Tag Archives: adoption

What Does Luck Have To Do With Adoption?

April Dinwoodie is the Chief Executive of The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI), co-founder of Fostering Change for Children, and a transracial adoptee. From the DAI website: “Everything we do and every action we take is geared toward safeguarding the best interests of children, enhancing the adoption experience and sustaining families – while achieving equitable treatment for everyone within the extended family of adoption.”

Dinwoodie wrote a wonderful article for the Huffington Post entitled, first familiesThinking About Adoption: Lucky Me? In it she discusses what luck has to do with adoption. One of the most pervasive comments often made to an adopted person, even when they’re children is, “You are so lucky!” If a child is lucky to be adopted, that implies that she owes her (adopted) family something. The best response I’ve heard to that statement is when a parent replies with, “No, I’m the lucky one. My life is so enriched now that (said adopted person) is a part of it.”

From Dinwoodie, “This notion of luck does not only impact adopted people, it can be a burden to the extended family of adoption. For the first/birth family, it assumes that they would have been incapable of providing appropriate care — a fact that is not an element of every adoption experience. For some adoptive parents, being seen as rescuers can add unrealistic expectations to their role as a parent.”

adoptionAnother aspect of luck that Dinwoodie tackles in her article is the luck of finding one’s birth parents. It is common now in domestic adoptions in particular, for there to be connection with the birth mother and occasionally the birth father. But years ago, and still in many international adoptions, there is no information or access to the birth parents. Sometimes finding a birth parent is lucky, sometimes it’s not. Each situation is different because each person is different.

Then there is the “luck” of being able to have access to one’s own original birth certificate. It is still illegal, yes ILLEGAL, to have access to one’s own original birth certificate. This article gives some background on the subject of original birth certificates and how they are revised after adoption.

There are so many wonderful things about adoption and there are many losses. Dinwoodie’s article describes the complexities of adoption and how some aspects are lucky and others are not.

Dinwoodie ends her article,  “My hope is that moving forward we stop simplifying the adoption experience and put in the work to fully comprehend the challenges and opportunities. We’d all be lucky and better for understanding family from an evolved place. When we move from transaction to transformation, adoption allows us to do just that.”

If you were adopted, are thinking of adopting or have adopted and you are looking for support, let me know. I would like to help you. Feel free to contact me here.

Why Does It Matter That Celebrities Adopt From Foster Care?

The access, Sandra Bullock recently adopted a daughter from the foster care system. People Magazine found the this fact so interesting that they put the story and a photo of the actress with her two children, both of whom are adopted, on the front cover. It matters when a celebrity adopts from foster care because it challenges the public’s preconceived ideas about foster care.

I’ve worked in the field of adoption since 1999. Since then I’ve been interested in learning as much as I can about the subject. I know about private adoptions, domestic adoptions and international adoptions but my knowledge of foster care adoption is limited by comparison.

When I was asked by a producer from Good Morning America to be taped for a segment on Ms. Bullock’s adoption, I was a little nervous. I expected myself to be an expert in foster care but I wasn’t- I’m not. So I did as much research as I could to prepare. I looked up statistics, I researched the history of foster care to adoption, I poured through articles about the subject and when Kenny the camera man, showed up at my office, most of what I learned didn’t matter anymore. I wasn’t being asked to be an expert, I was being asked to share my thoughts about (Ms. Bullock’s) adoption and I can always do that. Here’s the segment:


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What I do know about foster care is that there are many children waiting for permanent homes. I also know that the average age of a child adopted from foster care system is eight. There is a great deal of information on AdoptiveFamilies.com, which is an invaluable resource for all things adoption related.

What stuck out most when I was researching on their site is that “….many more adults consider this route (foster care to adoption) without taking action, due to skepticism about the process. With a little education, (the writer of the article said that) I’ve seen many of them become, yes, perfect parents to children in need of ‘forever families.'”

If you would like more information about adopting from foster care, here are helpful links: AdoptUsKids and The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

First Families

Photo by Stefan Ruiz for The New York Times
Photo by Stefan Ruiz for The New York Times

First families are significant. So are current families. I was reminded of this when I read the cover story of a recent New York Times Magazine section. “The Mixed Up Brothers of Bogota,” by Susan Dominus is excellent. Have you read it? If you want to, click on this link. The article was fascinating and made me think about my work in the field of adoption.

Imagine that you have been trying to get pregnant for years. You try everything. You even see a medical specialist to try and determine why you can’t get pregnant. You try in-vitro fertilization. You inject yourself with hormones and spend thousands of dollars to try and get pregnant. But you can’t. You don’t. All that you ever wanted was to be a mom or a dad. You slowly give up on the idea of having a child biologically and you begin to explore adoption.

I have the privilege  of working with people who want to become parents and are trying to decide whether or not adoption works for them. Most people who choose to adopt do not think of it as a first option when starting their families. They usually explore adoption when they are unable to have a child biologically.

Again, imagine trying for years to become pregnant and not being first family
able. Imagine then deciding to adopt because you have so much love to give. You have the resources, the interest, the drive and the determination. You know that you could love a child to whom you did not give birth. You’ve come so far.

Then imagine being told that if you choose to adopt, you will have to at least be open to having a relationship with your child’s first family. Would you feel threatened, angry, resentful, fearful and guilty? Yes, probably. However, your child will feel more complete having the opportunity to at least meet his first family.

It’s so hard to explain why open adoption is important to someone who is unfamiliar with adoption. Over time prospective adoptive parents get it. They may still feel insecure about their child’s first family but sometimes after meeting them, those feelings change and become more positive. Sometimes they don’t. However, a child’s first family is a part of who they are. They have a right to know from where they came.

When I read the Dominus article, the word adoption isn’t mentioned but it was in the back of my mind throughout. Her (true) story isn’t about adoption. Adoption (ideally) is a conscious decision made by a first family. However this is the true story of what it’s like to be raised in a families in which two of four children weren’t born and are raised as fraternal twins.

The piece is about two sets of identical twins were born on the same day, in the same hospital in Colombia, South America. Somehow, the twins were separated in the hospital and eventually raised as fraternal twins. They grew up living very different lives. One set was raised in Bogotá (the largest city in the country of Colombia and the capital), while the other was raised in La Paz (a small, very rural town).

Eventually the brothers meet when they’re adults. familyThen they decide to meet their biological parents but one mother has died. One of the twins will never be able to meet her. He meets other relatives but he feels the loss of never  knowing the woman who gave birth to him and to the life he could have had if he stayed with her. The loss is what connects this piece to the complexity of adoption the loss of one family and the gaining of another.

After reading the article, do you have a different view? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here and tell me what you think.What are your thoughts about first families?

Why Is The Recent New York Times Magazine Article About Adoption, Relevant?

When I saw the cover of the New York Times Magazine Section I winced. I wondered if the article written by Maggie Jones, entitled, “Why a Generation of Adoptees is Returning to South Korea” would frustrate me as so many adoption related articles do.

It’s been a while since I read something that didn’t sensationalize adoption. I’ve worked  in the field since 1999. I’ve read hundreds of articles, read many books, seen many documentaries, talked with dozens of children and adults who were adopted and hundreds of parents. I’ve attended workshops, lectures, meetings, classes, etc. And yet after all this time, I still have a lot to learn. That’s why I read this article and I’m glad that I did.

The author, Maggie Jones, is an adoptive parent. Her article was thoughtful, engaging and informative.  AdoptionAlthough she didn’t adopt from Korea, she adopted one daughter domestically (she is of Japanese and African descent) and her other daughter was born in Guatemala. Despite this, the research that Jones did is applicable to anyone interested in adoption.

“My husband and I are of a generation that is supposedly savvier and better educated about raising adopted children. We have done some of the “right things”: traveled with our kids back to Guatemala and to Japan (where my older daughter’s birth mother lives). We’ve advocated for open adoptions (with mixed success) so our daughters would have access to their records and contact with their families. Our daughters’ friends and their school are diverse. And my husband and I try not to shy away from talking about the complexities of adoption and race.

Two hands of different races togetherStill, my daughters don’t see themselves reflected in my and my husband’s faces. They will confront racism in their lives, which neither my husband nor I ever have. My children are happy and deeply attached to us. But while the predominant narrative of adoption focuses on what is gained, each adoption also entails loss for both the child and her biological family. It’s a loss I can’t fully know and one I can never entirely heal.”

That last sentence encompasses everything that I believe about addition. I appreciate the honestly with which Jones describes her experiences and the fact that adoption is an emotionally complicated process. There is so much work that adoptive parents need to do and Jones seems aware of her responsibilities. I admire her honesty and thorough research. I’m so glad that I read her piece.

If you have any questions about this article or about adoption in general, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact me.

Transracial Adoption

There are two recent articles on transracial adoption. One is from NPR-Growing Up ‘White,’ Transracial Adoptee Learned To Be Black and the other is in the New York TimesIn Adoption, Does Race Matter?- Room for Debate. 

africa-6051bfb1d641921932b6ac2359837a7676d94d40-s40-c85The NPR piece is based on an interview with Chad Goller-Sojourner. He “is African-American. In 1972, when he was 13 months old, he was adopted by white parents in Tacoma, Wash. He and his siblings are all different races than their parents.”

Chad discussed what it was like growing up black in a home with white parents. He has two siblings, both of whom are also people of color. He grew up in a white community in Washington state and describes what it was like to feel different.

Chad’s parents did as much as they could to expose Chad (and his siblings) to more racially diverse people. They enrolled him in a school where the kids were from different backgrounds. They also read every book from the library that was written by black authors in order to try and understand what Chad and his siblings were experiencing. But that wasn’t enough.

Chad explains that before he even had words for racism, he knew it existed. me-mom_sq-6a65b11b11a463a9eaed82830674d25012a32ccb-s3-c85He noticed being watched when he went into stores with his mother. He would make sure that everyone knew that he was with “the white lady,” and therefore not a threat. He would yell to her from across the store, asking if she would buy something for him and having her respond loudly enough for people to notice that they were together.

“I would hold up some outfit and say, ‘Hey, Mom, could I get this?’ And she’d be like, ‘No!’ Which let everybody within earshot know that I was with a white lady, and then suddenly, that privilege came back over me.”

drawing of transracial familyWhat can white parents do to help their adopted children of color feel  as though they belong? Chad says, “parents today can do even better. I don’t have a checklist, but if I did, it would sound something like this: If you don’t have any close friends or people who look like your kid before you adopt a kid, then why are you adopting that kid? Your child should not be your first black friend.”

I would go a step further and suggest that before adopting a child from a different race, it’s helpful to have role models that look like your child. Find teachers, baby sitters and pediatricians who are from the same background as your child. Take a look at the people in your own life. Do you have friends from different  races? Does race ever come up in conversation? How does it make you feel? Probably uncomfortable at first but with practice, the more comfortable you will feel and that will allow your child to know that s/he can discuss race with you too. I would also suggest becoming a part of a transracial adoption community. There are so many that are out there, here are three resources: Families With Children from China, Guatemala Adoptive Families Network, African- American Heritage.

If you have any questions about transracial adoption, feel free to contact me. 

When Adopting Is It Better To Use An Attorney Or An Agency?

As an adoption consultant, I am frequently asked which is better, an agency or an attorney? My answer is always the same; it depends on the client, the agency and the attorney. If the goal is to adopt a child from a Hague approved country, one generally needs to work with a Hague approved agency. If one wants to adopt quickly and domestically, an attorney is generally the preferred option.

There are benefits to working with both. Couple with Chinese babyThere are other adoption agencies that are licensed, accredited and Hague approved but they may not, for example, have social workers to write home studies or educational programs for the prospective parents. These types of agencies are the most common but I generally do not refer clients to them unless they partner with a full service agency. It would be too complicated otherwise.

Just as there are many different kinds of adoption agencies, there are many different kinds of adoption attorneys. Since the Hague Treaty on Adoption, most adoption attorneys do not assist with international adoptions but they do help to facilitate domestic Adoptedadoptions. Adoption attorneys are experts in the intricacies of adoption laws that vary from state to state and even county to county. Their goal is to make sure that everything is legal and seamless for their clients. Many are able to complete an adoption faster than an agency because they are paid to represent a smaller case load- therefore, they can be more expensive than an agency. Their services generally do not include the home study, which is always a requirement. Most do not offer emotional support or education services around becoming a family through adoption.

There are many options when choosing to adopt via an agency or an attorney.adopt tee The most important thing is to learn as much as you can. The web is filled with a great deal of information. A lot of it is helpful, a lot is not. It’s also advantageous to speak with people who have adopted. Finally, try to find a confidant; someone with whom you feel comfortable discussing the ups and downs of the adoption process. This person can be a therapist, an independent adoption consultant, a friend, a parent, someone within the adoption community or a co-worker. If you can, find someone who can be objective and willing to listen and make suggestions. A lot will come up for you during every stage of the process. Try to find someone, in addition to your partner (if you are adopting as a couple), with whom you can explore all that comes up for you so that you can feel supported and confident.

If you would like to discuss adoption or have any questions about it, please feel free to contact me. I would like to help you better understand what you need to know in order to have a successful adoption.

What Does Father’s Day Bring Up for You?

Father's DayYesterday was Father’s Day. Similar to Mother’s Day, these “celebrations” seem to bring up a lot of feelings for a lot of people.  I thought about children who could not be with their fathers yesterday. Maybe he was traveling for work, maybe he was in prison, maybe he was with another family, maybe he died. What happens when one has a complicated relationship with a parent?

 Sad parentWhen I worked in the adoption field many newly adoptive parents were concerned that their children would think about their first parents on Mother’s and Father’s Days.  They were afraid that the child would feel a sense of loss again, that these days would bring up fears of abandonment. I also thought about the parents who chose to place their child for adoption. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day must be difficult for them too.

mom and childrenToday, in the United States, there are more single parent households than ever before. Do you know who’s running these households? Mothers run most of them. Grandparents, cousins, friends, etc. run some of them too. What happens when a father is no longer around? How do fatherless children celebrate Father’s Day?

I am constantly inspired by the presentations on the website, TED.com. TED stands for Technology, Education and Design. From it’s website, it is described as, “a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from (these) three worlds.” It has grown into so much more. I visit the site frequently if I want to be inspired or learn something.

I found a wonderful talk by Angela Patton of Camp Diva. Camp Diva “provides opportunities for girls to prepare themselves spiritually, socially, emotionally, intellectually, and culturally, for their passage into womanhood.” In just over eight minutes, Ms. Patton talks about girls finding a way to connect with their fathers via a dance. When the idea is explored further, she describes one girl who cannot invite her father because he is in prison. In this inspiring talk, I enjoyed learning ways to think creatively in order to move through loss.

 

How was Father’s Day for you? I’d love to know.

Adoption Language

questions about adoptionWords are powerful. Consider the following: Giving up a baby, put up for adoption, real family, natural children, own child, to keep, foreign adoption, natural parents or where is s/he from, how much did s/he cost?

20 Things...It is important to be aware of our language. It is particularly useful as a teaching tool for professionals in the field to be sensitive to the words that they choose. Prospective adoptive parents are looking to the professionals for guidance. A wonderful book that explores the power of language is called; 20 Things Adopted Kids Wished their Adoptive Parents Knew, by Sherrie Eldridge.

Years ago I ran a workshop for prospective adoptive parents. One day a mother and her daughter joined our group to talk about some of their challenges and what they learned being a visibly adoptive family. The mother and her then-21-year-old daughter, who was adopted from Korea as an infant, told a story about an incident that occurred at a supermarket when the daughter was three or four years old. Although the daughter did not understand what the stranger was really asking, she did not like the way it made her feel. The conversation went something like this:

“Is she yours? Where is she from?”  images-2

“Excuse me?”

“That girl, is she Chinese?”

The mom bent down and asked her daughter if she wanted to answer the man’s questions. The daughter thought about it and said, “No.”

The mother said to the stranger, “We don’t feel like answering your questions. Have a nice day.”

The prospective parents at the workshop were shocked. They wondered how strangers could think that they had the right to ask such invasive questions. The mother said that she and her family lived in area where adoption, especially international adoption, was very uncommon. She also said that most of the time she sensed that people were just curious and were not judging. She added that sometimes, as in the example above, it was hard to tell.

Eventually the mother decided that her daughter’s story was her own and therefore, when she was old enough to express herself, she could decide whether or not a stranger’s question would be answered. The mother also said that it took many tries before finding the response that felt right to them.

Sometimes they responded with, “mind your own business” or “none of your business.” Other times the mother sensed, because she had been a curious images-1prospective adoptive parents, that maybe the stranger was asking because he or she was interested in adopting and wanted to connect with an adoptive family. The mother told the workshop participants that they should be prepared that there would be questions. Some were judgmental but most were asked because the stranger was trying to decide if adoption was the best way for them to expand their family. In either case, the mother wanted the prospective adoptive parents to know how powerful words can be and that what people say can have an effect on their children. She said that it was not fair and it was exhausting but adoptive parents were bequeathed the role of educating the public. In her own situations and if she had the energy and felt like it, she did share the information with strangers that her daughter allowed. It wasn’t the daughter’s entire story, just a part of it.