Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Getting side-tracked

So what do you say when you meet someone who is excited about starting the adoption process?

I remember being so giddy about our decision, too, and I see my (old) self in all the new adoptive-parents-in-waiting - not necessarily with the same problems/concerns, but in the memory that we all follow bunny trails in the beginning - not understanding the road to knowledge; certainly not knowing what it looks like or where to find it. To reminisce about my thoughts during those days makes me wish there was a way to let people see into the future.

Couldn't see the forest for the trees, when we decided to adopt.

So many details to work many options on which to become many issues that somehow work their way into the foreground of things for potential adoptive parents to be immediately concerned about (or at least that's how it seems).....that we just truly don't ask the more important questions that would give us pause to consider exactly what we are getting ourselves (and a future child) into. And I would dare say that pre-adoption 'counseling' isn't set up for the task of helping potential adoptive parents really delve into difficult topics and examine our lifestyles and thought processes to see whether we are even minimally prepared for the tasks we are so excited about taking on.

One particularly common example of this side-tracking plays out as such:

Jane and John Doe decide to adopt. Once the decision is made, they immediately know without a doubt that it 'feels' right and nothing is going to stop this dream from becoming reality.

Nosey neighbor #1 asks if they are ever going to have any children of 'your own'. Oh, and wonders if they'll know anything about the child's 'real mother'.

Meltdown/indignation occurs, followed by the previously-coached response of, "The child will be 'our own', and since we'll be the ones changing the diapers, we'll be his/her 'real' mom/dad". [insert 'angry-duh' look]

I give this example not to say that APs are expected to answer to every whim and nosey question from people who literally don't care about the answer to the nosey question they just asked, but as a segway to point out the end result of this phenomenon of needing to validate one's own decision to adopt: we leave our brains and emotions little energy to ponder things that will really matter.

My opinion, three or so years past giddy/need validation stage: Who cares. When I see APs/potential APs repeatedly discussing matters such as the fact that our children *are* 'our own' - I often wish I had an encouraging, thought-provoking way to say, "hey, don't worry so much about that! Instead, remember that your child *does* have another mother, and always will have! Spend your time thinking about how you can honor that connection instead of spending one minute caring about comments from those who will never care like you do!" Or, "Are you prepared to accept the fact that this child will *not* be 'your own'? Instead of defending ourselves to nosey neighbors, we could ask ourselves questions such as -

Are we prepared to accept that our lives are always going to be one big question mark to much of society?

Are we prepared to accept the fact that adoption = loss for so many people the world over?

Are we prepared to accept the fact that it is more important to validate our children's experiences instead of worrying so much about others' perceptions of us?

Are we willing to be our child's ally, even if doing so takes us way out of our previous comfort zones?

Are we fooling ourselves when we survey our family, our friends, our surroundings and come to the conclusion that we are in a good position to raise a child of another race? (Answer to that is probably 'yes'!)

Sometimes people get side-tracked with the costs of adoption. Can we afford to adopt? How can we raise the money? Internet auctions and donations and garage sales and spaghetti dinners and...?? Again, I'm not saying money isn't a valid concern. Despite reports of all the rich, white APs out there, I've yet to meet any of them. But when thinking about money and adoption - it's too bad that potential APs can't see ahead or outside of ourselves enough to ask, why must it cost so much? Am I okay with the fact that I nearly had to sell my soul in order to be able to afford the cost of a child who supposedly needs a home? What doesn't completely add up, here?

Or how about becoming side-tracked by our own family 'business'? "My Dad, bless his heart, is a racist! He's even referred to black people as 'baboons'. How can we talk to him so that he understands he can't say these types of things around our future child?" Well....that's a huge problem, to be sure. Instead of hoping and betting on the notion that dear ol' Grandpa might come around once he sees his cute new [insert race] grandchild, and looking all over for examples of how this exact thing has occurred in other IA families and everything turned out just peachy, it's time to seriously consider what life is going to be like for the AP and especially the TRA (I'm guessing...hell?), regardless of whether or not Grandpa 'accepts' the new baby.

Another off-track (guity on this one, and it's really no huge secret): Potential transracial AP looks around and sees very little in the way of 'culture' in his/her background/family/home/community. Instead of spending hours Googling for 'Asian boy dolls' (btw, don't bother...I don't think you'll find what you're looking for) or purchasing cheap, mass-repro cultural items off the internet, start thinking about whether or not this is going to be a good situation in which a child of color could thrive.

I write all of this not to mock fellow APs or to minimize the struggles and questions that arise during the early adoption process - but the lack of understanding of reality (my own and that of those following behind me) really makes me sad. I also feel that agencies betray their own clients (and the children-to-be-adopted) when they let us slide by without understanding - but that's a topic for another post.

So the question is, when people ask advice about these topics that are kind of side-tracking from reality, what is the proper answer for them? I hate to dash anyone's happy hopes and dreams just like most of the rest of you out there. How to slip in a dose of reality without looking like an 'angry AP'? ;)


At 8:55 PM , Blogger Kahlan said...

Oh wow. What a great post. I think I agree with everything you wrote, except the part about "Are you prepared to accept the fact that this child will *not* be 'your own'? Maybe I am not understanding? Pookie is very much my "own", but he is also very much his first mother's "own". I am at a much different place than I was pre-adoption. Shoot, when we first started I wanted NOTHING to do with open adoption and once we actually did our homestudy, we were BEGGING for one! ;)

We are planning on adopting again and I can honestly say that before this adoption, we asked ourselves all of the questions you posed. Now that we have our son home, they are so much more poignant though.

So, how can I proceed with adopting again knowing all the loss/grief that occurs? We are doing everything we can to have the most ethical adoption possible. I will admit that I am adopting out of purely selfish reasons; I cannot have biological children and I want to be a mother. We searched and searched for the most ethical program out there. I do think that most adoptions need not ever occur, but I *also* think that some do. I do believe in the case of our son that it was the best thing for all involved (and I won't get into his specifics here).

I'm rambling, but I love this post and the previous one. It's funny because YOU are the one who convinced me to adopt a second and now you have me questioning it again. ;) I guess it is good that I am at least thinking about these things.

At 11:48 PM , Blogger zoe said...

K -

First - I think you have covered many of the 'issues' that we see people struggling with a LOT better than most people do - and you really tried to do it *prior* to adopting...and I think you have done a truly good job in preparing yourself for this journey.

Regarding the issue of 'my own' - I feel that the need to validate the adoption decision is a side-track to more important issues, and I think ALL of these conversations we witness that have to do with 'positive adoption language' are a part of that. I don't know that I can do a good job of clarifying or give you specific examples, but I'll try...specifically regarding the 'my own' and 'real' terms :)

I think a lot of potential APs and parents-in-waiting do *not* want to spend too much time acknowledging the fact that transracial adoptees (all adoptees, for that matter) have a history, a life before their adoption 'rebirth'. That's why we are easily convinced to change the chilren's names, it's why we can't wait for the 'amended' birth certificates that show *us* as the parents, we call our children's parents 'birthparents'/birthmother or worse, "BM", we take ownership of their birth information and decide how and when it should be metered out to them, we do all of these things (and more) in an attempt to declare the child 'our own', when the reality is that we might be doing some of these things in an attempt to erase the fact that this child is *not* 'our own' (according to the literal/common definition of the phrase). And I do think some APs are not prepared for the fact that many aspects of parenting and being a family, for us -adoptive families - starts out and will always continue on a bit of a different path than that of biological families. So instead of accepting that and preparing, we side-track off on battles of proper terminology.

I don't think my son is 'my own'. He clearly thinks of me as *his own* and I love that, and I love him beyond anything imaginable. But am I making any sense about the phenomenon that happens when these discussions come up? We tend to worry more about defending our right to parent and trying to explain this relationship that we have with our children instead of saying and doing things that honor the fact that they had a life before they met us. This is strictly my opinion, but to me, it's almost impossible for an AP to declare the child 'my own' without the other person getting the message that the birthmother is non-existant/out of the picture/irrelevant and that the child's previous life is erased and all that matters is the family he has now. Because literally, saying 'my own' means that no one else was involved in this relationship between us and our children....and in our cases, that's simply not true...

At 6:00 AM , Blogger Kahlan said...

After a cup of coffee, I now see what you are saying. ;) It's just semantics, because I agree with everything you have said. I do think of Pookie as my "own" son, but I also think of him as his first mom's. I am not want to be offended or "defend" being his real mother.

At 8:38 PM , Blogger Third Mom said...

Zoe,you nailed this. Really great post.

I'm always surprised that adoption agencies don't focus more on the issues you raise. Because I truly believe if the agencies were more forceful in educating adoptive parents, there would be less of the kind of semantic debate you describe.

Thanks for writing this!

At 11:27 AM , Blogger Dawn said...

Oh my god, it's like you crawled inside my head and wrote it all out!!!! (Including the "own" part Kahlan takes issue with.) Our agency did bring some (not all) of this up but you know, when it comes to baby hunger, it's like a lot of us (me included) just can't hear it. I now feel AMAZED at my hubris in adopting our daughter.

At 1:12 PM , Blogger Kahlan said...

Just FYI, Dawn, I didn't "take issue" with Zoe's use of the term "own". I just didn't see how she was using it. Maybe now I am just not understanding you too? ;) I am terrible with words and do that a great deal.

I consider my son, MY son. But I also consider him his first mother's son. I don't have this crazed feeling (anymore) of *needing* to be his one and only. That is how I view my "own", but I see what Zoe is saying now and (of course) she is correct semantically here.

At 3:40 AM , Blogger cloudscome said...

This is exactly why I have pulled out of posting at the adoption agency forum. I just don't know what to say to PAPs anymore. There are so many issues they can't/don't want to see and I don't know how to share my perspective without getting someone offended. There has got to be a way to share the knowledge/wisdom that come with experience, but I feel so clumsy and tongue tied... I am afraid I am too socially inept to speak the truth in love in a way that can be heard/considered/debated/discussed without offense. Not that I think I have the truth or anything. But I wish I could learn how to start these discussions without sounding harsh/judgemental/off-putting. Perhaps this is why agencies don't bring these things up in training. That and the potential loss of APs, of course... But I don't think there would be a whole lot less of good APs if we had these discussions in adoption training. We would come into it with eyes more open, more respectful, more humble and a bit wiser, is all.

At 12:31 PM , Blogger Natryn said...

Hello friends :) I found your blog via Nicole's blog... As a fellow poster on the agency forums, I URGE you to post truthfully and openly about your experiences... That forum makes me sick sometimes with people that just arent getting it..... And yes, Im not even a parent yet, so Im sure I'll be even more disgusted when that happens....

Anyhow, hope you dont mind me peeking in on this blog from time to time.. Its a more educational escape from the "fluffy" stuff.

So are these blogs why we dont see more in depth discussion over there anymore?


At 10:46 PM , Blogger N said...

Yup, I've mostly given up over there, Angela. Don't have the time to be all sugary-sweet and coat one line of truth with ten lines of supportive "so sorry you feel this way" stuff.

Would much rather spend my time having real, meaty dialogues on the blogs and at Soul of Adoption.

Besides, it's no fun being labeled an "angry triad member" (regardless of which triad position you hold). Blech.

At 8:39 AM , Blogger zoe said...

Hi Angela -

Looks like you know the place we come from ;) I still very much care about several people over there (and elsewhere), but I've had it with 1) having my faith questioned as a result of some of my thoughts and 2) having my commitment to my son questioned as a result of some of my thoughts. Some people have a very limited view of what it means to be an AP - and some very scary views on what it means to be a first parent or an adoptee.

Hope you'll be joining us in these other areas. I still check in on what's going on w/ you and others, over 'there'. :)

At 3:48 PM , Blogger Kahlan said...

Hey Angela! Ditto to what N and Zoe said (well, except Zoe's "faith" part, since I know everyone over there KNOWS I am a heathen!) ;)

At 11:47 AM , Blogger cloudscome said...

Hey Angip00! When are you getting a blog? Or have I just missed it so far? I do try to stay up with things on that forum and I will keep posting, but lately I have needed a break. I am sure I will be putting my foot in it again some day soon...

At 12:38 PM , Blogger Laurie said...

This is the second time I've visited your blog and I really enjoy reading here. I, too, feel like you've crawled inside my head and spoke about how I've been feeling.
I've been asked (three times) to be on an adoptive parent "panel" for our agency - basically sharing our adoption experience with PAP's. The second time I did this I was quite blunt about some topics and questioned whether or not they would have me speak again!

Cloudscome is right... there are so many things that PAP's can't/don't want to see... which makes it difficult to speak about the "hard truths" in adoption without sounding like a know-it-all who's too negative.

One other comment about this blog entry:
I've always struggled with the "claiming" language used by new AP's. Terms such as "my OWN" and "REAL daughter/mother". They've never really sat right with me. But, I'll admit that when I first adopted my daughter I struggled with entitlement for a couple of months. I had to learn that I was entitled to defend her, discipline her, and love her fiercely.

I'm glad I know what I know now. I only wish I'd have known all this stuff BEFORE adopting.

At 10:03 PM , Blogger Natryn said...

Hi Clouds! I used to have your blog on my favs but then fried my harddrive! Email me a link,

I have a blog but its closed, its got all things from photography, adoption, and being raised in the mormon church.. Joy! :) I think I need to widdle a topic down and have a blog on it :)


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