family

Anticipating My Birthmother's Visit

Tomorrow my birthmother will be in town. Last night I watched Rain Man. Today I clearly see the correlation between these two happenings. This poem used to served as my desperate plea:

"I wish I could turn away and move on with my life

but my heart won't allow it when I try

That sounds so weak coming from me

a woman who overcame extreme adversities

If you don't want me to find you

whatever the reason may be

do me a favor and sign up to the registry

Send me a few pictures, a reason, and my medical history

give me some closure and set me free."

I used to wish that I could turn away from this search and reunion madness and move on with my life. I used to wish that I didn't need to fulfill this selfish curiosity of learning more about my roots. I waited for the magical moment when her name would match up with mine on the registry. I thought - if only I could see what she looks like, if only! Now I no longer need to fantasize, or try to wish away intrinsic desires. Now, I can simply ask her all of the 26 years of pent up questions.

While watching Rain Man last night, Charlie (Tom Cruise) attempted to convince his brother Raymond's court appointed psychiatrist that he should have legal custody of his brother so they could be together, as a family. Charlie said "I just don't understand. Why didn't dad tell me I had a brother? Why didn't anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it'd have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days."  This statement cut to my core as Charlie no longer cared about the lure of a multi-million dollar inheritance, or his limited understanding his brother's autism or the extraordinary differences between his own self-centered living in Los Angeles and his brother's confined reality within the walls of the mental institution. He simply wanted to be with his brother. I'd imagine many adoptees can understand the beauty in seeing this seemingly incompatible duo spend these six days together.

I echo these thoughts of the convoluted and difficult to understand relationship. I find it to be superbly beautiful, uniquely refreshing and a clear definition of family. With all the differences between myself and my birth mother I nervously/contentedly await her arrival tomorrow, and look forward to allowing her to spend a few days with my family and I, AKA, her new family.

Is Adopting From Third World Countries Necessary?

A mom who gave birth to surprise twins! A not so unusual happening without the aid of ultrasounds.
A mom who gave birth to surprise twins! A not so unusual happening without the aid of ultrasounds.

Is Haiti's instability as a nation and chronic poverty a justifiable reason for adoption to a developed nation? Surely parenting looks different for those living in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but does this automatically necessitate women making adoption plans?

Children's Home and Adoption Program (Now called Heartline Ministries) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti used to be filled with children and the adoptions were frequent. The homes emptied of children after the 2010 Haitian earthquake as children left in droves thanks to the humanitarian parole which allowed the adoptions already in process to be expedited. This natural disaster lent way towards the perfect excuse for Tara Livesay (a mid-wife) and her staff to stop taking in orphans and to instead turn their focus solely to prenatal care and prevention work. Heartline turned catastrophe into opportunity. They reorganized their mission and began teaching about family planning and birth control - offering free Depo Provera as well as monitor women in labor, facilitate the delivery, postpartum needs and infant developmental care. The moms stop by the homes every week throughout their pregnancy and then weekly until babies are six months old. Out of approximately 350 births at Heartline only one woman placed her baby for adoption since 2009 (that child now lives with a wonderful family in Vermont and his birth mom still stops by to get photos of him on occasion)! From Tara's experience, orphanages tend to ascribe to the belief that if women are poor they cannot parent and then proceed to help find a "better" place for the child via adoption. Tara's co-workers demonstrate through speech and attitude they absolutely can parent their children. In Tara's words "They can bond, they can breastfeed and they can raise the precious child because they have what they need."

A new momma outside her home.
A new momma outside her home.

Food and money are oftentimes tight, lack of support is commonplace and resources are not plentiful. All of these factors certainly aid in making parenting hard, but these women do not lack joy or moxie! And thanks to Heartline, they don't lack parenting skills either. International adoption is a beautiful second choice solution to meet an unfortunate yet very necessary need. I have many international adoptee friends and others who are in the painstaking process of becoming adoptive parents to beautiful children, but are awaiting the countries process, ensuring that all ethical aspects of the relinquishment of the child are met before their children can fly out of their home country to be with them here in the U.S. I certainly am not anti-international adoption as there are many true orphans needing homes all around the world. I was, however surprised to learn of Heartline's statistics which clearly show that moms are able to parent their children when given the tools and support. What if we worked towards establishing more services like Heartline instead of more adoption agencies in these areas? Would this take the novelty and romance out of our feel good tendency towards a rags-to-riches view of American adoptions from third world countries? What do you think?

***Photo credit: www.livesayhaiti.com****

"I Think My Birthmom Is Just Like You"

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 6.36.48 PM
Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 6.36.48 PM

Meet Valeria - a transracial adoptee.

This darling 8th grader from Southern California will surely be rocking this world with her wisdom and beautiful mind in the coming years.  After viewing Closure with her mother at the Refresh Conference, Valeria bravely came right up to me and told me that she imagines that her birth mother is just like me. I asked her why she thought this and we proceeded to have a conversation that was uniquely adult, yet sweetly innocent.  I loved her continuing spew of questions and couldn't help but to see my younger self in her words as I listened to every single word she said.

"Do you think I'll ever find my birth mom?" "How can I find her?" "I know that my birth mom gave me to a friend, then my foster parents picked me up from a prison. That's all I know. With this information, how do I find her?"

Valeria and I discussed searching, and some routes towards locating her birth mother, including someday taking a trip to her birth place - Columbia. While I signed a DVD for Valeria, she asked, "Do you think my birth mom has allergies?" I was formulating my answer but Valeria's brain got there before mine, she continued "I don't think she does - I was stung by a bee three times in fifth grade, and it didn't even hurt or get swollen. I'm pretty sure that my birth mom wouldn't be affected by a bee sting either." Her curiosity about her self, deep longing for truth and middle school youth was palpable. I could feel her words hanging in the air. I felt so honored that Valeria felt able to trust me with these questions as she sought to integrate these multiple aspects of her own identity.

I'd fashion that Valeria's resounding beauty comes from the combination of a wisdom one can only gain from allowing strangers to adopt and parent you at an older age, combined with the safety and structure of having a home and a family. I do believe that many adoptees have this same mesmerizing spark that Valeria has, but that this sparkle can be dulled by many things - including well meaning adoptive parents not allowing these curiosities and questions to come forth, unsure if their child can handle it.  It seems obvious to me that Valeria's future is bright, as historically some of our world's greatest leaders are people who know how and with whom to ask the tough questions.

I am often asked to weigh in on the "correct age" to introduce conversations about their child's birth mother, or when/if to encourage their child to begin searching for their birth parents...Let's take a cue from Valeria (and her mother, who lovingly stood by allowing Valeria to direct where she wanted the conversation to go). What's the harm in her curiosity? Perhaps there are unforeseen beauties within a child's questioning. Even though our conversation centered around her story, she may never truly know how deeply impactful this conversation was for me. The ripple effects of allowing an adoptee to feel free enough to ask questions could be endless (likely both in some difficult and positive ways).

In the grand scheme of things I know that my conversation with Valeria is just beginning. Thankfully we were able to get in a final hug, but not before she asked me "Do you ever feel mad at your birth mom?"

***   This post was written with the permission of Valeria's mother, who lovingly stated "it was as if you were the only two people in the room. It was beautiful; I saw a spark in her eyes."  ***

Too Expensive For Black People to Adopt?

Here is a video I found, and my response to this post. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfVRnOUTg6M

Common responses:

"We [black people] adopt all the time, but it's not centered on paperwork and formalities."

"Black people do adopt, but media sensationalizes those elite white people who rescue [adopt] kids so, people don't hear about what we're doing."

"It's too expensive to adopt."

I am thankful to  have heard so many honest responses and am gathering that the definition of adoption differs amongst cultures and ethnic communities. It seems as though the black folks who responded to the last post and in this video feel that adoption means that a biologically related family member would simply take care of a child - short or long term and the lowest two rungs on Maslow's hierarchy of needs being the most important (safety and physiology). In my professional adoption work, and continued involvement with adoption communities, I hear adoption discussed more as a permanent solution, stability and permanency being the pinnacle of the equation, and all of the needs being attended to (security, physiology, social, esteem and self-actualizing).

Thus, I still feel that my basic question has gone unanswered. Not all children are so fortunate to be informally adopted by a relative, so why aren't black families adopting already born children of color through foster care (generally no fees - thus dissuading the argument of the high costs of adoption).?