Posts Tagged ‘Adoption’

Change, Privacy, Attachment and OBCs: Living with Adoption

Wednesday, September 20, 2017 @ 11:09 AM
Author: admin

questions-privacy-attachment-and-obcs-living-with-adoptionReaders of this blog understand that change is difficult for many adoptees. It triggers feelings of fear, rejection and instability which are rooted in the separation from the birth mother. An adoptee’s predisposition to be hypersensitive to change makes sense considering their fractured life history.

My time-line reveals no similar cracks in continuity. Raised within the family into which I was born, I never feared that they’d “reject” or “abandon” me. I never wondered about the possibility of an alternative reality which could include different parents, siblings, names and, identities. Like a barnacle on a wave-tossed shore, I felt securely attached. I relied on family to witness, support and encourage me as I labored to handle any challenges and obstacles that came my way. I knew who I was and where I fit in the continuity of the family timeline. My people were survivors who understood hard work, difficult times, financial struggles and, the sucker punch that an unexpected health issue could deliver.

In spite of this time-tested sense of being reliably steadied by family ties, I’ve never been a fan of change. It unsettles me and sucks up energy and focus. I prefer the familiarity and security of routine. Plus, I’m an introvert, so I crave quiet and solitude to recharge my “batteries.” I also carefully guard my privacy and personal information.

All of these thoughts came to mind when an adult adoptee recently confided to me the angst and worry that a recent doctor’s appointment triggered within her. The medical history form which I find simply irksome to complete, slaps her in the face with a sharp reminder that she lacks the medical history knowledge which I take for granted. I know the significant risks in our family for heart disease, dementia, cancer, etc. Because I know the facts, I can take appropriate action in terms of diet, medication, and monitoring. I only have to worry about a specific set of facts.

My adoptee friend on the other hand, has to worry about the entire universe of medical risks. Unlike my health risks which are identified across generations, her fears are “unbounded” because anything is possible.Does breast cancer run in the family? Alzheimer’s? Melanoma? Heart disease? Diabetes? Multiple Sclerosis? The reality for her is she does not know. And so…she worries…a lot. She pleads for early screening for breast cancer.

And is denied.

And so she worries even more.

She suffers from an unusual array of health issues yet has no way of knowing if these symptoms are part of a family pattern or if they are indicative of genetics, stress, environment, occupational hazard, etc. Should she avoid certain things? Should she be engaging in other pro-active practices to help stave off the family risk? Who knows?

Not her.

Not her doctor.

She doesn’t think this is fair, or wise or, medically sound. She wants access to her family history, identity and people.  I agree. So does the Donaldson Institute who is spearheading a national movement #OBC2020. Check it out and join the movement to restore these basic human rights to adult adoptees.

Image result for #OBC2020

An Eclipse Can Blind Us

Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 02:08 PM
Author: admin

challenges-of-parenting-can-blind-us-to-the-joysThe recent total eclipse captured our national attention and provided a refreshing point of unity for all Americans regardless of their political beliefs. It offered an experience of staggering beauty and reminded us of the fragility of this planet which we all share. For all of its mesmerizing beauty, an eclipse can blind us if we stare at the sun’s brilliance without adequate protection. Sometimes the challenges of parenting can similarly blind us and cause us to lose heart.

All parents know that in addition to the exquisite heart-touching, soul-altering joys of parenthood, it also includes challenges that can break the heart or cause us to question our capabilities as parents. The hard work of parenting also includes a healthy dose of drudgery: the heavy lifting of inculcating and enforcing family values and the important responsibility of teaching children how to learn from their mistakes.

Adoption imposes additional challenges to our parenting tasks. In addition to the same tasks which all children face, our kids also must discern how to blend a dual heritage from their birth and adoptive families. Make no mistake; their job is far from easy. It takes courage and persistence, support and encouragement. Most of all it takes time. Lots and lots of time.

This extended period of dependency can exceed our expectations; it also can exceed our patience. Sometimes parenting can feel utterly overwhelming and endless. We look at our friends (who are raising kids by birth and not through adoption.) We envy their kids’ seemingly effortless ability to fledge the family nest and make it on their own. We’re ready for the next stage of life.

Sometimes, we can fall into feelings of despair and wonder if our kids will ever pull themselves together. We fear that we are not up to the task. We mistrust our skills and inner strength. We tire of the conflict that simmers between us and children who are struggling to solidify their identity and enter adulthood. We crave a break from the stress and worry–for a moment, a day, a week… We pray for reassurance that things will work out well.

Shift vantage points. Imagine what it is like to be in our children’s shoes. They can’t step away around these obstacles. Their only pathway forward is to leap over these hurdles. They must forever manage the two planets of their lives: birth family and adoptive family. It’s a lifetime burden on their shoulders. As fatigued as we are by the shadows adoption casts into our family life, their stress pales by comparison.

As Intentional parents we must remind ourselves that our kids are tired of the conflict too. They too, crave the relief of resolution. We know behavior is the language of trauma and that their behavior speaks volumes. They’re probably afraid they’ll never figure themselves out. They sense our worries and fears and these emotions magnify their own self-doubts, feelings of inadequacy and fears of rejection.

Our exhaustion and impatience tells them we aren’t up to the challenge of standing with them until the crisis passes. That’s scary. It’s a primal fear like primitive man experienced when an eclipse wiped the life-giving sun from the sky and they wondered if it would ever return. Our kids need to know that we can handle them, their “stuff,” their anger and their fear.

Unless we can hold that space of acceptance, security and hope, we’ve allowed ourselves to become blinded by the glare of the conflict because it is so close, so hot, so intense. But like the eclipse in which the moon succeeds in totally obscuring the sun which is four hundred times larger, the result occurs because of the perspective and proximity. Eventually the planetary alignment shifts, the moon continues on its orbit and our reality returns to its “normal.” As people of this century, we have this knowledge and that bedrock of security neutralizes our fear of the darkness.

It’s scary until the light returns and begins to shimmer around the edges of the current problem. We must hold hope in our hearts with the sure knowledge that we can be the safety lenses that enable our kids and ourselves, to look right at these two things and learn how to establish a balance. In spite of any self-doubts or moments of weakness, we do have what it takes. Sometimes a shift in perspective can make all of the difference. Staring too directly at the fiery glow of the “problem” can blind us to the choices that will unfold in the near future or those that currently remain obscured by the too-close light. How will you use your “safety glasses to look at the challenges ahead? How can you serve as safety lenses for your children?

Names, Adoption and Identity

Monday, August 3, 2015 @ 01:08 AM
Author: admin

questionsIdentity formation in adoption is a complicated process and we have explored it from many angles recently. In last week’s GIFT blog post, eighteen-year-old adoptee Elias Ankerfelt shared some insights about his recent visit to the Philippines and the orphanage where he spent the early part of his life.

Elias described the exhilaration of blending into his native culture. of stepping out of his daily experience as an obvious minority. He expressed a deeper sense of pride in being “Pinyo” (native slang for being a Filipino male.) Clearly this visit had a direct impact on how he saw and thought about himself, his heritage and his adoption.

This week we will look at identity from another slant: the power of a name to influence and shape identity. Most of us are familiar with the Biblical passage in Genesis 2:20 when he was given the responsibility of naming the creatures of the earth.   And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. Shakespeare, also offered an opinion on names:   What’s in a name. That which we call a rose / By an other name would smell as sweet.

So which is it; does a name change us in some way or not?

name word cloudA name can help to shape our identity in many ways. It can incorporate traditions, expectations, suggest gender, and or lend itself to bullying. Who hasn’t heard of the song, “A Boy Named Sue”? In adoption, names can serve an important part of the “claiming” process that grafts a child to his adoptive family tree. (In my own family, for example, each of our children have names that extend deep into the history of our family. They were adopted prior to openness in adoption so we had no knowledge of birth names.) Thus a name can  serve as a public declaration that a child is part of his nuclear (adoptive) family and his extended family tribe as well.

Each time the child’s name is spoken, it reinforces this connection.

A name can also sustain an important tether to the adopted child’s birth family. It is especially important to honor a child’s given name if he is adopted post infancy and knows and recognizes it. Approach these circumstances with empathy; find a way fingerprint treeto blend his birth name/s with one you have selected. (Imagine what it would be like for you, if suddenly you were moved to a new family, new home, new county and the one thing that truly is yours–your name–was stripped away and discarded. This piles trauma on top of trauma.)

Older children may have strong feelings about maintaining their birth name, blending it, or replacing with their adopted surname. Have a clear discussion that reveals your child’s authentic feelings on the subject. Reassure them that you will be pleased with whatever choice they make. Even for newborns, it is respectful to incorporate a child’s heritage in his name.

Increasingly, we recognize that adoption is not an either/or relationship. Rather, it is a both/and relationship. The naming process offers an early opportunity to demonstrate respect for our child’s roots and to telegraph our acceptance of its presence as an ongoing and important one in our family.

Read another recent GIFT Family Services blog that speaks to this issue, From Korea to America, Now Who Am I? 

 

 

Three Names of MeThree Names of Me by Mary Cummings and illustrated by Lin Wang tells the story of Mary’s little girl who was adopted from China. It asserts that she has three names: “My first name was whispered to me by my first mother; when I was born; it’s someplace in my heart.” Even though the child is unable to recall it, she finds comfort in the belief that her first mother called  her by a name, one that is no longer part of conscious memory but it still part of her history. Further along her timeline, at her orphanage, she was given the name Wang Bin which means “gentle and refined.” The child experiences a sense of being seen as an individual worthy of a name that captures who she is. This affirms her dignity, acknowledges her journey through to adoption and is a treasured part of her. Finally, from her adoptive parents, she receives her third name: Ada, a phoneme of the Chinese  Ai da  which means “love arrived.” Three names of Me is a heartfelt tale of tradition, identity and history.

 

 

 

Kids like me in chinaKids Like Me in China follows a young girl on her homeland visit to China. Like Elias, she also visited the orphanage where she lived. She shares similar experiences and insights. The story also tackles both generalized adoption concepts and some of the more difficult/serious aspects of international adoption: “abandonment,” one-child-family-rules, special needs issues and orphaned children who never get adopted. The topics are handled with respect and honesty in a way that a child can read and absorb. Photographs from her actual trip illustrate the story. Although published in 2001, the book is still relevant and a worthwhile read.

 

 

 

 

 

motherbridge of love.2Motherbridge of Love If you haven’t read “Motherbridge of Love,” a story about a little girl adopted from China and how both her mothers love her, I highly recommend this exquisite picture book. Love, love, love it. This wonderful book clearly champions respect for and validates a child’s feelings for his birth and adoptive mothers. When we open the space for a child to hold his birth family in a place of respect, we allow them to honor that part of themselves too.
My daughter, an adult adoptee and I both believe it is one of the best adoption books for kids.

 

 

 

 

 

Read my earlier revithe name jar book coverew of The Name Jar Although not about an adoptee, the story is pertinent because it explores a child’s desire to replace her Korean name with one which sounds more American.

 

Welcome Home Sweet Baby!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015 @ 01:07 AM
Author: admin
Mom dad Parker AshleyI’ve mentioned earlier this year that our first grandchild will be born any day. I’ve been caught up in the tidal wave of excitement along with other family members and friends. A wide swath of support and joy have surrounded the delighted expectant parents. At every level this baby is immersed in a community that oozes happiness at the prospect of his existence.
When the baby is born, he will enter a world filled with familiarity because he’s heard the voices of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends during these past months.The music and even the clatter of daily life will enfold him in a sense of continuity and safety.

 

 

 

Newborn baby inside incubator

I simultaneously ponder how an adopted child’s gestation differs dramatically.  His conception is startling, unplanned. A crisis. Emotions swing from joy to panic as the expectant parents frantically struggle to determine how to gather the resources necessary to parent their unexpected baby, or make an adoption plan for this precious life they’ve conceived. This emotional, dramatic and chaotic prenatal environment stresses the baby. The overwhelmed mother and father struggle with intense emotions, difficult decisions, advice from family, friends, counselors, social workers. Imagine for a moment what it is like for an expectant mother who is making an adoption plan when strangers notice, comment on and enthuse about how thrilled/excited, etc. she must be. Can you feel the razor blades of grief? The unborn baby does. And it shapes him.

 

Family to Family.square 3How can we adoptive parents prepare ourselves to be ready to meet this child’s unique needs? We must immerse ourselves in the world of Adoption-attuned Parenting. Skip Lamaze classes and learn about attachment styles and how they affect parent/child relationships. Learn about grief and loss issues–the child’s and your own–so that their responses do not trigger your own hot buttons. Read widely.   Listen to podcasts like this one from Family to Family in which Brina, a young birth mother, recounts her experience with open adoption. She shares how she made her decision, selected prospective adoptive parents, her labor and delivery experience and her life since placing her son. Very powerful and enlightening.

 

 

 

ALP with Tag lineTake classes. Adoption Learning Partners offers a wide selection of excellent ones on-line. They are offered on demand so you can fit them into your busy schedule. 

 

 

 

ABC cover with badges - CopyRead up on adoption. Choose books that recognize adoption-attuned concepts and strategies, that acknowledge grief and loss issues and prepare you for the unique experience of adoptive parenting.  Be sure to include some that address the more difficult parts of adoption so that your child knows it is acceptable to discuss. Provide books that explore adoption from the child’s point of view.  This will help him see how other children think about their adoptions and will help him express his feelings to you. It will help frame his complicated feelings into words. Plus, it will demonstrate that you are open to talking about them and  are strong enough to hold both his joy and his sorrow. 
open adoptionAdvances in neuro-biology have deepened our understanding of infant and childhood grief.  Open Adoption, while not a panacea, does eradicate secrecy and reduce the shame that infused closed adoptions; it is worth exploring  or pursuing. (Check out Lori Holden’s book,  The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption. Gayle’s review: Please refer to our website for an additional list of suggested resources and books that are some of our favorites. Educate yourself, your family and friends.
adoption is a family affairRemember that “It takes a village to raise a child,” so help your family and friends become adoption-attuned so they can support you and a child. Let them see that your decision is well thought, heartfelt and firm. Bring them into your vision and onto your family’s team. Address their questions. Just as adoption was a decision that took time to explore and choose, it may also take them time to accclimate to the idea.  Let them know, that you want them to be a part of your child’s life. One excellent book is, Patricia Irwin Johnston’s,  “Adoption is a Family Affair  What Relatives and Friends Must Know. 
Read Gayle’s review.

Adoption is an important way to grow a family AND it comes with an additional level of responsibility.  Our joy must not ignore the genuine struggles and challenges our children must work through as they braid their birth and adoptive heritages into a healthy identity. Parents often say they would do anything for their kids. Becoming adequately savvy about adoption is one thing all adoptive parents must do. Our kids need this. They deserve the best prepared parents, ones who love them enough to do the hard work, to hear the difficult truths and to commit that extra level of time and effort so they we can become the parents they need as well as the parents they want.  

Marriage Equality, Adoptive Families and Adoptee Identity

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 @ 07:07 PM
Author: admin

 

A happy African American man and boy, father and son, family sitting together at home

The recent Supreme Court decision has repercussions in the adoption universe. In states that require and/or prefer married couples, it opens adoption as a possibility for married same-sex couples. This is life-changing news for children who languish and await a family. I suspect they focus on whether a potential parent will love and care for them properly not on whom that parent is partnered in a loving relationship. Expanding the pool of potential parents is critical; we cannot rest until every child who needs a family finds one.

How does this legal, cultural shift affect adoptee identity? Because of this SCOTUS ruling, LGBTQ adoptees may reasonably infer a deeper level of acceptance and security for the reality of who they are, who they can become and who they may choose to love in the future. Certainly, adoption challenges identity in many ways. Children struggle to distill their various threads of “biology and biography”² into a unique tapestry: a healthy, confident and capable identity. The LGBTQ¹ subset of adoptees faces additional constraints on being accepted for themselves without a need to hide, camouflage or deny their sexual orientation. The Supreme Court’s ruling provides a welcome guardrail for them.

Happy family  in a cabriolet convertible car at the sunset in summer

This new level of “equality” shifts attitudes and beliefs in society. It also reverberates in the adoptive family. Adoptive parents are familiar with traveling that extra distance in parenting, of living with a highly developed AQ* (Adoption-attunement Quotient). In addition to sensitivity to trauma, loss and grief factors, we must add sensitivity and acceptance of our children’s gender and sexual preferences.  Our children must be convinced—convicted even—that we accept them for whom they authentically are (not whom they perceive we wish them to be.)  Gordon Neufeld calls this establishing a secure “invitation to exist in [a parent’s] presence.” That statement might seem absurdly obvious. Of course we want our children to be with us, to spend time together, to be a family, to know and feel how much we love them. We must ensure that we routinely convey this unconditionality and constantly convey that we love our kids and have released any expectations–overt or unconscious– that they fulfill the role of our perfect fantasy child. Additionally, cell phones and other  technology, present significant challenges to sustaining that connection “of relating” unconditionally and one-to-one. Adoptive parents must be intensely intentional at establishing and nurturing that invitation to be real.

At some level, however, adoptees are painfully aware that a family is something that can be lost; it has already happened to them once (in some unfortunate case, more than once.) To avoid a repetition of that loss of family membership, some become chameleons adept at embodying their impression of who they think we want/wish/need them to be. Having been relinquished by one family, adoptees may fall vulnerable to role-playing that parental fantasy expectation even if it is not who they want to be and whom their DNA has prepared them to be.

Even to those readers who cannot embrace the recent SCOTUS ruling, there is a fundamental take-away: embrace a commitment to love unconditionally, to encourage our children to feel free to actualize their full potential and to live in authentic relationship. This results when we allow them to live their truth not our fantasy. In the absence of that permission, we fall prey to a painful dance of “preten” that serves no one and prevents genuine relationship. That depth only occurs in the sunshine of truth and honesty.

¹Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer

²Lori Holden, The Open-hearted Way to Open Adoption