May 29, 2007

Review: "You're Not My Real Mother!"

I should have known not to pick up a book titled "You're Not My Real Mother!". But having read some positive reviews, I expected a sensitive look at the complex topic of transracial adoption.

The book opens with a dark-haired, brown-skinned little girl examining her face in a mirror. With a concerned expression, she remarks, "You know, Mom, you're not my real mother." Her blonde, white mother responds, "What do you mean, my darling?" If only she had stopped there.

Instead, she insists, "Of course I'm your real mother!" and proceeds to make her case by reminding her daughter of all the things she does for her. ("Does a real mother let you put twenty bandages on a bruised knee when you really only need one?" "Does a real mother teach you how to tie your shoes?")

When her monologue finally ends, the girl is able to ask her actual question: "I know you love me, Mom. But why don't you look like me?" Where the book could have affirmed the "realness" of first parents, it instead briefly mentions her birth mom:

"I don't look like you because I'm not your birth mother."

"Who's that?"

"Your birth mother is the mother who gave birth to you. She started your life, and I am thankful to her every day for that."


"Because I get to watch you grow!"

(There is a very tender illustration of the birth mother embracing the little girl as baby.)

The little girl then launches into her own litany of the wonderful things her adoptive mom does. ("You jump with me on the trampoline!") The mother-daughter bond sufficiently affirmed, the book concludes with a declaration that she truly is the "REAL MOTHER" (emphasis not mine).

This book strikes me as created more to reassure an insecure adoptive parent than to address the concerns of an adopted child. Indeed, the author wrote it after a similar real-life conversation with her internationally adopted daughter. "Realness" can be a painful issue in adoption. The first time I hear those words from Puppy I am sure my heart will twist into a trillion pieces, regardless of the context. But juxtaposing "birth mother" with "real mother" only diminishes first parents and adoptive parents. I am Puppy's real mom through-and-through, but so is K. Though we have very different roles in his life, we are equally real. It is good to affirm the truth that familial bonds can be about more than biology, but it does not need to happen at the expense of children's first families.

This book sorely misses the mark. But perhaps it does have a purpose--as a primer on How Not to Discuss Adoption with Your Child. (Lesson #1: Ask questions, but don't wait for answers. Lesson #2: Launch into a knee-jerk monologue. Lesson #3: No need to explore what is behind their statements and questions. Just make the conversation all about you!)

Ages 4-8 years.

(written by Molly Friedrich, illustrated by Christy Hale; Little, Brown & Co., 2004)

May 27, 2007


For the first year of Puppy's life, he only looked like his first dad. K joked a lot that if she hadn't given birth to him, she might doubt he was her kid.

Recently, though, his face has started to take on some of K's features. You can see her around his mouth and eyes, in the length of his face. It's really clear in the most recent pictures of the two of them together.

K mentions the growing resemblance a lot. I didn't think much about how frequently she referenced it, just chalked it up to the fun of seeing her features emerge in her baby or an affirmation her connection to him.

Tonight it hit me: Puppy is the only person she's ever seen who is related to her.

I've always thought about family resemblance in terms of what Puppy would see, both in his adoptive family and in his first family. I never thought about K finally seeing herself reflected in another person after all these years.

I am such a moron sometimes.

May 26, 2007

Why is it...

... that when I mention open adoption to acquaintances for the first time, they almost always bring up first parents who might pose a danger to their children?

Yes, there are cases in which direct contact between first parents and their children wouldn't be beneficial. No one is arguing that. But somehow those situations are held up as the norm.

When I tell them I'm married, they don't warn me that spouses can be abusers and some marriages end with restraining orders. Yet they assume we should approach our relationship with Puppy's first parents with great caution. The idea that K and R are just normal people in an unusual family arrangement is quite a paradigm shift.

I wonder if people bring up Joan Crawford when K and R tell them about us. I doubt it. We adoptive parents get much better PR.

What is so frightening about open adoptions that people who aren't near them automatically assume the worst?

May 25, 2007

Love's Ripple Effect

During tonight's bedtime kissfest with Puppy, I thought about how much it meant to me as a child to know my parents loved each other. Seeing the two people I most cared about treat each other well helped me feel secure. My world--my identity--revolved around them. Knowing they loved each other made me feel safe.

My thoughts drifted to the relationship T and I have with Puppy's first parents. It isn't the main focus of the adoption--Puppy is. But when we demonstrate mutual love and respect, I hope we create for him the same atmosphere I experienced as a child. Working on my friendship with them is an investment in him. I hope he can feel secure, knowing that the parents who created him and the parents who are raising him care about each other. I hope he doesn't ever worry that caring for one set of parents means hurting the other. I hope he can feel good about all the parts of him that come from K and R, because he's witnessed our appreciation for them.

I know I can't prevent all adoption-related struggles in Puppy's life. There's no form of adoption so "different" that it will make all the hard parts go away. But maybe tiny pieces can be a little bit easier.

May 23, 2007

My Brain is Broken

I returned from running a long errand just now to find I left the front door open. Not just unlocked, but swung wide to the world. My laptop sat untouched on the living room couch, so it looks like no one stopped by. But I'm still slightly paranoid that someone is hiding in a closet upstairs.

Then I went into the kitchen, only to realize that the oven was on. From when I used it last night.

I half expect that I forgot to take Puppy to the babysitter this morning and he is still sitting upstairs in his crib.

Good grief.

I blame it all on my overworked brain. We've reached the point in the adoption process of making what are--to me--the most difficult choices. Adoption is a deliberate journey, and each step requires decisions that remove possible outcomes in sweeping chunks. Some we made months ago, by virtue of the route we chose: our adoption will be domestic, relatively local, and most likely a voluntary placement of an infant (our agency does handle a small number of involuntary relinquishments and toddler adoptions). Remaining are decisions about age and gender, drug and alcohol exposure, known disabilities, level of openness. Questions of limits.

I'm experiencing a sense of déjà vu as we circle back though the process again. With each new issue I think, "Haven't I had this internal debate before? Haven't we already made this decision?" Of course we have, two years ago as we prepared for Puppy. But we're finding it is not as simple as parroting the choices we made then. We are the same people at our cores, but with a view of ourselves as parents (and as adoptive parents) that is both more sober and more confident. We have moved to a city and state very different from where we were then. Most of all, Puppy is with us now, and deserves to be considered even though he can't yet speak for himself.

My mind is full, pondering those decisions, questioning the ones we've tentatively made. Those thoughts jostle with mental pressures from work and the everyday concerns of my overthinking self. Last night I didn't fall asleep until close to 4:00 a.m., kept up by competing concerns.
I need to write about our choices--mainly for myself, so I literally can sleep at night. When we adopted the first time, I kept these decisions private. I did it to protect my hypothetical child’s privacy, but more so my own. I was loathe to discuss them with anyone who hadn’t ever had to make them. Even within adoption circles, I find they are slightly taboo. We are quick to judge each other, and I am foremost among sinners in that regard.

When we adopted Puppy, there were roughly 350 waiting families at our agency. K and R once told me they looked through about 200 profiles. I sometimes wonder which piece of Puppy’s brief history kept those other 150 profiles from them. Where was the point at which those families drew the line, said they could go no farther? I do not begrudge them those boundaries, if they were drawn with care and honesty. But I wonder. Which small box left unchecked would have kept Puppy and his parents from joining our family?

It is the difficulty of setting limits. Not wanting to keep ourselves from a now-unknown joy, but also not wanting to fail a hypothetical child and his/her parents by walking into a situation we should have known we could not handle. It is not an easy task.

May 22, 2007

The Entertainer & the Strategist

Your Personality is Very Rare (INTJ)

Your personality type is logical, uncompromising, independent, and nonconformist.

Only about 3% of all people have your personality, including 2% of all women and 4% of all men.
You are Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging.

T (excuse me, T-DOG) is an ESFP--The Entertainer. My opposite in every way (although he's verrry close to being an N). One of the most worthwhile things we've done is learn how to communicate in ways that the other person can actually hear.

Open adoption is a double-edged sword for INTJs. The vulnerability, lack of control, and uncertain endings can drive us near out of our minds. But we're good at sticking to our principles, even when things get tough. How openness makes us feel is less important than doing what we think if right. It's an area of our life in which especially grateful for the ways T balances me out.

(Thanks to cloudscome for the link!)

May 21, 2007

Missing L.A.

Superficial things I am missing about Los Angeles today...
  1. Los Angeles Times Page upon page of insightful, analytical news. How I took you for granted, my Pulitzer-winning friend.

  2. Jacaranda trees in bloom

  3. A use for the freeway map imprinted on my brain

  4. Our neighborhood coffee house Oh, the irony: I've moved back to the region which invented the coffee house, only to find that it's now moved on to drive-thru coffe.

  5. Trader Joes Like I'm relearning how to grocery shop all over again.

  6. Living within walking distance of a grocery store, post office, video store, two parks, coffee house, church, daycare, and my office. Nobody walks in L.A., my ass. OK, fine--it's mostly true. But my little corner bucked the trend.

  7. The way the foothills glowed golden-pink at sunset

  8. Television being accepted as a substantive conversation topic

  9. Lost? Mountains = north

  10. The row of irises planted along our next-door neighbor's white fence

May 17, 2007

Good Night Kisses

In the last couple of months, Puppy has perfected his baby kisses. He is both obedient and indiscriminate--rarely have I seen him turn down a request for a kiss. He'll pucker up his lips--thrusting them as far away from his face as possible--and stick out his head, waiting for you to meet him halfway.

As part of his bedtime routine, one of us carries him around the house, saying "good night" to each room. When we find the other parent, it's time for good night kisses. We kiss Puppy one at a time, then both smoosh in on his cheeks until he laughs and laughs.

Last week, Puppy added another element to the routine. After we give him our kisses, he grabs onto our heads. "Mama! Dada!" he says, trying to push our faces together until we give each other a peck. He can't get enough of it. "Mamadadamamadada!" We kiss each other, then him, again and again.

It's often my favorite part of the evening.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

May 16, 2007


Pop quiz! There is a lawyer in my state who arranges domestic infant adoptions. Her standard "offer" to first parents is a single post-adoption meeting in which they will be allowed to view their child and his/her adoptive parents from across a restaurant. How does this lawyer describe the adoptions she facilitates?

(a) open
(b) semi-open
(c) closed
(d) cruel

If you guessed (a), you're correct!

I've been feeling lately that I need some different labels for open adoption. (Because what the adoption world really needs is more labels.) On the one hand, "open adoption" has been so co-opted at this point that it is used to describe almost anything (see above). It takes some reading between the lines to figure out just what is meant in a given situation. On the other hand, "open" is too narrow a descriptor in some situations. I believe an adoptive family can have an open approach/attitude toward adoption even if they currently don't have contact with first parents--openness in what may technically be a closed adoption.

Many times people try to quantify the level of openness. It's not just an open adoption, it's very open or completely open or pretty open. I'm uneasy about assigning myself a degree of openness. Puppy is still so young, and I think all of us parents are growing into our relationships with one another in a natural way. Also, I think such qualifiers imply a ranking of sorts: more open must necessarily mean better, even though "more" has never been defined. There are so many variables that affect what an open adoption actually looks like day-to-day; what is possible (or appropriate) in one situation may not be in another. And what seems very open to one person can seem much less so to someone else.

Technically, our family is in the category of "open adoption with visits." I've never liked the phrase; it sounds so formal and stiff. And, again, the emphasis on the visits says nothing about the daily reality of how adoption is approached.

"Child-centered open adoption" comes closer. It describes our philosophical core: mutual partnership of parents for the benefit of the child. We try to base our choices right now not on our own comfort levels, but on what is in Puppy's best interests. However, I'm not sure how well it conveys that idea to people who aren't familiar with the term. After all, the general public's understanding of adoption tends to be that it is always in the child's best interests

One label I've seen in a few scattered places is "integrated adoption." I like what it conveys. It makes the openness about more than sharing names or medical histories. It's about integration of families and identity. And it's fairly easy for people to understand: we're trying to integrate Puppy's first family into our family life; they are doing the same with us. That can be through face-to-face contact, but also how we talk about one another, who we include in our definition of "family," whose pictures are on the walls and in the albums. It's not just about the number of visits or calls, but the smaller choices by which we include his first family into our family. I also like that it can be shared with those in closed adoptions or international adoptions who are also integrating first parents into their family identity, limited as that option may be by circumstances or distance.

That term is working for me right now; I may try it on for awhile. Puppy's is an open, integrated adoption. Let's see the aforementioned lawyer try to apply that label to her adoptions.

May 14, 2007

Oh, Baby

Went to a birthday dinner for a friend tonight. A perfect Pacific Northwest spring evening, first barbeque of the year. Kids running circles around clumps of adults as they chatted in the yard.

I glanced over to where a six-month old boy sat on a bright orange patch of blanket in the deep green grass. Puppy had plopped down across from him and was slowly petting his shoulder with a smile. "Baby," he laughed. "Bay-bee."

I think my ovaries flipped over.

I'm so ready to be waiting again.

Review: "Megan's Birthday Tree"

I brought "Megan's Birthday Tree: A Story About Open Adoption" home from the library several weeks ago and keep renewing it in order to have it around just a little bit longer. Puppy is still too young to enjoy it, but both T and I quickly labelled it our favorite open adoption book.

"Megan's Birthday Tree" is narrated by Megan, a young girl in an open adoption with her birth mother, Kendra. Kendra planted a tree when Megan was born, and each year on Megan's birthday Kendra decorates the growing tree and sends a picture to Megan. When Megan learns that Kendra is moving to a new city, she worries that Kendra will forget about her without the tree to remind her.

The story follows Megan as she searches for ways to replace Kendra's tree and ensure that she won't forget about her. It culminates with Megan sharing her fears with Kendra and being reassured of their bond:

At first Kendra looks confused. But then she wraps her arms around me and holds me close. "Oh, Megan, I don't need a tree or anything else to remember you! Even though we don't live together, you will always be a part of me."

And when I see the tears in Kendra's eyes, I know she really means it.

Some things T and I appreciated about "Megan's Birthday Tree":

  • The book has an actual plot. Many adoption books focus on explaining adoption. It was refreshing to read a storyline about something other than the birth and/or placement. This is the first adoption book I've read in awhile in which I was actually interested in seeing how it ended.
  • Megan has complex feelings about her adoption appropriate to her age. Furthermore, they are her own feelings and not just a reflection of what adults have told her about her adoption.
  • The adoptive parents play a very supportive, but minor role. The story focuses on Megan and her relationship with Kendra. As an adoptive parent trying to create space for Puppy and his first parents to develop their own relationships, I appreciate seeing that modeled.

This is an excellent book for any family involved in an open adoption and could be reassuring for children in closed or semi-open adoptions, as well. (Not to say that it can't be enjoyed by non-adopted children, too!)

For children ages 4-8 years. The characters are Caucasian. Megan's first father is not mentioned.

(written by Laurie Lears, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Albert Whitman & Co., 2005)

May 12, 2007

It Might be More Accurate

"Why don't I have a nickname on your blog?"

"I don't know, I didn't really think about it. You can have one if you want."

"I want to be T-Dog."


"You know, like Puppy and the daddy dog. And you can be the lady dog--oh, wait."

"Maybe I should rename the whole thing 'Puppy & the Bitch'."

May 11, 2007

What I Didn't Say

Dear K,

There were some thoughts I left out of the cheerful greeting card that's on its way to you now. Things on my mind more and more as Mother's Day approaches.

We're close now to being a "waiting family" again, as you know. It feels different this time, both the wait and the process in general. Partly because we have Puppy, of course. But also because of you.

When we were waiting the first time, it was all about hopeful anticipation. There was frustration at times, and fear that we might be hurt or disappointed. But over all that was excitement that soon we would be a family. I looked ahead to the end of the wait and all I saw was joy.

It wasn't that I had no idea there would be heartache for you. I had read my books, listened to people's stories. I felt sad about the choices you were facing. I was sympathtic, in my own analytical way. But it was still hypothetical. You weren't real to me yet, nor was your connection to me. I didn't know how hard it would be to watch you grieve and know there was little I could do to help.

The irony, I suppose, is that the only way I could begin to understand the pain you would experience was for you to make me a mom. Even now I don't claim to understand it completely. But I know how visceral my own love for Puppy is, how deep in my gut I feel it when I imagine losing him.

When I look ahead to this second adoption, I do feel the excitement again. The thrill of bringing another person into our family. But alongside that is the knowledge that there will be another you. Another woman I will care for deeply. Another woman I will witness go through a gut-wrenching loss. Another mom feeling left out on Mother's Day. There is no way to look forward to that.

Love to you,

May 10, 2007

Got the Fake Birth Certificate

Puppy's amended birth certificate arrived a couple of weeks ago (323 days after the adoption was finalized--good work, State of California!).

It is creepy as hell to hold a legal document stating I gave birth at Pretty Nice Hospital, attended by Dr. Quick-with-the-Episiotomy. I was there, and can unequivocally tell you that I did not drop a shorty that night.* In a particularly pleasant touch, my name is typed into the signature box declaring, "I certify that I have reviewed the stated information and that it is true and correct to the best of my knowledge." R's signature used to be there.

We have a certified copy of Puppy's original birth certificate for him. A social worker handed it to us with a copy of his adoption file. "Don't lose this," she told us, "because you'll never see it again."

Says who? Open records legislation isn't exactly sweeping the nation, but change is underway. I couldn't find an active effort in California to support, so instead I wrote a general issue letter to the state legislators in my former districts and the districts in which Puppy was born. (I borrowed shamelessly from this sample letter. Here is another example.) It won't change anything on its own, but just maybe it will grease the wheels a bit for the future.

* If you get this reference, you're totally my BFF for the week.


Dear _____:

I am writing as the adoptive parent of a young child in support of giving adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates in California. My son was born in the xx district and we resided in the xx district at the time of his adoption.

When my son’s adoption was finalized, his original birth record was permanently sealed by the court in accordance with antiquated state laws. My son’s birth mother was also adopted as an infant in California and her original record sealed, preventing both her and our son from having complete information about their genetic background. Simply put, closed records (1) prevent adoptees and their offspring from having valuable information about their medical history and biological family, and (2) violate adoptees’ basic civil right to information about their origins. Only adult adopted persons are precluded from accessing their own personal history in this way.

Opponents to open records argue that the "promise of privacy" given to birth parents will be violated if adult adoptees receive accurate records of their birth. The truth is that birth parents have generally not wanted secrecy and have no constitutional right to keep their identities private from their children--findings upheld in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Doe vs. Sundquist, a court case revolving around this very issue.

In actual practice, the identities of birth parents are routinely available to adoptees and adoptive parents. In our case, we filed state form Adopt-310 (Contact After Adoption Agreement) along with our petition for adoption. Signed by both us and his birth parents, it indicated that the names of both birth and adoptive parents were fully known to all parties in the adoption. In light of such an agreement, it becomes ludicrous for my son’s original birth record to be sealed. Yet California law denies him--and any of his descendants--access to his orginial birth certificate.

I hope California will join Alaska, Oregon, Kansas, Alabama, Delaware and New Hampshire in opening its records. Alternatively, the current practice of replacing the names of the natural parent(s) with those of the adoptive parent(s) on birth certificates could be ended in favor of adding the adoptive parent name(s) and date of the adoption order to the birth certificate. This would create a truly amended birth certificate and preserve accurate genealogical information for subsequent generations.

I believe that such changes would ultimately support adoptive families by giving adoptees rights that the non-adopted have always had, removing a stigmatizing barrier that has historically only been applied to adoptees. In this country, we claim to support the best interests of the child in all adoption proceedings. We owe adoptees no less consideration to their interests when they become adults. I hope you will consider sponsoring legislation providing adoptees access to their own birth records.


May 09, 2007

About R

Puppy's dads had a long talk on the phone this weekend. They had been playing phone tag for a month, stirring up my latent fear that we're going to lose touch with R now that we live so far away. Turns out it was nothing but busy-ness, leaving me feeling relieved and foolish. He's trying to schedule a trip up to see us this summer. My fingers are crossed that it all works out.

T (my husband) and R (Puppy's first dad) are two peas in a pod. I've written before about the differences between K and I, the way we are family but not yet friends. T and R, on the other hand, would have slumber parties and braid one another's hair if they weren't such manly men. They played the same sport in high school and both coach it now; R is preparing to enter T's career field; they can talk endlessly about the sports teams of the rival schools they root for. They even look alike. I'll be honest--I'm both grateful and jealous that their relationship comes so easily.

K and R ended their romantic attachment soon after learning K was pregnant, but went through the next several months together. I've always been impressed with how gracefully they dealt with a situation which has tanked many other relationships. R attended childbirth classes and held K's hand through delivery; he was the one who got her help during some of her darkest days immediately after the relinquishment. To the extent that he could be as the one not pregnant, he was involved. In the beginning we got to know them as a pair. Now our relationships with them are separate, at their request. They go out for dinner every now and then, but aren't as close as they used to be. Although, as K points out, they'll always share Puppy.

I took R's presence for granted at first. I was certainly glad for it, but the realization of just how much it meant came later. Puppy is the spitting image of R from his coloring to his boxy jawline (some of K's features are finally starting to appear now). There is a picture of the two of them on our family room wall that always causes people to do a double take. For Puppy to see with his own eyes that this is who he came from, for him as a boy to have his first father validate their connection--I am so grateful those things will be possible.

T and I once heard a panel of teenagers in open adoptions be asked what things they wished were different in their adoptions. Almost all of them answered that they wished they had contact with their birth dads. T and I just looked at each other, suddenly aware of the privilege we had. We can say honestly to Puppy that his first dad is a good and decent man who cares about him. Moreover, Puppy will know that himself. He will have the evidence of R's presence in his life. It didn't have to be that way.

From what he shares with us, R processes the adoption much differently than K. He says that he doesn't think about Puppy every day, but when he sees his pictures he thinks about him a lot. I think he carries a real burden of responsibility for Puppy, wants to feel that things were gained despite the loss. It is important to him to hear how much Puppy is loved and cared for; he often asks if Puppy still smiles a lot. He likes to hear about his size and his physical abilities. He worries that Puppy will resent him one day.

Toward the end of their phone conversation, T said to R, "How cool would it be if years from now Puppy wins a baseball game and says, 'Let's call R and tell him!'?"

"Yeah," replied R. "That--that would be great."

It would be great.

May 08, 2007

Help Wanted

I wasn't kidding about wanting help editing our introduction letter for our current adoption process. It's posted now at Blogger's lame version of a password-protected site. If you'd like to help, send me your email address at heather (dot) PNR (at) gmail (dot) com. You don't need a gmail/blogger account; there is a 30-day guest option.

This will either be a huge aid or a gigantic mistake--we'll soon find out!

I'm currently pondering the idea of all adoptive families being non-traditional families. We'll see if a post emerges.

May 05, 2007

Weekend Update

  1. Puppy can now open the refrigerator door on his own.
  2. In related news, raw eggs are incredibly difficult to clean up.
  3. I've sorted the list of children's books about adoption into some basic categories. I'm hoping to add brief descriptions as time goes on.
  4. A little fuel for the biology vs. socialization gender role debate: Puppy's morning activities included racing cars up and down the slide, trying on various BabyLegs/shoe combinations, building with TinkerToys, pushing Baby Doll in the stroller and "making" a snack in the toy kitchen. I'm just sayin'.
  5. I got an update (vague, for obvious privacy reasons) from our social worker on the potential placement we had several weeks ago. The woman gave birth to a son, whom she did end up placing for adoption with a family she selected. I was encouraged to hear was that she not only spent time holding her son in the hospital, but signed an open adoption agreement with the adoptive family. Some positive things in the midst of a difficult situation.

May 04, 2007

Eighteen Months

Puppy is now eighteen months old. Zero to six months was cute in a helpless sort of way. Seven to seventeen months can only be described as "no brain on wheels." But eighteen months--well, let me tell you. I am loving eighteen months.

With all that life experience under his belt, eighteen months is ready to take on the world. Eighteen months takes off down the sidewalk without you because he has places to be. Eighteen months runs and climbs with fearless abandon. When you turn around in the car to check on eighteen months in the backseat, he looks over at you with an encouraging smile and nod, as if to say, "Great driving. Keep up the good work."

Eighteen months signs "please." When you say, "Use your words, please. Tell me what you want," eighteen months TELLS YOU WHAT HE WANTS. It's nothing short of a revelation.

Eighteen months loves to laugh. He will hold out a cracker for you, then pull it back at the last minute to pop it in his own with a smile. Eighteen months convulses in giggles at any form of hide-and-seek.

At the end of the day eighteen months gives you a hug and waves over daddy's shoulder as he's carried off to bed. When you ask him to "give mama some love," eighteen months puckers up for a kiss.

Eighteen months rocks, y'all.

May 03, 2007

A Letter to My Son

Dear Puppy,

You are too young now to understand the things I am about to tell you, but I want to put them down for the day that you will.

The first time I held you, in awe of how perfect you were, you slowly opened your eyes and looked up toward me. As your mom and dad sat watching, I pulled your innocent face close to mine and wept. You had no idea that your world was about to be turned upside down; you were about to become the adopted son of two people you did not know.

I want you to know that your adoption wasn't your fault. K and R's reasons for not raising you themselves are for them to share with you, not me. But it was not because you were unwanted or unloved. Before Daddy and I even knew you existed, K and R were loving and protecting you. There has never been a time when you were outside of that love.

It was us adults who set your adoption in motion, not you. For now it is ours to shape and nurture and to make as healthy as we can. But one day it will belong to you. It will be yours to hate or love, resent or treasure, discuss or hide. Probably a little of all those things at some point. I want you to know that we realize it belongs to you, not to us.

That is not to say your adoption doesn't affect us. But the feelings I have about not birthing you are only mine. The feelings K and R have about not raising you--they are theirs alone. Even our feelings about your first parents and theirs about us are only for us to worry about. Don't ever think that you are responsible for the things we feel. It is not your job to heal us or protect us.

I cried that first day with you because I knew that you were about to lose something that could never be replaced. Already there was going to be something I couldn't fix for you. No matter how much Daddy and I had waited and hoped for you, we knew were an addition in your life, not a replacement for K and R.

I wish we could make that loss go away, but it's yours to carry. One day you will decide for yourself what it means to you and how much of your identity it will be. Until that day and every day after, know that our love for you is unconditional and beyond measure.



Before Puppy, the central objects of affection in our home were our two pet rabbits. Litter box-trained and spayed, they roamed our house like cats, sleeping away the afternoons behind the living room curtains. At first they ignored infant Puppy, literally running by him without so much as a glance or sniff. But as he went mobile, they could no longer pretend he didn't exist. Squealing with delight, Puppy relentlessly chases after them, desperate to smush his hands into their soft fur. He is remarkably good at catching them. The bunnies now retreat into their gated community (aka the laundry room) whenever he is around, muttering about how the neighborhood is changing.

Yet most mornings, Puppy empties out the contents of the vegetable crisper. Arms full of greens, he slowly takes the steps down to the laundry room to fill the bunnies' bowl for the day. As they nibble he carefully pokes a finger into their pen and gently touches their fur. "Ooooh," he says softly, and for a moment the three of them are at peace.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

May 01, 2007

New Ways, New Wineskins

Three of the biographies of Jesus tell a story of him being asked why his followers weren't keeping up certain long-standing religious traditions. "Because new ideas sometimes require new structures," he replied. "You don't put new wine into old, cracked wineskins. They will burst, and you'll lose it all, both wine and containers. Instead you put new wine into new wineskins."

For more than a generation now, there have been pockets of people trying to do domestic adoption differently. Adoption professionals standing up in front of their peers and saying that the way they were approaching things was wrong. Adoptees exercising their right to search for and bring their first parents into their lives, refusing to choose between their two families. First parents repudiating those who told them they no longer had any role to play in their placed children's lives. Adoptive parents embracing their children's first families, rather than trying to replace them. Agencies viewing themselves as trainers and facilitators rather than buffers between adoptive and first parents. Social workers approaching voluntary relinquishment as a valid reproductive choice instead of punishment for being young, sexually active, unmarried, and/or poor. People from all sides of the triad talking openly about the struggles and joys that coexist in adoption, refusing to play into the happy/bitter dichotomy.

As T and I prepared to adopt, we tried to learn more about the history of adoption in our country. In no small way, our commitment to open, above-board adoption was driven by our revulsion at the practices of previous generations. What we didn’t realize at the time was how many of those practices still continue today, enabled by laws which reflect old values and social theories. Practices and attitudes are changing, albeit slowly; new wine is being made. But laws and regulations need to be addressed as well, or we are simply pouring that new wine into old wineskins.

I believe the standard of adoption law needs to be raised to the standard of what is moral and just. This is partially for prevention. It is natural to equate what is legal with what is moral. I think this is what happens with many adoptive parents and adoption workers, who really are trying to do what is right. In doing everything we can to meet the letter of the law, we sometimes miss out on the larger justice issues and hurt other people without intending to. And stronger laws would also help prevent the truly malicious from manipulating the system. Sadly, there will always be people who try to take advantage of pregnant women and prospective adoptive parents alike for their own gain. Stricter, more standardized laws would mean fewer loopholes for them to exploit.

But I believe revised laws would have a purpose beyond prevention. Those of us who are consciously trying to do adoption without secrecy and shame need new laws as well. We are making the new wine, focusing on the relationships that are the essence of adoption and trying to ignore the old, cracking legal system. But it is always present, reminding all members of the triad that society still views what they living--who they are--as something to be hidden. We need to be supported by laws which respect what we are attempting to do.
  • No more closed records, giving adoptees have the same standing under the law that the rest of us do and proclaiming that there is nothing that needs to be secret about their history. And so that adoptees not in relationships with their first families will still have information about their origins.
  • Birth certificates which are actually amended instead of falsified, preserving a person’s history instead of erasing it
  • An assumption of openness as the norm in adoption statutes, to be backed away from only if compelling reasons exist
  • Binding open adoption agreements to help first parents and adoptive parents alike remain committed to their original intent for the adoption and provide for mediation if complications arise
  • Voluntary relinquishment laws which provide adequate time for reflection and recovery from childbirth before consents are taken and before becoming irrevocable, out of respect for the existing bond between parent and child and the permanence of the decision
  • A requirement that legal rights and responsibilities be clearly laid out and acknowledged by prospective first parents and adoptive parents early on in the process, so that everyone is equipped with the same information
  • Counseling and education for all adults participating in the adoption, so we have the tools to do right by our children
  • Standardized nationwide regulations instead of a state-by-state patchwork, to make it easier for participants in adoption to research and understand their rights

I don’t want adoption reform because I hate adoption (although there are certain aspects of it it’s impossible to like). I believe that adoption, when done well and for the right reasons, can be an incredible thing. I am a proponent of adoption reform because the current laws are cracked and old. I want new wineskins for adoption. I believe we all deserve them.

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