Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Journey Of A Birthmom: Susan's Story

My name is Susan - I am an FLS birthmother - and here's my adoption story...I was dating someone on and off for about 2 years.  We were NOT a "healthy" relationship.  We both insisted on being hateful, inconsiderate, and stupid.  To make things worse, my parents did know about the relationship because they didn't approve of the race difference.  March 15, 2012, is the day both of our lives changed forever.  
I knew, from the moment it happened, I made a huge mistake; however I had no clue what I had really gotten myself into.  I had 5 months of not telling anyone, I was in complete denial.  I considered abortion but I couldn't do it after seeing how much joy my nieces and nephews brought me.  I knew that I had to make a different choice...and, from that moment, my adoption journey began. 
I had to quit worrying about myself and had to work up the courage to tell my parents so I could get to a doctor to check on my baby.  I told a couple of friends looking for relief and, even though they were understanding and supportive, I knew I wouldn't feel relief until I told my parents.  I sucked it up and gave my mother the dreaded note I had written months earlier.  It was the note no mother wants to receive from her daughter.  I immediately went to work and was scared to death to come home.  She was in the shower so I walked in and asked, "Are you okay?".  Of course she wasn't okay, she was devastated.  "No," she replied. I hung my head and continued to sob.  She cracked the door and looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "But I will be."  Those words filled my heart with relief.  I told my father three days later and saw his anger and hurt.  We waited three days for everybody to gather themselves before we all sat down to talk.  We talked about the possibility of going to the Liberty Godparent Home, but didn't feel like that was the right option for me.  But, I made the decision to contact Family Life Services to begin working with an adoption counselor.   A few weeks later, my mom and I met with Rachel.  It was amazing and I had a peace about connecting with FLS - she made me realize I would be okay and I'm so grateful for that.
I went to the doctor at 32 weeks and discovered I was having a healthy, beautiful baby boy.  That made everything so much more real... it wasn't a plastic baby doll or a puppy but instead a REAL baby boy.  That same day I went to the agency to do what I was so excited to do...choose an adoptive family for my son.  That is a huge pick the perfect family for my baby about pressure! The first family I looked at captivated me.  They had one son and were so excited to adopt again.  The baby kicked in my tummy the entire time I read about them and, somehow, I felt like it was God's destiny.  I continued to look at other families but didn't feel that connection with anyone else.  I called Rachel the next day to let her know "they" were the family for my baby.  The next week, I went to meet them.  The birthfather was unexpectedly unable to go with me so I was on my own.  I was so nervous, I couldn't stop shaking.  As soon as we started talking I was immediately happy and relaxed.  They really were perfect for me!  They were so in love with their first son, I knew my baby would fit into their family perfectly.  The birthfather and I met with the adoptive family one more time before I had the baby and it was just as amazing as our first visit together. 
My due date was December 1, 2012 and I was scheduled to be induced on December 3rd.  After about 25 hours of waiting, it was time to push.  During my entire labor experience, I looked at a picture of my son's "soon-to-be" big brother and focused on how genuinely happy he was.  On December 4, 2012, Elijah Jayden was born.  I had worked so hard not to become emotionally attached but, as soon as he was born, I just wanted him in my arms.  He was perfect, a gift from God.  I instantly loved him so much!  I felt the best love I've ever had holding him in my arms.  He was born on a Tuesday and the reality of how painful my adoption decision would be settled in on Wednesday.  My dad had to leave the hospital and it was time for him to say his final goodbyes.  He cried while on his knees and prayed for him to have a good life and for him to know how much we love him.  He and I were both devastated.  That night, the birthfather came to see the baby and sign his papers.  I secretly prayed that he wouldn't sign the papers. I didn't want to lose this amazing love and feeling of my son being in my arms. He, too, however, signed his papers and said his goodbyes. 
That night was my final night with Elijah.  I played "Find Your Wings" by Mark Harris all night and cried, begging God to take my pain away.  I knew in my heart he was theirs, but the emotions were so hard to deal with.  I came home and tried to act like everything was normal.  Friends came over and were happily surprised by how great I seemed to be doing.  I went to visit the baby with two friends before placement day and it was amazing to see him.  Then placement day came - which was the 2nd best day of my life.  Although it broke my heart, I saw the future my son had ahead of him with his new family.  That made the suffering and pain worth it.  It was the most beautiful experience I've ever been a part of.  Sure, I had people say nasty things to me, but I've learned they don't child is what matters.  I get to see my beautiful baby grow up with two amazing parents and a sweet big brother who loves him so much.  Of course, my heart is still full of hurt - healing is an ongoing process, but with good friends and my parents I am getting through it.  Most importantly, I have chosen an adoptive family who is constantly sending me pictures and emails and genuinely cares for me too, which makes the pain easier to bear.  Adoption is hard, so hard.  There is no "easy" part about it, but the love in adoption is stronger then anything I've ever felt before.  I have no regrets about my heart is too full...too full of love for my son, love for the adoptive family, FLS, and this opportunity to share my "real life" story in hope that it will impact others.
This isn't the end of my story. I have new stories ahead that I will have to deal with as I process the pain and the hurt of this decision.  It is a constant battle.  But I've already learned that God is the only thing I need to get me through this battle and the future battles ahead.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Few Things Birthmoms Want Adoptive Families To Know...

We hosted our first Birthmother Retreat last month and took the opportunity, while we had such a powerful group assembled, to ask these young ladies for some things that they wish they could tell adoptive families about themselves.  The nuggets of wisdom that we gleaned from that simple exercise are priceless and we want to give a platform in this post for them to be shared.

  • I made an adoption plan because I was mature enough to know that I wasn't ready to parent a child
  • I don't want you to look down on me because I got pregnant before I was ready to parent
  • Love me for who I am - I am not perfect and will make lots of mistakes and so will you
  • The months and years after an adoption are a healing process, I still have good days and bad days.  If I back away from the relationship for a short period of time, please respect that it is part of my healing process and try to be understanding
  • I didn't choose adoption because I am selfish; I made an adoption plan because I knew that an adoptive family could give my child the life that I can't give him or her right now
  • Although my child has already been placed with you, their forever family, I still think about them every day
  • I love my child, and always will, but I also love the you and your family.  You are family to me and I hope that you view me and my family as a part of yours
  • I might not get to be a "mom" but I am still a mother
  • We are not going to steal our birth children - we want them to be happy and secure in the family we chose for them and not traumatized
  • Please acknowledge us on Mother's Day - you might be the only ones who do
  • I place my child for adoption out of love and sacrifice, it wasn't because I didn't love my child or wanted the "easy way out" - adoption has been the most difficult decision I have ever made
  • I want to be included in the big things and milestones in my child's life but it means a lot when you include me in the little things too
  • My child will always have a special place in my heart
  • As we talk about our relationship, I want the you to be honest about what you really want
  • My greatest desire is for my relationship with your family to grow through the years
  • You don't have to pretend that you're perfect, I know that I am not and my family is not.  It would make me feel more "normal" if I knew some of the things that were not perfect in your family too.  Share with me your challenges, dysfunctions, and about your "crazy" family members
  • I hope that you don't feel threatened or overwhelmed if my family wants to get to know you too
  • I want you to be comfortable enough to ask me the hard questions about the birthfather or the situation, but I also want you to be respectful if I don't have the answers
  • Stay strong and hopeful if you are seeking adoption and haven't been chosen.  There is a birth family who is looking for the qualities that are found in your family
  • Take as many pictures as possible - there will never be too many.  We want to see pictures of everyday activities, not just posed pictures.  Send us pictures of him or her throwing a fit, covered from head to toe in pudding or paint, and doing other activities.  We also want to see pictures, not only of our child, but of you too
  • I am the only person who will be just as excited as you about the mundane details of the child's life, so ramble away in as much detail as you can share
  • We chose you to raise our child, so we want to have updates about you and not just updates about the child
  • Now that I've placed a child with you, we are all family
  • We love you so much

Monday, June 17, 2013

Adoption Book Review: All Bears Need Love

Children's books, written with age appropriate adoption themes, are an absolute essential item in any adoptive parent's toolbox.  They easily and comfortably introduce adoption language, invite questions from children to their parents, and provide opportunities for discussion about a family's adoption story.  Not all books need to mimic your specific adoption story, in fact, I believe it is beneficial for all families to incorporate adoption books into their libraries, whether children were adopted into the family or not, to promote understanding and awareness that families are formed in different ways.
All Bears Need Love is a little gem that I was recently introduced to and will be adding to my own family's collection.  Written by Tanya Valentine and illustrated by Adam Taylor, this adorable and charming story talks about a polar bear in a zoo who became "mama" to a little brown cub.  Various animals make inquiries about where the cub came from, how they can become family if they don't look similar, and whether the cub will "fit in" or not.  The kind, caring, and reassuring answers, from the polar bear mama, to these expected questions reinforce the theme that love is what makes a family.
This story, appropriate for even the youngest children, fills a gap in adoption literature with a straightforward tale addressing issues of transracial adoption, past history of an adopted child, and a parent's capacity to care for more than one child with various needs, backgrounds, and stories.  All Bears Need Love will be included in my recommendations for adoptive parents seeking domestic or international adoption and would make an excellent gift for new adoptive parents - head over to Amazon to order your copy.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

How Adoptive Parents Can Help Birth Parents Tell A Positive Adoption Story

It's no secret - adoptive parents are usually strong and outspoken advocates for adoption.  When someone shares that they have either adopted a child or placed a child for adoption, it usually opens up a window of previously undisclosed information leading to a lengthy exchange of experiences and stories.  The conversation typically begins like this - "I have a friend who has a neighbor who had a sister who..."

In the age of technology and advanced tools for advertising, the strongest "advertising" still comes from personal experience that is passed along by word of mouth. 

Did you know that adoptive parents can be extremely influencial in whether their child's birth parent is a positive advocate for adoption or not?  From talking with hundreds of birth parents over the years, it has come to our attention that the happiest and most secure birth parents have been treated with unconditional love and respect from their child's adoptive family while the birth parents who have had the most difficulty accepting their adoption decision have been connected with adoptive families who didn't follow through with their initial promises and expectations.

I'm not naive enough to think that there will never be a situation, in either the birth family or adoptive family, that will cause the frequency of visits or contact to change, but it seems that the most damage is done when these issues are not discussed and the adoptive family retreats from contact with no explanation.  The conversation may be difficult, but we, as adults, are not promised a life without difficult and honest talks.  A lack of explanation introduces a whole new group of unanswered questions for birth parents that leads to insecurity, worry, and uncertainty.

So, how can you best advocate for adoption?  Treat your child's birthparents with unconditional love, respect, and honesty and they will have a positive story to tell the next time someone begins an adoption conversation about their friend's neighbor's sister...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Birthday Reflections from a Birthmom

Today is my son’s fifth birthday. The emotions that have coursed through my body regarding this topic have been tumultuous and exhausting. I am not quite sure how it is that my body knows that today is April 15th.
I understand that my mind is capable of differentiating one day from another, but it is a mystery to me how my body knows. But my body does know – I can tell by the physical manifestations of grief written all over my body from head to toe, inside and out. Once I read that our “gut” has as many nerve endings as our brain and this perhaps explains the knots and pit of emotions I can feel in my stomach.
This morning as I was brushing my teeth & getting ready for the day, I was struck by how I am still coming to grips with the permanency and far reaching effects of my decision to place Joshua for adoption. I don’t know where the days went, slipping by so quickly, becoming weeks, months, and years. It’s hard to believe the baby I held in my arms is already 5.
It’s not that I thought that it would be an easy, snap decision – quite the opposite. But it is impossible to fully understand the hard reality and full meaning of permanency until you live it, day after day.
I thought that it would get easier – and some days it is easier. But some days it isn’t; some days I can feel my decision heavy on my chest, as if I am making it all over again. Sometimes the weight of my decision is as heavy as the day I left my son in the hospital to be picked up later that same day by his “forever family” and to go home with a new mommy.
And today this decision feels so permanent, so thick, and so tangible. I can feel the deep emptiness from the piece of my heart that I gave to him and he takes wherever he goes. Does he know he has my heart? Does he know how much I love him? I think he does. When I visited & played with him this past weekend, his beautiful blue eyes looked into mine and I saw the deep, simple trust of a child who knows he is deeply and unconditionally loved. And it’s in that moment that it is all worth it.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Families Don't Have To Match...

Our guest blogger, Amy, is wife to marc, Mommy to Caroline and Jameson (who both joined the family through adoption), and a woman of God with a refreshingly honest view of life. 

Go on, let's be honest.

The words "transracial adoption" can be a little scary for many people considering adoption.

Maybe uncomfortable might be a better word.

Perhaps it's because inherent within those two simple words, transracial adoption, is an idea of forever committing oneself to another who is utterly different than you. Outside of you.

Perhaps it's uncomfortable because it means entering into that which you feel overwhelmingly unqualified.

Opening yourself up to another culture.
Opening yourself up to looking different than the "typical" family.
Risking hurtful comments or stares from others.

You might even wonder, who wants to sign up for THAT?!?

You see, I never dreamed my family would be a transracial one. The picture in my head of what my family would look like someday always included children that looked like me. I knew I wanted to adopt. But I didn't want it to look like I had adopted.

My husband was quite the opposite. He's had a dream of having a black son for a number of years, but together we decided that for now, we weren't up for inviting the stares and the questions that a transracial adoption was sure to bring.

I would look at other transracial families with such deep admiration, but the thought that my family could be transracial never seriously crossed my mind before we began the adoption process. Sometimes I secretly longed to hear more about how they came to open their hearts to a child of another race. But I didn't dare ask.

Lo and behold, who knew I would be the one joining their ranks?!

Until, of course, the Lord worked beautifully upon my heart. At just the right time, He broke through so many of my fears, my hesitations, my desires for what was comfortable, and He gave me the most amazing gift of my life.

I'm now a proud, proud mama to the cutest half-Haitian, half-African American baby boy!

If you've grown up "lily white" like me, discussions of race weren't necessarily around your dinner table. We were taught not to see color. Thus, most of us are blind to issues that people with color know all too well because we're so busy not seeing it. White culture wants to teach us that race is only skin deep, but deep down, I think we all know it's not quite that simple. And what I'm finding is that as I come to embrace another culture as rich as Jameson's, I'm seeing more clearly the ugliness in my own.

My eyes are being opened to realities like white privilege and systemic racial discrimination that I ignorantly thought were long gone. I never had to think about these things at this level.

But now I have a black son. So it's personal.

And now I'm finding myself a little sad how silent and truly ignorant we in the white community are in these matters.

But the process of adoption begins to bring some of these things to light.

I'm convinced that couples entering the adoption process are one of the few people who are forced to face their own built-in, deeply-rooted ideas and stereotypes of various cultures and races and analyze them.

Are we open to a baby that doesn't look like us? Can we love a child of a different ethnicity? And if so, how far away from our culture or skin color are we willing to go? How would our families and our community react?

Even the uncomfortable job of filling out a child acceptance form begins a work in our hearts to ask ourselves very hard, soul-searching questions.

And that's a good thing.

For some, the thought of crossing racial and cultural lines comes extremely easy. They might come to adoption with the initial hopes of adopting transracially.

For some like me, it was a little larger expanse to cross. I considered it, and I admired it in others' families. But I wasn't quite ready to commit to it for my family.

And for others, it will never be considered or embraced, often for legitimate reasons.

Now, I think it should go without saying that adopting transracially is not for everyone, and those who do not adopt outside of their culture or color should never face any condemnation for deciding what is best for their family. It's important that any child have a family and a loving extended family where he/she can feel no different than any other family member.

So how, then, did I cross the line to sign up for transracial adoption?

As one who initially wanted to take on the least amount of risk into my family, it's not that easy to explain the changes that took place in my heart. I can only attribute it to the slow, patient, transforming work of the Holy Spirit.

I can also look back and see that even though transracial adoption may not have been on my radar screen, God was working sovereignly behind the scenes through others around me and through circumstances in my life. He was perfectly setting the stage long before I would see it:
  • My husband's brother and sis-in-law got permanent custody of five biracial children. We watched the extended family adjust and embrace them, as we felt our own hearts falling in love with each of them, too. We felt ourselves wondering how could we not love any child, no matter their skin color?
  • Through mission trips with Sunshine Gospel Ministries in southside Chicago, our own fears and prejudices were exposed in light of the goodness of the Gospel, which is that we have a Savior who came to call ALL nations and races to Himself! Adoption is a tiny picture of how God adopts those from all walks of life into His family.
  • Over the years, we watched as many of our friends adopted transracially, loving children just as if they had born them themselves. They were so inspirational to us.
  • In our adoption journey just one month prior to our son's birth, we faced a rejection from a birthmother for a caucasian son. It was so, SO painful. But it was through that pain, God helped us to see our calling wasn't to look like everyone else. (Just like it took the pain of infertility for God to lead us to His plan A: adoption!)
I could share so many more details, but the point is that God was working all around me, all along.

And it's only now that I can see how clearly He was weaving all of those stories together for my story.

Adopting transracially feels intensely and unbelievably rewarding and enriching. Jameson has brought color to our life! It has naturally opened doors and given us cultural experiences and interactions that we wouldn't have known otherwise. I don't just see black people now-- I need them! (What does a white girl like me know about helping my son navigate black culture, after all?)

Now that I'm on the other side of transracial adoption, I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness for those who haven't yet experienced it! ha! :) Wow, God's providence is amazing.

And good grief, I couldn't love my son any more if his skin were light. He's mine. Families don't have to match. God's family certainly doesn't!

But I'm not naive. There are certainly going to be challenges to adopting transracially, too.

We've always been the "adoption people." Our five-year old daughter is adopted, too, but because she shares our skin color, we have always been more in control of when we shared about her adoption. But now? It's more obvious that we're THE adoption people. Jameson's skin puts it "out there," which means we get more questions and a few more stares. In the years to come, we will HAVE to talk lots about race in our family and the shameful history between whites and blacks. Unfortunately in addition to all the regular parenting stuff, we'll have to prepare our son for the moments of racial discrimination he will inevitably face in his life.

It's all a balance, though.

Being a transracial family is a unique balancing act in being aware of race and being pro-active about it, yet being careful not to over-emphasize race, as it's only one of many factors that define who we are.

In one sense, we don't want to ignore it. It isn't just skin. I want my son to be able to navigate comfortably between both white and black culture.

But in another sense, we don't want to overdo it. Race is a big part of us, but it isn't the only thing that makes us who we are. We share WAY more commonalities with our son than differences. We're ALL made in His image.

So there you have it.

I still have lots more questions than answers about transracial adoption. I'm certainly no expert.

Some days I find myself looking into my six month old's big, beautiful brown eyes and apologizing for my white-ness.

Some days I worry I'll screw him up.

Some days I don't really "know" what I'm supposed to be doing. (does any parent, adoptive or biological?)

But I've got a little baby boy to raise...And he's got a white family that's crazy about him...And I couldn't be more grateful to the Lord for all He has done.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Adventures Of An Adoption Social Work Intern

My name is Paige and I had the privilege of spending my last semester of college as a social work intern with Family Life Services.  As a Longwood University social work student I was required to complete two internships.  I completed my 180-hour junior year internship with a local Department of Social Services.  I learned a lot at DSS, but since the day I decided to be a social worker I knew I wanted to work in the field of adoption.  Since I wanted to come home to do my internship, my advisor told me about Family Life Services.  She knew about my values and felt that this agency was a perfect match for me and she was right! I went for an interview with J.J. in December and started my internship in January. 

If you don’t already know, Family Life Services is such an amazing adoption agency.  I learned immediately how much they value and care for each and every birth parent and adoptive family.  During my time at FLS, I was able to meet birth parents, prospective adoptive couples, families who went through the domestic adoption process, families who went through the international adoption process, and I also worked with the staff and residents at the Liberty Godparent Home.  Needless to say, I was exposed to every element of adoption and I absolutely loved it!  

Right away Deanne started letting me work more independently than I had even anticipated.  After shadowing her and Rachel on a few post placement visits, I was able to start doing these visits on my own.  FLS works with the sweetest, most caring, Christian families and seeing the pure joy on their faces during these visits touched my heart.  My favorite experience was seeing an adoption placement.  Seeing a couple that had waited so long to be parents, holding their new baby was just amazing.  I wish I could experience placement day every day!  I learned quickly though, that with adoption, there’s also a sense of sadness.  I shadowed Rachel during birth mother counseling and went with her to the hospital several times to see birth mothers after they gave birth.  Amongst the happiness of adoption, I think it’s quick for many of us to forget that while others are celebrating, the birth family is grieving.  This experience was the most challenging part of my internship.  

I had to go back to Longwood three times during this semester for Senior Seminar (even though I would have much rather been at FLS).  This is where all the senior social work students get back together and discuss how their internships are going, give presentations, and turn in papers.  As we went around the room to share, many of my peers had complaints about their internships, but when it was my time to share I gladly talked about my experiences and was happy to state that I had no complaints; I love my internship!  I was always the student in my social work classes to write research papers on adoption and did many presentations about adoption and teen pregnancy.  I can’t tell you how many papers I wrote or how many presentations I did on adoption, but I learned more this semester, at Family Life Services, than I ever did my three and a half years in classes (just don’t tell my professors!).

I will forever be grateful for the few months I spent getting to know and working with Deanne, Rachel, Rose, and J.J. and the birth mothers and adoptive families I had the pleasure of meeting and working with.  I will continue to pray for each and every one of you and will miss you all!

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