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There is a separate tab at the top that will take you to the posts pertaining to adoption.
November is Adoption Awarenessss month and I invite you to pop over to Grown in My Heart where Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy has posted some facts about adoption. Did you know that approximately 60% of Americans are either adoption, have adopted children or siblings, or have relinquished a child for adoption? I suspect that if you take into consideration those who know someone who is touched by adoption in one way or another you would find that most of us are touched by adoption in one way or another. Certainly I have found that whenever I mention that I am adopted almost without exception someone else I am speaking to has been touched.
Adoption Awareness Month, as Claudia says in her post, will probably never have the media awareness like other issues. I don’t know if there is an “official” symbol like a pink or red ribbon associated with the month so I have claimed one myself.
Two hearts: one worn by my birth mother and the other by my adoptive mother. They are almost identical but, interestingly enough, the one that belonged to my birth mother has the etching of another tiny heart within it.
Two hearts; one baby; multiple blessings.
Someone forwarded me a link to this discussion by two Australian women about a recent apology by the Australian government for past adoption practices toward unmarried mothers who were forced, illegally, to relinquish their babies without ever having seen them.
It breaks my heart to hear these women talk about their experience and the irreparable harm was done to both mother and baby.
While those of us who were relinquished for adoption bear invisible wounds, let us remember that many of those who gave us life carry deep pain as well.
The blessing of adoption can’t erase the fact that with every adoption there are those who have been wounded by the process and these wounds do not go away. Ever.
I’m thankful that we are throwing open the doors and allowing the light of truth to begin the healing.
I am thankful that the Australian government has admitted to their wrong, and that these cruel practices will never happen again.
I have been following with interest, current research about adoption, and the move toward providing access for adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates (OBC). I’ve written in this forum my opinion about the fact that, for most adoptees who were adopted under the closed system, obtaining their OBC is out of reach at this time and possibly for all time.
And I realized something as I lay awake thinking about that. It’s okay; we’re okay.
Whether we have or OBC or not we are still the person we were meant to be; our unique mosaic of experience and heritage is something to be celebrated!
Maya Angelou said “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I believe that is what is happening in the adoption realm as well. We, as a society, have realized the impact of withholding information from adoptees and now we know better. We will do better.
In the meantime let us adoptees rejoice in the life we have been given and celebrate the people have become!
My doctor uses a computer to keep track of almost everything about me. At each appointment he enters new information and updates existing information. A complete history of my test results, medications, and weight (don’t ask about that irritating graph that we review at each visit) is stored in his computer system.
At a recent visit we were discussing a certain issue and, speculating on whether or not it could be hereditary, he asked me what my family history. That can be a loaded question for an adoptee – the answer is rarely simple.
In the past I confess that I have not always been truthful with my response. When I was younger I found it easier to answer according to the history of my adoptive family; I found it hard to admit that I had no idea of what my family history looked like.
For a season, I simply said that I had no idea what my medical history was because I had been adopted as an infant.
In time, as I learned more about my birth family, I was able to provide a snippet of information here and there on certain issues.
I noticed something interesting on my doctor’s computer screen the other day. Part way down the screen where my medical information displays is a simple little check box with the word “Adopted” next to it. I assume, as more adopted adults have begun to open up about their adopted state, the medical community realized that we deserved a category of our own to explain the gaps or absence of a medical history. That’s progress, right?
I read an encouraging report from the Adoption Institute today published by Dr. Jeanne A. Howard, Susan Livingston Smith and Georgia Deoudes. The report, published in July 2010, examines the issue of adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates; it is a “must read” with excellent recommendations.
I loved the last paragraph the most (highlight mine):
“Wherever one stands, this much is clear: The laws on the books in most states do not benefit the vast majority of the affected parties, and therefore should be changed. Modern adoption practice, with its emphasis on openness, honesty and family connections should be the operating model. It is time to end the secrecy that has not only resulted in shame and stigma for nearly everyone concerned, but also has undermined the institution itself by sending a signal from the very start – at the time a birth certificate is issued – that adoption has something to hide.”
Amen, and amen.
Recently, I shared with you the fact that my brother Frank is very ill. Since then, he was admitted to hospital few weeks ago and was not expected to come out.
Frank is my half-brother; we share a common father. I have never met him in person; in fact I didn’t know anything about the paternal side of my family until a few years ago. Frank was the first person I spoke with when I made contact with that part of my family; his was the first letter I received.
I will always remember his first words to me, “Well, this is a surprise”. And I’m sure that was an understatement! Imagine being in your 60’s and discovering a sister that you never knew you had!
Toward the end of last week Frank was suddenly adamant that he be allowed to go home immediately. Arrangements were made, his wishes were respected, and he was taken home. Sadly, he wasn’t able to remain at his home for long; the pain was unmanageable and he needed to return to the hospital for it to be managed effectively.
Frank and his wife use a pellet stove to heat their home, and recently arrangements have been underway to install a new gas stove. In the short time that he was home, my brother was able to review the paperwork attached to the installation and approve the work to proceed.
Some of us are wondering if Frank’s urgency about going home had something to do with him needing to tend to this in order to make sure his wife will be comfortable in the coming winter.
Adoptees sometimes wonder about the characteristics of the family they descended from. We wonder what medical issues may have been passed on to us and we wonder what personality characteristics we might share with our family of origin.
Frank and I share some of the same DNA.
I hope we also share some of the same strength of character, honor, and integrity.
Update: Frank lost his battle with cancer later on the day this was posted.
I’m delighted to be back for a continuation of the Life Books topic. As stated in the earlier post, a Life Book provides a cohesive thread between two worlds. Over the years I have seen well-meaning people who have completed scrapbooks for children and called them Life Books. They are not ~ yes, they capture beautiful memories however they rarely chronicle and blend the backgrounds of two families. When completed for the child, there is no room for that child to claim the identity or process emotion. The Life Book can be as elaborate or as simple as the child wants it; so it is possible that scrap booking items may be used.
Ideally, a Life Book is begun for (or with, depending on age) a child at time of separation from birth family so that, if at all possible, memorabilia can be obtained. Letters to your child from birth family members, babysitters, foster families and anyone else important in the life of your child are treasures. Pictures of all the people, pets and homes that were a part of your child’s life are important as well. Medical and genetic reports are invaluable including information pertaining to mental health history, birth certificates, footprints and prenatal and birth records. If you are in the process of adoption, make every attempt to gather as many of these items as possible.
However, the reality is that most adoptees do not have this information and Life Books are not completed at a young age. The good news is that Life Books remain a valuable tool no matter what age you start and regardless of how much or how little knowledge there exists about your child’s beginnings. Letters from adoptive family members about the anticipation of a son or daughter/new sibling etc., preparations and the first day home together are beautiful to include and information that should be readily available.
When starting a Life Book with a child, it is best to initially focus on the present. I have read some who suggest starting at birth but I believe that a child needs to become comfortable with the Life Book process first. This is also important if your family is newly-formed. Ask what subject they want to begin with such as current family photos, school, interests, friends. Be cognizant of those natural segues into working on the Life Book. For instance, if your child brings home a report card or an award, use the Life Book as a way of capturing and celebrating the moment. Other avenues to Life Book creation may include when the child asks questions about their birth family. These are opportune times to bring out the Life Book. If you have no information and/or pictures of the birth family, then ask your child what he/she thinks their birth parents may have looked like, enjoyed, jobs etc. Have the child draw a picture representing these images or cut pictures out of magazines. When a child verbalizes self-blame (i.e., “I must have been a bad baby”), re-frame on their age level more positive statements (i.e., “Your birth mommy loved you but she was sick.”). Connecting with Kids Through Stories, although written specific to attachment, provides helpful ways to use story as a way of restructuring negative self messages. Draw with your child a family tree and allow that tree strong roots with many branches representing both birth and adoptive family.
Flesh out their story from infancy to their current age. If you have no baby pictures, have your child tell/draw/collage what they think they looked like. If you don’t have footprints, draw some and also get current footprints and compare. Although it won’t fit in a Life Book, if you don’t have that first pair of shoes, go shopping and let your child pick out a pair that they think they would have had as a baby. Over time, paint in the missing pieces of your child’s life. Throughout the process, allow your child space to express their feelings and incorporate that into the Life Book through creative writing and artwork. The Life Book process provides a concrete visual that your child can always return to as well as time that is solely focused on them which lends itself to increased attachment and self-esteem.
Three ring binders are typically used as they allow for growth over time. There are resources on the internet for Life Book inserts as well as suggestions such as http://www.adoptionlifebooks.com/ and http://www.tapestrybooks.com/categories.asp?cID=79. Finally, as your child develops, their earlier concepts of self may shift as well. Reflect and even repeat past Life Book activities for deeper understanding. I have worked with adult adoptees doing this for themselves for the first time who gain immense insight. Overall, have fun with Life Book creation. Forget perfection, remembering that it’s about the process, not the product. The outcome itself is immeasurable.
Dawn Espelage has worked as a social worker in foster care adoption for 13 years. She is an advocate for the 120,000 children in foster care in the United States waiting for a forever family. Dawn facilitates training and support groups for foster/adopt parents and teaches Life Book classes.
Dawn is also a life journey guide for women, utilizing writing prompts and art journals as a way to facilitate telling our stories. She is the author of “Life Lines: Celebrate Your Journey.” Visit Dawn @ http://lifelinesjournaling.com or http://lifelinesjournaling.blogspot.com
A few months ago I shared with you some news about the state of Illinois instituting a new law that would allow adoptees to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate. Today, I came across this story about Governor Pat Quinn presenting a 73-year-old adoptee a copy of his original birth certificate.
I can’t help but wonder what Joel Chrastka is thinking about this evening. Now he knows the names of his birth parents; he knows the name that he was given at birth. I don’t know what a birth certificates from 73 years ago would look like, but it might contain the occupation of his birth parents, where they lived, their ages, and other information that Mr. Chrastka had no idea about until today.
If Mr. Chrastka has children and grandchildren now they too have the information they need to fill in the gaps in their own family tree. This simple piece of paper has given future generations a tie to their ancestors. What could be wrong with that?
My oldest brother is gravely ill and I don’t know how I am supposed to feel.
I’ve known about Frank for about seven years since I made contact with my paternal family. I have spoken to him on the phone, we have shared letters, but I have never met him in person. Most of what I know about Frank has been told to me by our sister, Ruth. I have known her for about seven years as well. She speaks highly of our brother and, through her eyes, I know Frank as an honorable and hard-working man.
Today, I stood at the card section in Target looking for a suitable card I can tuck a letter into. I want to write to him; I want him to know I am happy to have him as a “big brother”. Hallmark doesn’t make a card for a brother with whom there are no shared childhood memories. I couldn’t find anything suitable for a brother who’s first words to his new sister were “well this is quite a surprise!”
So I found a blank card with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that said “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” It fits. Kind of.
I wish that when I reached out to try to find my birth-family almost thirty years ago, that I would have found Frank and Ruth, and our sister Miriam. I missed knowing our brother Ed who passed away a few years before I found the family, too.
I missed a lot.
It is a strange position to be in and I find myself feeling unsure as to the right thing to do; I’ve never walked on this path before. This adoption-thing doesn’t seem to get any easier, it just gets more complicated.
I read a ABC News story this week called Graying Adoptees Still Searching for Their Identities.
Adam Perftman, Executive Director of the Evan B Donaldson Adoption Institute was quoted as saying “Knowing who you are and where you come from, it turns out, is not just a matter of fulfilling curiosity, it’s something that helps human beings develop more fully psychologically to understand and feel better about themselves.”
Those of us who were adopted in closed adoptions were told, either directly or indirectly, that where we came from and who we were was not important. Our identity began at the time of adoption and our history was no longer relevant to who we were. Wrong.
I don’t belive it is possible for an individual to develop a strong sense of self-worth when the self that they were born to be is clothed in secrets and shame. Certainly in my case, despite loving adoptive parents, low self-esteem was a factor in choices I made as a young adult that shaped the rest of my life.
In the video attached to the article, Carol Cook describes how an adoptee feels to be denied access to the truth; at one point she likens it to a house without a foundation.
I am thankful that the Province of Saskatchewan, Canada where I was born established Post Adoption Services and that I was able to find my own truth. I was fifty years of age when I read my own adoption file and it was then, and only then, that I was able to find peace about the circumstances of my birth. This was twenty years after I first obtained non identifing information and subsequently was reunited with members of my birth family. Twenty years, during which I processed the information, worked through the grief, and learned to accept the truth.
Adoptees need to know that it’s not wrong to want to know about their medical history, their ancestry, and everything else that goes along with it. We need to be able to shed the cloak of shame that was thrown over us through no fault of our own.
Without the truth, the foundation of our lives will always be shaky. Our grief may be hidden but, rest assured, it is there.