Tag Archives: Adoptive Mothers

Hope and Worry

I’ve been parenting for about 1,140 days. I am a babe in the woods. I have triumphed, and I have fallen down repeatedly.

Lately, I question everything I’ve learned these couple of years, and I’m scared.

I love my daughter, Hope. I have done my very best to help her heal, to help her grow, to help her catch up. I have tried to protect her from the world that has been brutal towards her. I’ve tried to protect her from herself when she has been unkind. I have prayed for and with her; I’ve wished for her. I’ve poured myself into her healing.

And for all the improvement we’ve made together, it’s still only 1,140 days, and I feel like we are in a bit of a free fall right now. It feels like I can never do enough. As a natural fixer, I am feeling woefully inadequate right now.

Something is wrong, very wrong. I know that Hope is struggling more than usual. I started paying close attention to moods, to behavioral patterns, to details that I had let go of a while ago. There are so many clues that something is wrong. I’ve seen them; I’ve started ramping all the support systems up again. I reached out to the therapists. I’ve scheduled appointments. I’ve been steeling myself to get back to the state of hypervigilance I used to maintain. But, I’m feeling my age now, remembering how exhausting the constant need for awareness can be. I’m wondering can I really maintain that level of being for an extended period of time, now. I’m also wondering what happens if I can’t.

I’m also wrestling with my own guilt. How and why did I get lax? Was I really lax? How come I didn’t know we had started spiraling? Why didn’t I just maintain everything? How did I let it get like this? Is this even something I can fix? How hard will this get before it gets better?

Is this free fall my fault?

I know intellectually that it’s not my fault but that fact really doesn’t matter, does it?

I see my daughter struggling. It seems she’s struggling with everything right now. School is hard. Social stuff is hard. Home is probably hard too. Emotions are thick; memories are vivid and on some kind of repeating loop. There are constant stomach aches and nausea and headaches and stress induced rashes. There are binges. There are hard core study times that swing to complete immersion into escapist fantasies. There is exhaustion, that’s really depression that swings from days of insomnia to sleeping for 18 hours.

I see it, but I can’t fix it. I gather those long arms and legs up and occasionally cradle Hope. I try to cook her yummy food. I try to be home as much as I can. I try to give her space, but I also try to smother her with attention. I try to give her lots of opportunities to thrive and to experience as much or as little as possible. I am strict but not inflexible. I’m compassionate. I try to meet her where she is, but I also walk away sometimes wondering if I did the right thing.

I want to heal her. I want her to be able to shrug off the effects of her trauma so that we can deal with the social challenges of blackness and womanhood. The reality is that we rarely get to wrestle with those because we are stuck in the quicksand of trauma. Her trauma suffocates us both. I fight with myself trying to just be ok with her life performance and trying not to worry that every bad grade will prevent her from a bright future.

I’m constantly forcing myself to abandon everything I conceptualized and believed about success. Our success is different. I know that, but it’s hard to believe that conventionalism is completely inappropriate in helping Hope navigate. So many of my firmly held, deeply etched values about life are constantly challenged and it is discomforting, disorienting, and dismaying. My prayers lately have been distilled to, “Lord just let us get through this day with no drama.”

And I still feel like we’re failing.

So, right now, Hope is struggling, and I’m worried. I’m not panicked by I’m really worried about the future, and by future, I mean next week and the week after.

I’m leaning back into my strengths: looking for possible solutions, marshalling resources and leveraging connections. I have no idea what happens next—long term is now just next month. I do think my daughter knows I’m trying; I don’t know what she really thinks about my efforts, but I know she thinks I’m trying to help her. I’m hopeful that she will continue to see me as helpful, reliable and safe. I’m hopeful I can continue to be that for her.

Hope and worry are sitting side by side for me these days.


There is No Magic

A few days ago Hope and I were in the car listening to a podcast. We were chuckling about the show, and then it ended and we listened to some of the commercials before the next podcast started. One of the commercials was about a new podcast on the magic of childhood.

I was only halfheartedly listening to the commercials. I caught the thought and let it slip through my mind.

But Hope was listening.

“There is no magic in childhood. None.”

She immediately had my attention. I didn’t know what to say.  All I could manage to say was, “Huh?”

“Magic? What’s magical about childhood? Nothing,”

We sat quietly at a light.

I quickly thought about all of her young years and the things she endured. I felt her trauma in my soul.

She didn’t say anything else, and I wasn’t sure what to say next. So, I didn’t say anything at all. It was one of the few times during our time together when I was completely stunned to silence. Usually, I can come up with something, but I had nothing. And I was just overwhelmed by the absence of magic in my daughter’s childhood.

I understand how she concluded that the magic of childhood was nothing but a farce. It breaks my heart. I have these fond memories of growing up. I remember my parents love. I remember birthday cakes and playing in the street with neighborhood kids. I remember when they took me and my sisters to Disney World and numerous other family trips. I remember feeling safe and loved. I remember so many little details that are clear to me know but seemed magical then.

I know that there are some memories that Hope has with her first family that are happy memories, but the number of those moment to moment memories are dwarfed by memories of instability, fear, and profound grief. The latter so crushing that she can barely see the good stuff in her mind. And she can’t separate those memories and just erase the bad ones. She has figured out how to reconcile the bad stuff; she can’t partition it to try to create some magic.

The magic of childhood is lost to her.

I wish I could change it all for her. I can’t, but I wish to hell like I could.

I have spent a lot of time and resources on helping Hope heal. I didn’t realize that I was also trying to create some magic in the waning years of Hope’s adolescence. I try to give her big and small experiences that will stick with her. I’m hoping they are special, magical, but knowing that she doesn’t think there’s any magic in childhood just makes me feel so sad.

I wonder will she still feel this way years from now when she has her own child? Did my silence, my failure to offer some wisdom about childhood magic, just reaffirm her grief? What can I do to make magic for her? Can I still create some magic for her?

I honestly don’t know what was I supposed to say in that moment that would validate her but offer a different narrative. I still don’t know what I was supposed to say to that declaration. I just don’t know what to say about there being no magic in childhood.


We’re Not Typical

I’ve written about my learning disability a few times in this space. As I get older, I am actually struggling with my ability to read and to tolerate a lot of stimulation. There is a strong correlation between my stress level and my ability to process information and tolerate stimulation. How I’ve made it through the last few years is a mystery to me.

I’ve been trying to spend a bit more time resting and practicing self-care. I mean it’s the healthy thing to do right? But I’m finding that as much as I tell Hope that sometimes her brain needs to rest due to her issues, my brain also needs downtime.

I have a list of books that I’d like to read that’s several miles long. Yes, I could subscribe to Audible, but the way my pride is set up…Also, I listen to so many podcasts to uptake information that adding books to that list will not make the list shorter.

[Don’t ask how I manage to write so much for work and in this space. I don’t know. I don’t understand. It does take a lot out of me, but it seems I’m better at output than input. #shrug]

Sometimes I talk to Hope about my own issues with dyslexia and stimulation processing. I try to explain to her that my issues are kind of the “opposite” of hers. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was in college, and never asked for accommodations after undergrad. She has wrestled with her challenges for years, while when I was her age, this wasn’t even a passing thought. I try to explain that I have a sense of what she’s going through. Neither of our brains are typical. We’re not neurotypical. We’re atypical.

In other words, we’re special.

I try to encourage her to take breaks, to get some exercise, and to do things to help her brain run optimally.  I try to model these behaviors since they help me. One day she might start listening to me.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. I usually sleep on planes. They close the doors, and I nod right off. I try to pretend that I’m not, that I’ll be somewhat productive. I will download magazines and maybe a book on my Kindle app with the intention to try to at least flip through a little bit. But I almost always fall asleep. The best we can hope for is playing solitaire before landing…until last week.

I actually read a book. It was a 31-page book, called, Runaway: How a Slave Defied America’s First President. It was about a woman named Ona who was enslaved by George Washington; Ona escaped her enslavement. Apparently she was the only slave who successfully escaped from Washington, and he desperately tried to retrieve her.

Thirty-one pages may not seem like a lot for most adults, or even middle schoolers, but for me, in one sitting, these days? Well, I might as well had read half of War and Peace.

When I got home from my trip the next day, I took Hope out for our Friday night dinner.  Over wings and nachos, I told my daughter that I’d read a book.

“A whole book?”

“Well, it was a short book, but yeah,” I demurred.

Hope held her hand up over the middle of the table. I put my hand up, and she high-fived me.

sigh

Sometimes, I wonder whether she really listens to me, and then she does something like this. I delight sometimes when there’s clear evidence that she hears me, that something I’ve said means something to her. It meant a lot to me that I could share that small accomplishment with her. It meant even more that she understood what it means for folks with brains who work differently.

I feel like this is some common ground that we’ve found.

I also get a chance to see how kind my kid is: whether she truly gets how hard reading is becoming for me, she was kind to acknowledge that it was significant to me. Hope has a big heart. I see it often. I’m so fortunate to have seen it in this moment.

So, I celebrate our moments of being a non-neurotypical family.


Things I Have Learned During the K-Pop Phase

We are heading into roughly the sixth month of Hope’s K-pop phase. This phase was preceded by the EDM phase. I thought that phase was challenging. It was electronic music all the time.

That phase didn’t feel that much removed from my interests though. I am a house music fan, so there was some overlap in our musical tastes. We occasionally shared songs; we rocked out at a EDM music festival.

I learned just how music affected Hope. I learned that she heard notes that I just couldn’t hear. I learned how she could thread beat influences through artists and songs like a seamstress. I really did marvel at how she interpreted the songs and how she put her playlists together.

In retrospect, the EDM phase was a good phase.

And then 10th grade started and kicked off the K-pop phase.

Hope fell hard for the boy bands. She didn’t particularly care for the girl groups.

I wasn’t as attuned to ADHD behaviors during the EDM phase, but now I see how easily she can go down a rabbit hole chasing new songs, information about the groups, e-stalking the group members. Some of this is typical teen behavior, but with Hope and the ADHD it’s always on overdrive. And because the K-pop scene has a whole culture thing to it—the group members live together, work together, get storylines on soap operas, spin off into solo careers—Hope’s propensity to get caught up in the minutia of it all is incredibly powerful.

Hope knows that I found this K-pop phase interesting for the first month. I was intrigued by the obvious American and Afro-Caribbean influences in the music. I thought her desire to learn Koren was really cool. Ok, we’re going to watch a K-drama? Cool.

The K-drama has 16 episodes and I just realized 10 minutes into the first episode that this is a Korean interpretation of Cyrano?

Record scratch—I’m out.

February is 7th month of this phase for Hope and I am trying to be supportive, but I was over this phase about 5 months ago. But this phase has shown me some things about myself.

I’ve learned that I have a reservoir of patience that I didn’t use to have.  I knew that I was more patient because: parenting. But I really had no idea how patient I have become. After 7 months the only good things I can say here is that Hope is learning a new language on her own and thinks that a career as an interpreter could be on the horizon—in Korea.  For a kid that thought she had limited options 3 years ago, I’m down with this line of thinking.  I loathe K-pop, K-dramas.

I’ve learned that living by the adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is one way of coasting through conversations about ish I can’t stand.  93% of our conversations are about K-something. It really is just about all she can talk about. When the conversation starts, I take a deep breath, a slow blink and just keep my mouth shut. You want to know why?

Because I don’t want to do anything to make her stop talking to me.

I might loathe K-pop, but I love Hope, so I just keep quiet, let her talk. I typically zone out a bit and drop back into the conversation every 30 seconds or so. She will regale me with the entire synopsis of a K-drama; she knows I hate it, but she wants to talk to me and she knows I’ll listen (kinda).

I’ve learned that Hope still has a lot to learn about money and responsibility. It’s February 6th and all the Christmas money is gone. She’s $20 in the hole to me and she hasn’t paid her phone bill which means she’s really $40 in the hole to me. Why? Because she had to buy K-stuff. This is also normal behavior for a kid her age, but something she definitely needs more time to learn about.

I’ve learned that K-pop may have made her more isolated. Hope can spend hours watching music videos and soap operas online. HOURS. She has access to the Chromebook to do homework and then after homework is done she can spend an hour or two as she likes. She has dove into this world, and while she has a couple of friends who also enjoy it, her obsession has actually resulted in less external communication than more. I believe that she dives into these phases initially allying herself with the people in her real life, but she just takes it so far that they get left behind. I blocked her online access for two days this weekend and made her emerge from the depths. I’m going to have to do this more often.

I’ve learned that as much as I can stretch and learn new things, I’m getting to the stage in life where I want my own box. I’m good and grown. I know who I am. I’ve accomplished some stuff, done some stuff, been some stuff. Hope has brought something amazing to my life: new stuff. I like a lot of the new stuff, but if I’m honest and keeping it all the way real, I like my stuff better. I just want my stuff. I want to curl up on my couch with my stuff and just be. Like if I could get one cable channel that just played Law and Order episodes (from all of the different kinds of L&O) all day, life would be 15 steps closer to my version of perfect. That’s my kind of stuff.  K-pop is not my kind of stuff. All that dancing and bopping around and reading subtitles on a soap opera? Not my stuff.  I mean if it was a Korean movie where I was making a 90-minute commitment, I’m in but a 16 episode show at this time in my life is just the most. I am a middle-aged woman and the cement around being set in my ways is quickly hardening. In short: I don’t wanna do new teenagy stuff; I need her to get some friends so I can get back to my Law and Order with my blankie and my dog.

I’ve learned that I’m super curious what Hope was like as a little girl. Seeing her now, as she develops these hopes and dreams about her future, I find myself pondering what did she dream about when she was little. Were the dreams temporally focused? Did she dream about life changing for her and her family right then? Did she dream about a future and what did that look like? I see how different things are from just three years ago; I wonder if there was ever a kernel of big dreams like being an interpreter in there long ago. There’s so much that I don’t know. I haven’t yet mustered the courage to ask Hope what she dreamed about when she was little; I don’t know what such a question might trigger.

I’m trying to see the stages as opportunities to learn about myself. Why do I react the way that I do? How do my reactions change from phase to phase? I’m hopeful that my stamina and patience continues to grow. Despite the annoyances, I am hopeful that it’s helping me be a better mom.

 


Three Years Ago

Three years ago today, Hope arrived at DCA with her social worker. She was originally scheduled to arrive the day before, but the weather on the east coast was so bad that her flight was canceled.

I remember heading to the airport that cold January night and waiting for her to emerge from security.

I was alone.

I was alone because I worried that a big group of folks would be overwhelming to a child who, for the previous few weeks, had resisted moving. Hope was afraid. She’s already experienced so much change in her life. She wanted to have some normalcy where she was for just a few more months.

Alas, all the adults thought that it was time to make the move. And so, she did.

I arrived at the airport early, snarfed down a couple of doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts while I waited for Hope to arrive and deplane.

This would be her second trip to see me and her final destination this go ‘round.

I remember she emerged from security looking tired, a bit overwhelmed and a bit afraid.

I hugged her. I was so happy she was here.

She hugged me back, but I don’t know if the hug really made her feel better.

We got her luggage, and dropped her social worker off at the hotel.

And then it was just the two of us.

It has been that way ever since.

In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, and others, it seems like just yesterday.

Hope has grown into an amazing young woman. She is creative, feisty, and musical. She is loving and kind. She is polite.

We have built an amazing life together.

We are growing and stretching. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes, it’s just the best thing ever.

I love Hope so very much.

This family is everything. It’s beyond whatever I could’ve imagined.

I’ve learned so much about myself during this time. I would not have ever anticipated what this life as a mom to Hope would have been like. It’s beyond my comprehension.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, often, it has been devastatingly difficult at times.

It’s been difficult for both of us.

Transitioning to motherhood was swift. Understanding the true impacts of trauma and how to parent through it is a work in progress. Checking my anger is a learned process; I’m improving.

Ugh, and the weight gain. I’ve put on about 20lbs of teen adoption weight.

I’m older and wiser though.

Hope struggled with the transition to permanence. She got there with time. We still struggle with horrible memories and persistent grief. As she approaches normalcy we see latent issues emerge, and we tackle them.

She’s a little older and possibly a little wiser too.

We continue to observe these moments in our history; we may stop one day. I don’t know. But we still do count these milestones. We think about how far we have come. We think about how bonded we are now; we think about our futures.

We have a little something sweet.

And then we get on with the life we’ve created together.

I love Hope, and Hope loves me.


By Any Other Name

I had chosen names for the children I would never give birth to. I only chose what would be first or middle names so that they could be adapted to names desired by my would be husband/life partner.

Those names were so important to me; each had special meaning. Each were strong names on which my children could scaffold their identities.

And then, one day, the realization set in that I would not get to use any of those names for biological children.

Even now, writing this, the sting of quiet tears fill my eyes.

And then Hope came along.

Hope got her pseudonym from being my “Hope Kid.” When I started the blog, I had just received her profile. I remember sitting in my office, opening the email, reading the little bit of information attached and then opening the attachment to see her picture.

I immediately fell in love with her.

In my heart I felt like she was my daughter. I just knew, which was ridiculous because she was the first profile I received having just started the national search with my agency the week before.

I also knew that there were many steps to be made before she and I might be matched. I dubbed her my “Hope Kid.”

After we were matched, I started just calling her Hope in this space.

It’s turned out to be a good strong pseudonym for her. She and I are both so hopeful.

At 12, I never once thought about changing her name. Her in real life (IRL) name is unusual and lovely.

A few folks asked if I considered changing her first name.

dancing

No. I mean, she was 12 and It. Is. Her. Name. And well, Hope had lost everything else, everything, why on earth would I take her name from her too?

And she’s feisty, why on earth would I want to start our life with a fight about changing her name?

As we neared the date of our finalization, I did have to make a decision about her last name.

Sounds like a no brainer, right?

I mean, she would just drop her given name and take my name.

No.

It was her given name. It was hers. It was given to her by her parents, who loved her even if they didn’t always love themselves.

I thought about all those adoptees who talked about their birth names and the surnames of their birth family.  How hard it was to find people when names changed. How challenging taking on a new identity could be.

Because Hope is an older adoptee, I had the luxury of having a real conversation with her about her name. I’d like to think that even if she had been younger, I might have come to the same conclusion because it works for us.

Hope had just assumed that I would make her change her name. She understood why I might do that. She has resolved that it was just the way of the world, or rather the way of her world. In Hope’s world, she rarely got to make decisions, she lost lots of things and well, she supposed she was just happy to be getting a forever family.

I asked her what she thought about a third option.

I asked her what she thought about just adding my last name to her existing name.

The first thing she did was write it all out and count the letters.

There were a total of 29 letters in this proposed name. Four names, two of them last names, no hyphens and 29 letters.

She asked if the name would fit on forms.

So, I cruised the internet and found a few forms that we would have to eventually fill out and printed them and let her practice filling them out.

It worked.

I asked her if taking my name would be hard for her; she said maybe. I told her that she could drop it she wanted, and just sign things with her birth name. The four-name thing would just be her “government name.” I explained the times when she would need to use it.

I asked her to think about it.

When I told folks that this third option was on the table…well, there were so many questions. So many.

Why couldn’t I just change it? Why didn’t I want her to be fully a part of the family? Wouldn’t this be confusing for her? How would this help her move on?

There was a lot of criticism.

I stayed focused on me and Hope during the whirlwind.

In the end, extending her name was our choice.

During our Facetime finalization, Hope exclaimed to the judge that her new name was 29 letters.

She continued to use her birth name for a while, and then one day, she didn’t.

I’m not sure exactly when she started using both last names, but I know that now she wouldn’t dare sign her name without both.

When her birth family found us, they were surprised that I didn’t drop their name. I think it brokered some trust with them; I had no intention of erasing her identity.

Again, I have the luxury of having an older child who is capable of telling me her feelings. I know that even during the worst of times she endured, she would leave me in a flash if she had the chance to be parented by her birth parents again.

I’m hardly a saint and I’m judgmental as hell, but I’ve also had the luxury of having my birth family my whole life. I get it and I don’t blame her at all. If I had known them before, and known what I know now, I would’ve been rooting for them.

But our paths were different, and all I can do now is honor her family by supporting her in keeping the names she was given.

Our family is stronger for it.

And what have I really learned from this part of our journey?

I learned that I’m glad that we didn’t have to make a choice based on her safety and a desire not to be found. I think this would have been so much more difficult for her if that was necessary. For her to have to change her name, her identity, to remain safe, is a whole other level of trauma. We are fortunate that we were not faced with that situation.

I learned that even though I have replaced Hope’s birth parents in parenting her, I am additive in her life. For Hope, I didn’t just replace them. I am her mother, without question, but I am her second mother. I can never replace Hope’s birth parents; I can’t erase them. Even with a name change, that history, however brief, is still a real part of her life.

I learned that Hope’s name is her name. I am honored that my name has become a part of her name and a part of her story, but her story didn’t start with me. It won’t end with me either.

I imagine that her name will change again sometime in this lifetime.

And again, it will be Hope’s choice to shape her identity.

I learned that there are various ways to integrate a child into your family.

I learned that a last name can be more than enough of a connection to a new family.

I realized just how much power adoptive parents have…to change a child’s whole name…or just to get to name a child…it is a privilege that should be acknowledged as such.

I learned that the sting of not being able to have biological children rears its head more often than I care to admit. A discussion about changing a child’s name precipitates asking what might you change it to? And then your list of dream names springs to mind…and it drags that little bee sting with it.

I learned to treasure my own name even more. I love thinking about the origins of my name and the story my parents tell me about naming me.

I don’t know that at this point in my life I will change my name even if I get married. I’ve been with this name a mighty long time.

I do know that I’ll still be ABM whatever name I chose, and that Hope will always be my Hope and joy, no matter what her name evolves into during the course of her life.

 


Mother’s Day Musings

It’s Mother’s Day; my first one. Hope and I just returned from my graduation trip where we had a great time, and I got the best gift ever. Throughout the ceremony, I saw my sweet girl snap-happy, clicking away with her digital camera. After the ceremony after I met up with Hope and my sisters, my daughter hugged me repeatedly and said, “I’m so proud of you.” I had to hold back tears. #shehadmeathello

I’m sure she’d never gone to a graduation before, certainly not one for a doctoral candidate #gobigorgohome, but she was delighted to see my name and dissertation title in the program, happy to take many pictures and jazzed to hear my name as I was hooded by the university president. It was the culmination of a long journey for me and I couldn’t have been blessed with a bigger cheerleader. I will always drop a tear thinking about the moment she told me she was proud of me. (It was super, super awesome special to have my sisters with me too, by the way.)

Yesterday was really my Mother’s Day. Today is just a do-over for me that includes the need to cram in some errands, a family therapy appointment and take-out for dinner (my present to myself for the day) before doing Hope’s hair for the week. #mothersworkisneverdone #apparentlyever

Our trip to Chicago triggered “better” times which always make it easier for me to say yes, to have patience, to just have fun with Hope. After the last few weeks, I needed us to hit a stride of “better.” I hope it lasts a while.

And yet, there’s something about days that honor parents that brings tinges of sadness for Hope and other kids like her. This weekend we touched on issues of curiosity about the wellbeing of her birth mother, grief about the loss of her dad, the good and bad parenting she experienced in her short life, and a chat about me as mom.

We navigated things well with lots of reassurance and lots of openness. We don’t sugar coat things in our home; her experience is her story and she remembers the good, the bad and the ugly. I learn something new, and often heartbreaking, every time we have one of these talks. I also know that these talks are evidence that we’re doing ok, maybe even better than ok.

I see my job as, in part, trying to help her remember that her birth parents loved her, but they just couldn’t take care of her for lots of different reasons. Bad things happened but it wasn’t her fault and while people have maligned her birth parents most of her time in the system, they are no threat to me and they are no longer a threat to her. It’s ok for her to remember the happy times and to be free to talk about them. It’s ok for her to talk about the bad times and to try to reconcile how all this history could involve the same people. It’s ok for me to try desperately to teach her that nothing was her fault, that she is now safe and loved, even during the times when she is being a real pain in the arse.

I’ve heard about the bitter sweetness of days like Mother’s Day for some adoptive parents. I couldn’t understand it before, but I get it now. There’s a celebration of us as mothers and fathers, but it’s laced with a sadness and grief about how our children ended up needing us in the first place.

So, with that, I’m glad that I had a great day of celebration yesterday, before the actual holiday that represents a bit of both joy and pain for me and Hope.  It really is a privilege to be Hope’s mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, whatever kind of mother you may be.  xoxo

MotherDayPrivilege


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