Saturday, May 03, 2014

IMHO: Listen and Read; Repeat.

If you're just checking in, I'm starting a series about things I have learned in the adoption process--and since.  I'm calling it IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), because I'm not a professional, I'm not proposing my opinion is always right, and I'm even saving room for the possibility in the future that my mind could change again!  I especially want to process these thoughts in writing for friends and acquaintances who are considering adoption or are in process, but anyone is welcome to read and comment (please be gracious!).

In my fist post, I indicated that I would write next about the discussion of adopting with a rescue in mind.  I'm putting that off for a few days, partly because I realized I wanted to explain some things that led to my heart-learning on that one, and also because I'm pouting that I had the post mostly written, then my computer crashed and I lost it.  [Insert grown woman stomping foot, crossing arms and sticking out lower lip with frowny face.]   So, let's back up a bit:

IMHO, the best thing that adoptive parents can do, particularly in the time between deciding to adopt and bringing a child home, is to be a stinkin' sponge.  I want you to read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on about adopting, especially anything that is about adopting a child about the same age as your child(ren) will be.  Read the attachment books that don't really make sense to you yet, then read them again when you are in crisis 5 months after your kiddo is home.  Read books about the brain and trauma/ abuse/ neglect and how it physically affects children and their behavior, then read the parenting books for kids like this, because a different style of parenting is needed.  Read magazines by adoption agencies full of joy and hope and beautiful, healthy, well-adjusted children.  Read lots of blogs by adoptive moms, but even better: find one who's been home a while, buy her a coffee (I mean, maybe she likes Nonfat Caramel Machiattos, for instance. Just a suggestion.), schedule an hour or two, look her in the eye and say: "Tell me everything--the good, the bad and the ugly," and then really listen.

(It's also OK to come up for air during the long wait.  If you are sick of talking about an adoption that seems it will never happen--that's OK too.)

But sweet friends, here's the thing.  You cannot stop there. I had that last paragraph down!  I was networking like crazy with other adoptive parents, researching my little brains out, proud of how much I was learning.   "Yeah me!  I've so got this." --Jen T, circa June 2010.  But the real and powerful changes in my heart happened when I began to read and listen to the voices of a) people with whom I disagreed, b) birth moms, and d) ADOPTEES.   This mostly came from articles and blog posts, a few books and also attending conferences and watching documentaries.

Sidebar editorial:  I feel like our social media culture breeds quick-reflex offense.  If we stumble on something that upsets us or that we disagree with, we feel the need to LOUDLY proclaim how wrong it is--usually how wrong THAT PERSON is.  May I propose, dear fellow adoptive parent, that we take our fingers off the trigger of that response gun, holster it for a bit, and truly process the article, the post, the status update, the tweet.  Consider the heart of the author, their story and how they may have come to that perspective.  It's very likely we will still disagree, but knee-jerk, outraged responses don't help anyone. ESPECIALLY when it comes to listening to adoptees and birth moms, it's best to close your mouth and open your ears.  (Like the old saying goes, that's why we have one of the former and two of the latter.) WE DON'T HAVE TO AGREE OR UNDERSTAND. But we still should read and listen. If the title of an adoption article makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, read it anyway.

I subscribe to a magazine called The Adoption Constellation (it used to be called Adoption Mosaic), which is for all members of the adoption triad: birth families, adoptees and adoptive parents. It is not a faith-based publication; I think the editors are working to even out the voices heard in adoption circles, to include adoptees and birth moms, not just adoptive parents.  A few years ago I came to an opinion piece titled something like: Why Evangelical Christians are Damaging Adoption.  WHOA...say WHAT?!  "OH NO HE DI'INT!"  -Jen T., circa January, 2011.  My heart started pounding, and my righteous anger was stirring something fierce.  I just knew I would disagree with everything in this stupid article.  But I read it anyway.  The author, who was not a Christian, believed that Christian circles are championing adoption very strongly right now.  So much so that, to this man, it seemed like a fad.  He believed that when people adopt for religious reasons they often had a romanticized view of saving an orphan, and as they pursue this cause, they often do so without adequate training and education.  In other words, they jump on the bandwagon, pat themselves on the back, and are completely unprepared for the harsh realities of parenting a hurting child, and end up causing MORE damage to the children, many times resulting in disruption.  (Quick note:  disruption is when an adoptive family is not able or willing to continue parenting a child who was adopted, and they go through the process of finding a new home for the child.  This happens for MANY, MANY different reasons.)

Did I appreciate the huge over-generalization of all "Evangelical Christians"?  Not at all.  Did he have some reasonable points.  Yep. Did it cause me to take a step back and give more thought to how we promote adoption in the Church?  Yes.  Did I agree with everything he said?  Definitely not. (For instance, I think people who adopt for ANY reason often have a romanticized view.) Did it stir in me a passionate desire NOT to be an unprepared adoptive parent who thinks my job is over the minute I walk off the airplane with my adopted child.  HECK, YES it did. (Was part of my motivation to PROVE HIM WRONG?  Lil' bit.) That blasted article helped me be a better parent.  I hated it, but I needed to read it.

I remember the first time I came across the blog world of angry adult adoptees.  Ya'll, I wanted to vomit in despair.  There are some blogs by adults who were adopted, and they HATE adoption, they HATE adoption workers and agencies, they HATE their adoptive parents and they pretty much HATE all adoptive parents.  I found a few blogs like this, but what shocked me was the amount of comments from other adoptees who felt the same way.   The reasons they felt this way ranged from physical and emotional abuse by adoptive parents to just the parent's inability to make the child truly feel like part of the family.

I DID NOT LIKE READING THESE.  But I think it's good that I did.  It only took that one horrid day of reading, soaking in the pit of hurt and hate, and I've never gone back.  But it was important for me to know that not every adoptee loves their story.  It was important for me to begin to understand the myriad of hurts that adoptees can (and most WILL) experience.  Not all of these adoptees were abused, some of their parents successfully created a loving home and attached with their child and it was not enough to heal their hearts.   LOVE DOES NOT CONQUER ALL.  "WHAT?! Then why are we even doing this?!"   --Jen T, circa October 2011.

Fortunately, I recovered from that trip down hatred lane, and stumbled into the even more powerful world of non-angry adult adoptees who still have hurts, who have not reconciled their entire stories, who love their adoptive parents but want us to know that a loving family does not erase or heal a broken heart.  Even better, some of them have entered into the world of adoptive parents and are helping us begin to view the world MORE through the lens of our adopted children, and LESS through our own AP lens.  I remember thinking that only adoptees who are conscious of change at the time of their adoption would suffer emotional wounds.  But I've heard story after story of older adoptees who still feel a VOID, even if they were adopted hours after birth!  For many (not all) the feelings of rejection and abandonment do not go away.  A grown woman can look me in the eye and say "There must be something wrong with me if my own mother didn't want me."  That LOSS has nothing to do with her adoptive parents.  It is just a part of her story, and instead of running from the pain, the only way I can help my child heal is to acknowledge and ENTER INTO the pain with him.  Every adopted child will process their story and their identity differently.  I just need to be emotionally real and present.

Early in our process, I watched the documentary ADOPTED.  One of the subjects is an adult woman, adopted from Korea as an infant.  I remember her trying to talk to her (adoptive) mom about her feelings of being different, of being the only Asian in the family.  Her mom just kept saying things like: "I don't think of you as different!  I love you!  When I see you I just see my daughter--I forget you are Asian!"  I think we used to be told these were helpful things.  Let's be colorblind!  Guess what?  NO.  Not helpful.  This woman/daughter articulated that when her mom said that, it made her feel invisible.  Or worse: it made her feel like the Asian part of herself (which, no matter what anyone says, is a HUGE part of her identity and appearance, and everyone knows it) was something negative or not as good as being white, so let's pretend she's Caucasian.    I have no doubt that is not what her loving mother intended, but that was a deep hurt that stuck with her long into adulthood.

This same documentary was also one of the first times I heard directly from an adoptee how strongly she needed to talk about her birth family, especially her birth mother.  This topic made her adoptive mom feel uncomfortable, so she would always change the subject or stop the conversation.  Again, the adoptive mom may have thought she was protecting her daughter from dwelling on the painful abandonment, but by refusing to talk about it, the message the daughter received was: birth mom = negative.  The daughter finally articulated--I think it was as her adoptive mom was dying!--that by doing that, mom had inadvertently sent very damaging messages to her daughter.  The daughter said something like: my birth mom is a part of me!  I am a part of her!  Even though I will never know her, she is IN me, and when you make me feel like she is bad or wrong, you are saying to me that a big part of ME is bad or wrong.   "I am going to remember this."  --Jen T, circa January 2012

I could write many more posts on what I've learned from adoptees, and I haven't even skimmed the surface of the birth mom stories, but I have to stop this post before it's a book. And I continue to learn!  Even last week I was surprised by a post on the Lost Daughters blog, but I'm so glad I read it and was able to hear and understand more about how these particular adoptees view life.  I so strongly believe that if we, as AP's are willing to listen to the voices of the others in the triad, it can only benefit our children and our families.  Each of us has to go through our own process of heart-learning and will be most moved by different words and stories.  When you have time, please watch THIS VIDEO of Carissa Woodwyk, one of the adult adoptees who completely rocked my world in a gentle way.  She has a bit of a poetic flair, and this is a reading of hers that is personal and so very important. I think every adoptive parent should watch.

"In my humble opinion, we must LISTEN."  -Jen T. circa May 2014

Have you learned anything by listening to an adoptee?  I'd love to hear about it.

6 comments:

Becky said...

Jen, you are my adoptive mom mentor, you know that? I have learned so much by watching you and by talking with you. You are a blessing to me! Thank you for sharing your heart. Yes, it's not easy to hear but I agree that we need to listen and consider all different view points on adoption. It will only make us better APs to our kids. I was blown away by Angela's adoptive mom in Closure. I literally paused the movie and asked God to make me like her. It was about the part where she walked over and hugged her daughter's bio mom with a sincere look of love on her face. I also learn so much from Tara Livesay about being open to open adoption. I used to be deathly afraid of that idea and now I see how life changing it is for the kids and for their first families. Basically what I am learning is that we, as our kids' parents NEED to get over ourselves and be willing to put ourselves out there for our kids' sake. Which means we NEED God!! That's my IMHO. I know I have TONS to learn but I have to say that my learning curve in the last year has gone through the roof! Love you friend.

Becky said...

Jen, you are my adoptive mom mentor, you know that? I have learned so much by watching you and by talking with you. You are a blessing to me! Thank you for sharing your heart. Yes, it's not easy to hear but I agree that we need to listen and consider all different view points on adoption. It will only make us better APs to our kids. I was blown away by Angela's adoptive mom in Closure. I literally paused the movie and asked God to make me like her. It was about the part where she walked over and hugged her daughter's bio mom with a sincere look of love on her face. I also learn so much from Tara Livesay about being open to open adoption. I used to be deathly afraid of that idea and now I see how life changing it is for the kids and for their first families. Basically what I am learning is that we, as our kids' parents NEED to get over ourselves and be willing to put ourselves out there for our kids' sake. Which means we NEED God!! That's my IMHO. I know I have TONS to learn but I have to say that my learning curve in the last year has gone through the roof! Love you friend.

Crystal Kupper said...

LOVE DOES NOT CONQUER ALL. Oh boy, did you say it! Even as a teenager, I remember thinking this. Because no matter what we did, no matter how "perfectly" we loved my sisters, they were broken. Completely not their fault, but their hearts, bodies and minds were SHATTERED from years of abuse, and in one of their cases, genetics.

I have met so many people who treat adoption like an Oprah-written fairy tale, and whenever I try to tell them the truth, they call me a killjoy and quote verses about how Christians are supposed to be joyful all the time, patient in affliction, etc. Yes, patience is great, but so is calling it like it truly is and not sugarcoating the truth! I believe Jesus was pretty famous for that.

I was raised with a very real view of adoption. It can flat-out suck, it can tear families apart, it can change the trajectory of an entire last name for a lifetime. And yet here I am, grown and considering adoption, advocating in every way I know how. Because life is a double-edged sword; beauty and pain flow freely in the same cup, and there's just no way of avoiding that.

If I could give one piece of advice to new adoptive parents, it would be to dive into the ugly. Because it's only when you completely lose your held breath and your lungs about explode that you truly learn to swim.

Wendy said...

Hey, Jen, lovely article!!! I love how you write. To be sure, it is so important not to waltz into adoptive parenting blindly. It's vital to be prepared. One thing I would add, however, is that sometimes, often times even, adoptive parents need to take a BIG step back from all the reading and analyzing, and researching and just listen to their hearts and their instincts as parents--not necessarily as adoptive parents. Merely as parents. Period. Focus on your own child and who he/she is as a human being not an adopted human being. Because, the truth is, that day in and day out, you're just being a mom to your child. You're doing the nitty gritty parenting stuff that has nothing to do with your child's nationality, color, race, or adoptive status. Sometimes it's just not all about adoption.

Additionally, for every adult adoptee who speaks out about their experiences--the ones who feel, for whatever reason, led or called to do so, there are thousands of others, like my own adult daughter, who are just living their lives. Adoption does not define who they are. My point in bringing this up, is that moms and dads who are parenting younger children, again, need sometimes to step back and not worry so much about how they might screw up their children's lives by not following this book or listening to that expert. If I have learned anything in my 22 year journey as an adoptive parent, it's that I am my children's mom first and foremost, not their adoptive mom. That the bulk of my parenting and decision making comes from believing in my best instincts as a parent. If any of that makes sense! Good luck with the rest of your series. I look forward to reading it (especially the rescue stuff, because, boy, do I have some strong feelings about that!)

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Loraena said...

Before our first adoption I read everything I could get my hands on. Back in 2005-2006 there was MUCH less evangelical christian adoptive literature/conversation, etc. It was definitely growing WHILE we were in process (2007), but BLEW UP between our first adoption and as we started our 1st second attempt (2007-2010). I remember going to Powell's circa 2005 and the ONLY book they had on adoption that looked remotely interesting to me (next to adoption for dummies, etc) was a birth-mother memoir, Waiting to Forget. It was heartbreaking and so good for me to read. In fact, one of the reasons we chose the agency we worked with back then was because I could see they prioritized care for any expectant mothers they interact with regardless of whether or not they make an adoption plan (and they offer lifetime post-adoptive support for the entire triad).

Jennifer Lauck is also an author VERY worth reading. She is an adoptee and has a series of heartbreaking memoirs. Her first, Blackbird, is a PHENOMENAL book that tells about the illness and death of her adoptive mother and the horrific fallout from it. Still Waters also revolves around her adoptive family as she grieves her (adoptive) brother's suicide. Her most recent book, Found, is the one I haven't read yet (on my list). But I understand it's the story of her search and reconciliation with her birth family.