Tag Archives: birthfamily

Adoptive Mama. Blogging.

As I write I realized that when I hit publish on this, it will be my 100th post on this blog.  So it is fitting that I return here to a long ramble about being an adoptive mama.

I am lucky to have made the virtual acquaintance of several wonderful, smart, writing moms through this blogging world.  Sarah, author of Standing in the Shadows, honored me by linking laura writes– to her blog the other day– referring to me as someone who writes about adoption. So after weeks of writing only about the important events in Wisconsin, I take this time to think and write specifically about being a mom whose daughter came to us by adoption.

The fact that my daughter came into our family through adoption is on the one hand irrelevant to me as a parent and on the other hand, completely central and significant.  It is not something about which I am explicit in my writing all that often.  I write more about the things I see and learn as a Jewish mom, lesbian mom and as the white mom of a child of color.  In our case, being a transracial family arose in the context of adoption.

Adoption is irrelevant in my parenting life in these ways;  I am my daughter’s mom.  My partner is her mom.  I could not love her more or be closer to her if she had been born from my womb.  She is a blessing, a pleasure, a miracle and a person– full of life and full of challenges and I love being her mom.  Figuring out the big issues, like how to be close, what kind of education she should get, playdates, activities, setting limits, getting healthy food on the table, sleep at night, and keeping order in the house, but not too much order–those are the same big issues that any parent  wrestles with every day and I am thoroughly bonded to my sisters in motherhood, adoptive or biological motherhood– in all of those efforts.

What is not at all irrelevant is that my daughter’s adoption was a radical event in her life– which shapes her world view, her fears, her sense of belonging and lack thereof, her sense of her friendships, her sense of herself in the world.  And my job as a parent is to listen, to understand that, to not deny her experience, but to hear her out and to think for myself and to help her face what she needs to face, help her make sense of that radical event and help her to heal, now and throughout her life, from the hurts and losses and confusions that were part of this package for her.

First and foremost, my daughter had a life before she came to land with us.  She was 12 days old when we met and she came “home” with us (first to an Embassy Suites hotel in the city in Texas where she was born).  She was only four days old when we were identified as the family who would soon adopt her– and we talked to her foster mom every day for the eight days between when we were “matched” with each other and we actually took her in our arms, said goodbye to her foster family and began our lives together.  (We actually didn’t say goodbye to her foster family as abruptly as many adoptive parents do– but that story is for another post.)

Our adoption and her situation, by choice of her birth mother– is that hers was a closed adoption and we have no contact and have never had any contact with her birth mother or birth father.  This was not our choice, nor would it have been our preference.  I went to some extraordinary length to ensure that we could get a copy of her original birth certificate, which we now have so that she can, whenever she asks or when she becomes an adult even if she does not ask– have the chance to decide at different times in her life, about whether to try to contact her birth mother.

But in my world view, twelve days old or younger isn’t too young for the life she had and the heritage she was born into– to matter.  Nor is it too young for the loss of those specific relationships and of that heritage, to be a loss.  In her life, the fact that she was adopted rather than born into her family matters.  And so it has to matter in my life as a mother.

I will say a few other things; one that I have written about and a couple that I have not.  My daughter is one of six children (as far as I know).  She has three siblings who are being raised by her birth mother and two siblings younger than she.  Each of her two younger siblings was placed for adoption after she was– not with us and not with each other.  The family of her younger brother, when they learned of us, chose, as did we, contact with us.  The other family has chosen, at least so far, not to have contact with us.

We learned about the two younger siblings many years after each younger child was born and many years after I had started asking our adoption agency whether there had been younger siblings born to her birth mother.  The ethics of the agency’s decision about the separate placement of each of these three siblings and the complexity of all of our feelings about all of this, are also subjects for another time.  None of this is simple emotionally.  But I know that all three children are in good, healthy, loving homes and the rest is history; is what happened.

Our deep and growing relationship with her brother and his wonderful family is not without effort–trying to blend distance, busy schedules, differences in priorities and all the rest.

But the thing is this.  I can see that her life is different; it is better now that she has her younger brother than it was before.  I see very clearly that having the chance to locate herself in her own mind, as a person in the world who was born to someone like every other human being, and who has biological family, like every other human being– seems to have given her a larger anchor– greater confidence and ease in herself and her world.  I have read  several accounts about girls adopted from China into white families, whose parents also felt their daughters gained this sense of place, of anchor– after a long return visit to/ stay in China.

I know that every child who loses one family and gains another through adoption is different, one from another.  I know of many young people who feel longings for their birth parents, their birth mothers in particular.  My daughter has never expressed that longing, though we have always talked openly and I think very lovingly about her being adopted and about her birth family.  We have talked a lot about her birth mother (about whom I know quite a lot, though we’ve never had contact) and birth father who was less forthcoming with our agency and so about whom we know less.  She has asked several times to see a picture of her birth mother (which I do not have), but she has hedged and changed the subject — when asked if she would want to meet her.

It was when she was about five, that I felt she had enough grounding in biological reproduction and how that all works, and I felt she understood enough about adoption for real, that I told her for the first time that she had three older siblings.  All being parented by her birth mother.  These kin, she longed for.  She learned what we knew of them; their first names.  Their ages.  She spoke of them.  She asked about them.  She asked if she could meet them.  If strangers asked her if she had brothers and sisters she would say that she did, she had three, but they didn’t live with her.

One day, weeks after I told her about her older siblings for the first time, she brought them up while we were walking home one summer night, from a playdate at the home of a good friend of hers, also adopted.  She asked me things about her siblings and their home with her birth mother that didn’t seem to me to be terribly heavy for her, but were important to her as she continued to try to have a picture of her complex, spread-out family.  I answered what I knew and told her I didn’t know the rest.

I asked her gently– a little gingerly, but directly, if she ever wondered why she didn’t also live in their household with them.  I wanted her to be able to tell me this, even if she didn’t know how to ask it.  She smiled a big, knowing smile at me– a look she gives me still when she thinks I am overthinking something.

And her words to me, with a very knowing and final tone, at five, were “Let’s not go there, Mama.”  We have gone there from time to time.  But more than she seems interested in reconstructing the why of how she left her birth family and landed in this one, more than that, she wants peoplefamily— a big moving wave of people– her two moms, her brother and his moms,  her aunt in particular, four of the cousins she has in our two families (my partner’s and mine),  our neighbor up the street and her three sisters, the son of one of my closest friends here and the son of my friend in Wisconsin, whom she refers to as her cousins, our very close Mexican immigrant friends and their two daughters, and their extended family, my friend L. and her husband and their two teenage daughters who we also consider her cousins and our nieces, her two grandmothers, and others.

Do I think she has some big struggles related to adoption?  I do.  But what she seems to have done with adoption and being part of a lesbian family is to say, “I go with this… I can choose who is mine and I choose a lot of you.”  There are big tears at different times.  She has said “you’re not my real mom” while crying hard about something that I  or my partner did that hurt her feelings.  When she is most deeply scared and upset she will cry and cry “I want to go home”.  This is heartbreaking for me and also a gift– I assume she carries a deep feeling of having lost her home and that is one of the things she tries to bring up to the light and heal at different times.

I assume I will continue to understand and to learn more about the places of loss and heartbreak.  I hope I will be not just loving but helpful.  But she has a great mind and has used adoption and our lesbian family as the model for some things we could all use to learn about.  And my guess is she will most likely build a family someday, that hopefully I will get to be a big part of; a family that looks like none you or I have ever quite seen before.

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Tomorrow, last year and open adoption

This is in the category of material that I do not yet know how to write about.  In the adoption world, for perfectly fine reasons, the idea of open adoption centers very primarily around open-ness between birthmother or both birthparents and adoptive family and child.  In our family, our daughter’s adoption was “closed” supposedly at the behest of her birthmother, about whom I know quite a bit– but who I have never met, nor have we ever seen pictures.  We would have welcomed the chance to figure out a relationship with her and I think we still would, though my daughter would now have a say in the matter and I do now know exactly what she would say at this moment in her life.  We have sent letters and pictures and a special necklace early on.   I have this woman, this wonderful woman who gave birth to my daughter and who I know has struggled– often in my mind’s eye.  I believe I would like to know her, woman to woman.  I am a woman who has struggled too.  I think we would have important things in common. 

I know, through the agency that worked with all of us, that my daughter’s birthmother has received and read most of what we have sent.  I say it was closed “supposedly” at the behest of our daughter’s birthmother, because there are things I have learned since that have called into question the reliability of information we were given, but be that as it may, no direct communication between her and our family is hers and our circumstance, whoever chose it or for whatever reason.

Last year, tomorrow, I believe, is the anniversary of when we got another phone call, years after the call that a child was born and she would be our daughter.  In that call, a year ago, we learned that my daughter has two younger siblings who were both placed for adoption right after birth with other families– families three and four (let’s call us family two and birthmother’s family, family one).  We, my partner and I, were devastated that we had not been offered the opportunity to adopt and parent her siblings.  And we said without hesitation when we learned this news, that we wanted our family to know the other two families if they were willing.  One of the two families was also wanting and willing and we were all together within 4 weeks of learning this news.  The family of her younger brother, has welcomed us and we them, into a bigger family.  It has been hard to fathom what my daughter actually feels about the loss of the chance to grow up with her siblings, but it appears to go something like our feelings.  Great loss and an unbelievably wonderful find– her brother.  My daughter’s relationship with her brother who is seven– got off to a remarkable start.  I easily say that yes, they are in love with each other, yes they do look alike in many ways, yes they have many things, temperamentally speaking, in common– and yes both she and he have known from the very start that they are brother and sister and their relationship looks like brothers and sisters look.  I have been fairly out of touch and the children haven’t gotten to see each other for several months– but I plan to rectify that soon, and I hope that on their end, this recent lack of contact is, as it is for us, almost entirely a reflection of a life that moves way too fast and a bit of a reflection tha we all moved fast to get to know each other.  We spent two long visits and three holiday weekends all together in the time between last April 28 and the new year this year.  Maybe our adult hearts (not the children’s for sure) needed this time to catch up with what has happened to us– our immediate family, suddenly grown.

There is great complexity here.  But yes, we have an open adoption too.  I love the brother of my daughter and his two moms (he, by interesting coincidence has two moms).  I need to pick up the phone and call all three of them and get us together.

So I write to no one in particular, but to myself and my own reflection– and to my daughter and her brother and my partner and his two moms,  happy anniversary of this open adoption.

Migration

We had a wonderful spring break.  We went to NYC and although we have two wonderful boyfriends who are happy to have us stay with them in their apartment in Manhattan almost any time, we spent two of the nights in a hotel, with our Lauren and her daughter, Harriet and then later her husband, Sasha and daughter Ida  joined us– in NYC from San Francisco.  New York is so exhilarating, and exhausting.  We went to In the Heights,   a Broadway musical, perhaps only the 3rd of my life and my daughter’s first.  We all loved it.  I bought the soundtrack a couple of days after we returned and my daughter has wanted to go to sleep to the music and wake up to the music every day.  Fortunately I love it too, because we are all singing it and hearing it in our heads, all the time. 

Broadway musicals are created to be compelling and fun and catchy– and though it is the only show she has ever seen on Broadway, I don’t think it is a coincidence that this musical, about the multi- ethnic, Dominican and other Latino immigrant neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York–captured my daughter’s imagination.  The show is about the very complex and different longings– for home, for success, to keep family and culture intact, to assimilate.  It made a big impression on her and on me.  When I asked her if she liked seeing a show, she said yes! (This is not a sure thing with her– she has fears of dark theaters and sudden, loud noise, so live performance doesn’t always work so well for her.)  And when I asked her did she think she would like to see another show like that sometime, she said– “I want to see that one again!”.  I am the same way, reading a poem over and over and over, carrying certain essays and stories with me whenever I travel.  Repetition does not bore me– it reveals and brings depth and richness. 

Although it was Broadway and the things that happen in the show; things that represent very difficult things in real life, are neatly sewn up by the end– I cannot stop thinking about the themes in the musical.  Migration and immigration, the complex questions about home, where is a person at home when you come from a people who have migrated from somewhere  to somewhere else?  Whether the somewhere else is another neighborhood, another city, another country, another language or culture. 

Lately I have thought a lot about the life I have and about the fact of my own family’s migration as Jews, from Europe to the U.S. and then from the Jewish neighborhoods in several different places in the U.S. to a more assimilated lifestyle.  Middle class values tend to teach us that this migration and assimilation are the stuff of happy endings– if the migration is in the direction of being more middle class, better and more able consumers, more assimilated.  I have been thinking about  what was lost.  To me personally.  What would my life be like if my family had stayed in a Jewish neighborhood in Chicago where I grew up, rather than migrating to the suburbs?  What would my current life be like if I had stayed close to my family– and not migrated to the east of the U.S., far from what I still call home?  All those things happened, so it’s what I have to work with but it is still useful to take in that there were important things lost.  When the character Nina, from In the Heights, drops out of Stanford and returns home– I know the momentum of the show was to see if she could somehow return to school– but I found myself rooting for her to come back to the neighborhood– the barrio– and go to school right there in New York City– to go ahead and get that education she wanted, but not get any further from home.  

I am thinking about all of this in relation to adoption, which is, after all, a major migration.  For the young person at the very least, it is a migration from one real family to another.  From one place that was or would have been home and one group of people– however poor or sick or oppressed or unable to parent– a group of people who were, after all, family– to a new group of people who are family.  In our case, the choice made for our daughter required her to leave behind a Chicano family with three older siblings, for this Jewish family of two white mothers where she is the only child.  A Spanish-speaking home for this English-speaking one; a neighborhood full of Chicanas and Chicanos.  For many young people the migration is from one part of the world to another, leaving behind a whole way of life, national history, language, culture– all of it. 

I never quite know how to say what I really think about all this in all its complexity.  There are odd, but too-common ways of thinking about all this, like the many people who tell me she is so lucky to have us.  I hope that as she grows older she will feel wonderful about this family that she happened to get, that is hers forever– as we already feel about her and have, every day since we met her.  But those who are trying to do a calculation of whether our children who were adopted are better off with us than they would have been–mostly , I think it’s really the wrong question.  It is.  She is with us; and like any parent, if we do a good job, that is definitely a good thing; our relationships are real and rich and enormous and messy and interesting and deep and full of successes and mistakes and definitely lifelong.  

In our family, I think, (though time will tell) we are incredibly close and I feel fortunate to have been able to figure that out.  I don’t stop thinking about the fact that these circumstances and what was left behind do matter a great deal to my daughter and to all our children who were adopted– whatever they do or don’t have to say about the whole thing.  These circumstances shape how she sees the world and her circumstances are part of the fabric of the deepest feelings she carries inside of her.  About home, about comings and goings, about connection and permanence and what for each of them is beautiful or interesting or real.  About race and class.  About all kinds of things I am not even thinking of and perhaps cannot think of– things that I hope later she will continue to teach me about her experience.  As I begin to unravel the threads of what migration meant to my Jewish family I cannot help but think about my daughter’s migration into our family.  Her migration away from her neighborhood, language, long history, culture, older siblings and immediate and extended birth family.  

She is wonderful, whole, intact, exuberant, funny and with it– but hers, like that of many peoples of the world, is a big, huge story to have.  With big losses as well as enormous love and a real family– us.  And her story is also my story– as a parent whose job it is to love her and to think about her and the whole of who she is, her history and her present time and the slant of  her particular circumstances.  Regardless of what she does or does not express about her own migrant history.

When I listen to the music (as I am doing right now, more than once a day) from In the Heights I am especially touched by a couple of lines sung by the main character, Usnavi, in the song It Won’t Be Long Now.  He sings about his love interest, Vanessa– “I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from, I’m runnin’ to make it home and home’s what Vanessa’s runnin’ away from.”    There is terrible loss as well as the creation of new and interesting relationships, communities and love in migration.  The longing and sadness about the past is there to be felt, figured out, thought about, respected and honored, as is the sadness but also the sweetness of the present day.