March 30, 2012

Spoiler Alert

Part one, part two, part three

At some point during that emotionally charged time after the baby was born but before any steps had been made toward his eventual placement, I found myself standing with the social worker in a quiet hallway. Somehow we got onto the topic of those reality shows that follow expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents around from pre-birth matches to placement.

"It's hard to think of a worse time to have cameras around," I commented.

"Oh, I know. Our agency has gotten called more than once trying to get us to participate in those shows," she said, the disdain in her voice making her opinion clear.

I've said my piece about those shows before, but one of the many things about them that sets me to grinding my teeth in rage--and among the things the social worker and I talked about that day--is their framing of relinquishment/placement as the conclusion of a story. In the interest of shoehorning real-life events into a dramatic storyline, the show-makers nearly always present it as a conflict of, "Will the birthmother go through with it? Will the adoptive parents get that baby they so deserve?". (Biased, unethical language intended there.) The placement, then, serves as their tidy, happy ending.

There are so many damaging ripples from shows telling the story that way, over and over. (Imagine for a moment if instead the happy ending were the new mom finding a way to parent after all.) But the least of them is simply that it is not an open adoption. That is the tip of the iceberg, the starting point for a lifetime of exploring, working on, experiencing the richness and challenge, grief and joy of openness in adoption. Don't show me a made-for-tv storyline culled from a several weeks of a pre-birth match and placement and tell me that is an "adoption story". You haven't shown me the story of an adoption. You've only shown me the events leading up to the very start of an adoption, one in which relationships will grow and change, and in which the most important person--the adoptee--has yet to gain a voice and active role.

In order to keep this story from falling into that same trap, allow me to spoil the ending-that-is-not-really-an-ending for you before continuing on. Meet our newest son, born to Shamika and Derrick. He turned two weeks old yesterday. This isn't just a story about how our family became his. It's the first chapter of a lifetime-long tale that is only just beginning.

March 26, 2012

Turning Point

Part one, part two

My conversation with the agency social worker was on a Friday. She asked us to write a short letter introducing our family and our values around openness and send it to her by Monday, when she'd be meeting next with the couple.

Over the weekend I stole away to our bedroom for a few hours to write the letter and put together some photos of our family more recent than the ones the agency had on file. This is a strange exercise even under the usual circumstances, trying to capture honestly in one page what is unique and true about your family without "selling" or veering into cliche, all to an unknown reader. Writing it in one day instead of mulling over every word for weeks made it all more more weird.

I emailed the pictures and letter to the agency on Sunday evening and settled in for the expected few days' wait to hear the couple's decision. Monday went by. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. The longer the week went on the more swiftly I drifted from being interested but still fairly aloof to being emotionally invested in the outcome, hoping that by some small chance we were the right family for this particular couple. By Friday I was in that ridiculous emotional place of trying to will the phone to ring ring please just ring already before the weekend started. I just wanted to know, one way or the other.

I thought a lot about this couple I didn't know, in impossibly hard circumstances, trying to make what I imagined must be a strange and difficult choice. I didn't begrudge them taking all the time they needed. But, oh, was I ever distracted over the weekend.

The next Monday, in the middle of a conference call for work, I saw the agency's phone number pop up on my cell phone. I debated letting it go to voice mail for a ring or two, until my overwhelming need to know made me excuse myself from the meeting.

After perfunctory pleasantries, the social worker got to the point. Through their different contacts, the agency had pulled together five potential adoptive families for the expectant parents to consider. Out of those five, they had decided they wanted to meet Todd and me.

They had picked us.

Part four

March 21, 2012

Bigger Still

Part one

It started with an email.

The agency we used for Mari's adoption was working with two local expectant parents who were considering adoption.  Because of some of the significant challenges in this couple's life, none of the families in the agency's pool were comfortable being shown to them. So the agency was taking the unusual (for them) step of reaching out to some of its old clients to see if they could gather some potential adoptive parents for them to consider.

I read the message right as I was heading out the door for a run, expecting to brush it off. Instead it stopped me in my tracks. Something about it felt...familiar, almost.

I chalked up the feeling to having not read the email closely enough. Surely there was some factor I'd missed that would make it absurd for us to even consider. But all through my run it wouldn't leave my mind. Once home, I thrust my iPod into Todd's hands, the email opened on the tiny screen. "Just read this," I said, with no preamble. "Then tell me what you think."

A few minutes later he looked up at me. "I think this is exactly why we do adoption," he said quietly.

That evening I wrote back to the social worker. "We're interested in talking to you more," I told her. Even with that noncommital wording I hesitated for a long time before clicking "send". We're just not the sort of people for whom things happen out of the blue. It must be foolish to think we might possibly meet this couple's needs, be part of this child's life.

The next day, hidden in a back bedroom of a friend's home while playgroup burbled through the rest of the house, I listened to the social worker tell me more about the expectant parents and the heartbreaking, frustrating circumstances into which their baby was being born. The challenges were big and any open adoption relationship would need a lot of support to be healthy. I understood, on some level, why it had felt like too much for those waiting parents already in the agency's pool. But, still, it felt familiar to me. Not scary. In many ways, it paralleled aspects of our family's existing adoptions. These were challenges we knew (or thought we knew).

Because of those parallels, the social worker thought we and the expectant parents would be a good fit for each other. If we agreed, we could quickly write up a new introduction letter that she'd give to the couple, along with our old profile materials they had on file from Mari's adoption. But we needed to move quickly and we needed to be sure--the couple had already selected one set of prospective adoptive parents only to have them become overwhelmed and decide they couldn't continue. She did not want to put them through that again.

This time I didn't hesitate.

Part three

March 16, 2012


Last year I was intrigued by the idea of choosing a single word for the year--something to set the tone, or be inspiration, capture what I thought the year might be about. It was something I had seen a number of other bloggers doing, an alternative to the usual laundry list of  New Year's resolutions. They are often inspriational, lovely word like BREATHE or CREATE.

I picked the word TRY for 2011. I kept it to myself, a private challenge to step outside my comfort zone a little as opportunities arose. Among other things it got me to my first blogging conference, BlogHer (so big! so many people!), and to the Open Adoption Symposium in Virginia, both places where online friendships cemented and grew into something even more wonderful in that offline context.

As 2012 approached, I wanted to choose a new word. I sat with the idea for a few days until one word kept coming to mind again and again.

It felt like the moment to think beyond my usual routines and ruts, to push myself further--even if just a little bit--in my job, my projects, my family life. Not necessarily to try something new, but something more. BIGGER carried this exciting sense of expansion it for me.

It started off a little practical:

We finally went out and bought the new (to us) bigger car we had been dithering about for months--nay, years. The minivan that would let us take the road trips and do the activities with the kids' friends we had been wanting to do. To buy it, we used the funds we had set aside for a possible third adoption. It was a step into embracing and loving our lives and our family right now, just as it is, putting to rest the wondering and worrying over adding to it.

I began working on some new ideas at my job. I started sketching out what it would take for our family to spend a year overseas when the kids are a little older. I let a local friend convince me to join her in a proposal for a continuing ed workshop for therapists about adoption--something way outside my comfort zone--because, BIGGER. I've been working until the wee hours on setting up Open Adoption Bloggers at its own site to let it expand beyond the confines of my blog. (Tell them how great it is, Racilous!)

It was all very invigorating and exciting.

And then BIGGER took a very interesting turn...

Part two

March 14, 2012

Open Adoption Roundtable #35: Grandparents

The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community. You don't need to be listed at Open Adoption Bloggers to participate or even be in a traditional open adoption. If you're thinking about openness in adoption, you have a place at the table. The prompts are meant to be starting points--please feel free to adapt or expand on them. 

Write a response at your blog--linking back here so your readers can browse other participating blogs--and share your post in the comments here. Using a previously published post is fine; I'd appreciate it if you'd add a link back to the roundtable. If you don't blog, you can always leave your thoughts directly in the comments.

We've written about siblings in open adoptions twice before. Now we're going to look in the other generational direction: grandparents. While the legal processes of placing and adopting focus on the triad of first parents-child-adoptive parents, the reality is that adoption involves extended family, too. So this time we're offering up a nice, broad prompt to reflect on the influence of, relationships with, and experiences of grandparents in our open adoptions (whichever grandparents you choose).

Write about grandparents in open adoption.


Excerpts from the responses:

March 06, 2012

Meet Harriet of See Theo Run

Our latest interviewee in the open adoption blogger series is Harriet, author of See Theo Run. She describes her blog as her "space to muse and explore the intricacies of our open adoption and life as a mixed race family." I've appreciated the thoughtfulness of Harriet's writing and her ongoing efforts to understand what it means to be an adoptive parent in an open adoption. The photos of her adorable, rambunctious son certainly don't hurt, either! Read on to learn more about Harriet and her blog.

Tell us about yourself and your connection to open adoption.

How much time do you have? Ha ha. My husband Mark and I adopted our son, Theo, now two-and-a-half, at birth in an open adoption. We met his birthparents via an agency two months before he was born and have had an ongoing, in-person relationship ever since. We have met all sides of Theo’s birthfamily right up to grandparents. Our relationship has been both wonderful and emotionally challenging. On the upside, I feel privileged to know Theo’s biological family; I’ve gotten to know them as people as well as learning about their Jamaican heritage. On the downside, adoption has taken all of us to some dark places. Despite this, I would characterize our relationship as authentic and caring. I should add that we are a tri-cultural Canadian family: I’m white, my husband is Filipino, my son is Jamaican, and we live in multicultural Vancouver.

What has been the most unexpected or surprising aspect of open adoption so far?

March 02, 2012

Wherein My Daughter Bends the Universe to Her Will

Mari turned four years old last month. She has been very, very into baby dolls for quite awhile now, rarely leaving the house without one of her wee ones along with her.

Over the holidays, though, we went to a few parties where older girls had brought their new Amer.ican Girl dolls to show off. And suddenly Mari was utterly smitten with the idea of having a big kid doll. Not just any big kid doll. Oh, no--out of all the dolls we met in December, she wanted the Amer.ican Girl doll named Julie. I don't even think she understands the concept of brands, she just knew from the depths of her little three-foot tall self that this Julie would complete her life. (Julie was, I think not coincidentally, the first one of these dolls the older girls allowed Mari to hold. She imprinted on her like a baby duck in reverse.)

Now, there was no way on God's green Earth that I was buying her a Julie doll as a birthday present. My reasons were several.
  1. Marian is four years old.
  2. Her love affair with Julie would likely be over before the daffodils bloomed. 
  3. American Girl dolls cost approximately a bazillion dollars.
  4. Julie looks like this:
    With her straight blond hair and iconic whiteness, it's not exactly the doll I'd choose for Mari to fawn over during her formative years.
Some family members asked me what Mari wanted for her birthday, but I didn't bother to tell them about her Julie lust lest someone encourage her. But I heard about Julie several times a day, every day for weeks. "Is it my birthday? How many days until I get my Julie? Did you know I'm getting a Julie? Julie will be in a bag and I will play with her. I'm getting a Julie for my birthday, Mama. I love Julie." Julie, Julie, Julie.

"You're not going to get a Julie," I told her. Sympathetically but firmly.
"Did you know I'm getting a Julie for my birthday?" she answered. You have to give her points for being tenacious.

Several months ago I had snapped up a Kar.ito Kids Lulu doll at a ridiculous discount on Zulily. Anyone who has tried to find quality dolls not just with brown skin but also with tightly curled hair will appreciate how great Lulu is.

I'd been hanging on to it until she was older, but after seeing how excited Mari was about big kid dolls, it seemed like the right moment for Lulu. At the birthday dinner, with our extended family gathered around the table, Mari unwrapped the big box and saw Lulu's face peeking out. She gasped, then gave a little scream of joy. Lulu was brought out and celebrated and hugged. It was delightful.
Then my brother and sister-in-law handed her their present. Their big, boxy present.

I'm sure you see where this is going.

Oh, yes. JULIE. They gave her a freaking Julie.

They had no idea she wanted Julie. None. They could not tell you a thing about the Amer.ican Girl dolls' mystique or how much they cost or about the 1,000 different AG dolls there are available to buy. (Nor did they check with me before giving her such a big present--bad form!) No, they were mere pawns in Mari's successful attempt to bend the universe to her will.
My brother and his wife were visiting an out-of-state friend around New Year's and telling him about their niece who loved baby dolls. "I won this doll at work," he said, pulling a box out of a closet. "It's not a baby. Do you think she'd like it?" They said sure, he handed it over, and they left happy they didn't need to bother shopping for her birthday, not knowing they held Mari's little dream in their hands.

And that is how Mari got her Julie. And how poor Lulu was pushed out of the spotlight in record time. And how I started to worry what else Mari was wishing for.
PS As if to rub it in, Julie came with a little booklet titled, "How to care for your doll with straight hair."

March 01, 2012

New OAB Blogs - February 2012

The open adoption blogs list grows every month and sometimes additions get lost among all the awesomeness. Hopefully these monthly round-ups of the new blogs from the month will help folks connect.

Here are the blogs added in February:

Open Adoption4ALL: Before I was a wife and mother, I was a BIRTH MOTHER, first. I have always tried to be open with my story, in the hopes that it might help to generate a more comfortable dialogue about OPEN ADOPTION in every American household. Without the conversation, there can be no understanding.


Living Our Miracle: By the grace of God, we are living our miracle with the blessing of our son through embryo adoption. We are navigating the complexities of an open donor relationship with divorced donors who are parents to triplets.


The Ranunculus Adventures: One writer's blog about life - the good, the bad, the awkward. Topics include everything from adoption to pop culture, writing to wedding flowers, recipes to faith, and stories to make you laugh and cry. And maybe pee your pants a little.
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