Finding Joy

Recently, a comment on this blog brought me into connection with an adoptee that blogs. Here is a link to her blog with a lot about what being an adoptee is like and other stuff as well. Finding Joy ……….. after Relinquishment (aka as adoption).

There is not one kind of adoptee but there are many emotions and feelings in common among them. I smile when she describes what her husband says being married to an adoptee is like – hugging a cactus – but then I grew up in the desert and I am fond of cactus plants.

She writes this 60 yr old adoptee is using this blog in an effort to work out who she is. She adds, “Many posts will be a response to something I have encountered that day, that has triggered me, and I am reflecting on it. I do not want to sound a victim, but this simple act by my Mother, at birth, has affected my whole life, and my relationship with people. So my aim and hope is to be able to share with my fellow adoptees, as well as those that chose to adopt, or those of you who work in this field, some insight into how we adoptees see the world.”

I am not an adoptee but the child of two adoptees who has learned a lot about all things related to adoption, spilling over into foster care and leaning into family preservation. I like to share adoptee and former foster youth’s book writing efforts since I am a writer and since I am a blogger I like to share the same effort utilizing the written word by adoptees who write a blog.

I have found Joy (yes, that is her name) to be a kind, gentle and thoughtful person. En-joy. Pun intended.

23 & Me Does It Again

Today’s story from an adoptee (not me) –

Just found some family members through 23 and me, and posted about it to a moms group that I’m in. One of these moms is cautioning me that it might be too upsetting for them to find out about me. I thought that group was supposed to be there for support for me? I guess that can’t really happen anywhere except among fellow adoptees have been told their whole life that their very existence might bother someone. I’m so done with that. My existence is amazing and wonderful and if it bothers anyone else that’s not my fault. I am treading lightly and my note to them was very sweet and sensitive I think. If they have signed up for 23 and me that, they know what might come. They don’t have to have their family tree public.

I am shaking and feel like crying now honestly. I’m so done with people lecturing me about how important everyone else’s feelings are. Wasn’t that what my whole life was about? Shame and secrets? Wasn’t that what caused the 20 years of connecting with my birth mom to be partly wonderful and partly stressful? I wasn’t even invited to her own memorial service. My own birth mom that I was close to, I thought, for 20 years. Connection and truth should not be traumatizing. If it is, the trauma was caused by other people and there is healing that is possible. That’s the energy and vibe I feel and I’m not going to march into somebody’s house screaming who I am, either literally or energetically.

I do have concern about how they will emotionally feel and let them decide how and when to talk to other family members if they ever do. Or not. That’s their choice as well. But I do think I have a right to know who I am and I’m very excited to at least know the names of some of my relatives in my ancestry a lot more.

Thank you for having this group (an all things adoption and foster care and not of the rainbows and unicorns sunshine always variety on Facebook) because I know that the adoptees feelings and experience is centered and of primary importance. They always talk about adoption helping the baby so much and how grateful we are supposed to be. We’re supposed to be grateful for being told our whole lives that we should be careful how everyone feels? And worship only the adoptive parents in this triad? Nope. Everyone in this experience deserves their feelings and thoughts to be fully 100% honored. There is no competition. I’m just sick of people making this like a competition for feelings.

Trying to focus to get ready to go to a job interview now and it’s pretty challenging with all of this on my mind but mostly I am very excited. (Oh, and I might’ve actually gone to school with one of my 2nd cousins….!)

Can We Just Pretend ?

What to do for this little boy ?

Ok here is my question – I adopted our kiddo when he was 4. He has always known he’s adopted, he’s always been excited and proud of it. He introduces himself as adopted. He has a long story but basically he came to us with the termination of parental rights and two failed adoptions. Lots of trauma and 17 placements.

He’s now almost 7 and in 1st grade. So here’s what’s up…all of a sudden he wants us to pretend he’s not adopted. To not talk about it and let him pretend he came from us. He wants us to make up a birth story. We don’t have biological kiddos, so it’s not like he’s hearing other birth stories here. The kids all vocalize adoption and biological families. His mother is deceased and his biological family hasn’t been open to any contact.

He’s super smart but isn’t able to articulate what created this idea. He just wants it. My question is how to approach this…do we give him this? Do we allow it for however long it lasts, while initially reminding him that he can always take it back? Or do we just apologize that his story is his and he doesn’t have to ever share it with anyone he doesn’t want to but that we can’t just pretend?

I’m at a loss. I want to do what’s right by him and honor his experience but I also don’t want to play along, if it’s harmful down the road. I feel like I will make the wrong decision no matter what I choose.

Someone offered this explanation that makes sense – We had a friend that didn’t want people knowing she was adopted. Said she hated when people would say “oh, she’s adopted”. She just wanted to be like her friends and be a part of the family. Maybe that’s how he is feeling.

Then there was this sad reality (kids really can be cruel) – When I was in high school I had someone make fun of me for being adopted and refer to me as a “dumpster baby” multiple times. I was 15 and shut it down and moved on.  IF that had happened to me when I was 7, I imagine it would have been incredibly damaging and embarrassing for me.

Someone else suggested –  I work with young kids, and I think pretending/role playing is their way of reflecting. In order to understand, “What does it mean to be adopted?” he has to first ask, “Well, what would it be like if I wasn’t adopted? In what ways is it different?” Completely normal child behavior; I’d let it happen.

To which another affirmed –  That’s a great way of thinking about it. Children do think about hypotheticals a lot and that’s discouraged more and more as we age. I think that makes a lot of sense given that he’s 7.

An adoptee suggests –  I would personally ask him if there is a reason he wants to – if someone said something or why ? – and just go with it. I would not tell him he can’t pretend. It may just be his way of coping right now because obviously something is going on in his mind that’s causing him to want this. So I would just ask questions to make sure he’s okay and listen to him and go with it.

And I really, really like this suggestion –  “Sometimes I think of “if” you had been born to me but then, I remember you wouldn’t be the same you, if you had. Your mom, DNA and genetics have made you – you – and I would never want to miss you. You wouldn’t be the same you, if you were born to me.”

Now that is beautifully honest.

Taking Off Rose Colored Glasses

Today’s story –

Four years ago, my husband and I became foster parents. Our first “placement” (geeeze I hate that term), turned into an adoption. Our son, now 4 1/2, will be meeting his biological mom for the first time in December when she is released from prison. We have constant contact with her via phone calls and emails, as well as visits with grandparents every few months. My question is, what can we be doing to make her transition home easier-for her, and for him? He calls her by name, and knows that she is his tummy momma who grew him and gave him life and love, but he really hasn’t asked many questions beyond that. I’d love to have some feedback, so we can do our very best to navigate this the best way possible. I am far from a perfect parent, but this is obviously something that I don’t want to mess up.

PS – until recently, I viewed foster care and adoption through rose colored glasses, but that is no longer the case. My eyes and my heart are now open to the hard parts of adoption. 

Immediately was this response – as a birth mom. Drop the tummy momma crap. We are humans, we weren’t incubators.

The woman understood immediately and said – Thank you all so much for your honesty. “Tummy mommy” will stop immediately. You’re so right, that’s an awful way to refer to her.   I am doing my best to dig deep, not for me, for them. I don’t want to mess this up with any of my own bullshit feelings. They’ve been through enough.

A compassionate response came next – Offer her acceptance for any and all emotions she may experience. Work your way from there. Allow him to be around her as much as she and him are comfortable. Encourage playtime/movie time whatever he likes. Be understanding above all else. These are extremely difficult emotions for his mom just as much for him so offer as much kindness as possible.   This is never easy and remember she is in pain and your son IS traumatized at some level because of losing her. That is a fact and you as an adoptive mother HAVE to make peace with it.

One suggested way to deal with this is – be mom (your 1st name) and mom (her 1st name).. that will better help him associate who she really is to him – his mom. He will know her, he will sense something familiar about her and she will feel like home to him because they already have that birth connection. She is his mother in a biological way that will never change. Kids aren’t as confused about the duality of multiple moms as we are as adults. You’re going to have to do a lot of hard uncomfortable (for you) things to actually support this relationship.  He’ll get to know her over time and much easier if there aren’t adult issues and expectations on it.

Finally, some important advice – You need to find a genuine love for her beyond her being the person that is the reason you have your child.  Just going through the motions you think you should in terms of open adoptions isn’t enough. It should not be what you think you should do. It should be naturally what you want to do. Coming out of prison is difficult. You are treated like a pariah. Getting a job with a record is hard, getting any help from anyone or any government funded programs is difficult to impossible. Some programs you cannot even apply for if you have a record. Welcome her. Make sure she knows she has an important place in his life. Do NOT talk about boundaries and make her time with your son a top priority.

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.