that adoption saves babies and children from a worse fate.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

What If ?

Sunday contemplative question –

What if, in order to adopt, you were the ones who had to join the child’s family of origin instead of vice versa. Would you still do it? If in order to “build your family” you’d have to lose your first one, would you still do it? If there was a good chance, if it was probable you’d never see your current family again, would you still do it? If you had to join a family with different customs, nationality, country, ethnicity, color… Would you still do it?

Many might argue that babies are too young and mentally undeveloped to remember their families. A baby does spend 9 months intimately involved with their mother. I recently read that oral memory traditions are from female biology, an epigenetic transgenerational process embedded with tacit knowledge, knowing without being taught.