Sunday, June 14, 2009

Adoption Perspectives...

As an adopted person, with adopted children, I continue to seek to find a reasonable perspective on adoption in general. For those of you who aren't adopted, it's a whirlwind maze of emotion that I have sought to figure out for 30 plus years. No matter how much you think you understand, there are just some things you can't get. There's issues of abandonment, grief, loss, and just plain "where do I fit into this world?" feelings.

Today while the girls and I were painting fingernails and toenails, Jameson said something about her "real mom." And while I knew this phrase was bound to come up eventually, actually hearing it for the first time did sting a little. I tried to gently say, "Your first mom..." I'm OK with being second, but I so don't want to be a "fake" mom.

We talk very openly about Eyob and Nebiet... Our kids "real" parents. We talk about what they were like, how happy they would be to see them now. We refer to them as "your parents." But suddenly today, I felt like the Velveteen Rabbit, waiting to be abused enough to become "real."

As settled in and OK as our kids are now, I am not naive enough to believe they aren't still processing and grieving. Jameson asked me the other day if I thought she cried very much. I told her, "No, not too much." She replied with, "I cry a lot at night because when I open my eyes, my parents are there." Did not know this. I found a picture in Josh's room of his parents that he had blown up on the copy machine, he had autographed it in their absence; it was signed, "We love you Filemon. Love, your parents." WOW.

When people find out that I'm adopted, inevitably the question is: have you ever thought of finding your "real" parents? Geez, how I hate that phrase. Anyway, of course I've thought about it. What adopted child hasn't thought about it at one point or another? Adoptive parents, let me tell you, when those difficult pre-teen years start, you will probably hear that "real" parent phrase even more. It's normal for an adopted child to have this fantasy of their birth parents. They will be perfect. They would NEVER be so unfair as to make the child behave, do homework, or have a curfew.

I have little information about my "birth" mother. I will refer to her as my birth mother and not my real mother until the time I find out she was indeed a wooden puppet named Pinocchio who became "real" later in life. Anyway, I at least have a name. Karen Gamble. I saw it on some court documents when I was 18. Her handwriting looked just like mine. I have some vague recollection of minor details I probably propagated as a child. She was good at English. She was a college student. But even though I have even less information than my kids have, I have something. And I have something because of what my parents shared with me. And probably what I made up in the corners of my mind. But you know what? Even if I made up half of the stuff I believe to know, it's OK. As an adoptive parent now, I struggle with the chasm between the knowledge we don't have and what we believe was most likely the truth. Is it ethical to share with our children that their parents loved them very much? That they chose life for them and wanted more for them? Absolutely! Is it ethical to say to our kids, "I imagine your mother was..." I think so.

I heard a story this week that will never be shared. It's a story of desperation. It's a story of beginnings and endings. It's a story of how a baby ended up in foster care. I shared with this mom that as an adopted person's point of view, that story must never be shared with her child. It made me think how we can give our kids the best information they need, but make it what they actually need. Do they need every little nitty, gritty detail? No, they need to know what information they need to form their fantasy family in their minds. So often when people ask me why I never found my "birth" parents, I tell them it's because right now, they are OK people who wanted more for me. Finding them could potentially ruin that fantasy. Am I a chicken shit? Probably. But I have a family who loves me and has from day one. What more do I need?

All of this thinking brought me around to an idea I have wanted to do from the beginning, but was:
a) too busy,
2) too overwhelmed, and
III) not emotionally ready.

And that is to begin work on a lifebook for Josh and Jameson.

You can read about Adoption Lifebooks here.

An adoption lifebook which is the story of your child. It's not about you, your adoption journey, your life together. It begins at birth. It includes as much information about birth parents and family as you know. What you don't know, you don't make up, but you include information about what you think is the case. For instance, you may not have specific information about parents or family, but you know the child was taken to an orphanage by a family member who loved them very much and was unable to care for them.

Trust me, it's enough.

In our lifebooks, we will include information about family, culture, about the loving caregivers at the orphanage, about their wonderful friends and the adults who helped them. We will attempt to fill in the gaps and stimulate as much memory as we can. We are not making up memories, we are providing our kids with the information to stimulate their own memories. For instance, we know that Nebiet (the first mother) was a hair braider, so we will do a page about the beautiful braids the Ethiopian women can weave. We will work through it together, to create dialogue between us and them, and hopefully to help heal all of our wounds.

Some great books about Adoption Lifebooks are:
Adoption Lifebook: A Bridge to Your Child's Beginnings
Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child
Before You Were Mine


Kristine said...

WOW. Great post Gina. You have the unique perspective of being on both sides of the adoptive relationship.
I wish we had more info on Nathaniel's birth family. I know he is going to have questions. And if he calls them his "real" family it will sting me too. I pray I can support him enough to work through all his emotions. I will pray for your guys too!

Abby said...

Thank you, Gina, for sharing your perspective and insight. It is so helpful to me as a first-time mom -- and adoptive mom on top of that. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

Laurel said...

I really enjoyed hearing your perspective. Thanks for sharing.

We are going through the MOST difficult adoption stuff you could possibly imagine. Please pray for us ... for wisdom and peace.