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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