Category Archives: Discussing Adoption

Fostering Friendship

Five summers ago, my husband and I shared a picnic blanket with a couple we’d only recently met. Perched in a parking lot alongside the Navesink River in Red Bank, N.J., we awaited the sun to set and the night sky to fill with an extravaganza of colored lights. “The best around,” they’d promised.

Fireworks weren’t all we were waiting for. That first Fourth of July we spent together was also our last as couples without children. We met during Adoption From The Heart’s education classes and, after talking long after the session ended, we exchanged email addresses in a first act of “oh-my-gosh-they-have-the-same-anxiety-and-excitement-and-questions-and-fears-as-us” friendship.

After the next class and later the video shoot, we moved our chats to a nearby restaurant where we shared stories, fielded questions and got to know each other with a fervor – for hours at a clip. Emails seeking advice or sharing thoughts flooded one another’s in-boxes. We even talked about the inevitable situation when one couple would become parents before the other. Good thing, because just weeks after that shared Independence Day, the first call from our social worker came. The second followed within the month.

Weeks later we were together again, meeting newborn baby daughters, coddling them in colossal proportions and propping them next to each other for parent-paparazzi photo shoots. We opened gifts, compared feeding and sleeping schedules, and talked about home visits from social workers. Plans were made for our next gathering and, much like proud parents of a newly arranged marriage, we imagined their future together.

We’ve since celebrated birthdays, shared their first aquarium visit (the girls eating fish-shaped crackers from their stroller trays was an irony we noted more than once), left presents under each other’s Christmas tree, picnicked at the park, visited the zoo, talked of sharing a vacation someday, had family sleepovers capping hours of boardwalk rides or beach time, and spent cool evenings by a fire with tired kids on our laps, stars twinkling and crickets serenading yet another terrific time together.

Over the years we’ve shared meltdowns, milestones and diaper drama, asked “what do you do?” when a new stage or behavior has us stumped, and shared countless new-parent anecdotes. We’ve delighted in confusing strangers who assumed, thanks to the girls’ similar curls and complexion, they were twins. “Well,” we’d respond with devious smiles, “they’re three weeks apart.” When one of us welcomed another daughter, we all shared in that joy. We chuckle nervously about the tween and teen years to come, noting our “what do you do?” conversations will be so very different then.

Last year a move took one family out of state, changing the regularity of visits. Yet we still welcomed 2010 together, sitting before a fire in a new home, surrounded by the chaos that is three girls in dress-up, singing into microphones, opening holiday gifts and blowing party horns until their little bodies could take no more.

This summer we spent yet another steamy July evening crowded onto a picnic blanket along the Navesink River. Despite geography and another imminent family move, the foursome-turned-sevensome carried on as usual, continuing a tradition that began five years ago: sharing stories and making memories, and deepening a friendship that started when making long-haul friends was the last thing on our minds.

A framed photo of the two girls – the once “arranged friends” – sits by my daughter’s bedside. Despite current preschool friends and new friends to make at kindergarten this fall, nothing can change the comforting story of her first friend. Recently, one of the girls actually reflected on their friendship: “Mom, she’s more than a friend, isn’t she? She’s more like … a sister.” Not bad for a four-year-old!

I’d like to think that when the girls really begin to process their adoptions – each with their own very different story – they can trust the foundation we’ve created for them and, much like their folks have done, lean on the friend they have in one another.

My latest Musings of An Adoptive Mama column, published Summer 2010 – http://www.adoptionsfromtheheart.org

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Discussing Adoption, Family, Friends, Latest AFTH column, Maeve, Parenting

Miles of Mama Memories

This summer Maeve and I shared a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as we piled into the car with my mother — three generations of girls — and hit the open road. Our ultimate destination? A visit with my sister in Arizona. We’d decided to make the journey as memorable as the destination and vowed to drive only two-lane roads or smaller, and take the route we wanted, no matter how indirect.

We left New Jersey on a ferry bound for Delaware, then began to drive the coast: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia; in Florida we’d hang a right and head through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico before reaching my sister in Arizona.

On the return trip we’d see the heartland, hopping onto Route 66 as well: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky; we’d veer south to take in the rolling hills of West Virginia before crossing into Pennsylvania and, with a click of our ruby red shoes and an EZPass swipe or two, we’d be home in New Jersey.

Making this trip with my four-year-old daughter and mother was something special — full of girl power, of course, and many laughs, fun discoveries and extraordinary moments — even some adoption-related.

It wasn’t lost on me that I was sharing an adventure with my daughter — one in which I would watch her grow and experience slices of small-town America — and her first mother B, wasn’t alongside her to take it all in as her everyday mom.

B missed watching Maeve’s eyes widen at the sight of wild ponies on Virginia’s Chincoteague Island. (From here on, all animals spotted from inside the car during the 6,000 miles we covered were immediately deemed “wild” – “Mama! Look, wild cows! Wild sheep!”)

She also missed being evacuated from a North Carolina aquarium when the fire alarms sounded and fire trucks rushed to the scene. After worrying about the fish, Maeve decided they were safe in the water because, after all, water puts out fire.

As we sat in a cart pulled by mules along the charming streets of Charleston, South Carolina, Maeve counted palm trees, delighted in spotting other carriage rides in the distance, and got personal with a mule excitedly licking Maeve’s shirt — seems it had remnants of maple syrup from breakfast! B couldn’t hold Maeve in her arms and giggle about that.

In Georgia, Maeve hit a milestone in the pool – jumping from the side into the water and my nearby arms — without holding a hand. It was me there to gush and shower her with pride.

Maeve ate her first clam and her first fried green tomato on this journey, which also found us on a swamp boat in Louisiana searching for alligators. The next morning’s breakfast featured a zydeco band, a raucous dance floor and such culinary adventures as beignets and boudin. Maeve studied every move being made on the dance floor. I knew how much she wanted to be out there — a day doesn’t pass for her without dancing — but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. I could so easily read her tortured thoughts — a result, of course, of being her everyday mom.

At Texas’ Cadillac Ranch, Maeve stood in awe at the row of cars, colorful with graffiti, planted hood down in the middle of farmland. While tourist folks in the know brought spray paint to leave their mark, this three-generation road trip team, savvy after weeks on the road, had to leave its tag after some improvising. Maeve has learned how to write her name — but I certainly hope that trying to do so in peach nail polish, on an old Cadillac, alongside her mom and grandma, remains one of her childhood memories.

Oklahoma proved surprisingly quirky — from its sort-of famous blue whale, a now-defunct swimming hole still beloved by the locals who fish from it and play inside its two-level belly — to the largest cement totem pole in the world.

There are many stories of adventure to share, and more than a thousand wonderful pictures — but there’s one snapshot I will forever keep with me, and it didn’t happen with a camera around my neck.

In between silly splashes and watching tiny lizards scurry by my sister’s pool, Maeve said matter-of-factly (with some words running together and lost): “Mama? When [B] had me from her belly … couldn’t take care of me … but Gretchen and Thomas … mama and daddy …”

I stared in disbelief. Then, with a swell of excitement, she sing-songed: “and that’s how I found you!”

Four years of sharing her adoption story, keeping B a topic of conversation in our home and photos in her bedroom of them together, and this was the first time Maeve raised the topic herself. It was bittersweet. Happy and relieved we’d been doing our job, ensuring her story is part of her. Sad as she now begins to process her loss.

The adoption wheels of her mind have begun to turn and while I’ll not always be able to read her mind like that morning at the zydeco café or provide every answer to every question, I’m grateful to have the information we do, the contact with B we’ve shared, and hope that holds some of the peace she will seek in the future.

For now, though, we’ll continue to take each adventure — and surprising moments of clarity from a four-year-old — as they come, embracing the quirky places, the surprising finds and the small but oh-so-cherished moments that make up our family’s journey.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Family, Maeve, Parenting

Openness: Yours, mine and theirs

While the amount of contact with B. has increased as time has passed, I’d always considered ours an open adoption. Even from our Day One in both her and Maeve’s lives.

Dawn’s written a wonderful post about open adoptions that not only covers some of the varied ways it’s defined — a nice primer for those new to the concept and making assumptions about what it means to all those involved — but simultaneously debunks some of its common misconceptions and talks about how foster care has impacted the movement toward openness.

Best of all, her words resonated with me as she stated what, for me and so many others, is the bottom line in all of this:

“… at the heart of it is that belief that connection — in whatever form works — matters to our kids.”

Amen, sistah.

Hop on over and have a read for yourself.

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Filed under Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Open Adoption, Someone else said

One gift … gives another

Last night we were wrapping up a small present to send to someone in Maeve’s first mom’s family.  While the unwrapped  present (a friend of mine’s aunt makes these super-adorable child and adult necklaces! See Maeve wearing one here) sat on our kitchen counter a couple days, Maeve would occasionally point it out and reference the recipient.

“That neck-uh-lace for J.,” she’d say. “My J.,” she’d exclaim with pride.

As I wrapped the item, Maeve sat alongside me, coloring on a blank card to send along as well. I had thought about buying a card, just as a matter of reflex, but thought again. I pulled out a blank card, Maeve’s crayons and told her to go to town.

As I wrapped, I watched Maeve’s tiny hands work intently and enjoyed knowing she was creating something herself, something unique, for this person and their unique role in her life. As she colored in patches of colors here and “Mommy, Look! A circle!” there, and scrawled and “A” and an “M” in random places, she was delighted to take part in the gifting, mentioning J., and that J. is her [their relationship title] as she worked.

And me? I am delighted that our contact and continually evolving relationship with Maeve’s first mom allows for these moments and these experiences for her daughter, for our daughter.

Just knowing Maeve sat at our kitchen table last night and helped complete a gift that she knows is for someone special, someone in her biological family, makes me terribly happy (and grateful, and relieved and well, the list goes on).

These moments add to the important conversations we have in our home about her first mom B. We talk about whose belly she grew in, about the other people in B.’s family and their relationship to Maeve. She repeats these things as we talk, and proudly takes ownership (something most toddlers are proficient at) in these relationships.

“My B.!” “My J.!”  Or, “Maeve a baby B’s belly,” she’ll say, smiling.

Of course, at two and a half, I know that she understands just so much. But these are the building blocks we’re putting down now. These are just some of the ways we’re making (and keeping) Maeve’s first family part of her life, part of our lives and nurturing what is, to us, our expanded family.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Open Adoption

Survey for first parents

Received a heads-up about this very important survey from an adoptive mom friend of mine.

It’s actually for first parents, and the letter accompanying the survey link is written by Roberta MacDonald, chairwoman of the North Carolina Coalition for Adoption Reform and the state’s representive on the American Adoption Congress.

She explains the goal of receiving input in the Surrender Survey Project from at least 600 birth parents by the end of 2008. 

According to the study preface, the aim is for the project to become “the most comprehensive study of parents whose parental rights have been relinquished or terminated resulting in their children being adopted or remaining in foster care.”

It notes that the collection of “accurate data regarding attitudes, perceptions, beliefs and practices affecting parents in these situations is vital in formulating legislation in areas of family preservation, foster care and adoption.”

An opportunity to get one’s voice heard, indeed.

The survey is here.

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Filed under Adoption, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Legislation, Making a difference, Parental surrenders

Meeting Hollee McGinnis of Evan Donaldson Adoption Institute

holleemcginnis.jpg

Tonight my local adoption group hosted Hollee McGinnis of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. A most-interesting presentation indeed — and I’m not just saying that because she drew my name as winner of the raffle for a signed copy of Adam Pertman’s Adoption Nation. Really.

I’ve got more to say on the evening, but I just want to read over my notes and properly digest it all. More to come.

(And as an aside, yes, NaBloPoMo kicked my tush. Sigh. But I keep on keeping on.)

Photo credit: Pam Hasegawa

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Closed Adoption, Discussing Adoption, Family, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parental surrenders, Parenting

I think I can, I think I can (celebrate)!

Thanks to a fellow blogger and adoptive mom for reminding me that there are reasons to celebrate adoption. (Sound strange to some? Let me explain.) Although this is National Adoption Month, “celebration” hasn’t been a word I’ve been throwing around much.

After all, adoption is a very serious subject. There’s so much to consider, so much involved, so much to understand. There is loss. Inevitable loss, from first parents and first families to culture and more. And facing that loss, with my daughter in the forefront of my mind, is hard. It weighs so heavily on me. Add in the matter of ensuring that this and any future adoption be ethical and whew, boy! So much to think about, worry about, carry around in myself.

So for me this National Adoption Month has been about using my own experiences with adoption to educate. It’s been about taking advantage of those conversations, working to make a difference in how others perceive adoption, working to ensure that Maeve’s first mom is respected and that others understand how open adoption really works. In fact, I wrote about how I planned to spend this month in my latest AFTH column. And I stand by all of that. The month’s just half over — there’s plenty o’ educating to do!

But there is also room for celebration, too, and my sincere thanks to Judy for the most-needed reminder.

I carry around with me all the hard parts of adoption because I love my daughter. I love her so much that the hard parts impact me because I cannot help but think how they will impact her as she grows. These concerns don’t rest very often, and when they do, guilt creeps in and takes hold.

But, given all the concerns about the myriad hard parts of adoption, the truth of the matter is, adoption is how Maeve came into my life. There are beautiful parts to adoption. No, that’s not all there is to it, of course. Not by a long shot. But there is beauty and happiness in it too, and those moments mean so much.

After all, adoption gave me the most beautiful, funny, sensitive, silly, determined little girl to nurture and love each day. I am lucky enough to share my life with her and hers with me. She is my amazing daughter. My daughter through adoption.

Recognizing this — I mean actually taking the time to breathe it in and feel it — doesn’t take away the importance of all the other things wrapped up with adoption and doesn’t negate the loss involved. No, but I think it’s alright to relish the happiness she brings, that I hope I bring her, the happiness and joy in being mama to a little girl that makes my life seem like it’s playing in full technicolor.

Having this beautiful soul in my life is, quite simply, cause for celebration.

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Filed under Adoption, Adoption Ethics, Birth parents, Discussing Adoption, Love, Maeve, Making a difference, NaBloPoMo, Open Adoption, Parenting