Tag Archives: Birth Family

What Hope’s Graduation Taught Me

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Watching my daughter walk across the stage and graduate surrounded by family and friends was such a wonderful experience that really, it’s almost hard to explain. Family, friends and even colleagues drove a long way to join us for this event, and it was more than I could have dreamed.

During the processional, I gasped and choked up because it was so real. Getting to this day was a long hard slog through not just regular teen years, but through a history of trauma, anxiety, depression, placement, adoption, just so much stuff. Sooooo much. I just started to cry because it was a culmination of so much love and effort and dreams and prayers.

One thing that was especially special about Hope’s graduation day was the presence of her biological family. This day represented the full on merging of Hope’s family. Hope knew that her aunt would be coming, but as she descended the stage with her diploma to return to her seat she caught sight of her aunt and the delight on her face…my heart smiled.

Now I’m not going to lie, there were moments leading up to the graduation that were emotional. There were members of my family who didn’t want to share Hope, who still super side eyed her family, who just had feelings about them attending this event. I’m glad that I made my own declaration early on that this was our, my and Hope’s family, and that there would be space and love for them. On yesterday, the merging was seamless, and the excitement turned to talk about all the parties there will be when Hope graduates from college.

It was so much more than I could ever of hoped for and that’s because we all centered what was best for Hope.

There is so much discussion in adoption about the triad—birth family, adoptees and adoptive parents. We rarely highlight the ripple effect that adoption has throughout whole families. The removal, placement, adoption, whatever terms we use, of a child from their family of birth reverberate across a family like a skipped rock on a body of water. The absence of that child is a hole, and the trauma of it is far more widespread that we care to acknowledge.

Hope’s relationship with her paternal family is complicated and losing her to foster care…well in these 5 years, I’ve learned that everyone in her family has a story and big feelings about that. There is a lot of emotion; there’s a lot of sadness, a lot of pain about how it all went down. I have my views and opinions of the story, but real talk, I wasn’t there, so I have to listen. Hope has her version of what went down too, and I listen.

There is so much hurt.

And the only way to heal it is to pitch that big tent and constantly try to cultivate an environment of inclusion. Graduation was a big tent event, and as a parent in general, you don’t always get to sit back and say, hey, I got it right, but I got yesterday right. Yesterday was a healing day for Hope and this family.

There were so many tears. There were tears of joy, of grief, of loss, of pride, of happiness. My daughter sobbed for a good 10 minutes as she was feted by family and friends. In the moment, noting concern by some guests, I just said my daughter was overwhelmed—and she was— but it was more. As much as my own family was there to support and celebrate, the presence of biological ties was just so powerful in this moment.

Having an open adoptive relationship with my daughter’s biological family is critical. I believed it before, but yesterday, the confirmation of that belief was so strong and so true that it makes whatever criticisms I might’ve endured on this journey possible. They are members of our village; full stop.

The second big thing that I learned yesterday was just how much this achievement meant to Hope. I remember early on that Hope thought I was nuts for wanting her to dream about going to college. She quickly got on board with at least humoring me. I know that Hope has humored my pushing and prodding for years now. I also know that my pushing and prodding was not always a healthy thing for her. Upon reflection, I know that there are times when my pushing and prodding were directly contributing to her low self-esteem and depression around not living up to standards I’d set. I know I was less than flexible sometimes. I also know that even here in this space, readers encouraged me to pull back, to remember that college wasn’t for everyone.

I’ve heard you, and I’ve reflected on that a lot this year.

And yet, yesterday, after Hope, Sister M and I had packed up her dorm and we were making one last stop on campus to pick up something from the band room, Hope sat in my car, heaved a big sigh and said, I did it. I graduated from high school!

It was a record scratch moment for me since of course, it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t finish high school. I was always focused on what would happen beyond high school. Never in a million years did I ever think Hope would not finish high school.

But there was a time when Hope didn’t think she’d finish high school. I did not know this before that moment.

It was an assumption for me, but not for Hope.

I pressed her for why she didn’t think she’d graduate from high school. Well, the response was easy for her—look at all she had been through, why would she think she would graduate from high school? Look at the trauma, the loss, the hardship, the rejection, the lack of permanence and instability for years, why would she think she would be able to finish high school?

High school graduation should be a momentous occasion, but when your life was such an unstable mess for so long, you stop dreaming about it.

I realized in this moment that graduation was even more pivotal for Hope. It was more than just a personal achievement, but it also represented that she was on track and that maybe she really could start dreaming. The uncertainty of the college search took a lot out of Hope this year; it marked another transition that made her questioned herself. It marked another thing she had to go through the motions on, but still tried for a while to remain somewhat detached from in order to protect her fragile emotions. Graduation is freeing; she did it! She can do it. If she did it once, she can do it again. That is real for Hope.

The revelation is real for me. She is now so excited about going to college. Graduation is the ultimate confidence booster!

And finally, the last lesson for me, the Holy Homeboy still has jokes for me. I have had lifelong issues with a lack of patience; I thought that it was the ultimate joke that he fated me to jump into parenting a 12-year-old as I stretched into middle age. He pushed and pulled me, stretched me in ways I didn’t know possible, especially challenging my own notions of morality, personal values, parenting, family, education and health. One of my biggest personal values struggles was how Hope didn’t fit into my ideals about academic performance.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t appreciate how she never saw herself making it this far. I do now, which makes my revelation all the more meaningful.

Hope’s academic performance, her struggles, were sadly an ongoing challenge for me. I value education so strongly, I found it personally offensive. I know it wasn’t right. I know that lengths I went to try to “help” Hope improve were not helpful to her mental and emotional health. I know that my dreams for her were a source of stress.

I have never not felt so strongly about education. I do believe it is key to social mobility and financial freedom. It is all I’ve ever known. The ongoing confrontation to that belief system has been difficult.

And then yesterday, I realized a couple of things. Hope spent two years in honors classes where she did reasonably well in before things went downhill. Those grades are weighted, which set a solid base for her overall GPA. She graduated with a reasonable GPA. She lettered in her freshman year thanks to band. I didn’t realize when she entered her senior year that she only needed a couple of credits, really like two required courses, all other requirements had been completed. She went to a college prep school, and yeah, she struggled, but the curriculum was rigorous. Her squadron earned honor status among all the school squadrons for their overall adherence to all the important things in JROTC.

In the end, Hope graduated from a tough college prep school with an advanced diploma because she had way more credits than necessary; she has a special ROTC designation, and is college bound. Things I figured were just beyond us, and yet it is right where we ended up. Better than fine.

And the Holy Homeboy laughs at me (again) for trying to muck up his plans for me and my family.

So, yeah, yesterday was a big, effing deal for me and Hope. It was also full of life lessons for me. Family, all family, is important. Our kids can dream and can achieve. I gotta trust the process and my faith that things will end up just they way they are supposed to.

Yesterday was a good day.


Being Selfish is a Human Right

I just came across an article by Angela Tucker in which she responds to the question about whether adopted persons are selfish for searching for their birth family.

Such an absurd question, amirite?

Why on earth would it be considered selfish to wonder about your origins, your people, your place in the universe? I mean, entire industries have emerged to capitalize on the fundamental notion that we all want to know where we came from. You can seriously go to Target right now and pick up any number of tests for less than $100 to satiate your desire to find out more about your genetic information and its connection to others.

And that industry sprung up thanks to the increasing interest in genealogy by private hobbyists and professional searchers.

Most of us are just curious and, for fun, we can go out and satiate that curiosity.

A couple of years ago my sister bought my parents a couple of Ancestry DNA kits for their anniversary. It was a fun and interesting thing to do. My mom and a few extended family members have turned into genealogy hobbyists during their retirement years. Well, a few months later the DNA turned up some close relatives we suspected existed but never really knew about. We now have this amazing relationship with my cousins, who bore a striking resemblance to our family and shared interests that seemed unexplainable by anything other than genetics.

My mother, Grammy, is the only surviving member of her immediate, nuclear family, and finding these relatives has meant the world to her. It gave her a connection she never imagined she’d experience. For my cousins, it was a missing puzzle piece that was sought for more than 50 years.

That doesn’t mean that the revelation wasn’t without its complications. Not everyone in the concentric circles of our family was thrilled or accepting. Not everything has been easy. There’s a lot of emotion. There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a patient hope for future acceptance. There are times when it feels like time for full resolution is running out.

There are prayers.

There are occasional wails.

There are tears, both happy and sad.

It’s complicated.

But gosh knowing has been worth it.

I gave Hope the option last year of taking a test.  I thought she was old enough to understand the ramifications of sending your genetic information to a 3rd party that profits from having such sensitive information (something all of us should think more seriously about). We talked about the possibility of finding her surviving parent as well as connecting with half-siblings that I know exist and are in adoptive families as well. We talked about what that meant for her, how she felt about it.

My own curiosity led to my own search for her parent a few years ago. It was consuming for a while; then one day I found her. I told Hope about it since she had expressed an interest in searching. I have the information, and I update it regularly. Hope has never asked for the info or to reach out. I’ve promised to support her no matter her decision. I believe one day she will broach the issue again, with or without me. I could never deny her the information or my support in searching and wanting to see if a relationship was possible.

Yes, it might be complicated.

Yes, it might not go well.

Yes, it will be hella emotional.

Yes, it might be messy.

Yes, it could end horribly.

Yes, it could also be the beginning.

I’ve committed to be Hope’s ride or die. I’m good. I’m confident in my relationship with her. I believe there is plenty of good room for people who love Hope. I believe that she needs me to just hold her hand sometimes and listen.

I’m emotionally well enough to not think this has anything to do with me, but everything to do with Hope finding her missing pieces.  I am her ally, and allies have to know their place—supportive of promoting agency, recognition that it’s not about us, and advocating for full personhood for our peeps.

So, yeah, she can be selfish. In fact, I encourage Hope to be selfish—as if that’s inherently a bad thing, it’s not—in searching for her missing pieces. I shouldn’t be a consideration. I want her to bloom into pursuing her needs and dreams, and if that includes searching or choosing not to search—frankly that’s Hope’s business.

My business is working through my own ish so that she isn’t negatively affected by it. My business is supporting my girl.

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with some aspects of selfishness. Selfishness can be healthy and self-preserving. I don’t believe that searching for the missing pieces of your identity is selfish. I think it is a human right to want to know. I think it’s a human right to pursue this knowledge. So if that’s selfish…that’s ok with me and I think it should be ok with you too.

So, yeah, be selfish. It’s all good.


The Birth Certificate

Grammy recently came up to visit me for my birthday. During our mother-daughter bonding time, we somehow got to talking about adoption documentation. It occurred to me that I had never shown her Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate.

This document drives me batty.

It drives me batty because it is a lie.

Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate reads as though I gave birth to her and chose not to name her father.

I pulled out the document and showed it to Grammy. She was shocked! She had a ton of questions about why I had a legal document for something that she and I both know never happened.

Yeah, me too, Grammy. Me too.

Grammy just kept exclaiming that the document is a lie. I have never given birth to a child. Frankly to suggest that I did is a painful reminder of how my body has failed me. I have muscled my way to all kinds of life achievements, but that act of carrying a child in my body to term and producing a living, breathing baby…well that will go down as one of my personal failures.

(I don’t ruminate on that as much as I used to, but know that the sting of infertility will always be there.)

But I have a document that says my body did just that. In fact, this legal document that will for the rest of my and my daughter’s days and beyond says that my body did do it and that I did not name a father for the child that I did not birth in the first place. It is a seriously perplexing one-page document characterizing my daughter’s entry into the world.

Seriously there are layers to this thing. Hope had biological parents, both parents were named. That document shows information about both of those parents. There was a legal document that marked her entry into the world. In the document I received after our finalization, it’s like those people never existed. They are erased. Just vanished into the void. As one of my daughter’s biological parents is deceased, this erasure feels especially harsh. It’s like the Bureau of Vital Statistics simply decided to erase him from her story.

It’s crazy enough when this all happens with infant adoption, but when you adopt an older child, they remember their people. It’s not just a psychic or metaphysical thing, Hope lived with her parents. She remembers them; their names, what they looked like, how much she loved them, dinners they made, gifts they gave her, adventures they had, bikes they rode, books they read, places they went…she remembers the life she had with them.

We have a document that suggests that never happened.

It.

Is.

Bizarre.

Because.

It.

Is.

A.

Lie.

I listened patiently as Grammy worked through all of this in her head and outloud. We talked about whether the state thought that this approach to post-adoptive birth certificates was a holdover to the days when you weren’t supposed to talk about adoption or admit adoption. We talked about how it double downed on the shame that those of us who have experienced infertility feel by simply pretending we gave birth. We talked about how far things have come that single motherhood was generally less stigmatizing that admitting your family was created by adoption and how effed up that was. We also talked about how my characterization in the birth certificate made me seem like I *might* be a candidate for the Maury Povich show because I didn’t name my child’s father.

maury

via giphy

Years from now, without an addendum, will some future genealogist wonder if I knew my child’s father or if he was married or if paternity was in question or some other thing that just wasn’t true.

Grammy concluded her vocal processing by folding up the document, handing it back to me and declaring that it’s just wrong.

No kidding.

This is one of those things they don’t tell you about in the adoption process—whether or how the post-adoption birth certificate will characterize how you created your family. They don’t tell you that the document that comes in the mail after finalization may simply be a lie, a legal one, but a lie nonetheless. They don’t tell you that because of privacy laws, this may be the only document that shows up 50 years from now on Ancestry when someone is trying to figure out who Aunt ABM and Cousin Hope are and how do they fit into the family. They don’t tell you that those privacy laws, for some adoptees, mean they will never have access to the original document that accurately documents their birth.

Of course, I have my and Hope’s adoption decree, but as she approaches adulthood, there is hardly any need to refer to that document. But you need access to your birth certificate throughout your lifetime. It’s one of a few documents that proves American citizenship—it states where you were born. It’s just not the same.

As readers know, the fact that Hope will be 18 in about 4 months hade been weighing on me emotionally.. After her birthday, provided her surviving birth parent hasn’t blocked release of the original birth certificate, Hope will legally be able to get that document for the price of some paperwork and $20. At least she doesn’t have to pay more for the OBC than the adoptive birth certificate.

I intend to help her order a copy. Her social worker was kind enough to have a non-official copy included in Hope’s disclosure records. I didn’t appreciate back then what a gift that was, to see what the original looked like, what it said. I do now. So even though we have a copy, I will help Hope order an official copy. What she does with it is her business; I just think it’s important for her to have an accurate document that documents her entry into the world.

As for me, when we make the request, I’ll also be writing letters on simply having an OBC that has a adoption notation to increase the accuracy of this important legal document. I’ll include that my daughter having access to a document that describes her birth should not be withheld from her. She shouldn’t have to Hope anyone else thought to block access to a document about her. Yes, the document is about other people as well, but there should be some transparency there for everyone. It’s only right.

So, yeah, I have a document that reminds me of my body’s failures and advances a lie about my daughter’s birth. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to parent Hope, but some of the stuff that goes on within Adoptionland is just weird.


More Thoughts on Holidays and Adoption

While laying on my parents’ couch earlier today, I was listening to Hope tell me some random story about something or other. I was only half listening, scrolling through my Instagram feed.

I suddenly stopped and interrupted her.

“Do you want to call your grandmother today?”

Hope was mid-sentence and her voice just trailed off. She just looked at me. I wasn’t looking at her, but I could feel her staring at me. I finally looked over at her.

“There isn’t a right answer, you know that right? Whatever you feel or decide is cool. I just…felt like I should ask. I’m sorry I interrupted you.”

About two minutes of silence passed; one of my sisters was sitting in a chair in the room with us. As those seconds continued to pass, it kind of felt like we were all holding her breath.

“Ok,” I said, and resumed scrolling through Instagram.

Hope never responded; instead she picked up where she left off with the story she was previously telling me.

I mailed Hope’s grandmother a framed copy of her senior ROTC portrait and a letter. I wrote that I know she would rather hear directly from Hope, but that for whatever reason it was left to me to provide updates.

As the months stretch into what will soon be two years since Hope had direct contact, I find myself wondering how things will play out for Hope and her biological family. In moments like today, I feel like I can genuinely feel Hope’s and her family’s pain in this rift. I think about how I talk to a member of my immediate family nearly daily, and how gleeful my parents seem on those occasions when I am able to drive down to visit them. I think about how it must feel to not have those feelings, or those expectations or any of that. It is honestly hard for me to conceptualize, and I’m acutely aware of how fortunate I am since the absence of all of that is experienced by many people throughout their lives and especially during the holiday season.

While I do not badger Hope about connection, I do try to bring it up during times that seem appropriate or advantageous. I make myself available to all parties to facilitate contact. I work out the logistics for possible phone calls, letters, social media interactions, whatever. One of the college’s Hope has applied to is about 50 miles away from her biological family; I’m planning a campus visit for us next month. My offer to set up a visit while we’re close by was again me with chilly silence. I’ve learned to just leave those responses there. Ultimately, I do not believe I can or should force Hope to have contact that she doesn’t want. I do not want her to engage in things she feels are unhealthy for her. Her feelings and well-being are paramount.

And yet, my heart strings wish desperately there was something I could do to help them bridge this gap.

I’m glad that I have provided Hope a beautiful extended family. I chuckled to see her and her cousins holed up in a funky teenager room (why do they smell so bad???), shooting the breeze, playing video games, talking trash and making plans to hang out together tomorrow. I smiled inwardly as I grimaced outwardly when I had to tell her “let’s go” for the 6th time because she really didn’t want to come with me to check into the beach hotel. I’m glad she has this family.

But she does have more family; she just doesn’t know if she wants them, if they fit, if she can have a good, healthy relationship with them. And there’s lots of legit reasons to ask so many questions why. I respect my daughter’s inclination for sell-preservation. But it still hurts to watch from the sidelines. But as Hope slides into her 18 year, that’s my position on all of this—the sidelines.

So I will continue to point out or provide opportunities and follow her lead. Somehow, it will work out, right?


The Gap

Let me start off by saying that I deeply believe in family preservation and open adoption whenever and however possible. I think there would be far less of a need for adoption and foster care if we really believed in family preservation and providing families with the support they needed to parent successfully. I also think that fears about whether and how we process our emotions and relative standing around family status is a huge barrier to successful open adoption. It’s so much easier to see families as a threat and inconvenience than it is to see families of origin as having meaningful standing in the lives of adoptees. Yes, yes, #notall situations can be preserved or open, but smart folks can easily distinguish those situations from the mass.

Hope’s adoption opened weeks after finalization. I didn’t want to be that judgy adoptive parent, but in many ways I was. I desperately wanted to protect Hope, who at the time was still easily overwhelmed by just about everything. Her family wanted to reconnect, but in their excitement they just kind of breezed past several years of Hope’s chaos. There was a huge gap, and I had to get right into the middle of it to sort things out.

That was four years ago, and we’ve all grown in our understanding of how this big family thing works. Family can be really messy, and my daughter’s emotions about how she fits are messy too. And there’s still a huge gap and I’m still right in the middle of it, and sometimes, like lately, it’s really, really sucky.

Hope is now an older teen. She’s matured some; she’s developed some more coping skills. She has unpacked some of her trauma and her emotions around the need to be adopted by a non-family member. She’s really doing great even as she has a long way to go.

She’s happy to be in contact with her extended family, but she still hasn’t unpacked a lot of her feelings about all that happened or figured out what kind of consistent contact, if any, she wants or how to manage the increasing expectations of family that she be more participatory in big family events.

There’s a gap. I reside in the translational gap.

I’m there to encourage some interaction, to manage expectations, to make some desired connection happen, to decline some invitations, to offer some explanations, to try to facilitate and guide negotiated connection.

My daughter is increasingly clear about what she doesn’t want—even if she isn’t clear about what she does want. Her family is increasingly clear about what they want and hope for—even if they don’t get why that vision isn’t shared by Hope.

In the last year I’ve found myself the bearer of really difficult messages to share.

“I’m sorry, she doesn’t want to come.”

“Is so & so going to be there? If so, that’s a non-negotiable no for Hope.”

“I’m not sure when we will get to visit next. Hope doesn’t want it to feel like a huge family reunion; she wants it to be like this….”

At every point of connection, I check in with Hope, see how she’s feeling, what she needs, how does she want this thing to go, what will make her feel good about this, figure out what success looks like for her. It’s actually getting harder on her end. As she gets older, her desires are crystalizing around what kind of interaction she wants but the latent desire to please and to capitulate makes her shut the whole thing down. Her choices are different than what most of us want; I do my best to honor them. I often find myself in that gap, feeling like I’m delivering news that just hurts.

I know the news hurts her family. I hear it in their voices. I see it in the texts and emails. I try to be open and transparent, and I often wonder if they think it’s me keeping her away. I often wonder if they think I’m really an ally.  I’m trying to be, but I also know that Hope will always come first. #teamHope #alldayeveryday

And then something will be said that feels like there’s still an obliviousness around the history of the situation.

“I really wish I knew all that happened to her.”

“So and so just said it was XX, which doesn’t seem so bad.”

“If I knew what happened, I definitely would have responded differently.”

And I get emotional, and I’m reminded why it is so complicated for Hope. I get that she wants and needs a very specific type of acknowledgement about certain events in her life. I also get that we aren’t specifically dealing with her birth parents but extended family who may not be privy to the story as I know it or the story as Hope lived it. And Hope isn’t ready to share her full story with them, so…

There’s a gap. It may be there forever. I hope not, but it might be there for a long, long time.

I am sensitive to the fact that I sometimes see Hope mentally comparing “us” versus “them.” My family and the family she’s been grafted into is different. Not better, not worse, just different. My family has long joked about our dysfunction—every family has some—but what and whether that looks like dysfunction to someone new(ish) is different for every family. That seems to be the case for Hope; it’s normal.

When I was little I couldn’t understand why my two sets of grandparents seemed so very different. It was something I had to reconcile in my mind. They weren’t better or worse, just different. I see Hope doing that processing at nearly 17. I probably did it at 5.

There’s a gap.

I’m prepared to stand in it for a long time. It’s really uncomfortable though, can’t lie about that. I know it’s uncomfortable on some level for everyone involved and that that discomfort is probably way worse for Hope than for me. There are no regrets about trying to figure out this family thing. I know it’s in Hope’s best interest to have access and relationships with her extended birth family. More is more. But it isn’t easy. It requires constant scanning, checking in and assessment that her needs are being met, whether it’s to visit or to decline to visit. I pray it gets easier for Hope, that she’ll find her way and heal from the hurt. I also pray that the family gains a better understanding of the hurt and what it has been like for her.

I think that will be the thing that narrows the gap, maybe even eliminate it.

I hope so.


Doing Right by Hope

I listen to a podcast called, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. A recent episode explored the feelings of a father and daughter who lost their wife and mother to cancer when the daughter was just a toddler. The father remarried and never really discussed his late wife, so his daughter was never sure whether it was ok to talk about her.

As I was listening to the show, I started wondering am I doing enough to make Hope feel comfortable talking about her birth family. We have a relationship with a portion of her birth family, and that has been a little hit or miss just based on Hope’s desire. I made sure that I got numerous pictures of one of her parents and they are hung prominently in our home. I have made it clear that whenever she is ready to visit her family, I’m down to make it happen. She expressed an interest in her birth mother, I looked for her and found her. When she said she was satisfied just knowing where she was but didn’t want contact, I put the info away and told her she can have it whenever she wants.

I’ve told her numerous times that if she wants to talk, I’m here. Anytime, anywhere.

And yet, I do wonder if I’ve created the right environment for Hope to feel like she can tell me what she needs around accessing her birth family.

I have learned that my daughter’s feelings about her family are complicated. There is a lot of loss, feelings of rejection, anger, but also love and affection. I know that my daughter can sign a birthday card and say that she hopes to see them soon, but when I ask to schedule a visit she says no, what she wrote was really just a pleasantry.

Early on, I fretted that her birth family would be upset that I was keeping her away from them. We are a four hours’ drive away but are connected by phone, email and social media. We’ve visited several times; of course, they would like us to visit more often. I don’t want to put up roadblocks to reunion if that’s what everyone wants. The reality is that my daughter’s idea of reunion and theirs don’t jive at this point. I’ve learned to be really honest with them about what she’s going through and how much contact she wants. Those are hard conversations to have with a family that also feels like Hope is the prodigal kid, who was lost and now found. I try to make sure that cards get sent, pictures and band concert programs are mailed so that they can see she’s doing well, but truth be told, there’s not much contact between Hope and her family.

On the daily, we don’t talk about her family of origin much either. Occasionally something will remind her of an episode from before my time and she’ll share it with me, usually something funny, sometimes something dark. The dark stuff is always very sad, and honestly, those are the stories that more often get repeated…verbatim. Therapy has helped her write some new scripts, but old habits and trauma die hard. Occasionally, I’ll ask about a parent and she’ll share a little story or shut down the conversation, depending on her mood. This is how we roll; I don’t have much to compare it to, so I guess this is normal. I listen to adult adoptees and know that it can be super complicated. I know that Hope will come into her own and decide if, how and when she wants more of a connection to her birth family. I just don’t ever want her to feel like she doesn’t have my support or that she can’t bring it up in our home. I try to follow her lead on creating and sustaining chosen connections.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve tried to create a space that supports her, values her family yet consistently prioritizes her emotional needs. It’s hard though; it’s complicated. I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough or too much sometimes. Hope is getting older; emotionally she’s still pretty young despite her gains over the last few years. I see her turning into a young adult; I see her questioning a lot of things about the world and about herself and about her personal history as she lived it and interprets it. I know in the coming years I’ll be transitioning from active parenting to a parent-guide of sorts as she comes into herself and launches into the world. I have no idea whether what I’m doing on the birth family stuff will bear fruit—or even what that means, honestly. I just know I want her to be happy and healthy, and I want her to know I’ll always ride hard for her.

I hope I’m doing right by Hope.


Holiday Feels

Hope has been on winter break from school for over a week now. I can tell she’s finally unwound and has been just enjoying herself. We’ve had more time together and have just really enjoyed some good bonding time. Over the weekend we finally got a chance to see the movie Coco, about the Day of the Dead—if you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s amazing. As we were watching it, I thought to myself—well, there’s all kinds of stuff that is transferrable to adoption up and through this movie; I wonder how Hope will process this.

Well, I found out on Christmas night.

The thing about the Day of the Dead is it’s about remembering your people, your family. You honor them. You keep pictures up so you can see them, remember them, so that they can come back to visit you on that holiday.

For a kid who’s lost a parent—either to death or other kinds of separation—this is a bell ringer.

Earlier this year, we visited Hope’s extended first family and I made a point of getting copies of pictures of her parents. When we returned from the visit I had a collage made and the pictures are hung prominently in our home. I thought it was important, but after watching Coco, I saw the importance through a new lens.

We are coming up on a period in Hope’s life when she’s been separated longer than she was with her family. And because of her age and the countless transitions, memories are being questioned and sometimes things seem fuzzy. It wasn’t going to take much to trigger lots of emotion.

I found myself reminiscing about my own childhood and my grandmothers who are long gone now. I got a little choked up myself as I looked at my larger family on Christmas and pondered what they would have to say about their progeny. I was a bit in my feelings too.

And then there was the triggering event. It’s Hope’s story so I won’t share that, but it wasn’t bad, just some circle of life stuff. It was enough to have her snotting on my shoulder for 20 minutes.

The truth of the thing is that my daughter misses her first parents. She misses them deeply. She misses her extended family and understanding their connections to her. She’s seeing some of them age, and watching aging just ain’t fair. Hope’s realizing that some of the narratives about her life that she spun for her own survival aren’t holding up over time.

All of this sucks, it sucks royally. And there’s always some fairly innocuous event that triggers the avalanche of realization, and even when I *know* that it’s imminent, it catches me off guard.

I feel like those moments make my heart stop. I know I suck in air; my mind starts to race considering what’s the best approach to bring Hope comfort. My own tears trickle down my face and my heart aches for my daughter. More than anything I want to take away the pain, even when I know that the only way is to just help her push through it.

I sat with my daughter for a good 20 minutes as she sobbed. I cradled her; I stroked her hair. I waited for her to find words to describe her feelings. I told her I loved her, that I knew this all sucked, that none of it was fair. The only upside is that I know my daughter is feeling; for so long she wouldn’t allow this at all. Feeling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s healthy and it’s necessary for healing. It’s taken us 4 years to get to these free-flowing, pain-filled tears, but the truth is that I hated when she couldn’t and didn’t cry and now that she does it breaks my heart in ways I didn’t think were possible.

Hope and I enjoyed a nice long chat Christmas night about grief, about aging, about memories and how to keep them alive. I try to draw parallels whenever possible, and I search for solutions to make the situation as close to right as it can get. It’s so hard. It really is.

It’s in these moments that I’m convinced that my journey to mothering was rocky and occasionally blocked just so I would have some wise-sounding ish to say to Hope who really seems to need to hear it. That day to day stuff I might be raggedy as hell, but this… for these in the moment, high intensity, therapeutic parenting episodes, I’m totally clutch. I also feel like these are the moments when I HAVE to get it right. I gotta do all that reading, all that prepping, all that internal monologuing just for these moments.  It’s in these moments that I stop thinking about the unfairness of my own journey or at least put it in the larger context of how unfair life is in so many ways.

My and Hope’s Christmas was great, even with a moment overcome by adoption-related grief. We are learning to fold these moments into our lives. As a mom, I’m learning to spot triggers and other things that need to be processed by Hope. I try to do my own processing and reflection more intently, and I just try to sit with my daughter to help her find her way through this life of hers.

As I see my Hope come into a new life chapter filled with more healing, I am eager to see what the new year brings for us. I know it won’t be easy, but Hope is getting stronger and I’m so amazed to have this front row seat for her evolution. I’ll keep tissues at the ready and my shoulder available always.


It’s Awkward

I read a lot of adoptee blogs and tweets. I also listen to several adoptee podcasts, especially Adoptees On. I know that being in reunion with one’s family of birth can be complicated. There are lots of emotions. Sometimes there are secrets. Sometimes you want desperately what you simply can’t have.

Sometimes it’s easy; it’s almost seamless.

Being in reunion can be amazing; it can also be really hard.

Hope is in reunion with her extended family. It’s always been complicated. I thought it was really me; that I complicated things. Now, I’m not so sure. I have tried to provide numerous opportunities for my daughter to see and connect to her biological family. I’ve driven many miles for visits, arranged for phone calls and gifts, and just tried to keep the lines of communication open. This year, I made spring break about our whole family—hers, mine and ours.

It was hard; it was emotionally draining. There were so many big emotions on both sides, but it seemed that no one had the words to adequately verbally communicate what they were feeling and what they wanted from the other. There were tears, lots of them. I stood by with handkerchiefs and hugs.

I found myself still trying to be the bridge trying to span the distance within this family of people who love one another so very much. At moments, I felt stretched beyond my own capacity, but I tried.

Since our big trip six months ago, I’ve still tried to help this family stay connected. Calls, flowers, cards. I’ve nudged Hope to stay connected.

One day recently she just blurted out that it was all so awkward, that it was too awkward and that she kind of just didn’t want to right now.

I tiptoed through a conversation about why it was awkward and what she wanted to happen next. It’s still unclear what the outcome should be in terms of my daughter’s family reunion. I know what I want for her, but it’s not about me. It’s about what she wants and what is best for her, and only she can figure that out.

I see Hope with our family after nearly 4 years. I watch her with her aunts. I watch her with her cousins and how those relationships have evolved during the last few years. I’m so excited about that, but my joy is tempered by my own comparisons across our extended family. I was hopeful that over time things would smooth out, that we really would be this big happy family on all sides. That simply hasn’t happened yet.

I’m still hopeful that awkwardness in these relationships will fade away. I’m eager to figure out what I can do, but my sense is that they will have to figure this out themselves.

The selfish part of me worries that Hope’s family will come to believe I kept her from them, that I somehow soured Hope against her biological family. I worry that I will be perceived as threatened by them. There was a time when I did kind of feel threatened, but it was brief and unwarranted. Families are big and complicated; I decided early on to make it work.

I feel like I failed in that endeavor. I really have tried to make a big tent. I feel like I did all the things I was supposed to do to help my daughter have a positive reunion. But, right now at least, it isn’t the happy reunion we had all prayed for, and there’s really nothing I can do about it.

My natural role in life is to be a fixer, but I can’t fix this. That’s a hard reality check for me. Not only can’t I fix it, it’s not my role to beyond what I’ve done to this point. My role was to facilitate that ability for these folks to work it out. I did that, but I guess I have to take a step back and really hope that they do, that Hope wants to figure it all out. Really, I hope she does whatever she needs to in order to be as close to whole as she can.

I feel like I should still reach out, just as me, but I don’t know if that’s appropriate. Hope is 16, and I’m loathe to get on her bad side in a perceived family *thing.* Despite my own efforts to blend the families, I’m not sure that is what Hope wants, at least right now. I try to follow her lead on adoption related stuff, but this…I’m not sure how to read this; is the lead to just let it alone and let it breathe for a while?

I’m guessing I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing—cards, pictures, letters and flowers on holidays—and get out of the way for them to figure it out.


The Elements

I grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire. My parents love music and exposed my siblings and me to some of the best disco, funk, and R&B out there as we grew up. Earth, Wind and Fire were special though with positive vibes, love songs and the sheer volume of hits they created. I loved them and continue to love them.

I went to my first EWF concert when I was a freshman in college. I took my mom. Maurice White was no longer touring with the group, though he occasionally would make a drop-in appearance. I remember rocking out with my mom and seeing the lights on her face from the show. I remember mom saying she hoped Maurice would drop into this show; it was like she was a young woman swooning over a famous crush. I remember it being such a fun time for us.

My daughter also loves EWF; her father loved the band and played their music often. Hearing an EWF song triggers happy memories of her time with her dad. When I heard the group was on tour with Nile Rodgers and Chic, and that they were coming to DC, I thought I’d invest in some floor seats and take Hope. It would be a good time for sure and also give us the good feel memories in the process.

So last night, my daughter and I met up for a yummy pre-concert dinner at a favorite restaurant of mine and headed out to boogie the night away.

If you are a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire and they are coming to your town on this tour—get your fanny to that arena and get your swerve on. Seriously, it was an amazing concert. The spectrum of people present was amazing. There was glitter, drunk folks, dandies, 70’s style headbands, whistles, ponchos—the people watching alone was worth the price of admission.

But the music…oh the music was EVERYTHING.

Hope and I rocked out. We screamed! We sang along. We smiled! We shimmied. We had an amazing time.

Hope was fast asleep before we could get out of the parking garage and in the bed before I could get back from walking the dog after we got home.

We boogied until we couldn’t boogie anymore.

Towards the end of the show the band did a lovely tribute to the late Maurice White. familyreunion

And the light hit Hope’s face the way it did with my mom 20+ years ago.

familyreunion

And…I got to thinking about my parents and Hope and her dad.

I reveled in my memories with my parents, dancing in the family room, turning the volume up in the car, looking at my dad’s army pictures when he was clearly grooving to good music. I found myself just oozing gratitude about having had them my whole life, how we shared these memories together, how The Elements were one of many parts of the soundtrack of our lives together.

I looked over at Hope who was swaying and singing. She smiled at me. I smiled back and thought about how much I wished she had had a longer time to build memories with her biological parents, how a whole series of episodes separated them, how at least she has these good memories that clearly bring her joy. I thought about how it just isn’t fair that my sisters and I have enjoyed our biological family having never known anything else, having never known the kind of upheaval Hope has, having taken for granted how easily things could have been different.

Life isn’t fair, and yet somehow Hope and I have been put together with a thread of music that helps us find common ground. We both get a chance to create these important memories. It doesn’t make up for the losses that Hope has experienced, but it does allow us to build from where we find ourselves.

“Ohhhh, this is one of my dad’s favorite songs.”

I smile and tell her it’s one of my dad’s favorites too.

There are only 3 original members still touring these days; they are all pushing 70 so I don’t know how many more tours there will be. I’m glad I took my daughter to see this one. I know that she will tell her friends and she will create legends about last night. I’ll look forward to reminiscing about last night with her 20 years from now as she tells her kids about last night. I hope we’ll both talk about our parents and what they loved about the music too.

That’s the way of the world.

 


Family Unions

This weekend Hope and I will travel to my mother’s hometown to join up with other descendants of my great-great grandparents. I haven’t attended a family reunion since I was a girl in grade school, so I’m excited to go see cousins from all over at a huge gathering of my people.

As I registered me and my daughter for this event, I really wondered about how Hope felt about attending this event.

Hope often remarks how large my side of our family is compared to her side. She comments on how her paternal side seems large but she just doesn’t really know many of the people even though they seem to remember her from when she was a small child.

Behaviorally, it’s clear that my daughter has found her place on my side of the family. She adores her aunts and cousins. She has relationships with her grands. We’re still working past the big emotions related to reclaiming her place on her side of her family. The visits are less frequent because of distance and emotional stability. The conversation is stilted and awkward. The perceived demands that she remember, forgive and embrace them all are hard to overcome. It’s definitely a work in progress.

But family gatherings during the holidays and summer break with my family seems substantially different than going to a family reunion. Did other descendants choose to build their families through adoption? I know of some kinship adoptions in our extended family, but there are still some relations there that just are.

Will Hope feel overwhelmed by the event—beyond her “I don’t like crowds” complaints? Will her new roots in this family be enough to make her feel safe at this event? Will she choose to blend in not mentioning our type of family or will she feel like she needs to separate herself by disclosing our adoption? How best do I make her feel safe with any choice she chooses to make?

My parents and a sister did our Ancestry DNA tests several months ago and have been intrigued and amused at the results. It’s interesting to see how DNA trickles through the bloodlines. I bought a test for Hope who at one point was very, very interested in doing her test, and then she just dropped it and resisted talking about it anymore. I wondered if all that was revealed in watching my immediate family go through the process, uncovering family secrets and connecting with far flung relatives, was just too much to consider for my daughter.

And so, here we are again, at the precipice of another major family event. Will my daughter embrace it? Will she be a distant observer and not feel connected to any of it? Will she reconcile that paper and blood can coexist in families? Will she feel something for these people…these strangers?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a lot of emotions about this family reunion. I’m excited to see kinfolk, but I don’t know how my daughter will fit this into her lived experience. I’m not sure what being sensitive looks like here. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, and hopefully maybe it won’t matter at all. Maybe, she will just slide in, grab a hotdog, sit down next to a distant cousin who is cute and figure it out. Sometimes she can be a total boss like that.

Taking my daughter to my/our family reunion is expanding her union and that feels really, really significant. I try to think of our biological families as tied together by us—similar to how families are joined in marriage—ours is joined in adoption. I think a lot about how unbalanced it already feels sometimes, and I wonder if and how this will add to that?

I wouldn’t want to not take Hope as that sends a dangerous signal. Hope is my daughter. Hope is my sole beneficiary to everything that’s mine. She is my lovely, beautiful girl. She is my daughter. Of course, she goes to the family reunion.  Duh! That’s a non-starter.

But there’s always another side to things and that’s Hope’s feelings about it.

I’ve asked her about it. She hasn’t said much. So, I guess I’ll press forward, put on my family reunion t-shirt on Saturday morning, see if Hope puts on her family ‘union’ t-shirt and see what happens. Whatever happens I’ll be there for her as usual.


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