Six Things I’d Like You to Know About Adoption {adoption is not perfect}

November is National Adoption Awareness Month in the US.  It is a month when we celebrate and advocate for adoption.  Being an adoptive parent myself, I fully understand the highs and lows of it.  If you are considering building your family through adoption (especially after years of infertility), here are a few things I’d like for you to know.

  1. Even with the joys of adoption, there is sorrow.  You will find that you love your child or children so much that you grieve for their life stories.  You know that they have come to you after a tremendous amount of hardship and despair of their birth parent(s).  With adoption, comes loss.  Helping your children understand and grieve this is part of your responsibility as a parent.
  2. You won’t and can’t have all of the right words at the right time.  People may say things to you that just throw you off.  You usually find the right response hours later and after the moment is gone.  There are also questions and statements that your children will state at the most random of times.  Just be prepared to not be prepared times like this, because they will happen.
  3. Adoption doesn’t stop at the declaration of the Judge.  I’ve said it before, but in many ways, adoption is an evolutionary process.  As your children grow up, they will yearn for answers from you, and they will want to know more about their histories and birth families.  This is natural and should not be taken as a negative.  Your children love you.  They just want to know more.
  4. You will have moments when infertility still sneaks up on you.  Let me give you an example.  Recently, I spoke at an infertility conference hosted by a local church.  I had prepared what I was going to say and tried to stay on target.  About mid-way through, I found myself struggling to hold back tears.  I said, “I would not trade my kids for anyone else’s.  I just wish I would have carried them in my body.”   This statement was not planned.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  These feelings and waves of emotions will stick with you long after adoption.
  5. You have to be flexible and adaptive in your approach to parenting.  As much as family members adore and deeply loves my children, I still catch them saying things like, “You never acted like that as a child.”  Typically, the way we parent is either very similar to our parents or it can be the exact opposite (if raised in an abusive, neglectful or troubled home).  I recall being a sensitive child and just the thought of making my mother cry was enough for me to stop whatever I was doing.  I’d like to be able to parent the same way or have the same expectations of my children, but I’ve learned that I cannot and must not do this.  I’ve had to adapt and be flexible about my expectations and approach to parenting.  What works for my friends’ kids or worked for me as a child, won’t work for mine, and that’s okay.
  6. Adoption is so amazing.  There is a deep joy that dwells within you when you look at the children whom God picked for you.  It is hard to describe and a bit ironic in how you just know that your kids were meant to be yours.  Is it perfect?  No.  Does it always go smoothly?  Absolutely not.  However, it is hard to deny that adoption is an amazing and incredible experience.

In celebration of National Adoption Awareness Month, we should focus not only on children and older youth in need of adoption and adoptive families but also on the authentic and honest sharing of experiences and lessons gained through adoption.

Adoption is not perfect, but my friends, neither are we.

He’s Never Called You Mommy, Birth Mother.

This weekend marked the eighth anniversary of the adoption of our oldest son and Mother’s Day.  Despite the joy this weekend had, you (Birth Mother) were on my mind.  He’s getting so big and growing into a young man; still yet, in my heart, and I know in yours, he will always be a blonde curly-haired and brown-eyed little boy.

photodayafter

The reality is that he has stopped calling me “Mommy”, and I don’t know when this happened.  One day, he was tugging my pants saying, “Hold you, Mommy” and the next, it became just simply, “Mom”.

It grieves me a bit to think about how fast time is flying by, how we are all so far removed in years from when he was little, and how soon…too soon…he will be grown and spreading his wings to fly into the world.  Still yet, through all of the mountains and valleys of raising a boy in this world, you are never far from my thoughts.

The painful truth that hits me square in the heart is that he has never called you “Mommy”.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to write to you every anniversary of our adoption.  I suppose it is the least I could do.  The fact that our adoption occurred right around Mother’s Day is something I rejoice in, but also feel sadness about.  My first official Mother’s Day was just days out from our adoption in 2008.  In many ways, I feel that the timing is God’s wink at me.  In other ways, the timing is so incredibly complex and full of grief.  People may not understand why, or wonder how I could think of you so often, especially on this day, but that is okay.  This is our journey – his, mine, and yours.

Honestly, if I think too much about it all, my emotions get the best of me.  On the one hand, my heart leaps with love at the thought of being his mother.  On the other, it sways in sadness that you are not.  If you did not choose life, if an intervention had not happened, and if difficult decisions were not made, then I would not be here, typing this out, and listening to him laughing at a video in his bedroom.

This, Birth Mother, is the place where sadness and joy sit next to each other; one touching the other, one never too far from the other. 

I want you to know that he is a wonderful little human.  He is kind, athletic, artistic, and enjoys all sorts of people and places.  He does not seem to know a stranger and has no expectations of the types of friends he makes.  I love that about him.  He holds no judgment about other people.  He doesn’t care what skin color a person has, or what interests a person has, he just meets people where they are at.  This is a lesson for us all and makes my heart swell with pride.

He is eager to enjoy time with others, loves to goof off, and is a loyal person.  He is a good big brother, loves animals, and is always thinking of grand ideas that are (sometimes) okay to explore.

Birth Mother, you were so incredibly kind to us even though we had your son.  You could have chosen not to be.  You could have decided that we were your enemy and that I was anything but his Mother.  Instead, you referred to me as his “Mamma”.

Thank you…from the deepest and most vulnerable part of my soul, thank you.

I suppose you will always be in my thoughts, and in my heart on every adoption anniversary and Mother’s Day.  He may not call me “Mommy” anymore, but know that…

In my heart, we are both his “Mommy”.

 

5 Things Every Adoption Social Workers Wants to tell to Hopeful Adoptive Parents {Adoption.com article}

Recently, I wrote an article for Adoption.com regarding five things adoption social workers want to tell to hopeful adoptive parents.  It was really difficult to list just five things, as there are so many facets and nuggets of wisdom that social workers can share with families!

From my experience both working in the field and as an adoptive parent, I narrowed down to the five things that I feel are most important for hopeful adoptive families to be aware of and consider.  You can read the article by clicking on the link below:

5 Things Every Adoption Social Workers Want to tell to Hopeful Adoptive Parents

If you are a social worker in the field of adoption, what advice do you give to adoptive parents?  If you are an adoptive parent (or hoping to be one soon), what is the best advice you have been given by a social worker?  I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

Blessings,

Caroline

Life Lesson: Adoption is Breathtakingly Incredible

I’ve signed a contract to write for an adoption website. I’m thrilled with the opportunity, and challenge of it. I’ve already been working on some stories of adoptive families, and have been moved to tears by their personal journeys.

I do not know a lot. It seems life continues to be a huge learning curve for me, and for that, I’m extremely thankful.

Life is made up of heartbreak. It is also made up of stress, struggle, and loss. We cannot escape life without having to make gut-wrenching life decisions.

We bear witness, either in person or via media, to the desperation of so many. We know there is so much more that humankind can do, and yet, we all get caught up in our own personal battles.

However, if we pay attention to the details, we see how our choices, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and difficult at times, can become a catalyst in so many ways for the opening of paths, the exploration of opportunities, and the unyielding desire to fulfill our purpose that God has set before us.

I’m learning that adoption is more than just a means to become a parent. It is a life-lesson that continues to humble, refine, teach, and expand our resolve that life is more than a singular experience.

Through adoption, we see how our decisions and choices open life-saving, opportunity-giving, and love-healing paths for children. And, in many ways, it offers the same things for us.

Adoption will never be second best. It will never be a means to an end, or a final conclusion to infertility. No. It is so much more than that.

I do not know a lot, but this I do know:

Life, adoption, and that mingled mess in between, is breathtakingly incredible.

It Happened Again This Week {Adoption Day}

It happened again this week.  I stepped into a courtroom filled with excitement, energy, and the weight of the little one I was carrying.  I have been through this before, twice actually, but still I felt a twinge of nerves.  I do not know if the feeling is similar to what a mother experiences right before the birth of her child, but it is the closest that I can relate to.  It is the feeling of anxiousness, eagerness, elation, and relief all stirred up together.  (Of course, it is minus the pain of labor; although, physical labor sometimes pales in comparison to the emotional labor of those expecting children through adoption.)

adoption dayOur adoption of my littlest was finalized during our county’s celebration of National Adoption Day.  We were one of twenty or so adoptions that happened in one day.  I am the mother of three.  I am the mother of three wonderful children who otherwise might have had a rough life ahead.  I am not barren at all.  I am enveloped in grace that pulsates throughout my being.

It is mightily overwhelming to think about, really.  I was never meant to be a parent.  I was supposed to be pitied, look upon with sadness, and harbor a sense of shame.  I was going to make an awful mother.  I was not good enough.  I must have been a bad person.  Parenting a child not of my body would never be the same…..and so on….

These are the thoughts I carried around for many years.  I imagined the enemy hissing and laughing at me.  I imagined that he relished in my self-doubt, and susceptibility to feel as though I would always fall short as compared to other women.

The adoption of my third child is simply an incredible chapter to a story that started so many years ago.  When the world, and all the angst of the enemy, said to me, “It’ll never happen for you.”  Our Heavenly Father said, “It will happen for you.”

Towards the end of the hearing, the Judge declared him to be our son.  When those words rolled off of his lips, I held back a few tears.  Those words are probably some of the most beautiful ones I’ve heard.  To hear them time and again does not diminish how special they are.  In that moment, I thought, “My God, You are incredible.”

In the same breath that I praise the Finisher of our desires, I think about the birth mothers of my children.  All of them held their babies for the first time, and probably felt the same thing that I felt on adoption day; excitement, eagerness, elation, and relief.  Their moments were beautiful as well.  They may have even thought, “My God, You are incredible.”

I know I do not deserve the mercy that has been shown to me through the adoption of my children.  I know that I have been completely and overwhelmingly gifted with them, and that my responsibility in raising children who are compassionate, responsible, and faithful falls heavy on my heart.  If ever a time to relish in the joyful moments of life, this is it.

It happened again this week.  I became a mother of three. I am certainly living a life that went from being barren to blessed.

 

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

It Just Takes One Family

“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.” The National Adoption Center

I have this quote taped to my desk at work.  I believe it to be true; however, it can get discouraging when children end up growing up in the system because families are not found.  There is a push for placing with relatives and for searching out extended family members who may not even be aware that children have entered custody.  I agree that this should be a priority when it comes to finding relatives for children who have lingered in care for too many years.  Sadly, it does not always happen for them.  I know of several children who came into care at age 10 and exited out at age 18-21.  Basically, they grew up belonging to a system, but not a family.

Then, there are those stories that are so incredibly encouraging, and remind me that “we” (meaning those in the field) should never give up on finding permanent families for children.  I know of children who came into care between the ages of 9-12, their biological parents rights were terminated, and they lingered in the system for several years until meeting that one family that made all the difference.

When I did direct case management work I had a girl on my case load who came into care at age 9.  She spent several years wandering between foster homes, disrupting out of some, being promised adoption by others, but never really connecting with any of them.  One day though, that all changed.  She met a young set of foster parents who provided respite for her.  Their connection was almost instant.

A few months after she moved in, the foster mom called me and told me that this girl was making infant noises at the table and asking the mom to feed her with a baby spoon.  The foster mom was not panicked, but wanted to understand why this teenage girl would do this.  I suggested (I’m no expert) that perhaps it is because this girl had always been the mom to her younger siblings.  She never had the chance to be mothered.  I offered that the foster mom should just “go with it” for a few more weeks to see if it subsides.  Sure enough, a week or so later, the girl stopped doing this and went back to feeding herself like a 15-year-old should.  Her foster family adopted her right before her 16th birthday.  Instead of moving from one family to another, she stayed with a family of her own.

Another situation I know of involved a foster family who desperately wanted to adopt a little girl between the ages of 0-3.  They had been matched with a little one, but that situation did not work out for them for several reasons.  I had sent out a profile of a 15-year-old girl who had been in care for a few years.  She was bright and wanted to attend college, but truthfully, the odds were against if she stayed in the system much longer.

After reading her profile, the foster family called me and asked to learn more about her.  Imagine my surprise when they inquired about her!  I think I needed to clarify that she was 15 years and not 15 months old!  After meeting her and being interviewed by the professional team, the foster dad called and said words that have stayed with me for years.

“Caroline, we may not have bought her first Easter dress, or been around for her first Christmas, but we realize that there are many firsts that we can give her.  I will be the first father she has ever had.”

This conversation is one of those nuggets of goodness that I hold on to while working in child welfare.  They did go on to adopt her and the last I heard, she was doing extremely well in school and preparing to look at colleges.  Her dreams are being realized because of one found family.

I have said over and over again throughout my career in child welfare that “it only takes one family”, and I believe this.  This is the reason why the quote from the National Adoption Center is pasted on to my desk at work.  Part of my job responsibilities is to forward profiles of foster children in need of adoptive homes to families who are hoping to adopt.  Just this week, I have already forwarded around 5 or so profiles. As I do this, I think to myself “it only takes one family.”

One family can make the difference in the life of a child.  One family can provide the soil to which a child can lay down roots.  One family can offer the encouragement and structure needed that will start the child on his or her path to college or a career.  One family can show by actions and words what it feels like to be a part of a healthy home.  One family can help to break generational cycles of abuse and neglect.  In the same tone, one family can potentially make a generational change in the lives of children.  And, one family can model the grace, love, and acceptance that we all long for.