Tag Archives: Birth Family

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.

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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.


My 4th Mothers Day

This weekend marks my 4th observance of Mothers Day. Thinking about that makes me smile, and then I remember how complicated this holiday is for my daughter and I and my smile fades a bit.

I know that I adore Hope. I know that Hope loves me very much.

In a perfect world, we would never know each other. Hope would be feting her biological mother this weekend 3,000 miles away. They might go to their favorite restaurant. There might be a card; there would be lots of hugs and “thank you mom, you’re awesome” statements.

I would be at my own brunch with my biological children, smiling, laughing with them marveling at these little miracles that came through my body.

But this isn’t a perfect world, and Hope and I have each other, each with all our imperfections and challenges.

I think we both ponder that, even unconsciously, during this holiday. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t a solid family. It does mean that we still have to make time and space for grief.

I know that I won’t have a card waiting for me in the morning when I wake up. I made my own brunch reservation at one of our favorite restaurants. I plan to make her use her debit card (which I finance) to pay for said dinner so that at least I have the illusion of being “treated to brunch.” I figure it will also help her learn what she’s supposed to do—not necessarily for me, but in general regarding these kinds of things.

And then, I will post up at a local hookah bar, order a glass of something yummy and puff away the afternoon. This will give me some time to enjoy myself with no drama (join me if you’re in the DMV area, just drop me an email!). It will also give Hope some time with her own thoughts, which, I’m finding she needs.

During our recent trip to see some family, we acquired some pictures of her mother. I recall just watching Hope look at the pictures. During our time as a family, I’ve gotten pretty good at reading her emotions, but I couldn’t read Hope’s reaction. It was almost vacant; but I know it wasn’t vacant at all. There were and are a lot of tangled up, complicated emotions going on just under the surface. She had no desire to process it with me either.  In a nutshell, Hope’s emotional connection/reaction towards her mother is complicated and it’s very much exclusively hers at this point.

I imagine that one day Mother’s Days will be different me and Hope.  That we will have a different kind of balance between grief and celebration. We will have fun brunches and lots of smiles and lots of love. This weekend we will have those things, just tempered a bit. It’s ok. Monday will be a new day and we will have gotten through another year of this day, together.


We Are Family

I grew up in a very traditional nuclear family. So did my parents. So did my grandparents. And so on, and so on. I remember thinking nothing of it.

Today all the folks we consider kinfolk has expanded dramatically. Adoption, marriage, babies, step kids…I often joke that we have duct taped and stapled folks to our family tree.

And that’s a good thing for all of us.

Over spring break we visited Hope’s side of the family. Previous visits were short,this one had us in the area for 3 days. It was worth all the driving and all the angst.

I’ve always known this but I see and know it more than ever now: There is something about being with your people that is incredibly powerful. Nature means folks look like you and sound like you, act like you. Hope’s biological relationship with her kinfolk is undeniable; she looks just like them.

We learned a lot about Hope’s family on this trip. I better understand why kinship adoption wasn’t the best fit and how that truth has nothing to do with love. I wish that things had been different for Hope and for them, but we can only look forward. On this trip I learned what it feels like to also be grafted into a family tree. I imagine that this isn’t quite what Hope felt, but maybe something along a parallel track.

This is the family visit when it all came together.

Well it did for me anyway. I think Hope is still trying to figure it all out. For us adults, we have life skills and emotional intelligence to make this work more easily. I see their love for my daughter; they see my love for their daughter. There doesn’t need to be any drama; we are a family and we’ll do what we have to in order to make it work for Hope because that’s what sensible grown folks do.

Hope still has some work to do in this area. She has quickly become territorial about aspects of the experience and even the chocolate cake her grandmother made because she knows I love cake. Hope isn’t a big fan of cake. It will likely go uneaten because I decided to just let it be her cake, which I know she will not eat (more on the cake in a separate post).

It is a strange thing for all the adults in a room brought together by the love of a child to get it together only to watch the child struggle.

My daughter was frustrated by the family desire to talk about her parents; she quietly complained that she didn’t want to talk about them unless they came up in conversation, but they did, a lot. My inner monologue also was running and said, “Well why the hell are we here if not to be around your family who will no doubt talk a lot about your parents???” I knew better than to ask that question out loud.

I relished in getting pictures of my daughter as a little girl with her parents, while she alternated between balking and sobbing at the imagery and demanding copies of everything. Mid-trip we talked about what it felt like to sit up at night and intensely study the pictures looking for resemblance and connection.

While I’m happy to have taken this trip, now that we are home I’m realizing the real emotional cost. It is hurts to know that my daughter doesn’t understand that there is enough love and loyalty to go around. There will be more questions, there will be more trips. I feel grafted into the family, but I’ve still got lots of questions and curiosity from my own biological family about “them.” If history is predictive, there will be big emotions. There will be clingyness. There will be pulling away. There will be anger. There will be just a lot of stuff. It exhausts me thinking about it.

But I would do it again. How could I deny Hope her family? How in good conscious could I do that? My emotional output is minimal compared to the opportunity to reconnect with family. To see her family delight in seeing her again, getting reacquainted, to have the chance to share childhood stories of her lost parent, to see themselves in her…it is a beautiful thing to witness.  This isn’t just for Hope; it’s for all of them.

We’ll visit again and again. I look forward to inviting them to visit, to graduations, to a wedding, to birthday parties and other events.

We are family.


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