a tale of two families

Well it’s not the full story, but what ever is?

What follows is a minor study in contrasts of how two different families may approach adoption to build their families.

One set of parents is a bit older than the other. They struggled to conceive and carry their first child, a preemie born at 24 weeks. She was born just a few months before Kaye gave birth to the baby who would become our daughter. At the time I remember thinking oh no. The odds were not good. Miraculously, their little girl not only survived four months in the NICU but at nearly four years old she is thriving, though with developmental challenges. They have since lost several (high risk) pregnancies as they’ve tried for a second child. Finally reaching their emotional limit, they are now considering adoption to complete their family. We were set to meet to discuss our adoption over a year ago, but I ended up on hospital bedrest before delivering Baby Z early. (When they heard she’d be 33 weeks, they assured us, “don’t worry, she’ll be fine.“)

Recently over brunch our girls played while we chatted for hours. These are family friends but we’ve never spent time with them socially. Yet with infertility, loss and preemies in the NICU, we had a lot to talk about. Like many just starting out, they are unsure about certain aspects of adoption. They share some common concerns and fears — e.g., fear of an expectant mother choosing them and then deciding to parent, fear of being thrown into new relationships and extending family to unknown people, concerns about the resources necessary to maintain real openness, fear for their child of the adoption closing.

We talked about the risk of feeling vulnerable with emotional investment. We discussed how, as you focus on the needs of the child, you realize that when an expectant mother decides to parent it is often best for her baby. We talked about how when you meet the “right” person, openness can feel so natural, even when it’s hard. We talked about focusing on the process rather than the outcome.

The mother in this first family is a woman of color with a sister who joined her family though international adoption. She has seen up close how adoption — and closed adoption in particular — can affect an adopted person. She offered to help her sister try to find her family of origin. With this kind of empathy, it’s clear she is entering into adoption with her eyes open. While she has fears, this mother knows why she wants an open adoption for her second child.

The second family includes a beloved relative and his partner, so fertile she conceived their first while they were living in separate states. Their second child is just two years younger, a ‘let’s just see what happens’ on the first month baby. A couple so fertile I’ve blogged about them and how it felt to stand in their full house as the only childless woman in the room. This is a woman so clueless about how to be a compassionate friend to another woman struggling with loss that she had to be schooled.

So why would this family choose to adopt a child? I don’t honestly know. I can make assumptions but none are necessarily accurate or fair. At least one of them would like to care for another child. They’d like to have a boy, since they have two girls. They were interested in foster care but determined they lacked capacity for it. I thought they might consider international adoption, but recently their focus shifted to domestic infant adoption. They are now considering what route to take with an agency or lawyer and outreach, before a home study is even completed.

Now this family I expected to approach me about adoption. I’ve spoken with so many people, some interested in learning more, others actively pursuing that path. I’ve talked with friends and family, friends of friends, colleagues and their relatives, nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers. I’ve talked with dozens of bloggers I’ve never even met to help them navigate decision-making and the transition from loss or treatment to adoption. I’ve offered resources, education, guidance, tools, general support. You’d think that people so close to me would at least try to consult, even in some small way, with someone who’s been through it, someone who could draw on an an invaluable community of people and families living in open adoptions. But no. It’s not that I’m insulted, though that they choose to ignore such an available resource is a bit troubling.

Yet I’m even more put off by their whole approach, by the gender preference. I’m disturbed by the idea that they want to “save” a child, when it’s unclear if they understand the need to keep infant adoption as a last resort for expectant parents. This is not a family looking to adopt an orphan from another country, or a child from foster care, or an older child who could be harder to place. And let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting they should, either. I’m simply trying to assess their understanding and approach.

Above all, adoption should be about the needs of the child, not the prospective parents.

Yes, like many, we turned to adoption because we wanted to love a baby. We worked with the most ethical professionals we could find. We provided a loving home for a child in need, offering “peace of mind” to her first mother (her words, not mine), as we fulfilled our dream of becoming parents. Yet while we had personal decisions to make along the way, our process was intently focused on the needs of our future child and his/her first family.

I can’t help but wonder whether this second family knows what this path entails. I worry they have unrealistic ideas about adoption. And perhaps we’re partly responsible for that. They have seen our adoption up close, not the details or the hard work, but the relative ease with which we “matched” and our subsequent joy and extension of family. They saw how easily we embraced Kaye and her family into our lives. They’ve watched as we celebrated Jaye’s milestones together. But they don’t see the difficult parts, the anguish and loss. They don’t know how complicated adoption can be. They don’t see what Kaye goes through herself; hell, we don’t even see a large part of that. They don’t have to delicately field our daughter’s curious questions. They don’t know how hard it is to wonder if your child will ever see her biological father again, or what impact it may have on her. I fear that seeing only the positive has enabled them to put up blinders to the more complex aspects of adoption. While I haven’t been asked for input, I’ve still encouraged a lot more education and preparation.

I also wonder whether they can embrace real openness, when they seem to already lack capacity to extend themselves beyond their family unit. I worry that, should they adopt a child, there would be minimal openness with little chance for much more — not because they’re bad people, but because they seem so stretched already.

Now I know it sounds like I’m judging. I guess I am. I try not to, I do. But I have so many questions and I don’t like the answers I’m left to presume because they choose not to discuss it. I’ve made myself readily available with nothing from them but questions about outreach. I’m upset about the lack of engagement of other family and friends too. It’s not that I expect them to involve anyone in their decision-making. I certainly don’t. And I know better than to question something so personal as a choice to build a family (or not).

And yet. Still, I question.

Who am I to say what’s right for them? I can’t. But I’m thinking about the little boy they would bring into their family. While no doubt this child would be loved, we know that love is not enough. Just because someone may be a great parent does not necessarily mean they would be a good adoptive parent. That takes awareness and dedication and the ability to put your child’s needs above yours in a way that inherently exceeds the bounds of traditional parenting.

Who’s to say whether or not adoption is an appropriate path in either of these two instances? Being an adoptive parent makes me no more worthy of an opinion than anyone about how these people choose to build their families. It’s really none of our business. On one hand I feel obligated to share what I can — i.e., the benefit of my experience and knowledge, resources, etc. — and I’m honored when someone asks. But on the other hand it’s simply not my place to impose my views unless invited. I may seek to educate and enlighten — as I think everyone connected to adoption has an interest in ensuring child-centered ethical practices — but I don’t know how to broaden the scope of a discussion that someone is unwilling to have.

~ by luna on January 9, 2013.

29 Responses to “a tale of two families”

  1. Luna, what a wonderful advocate you are.

    It’s so hard to watch something happening helpless, worrying that you think it could be the wrong path. (Hugs)

    Could you send the family Lavender Luz’s book on Open Adoption? With a note that you heard they were considering adoption and that this is a fabulous resource, or something like that? At least that way, you’d know they at least had helpful information given to them?

    • thanks, jessica. it’s a good suggestion, though I’m not sure it would help. I wonder if they haven’t asked because they don’t necessarily think they’d like what I have to say. or because they think they know it all already. another complicating factor is outing myself (since we’re featured in the book) and exposing all those blog posts I’ve written that in effect reference them. ;~o

  2. I wish we could make everyone do the right thing for the right reasons. I don’t think you’re being judgmental here, but I do think that you portray the two families differently to us, and that’s because you see them differently. It’s only natural to tell our stories as we see them.

    On the one hand, it sounds like you’re right to be worried about the second family’s lack of preparation. On the other hand, I suspect (I hope!) that as they begin to go through the adoption process they will begin to understand some of what you’re talking about here. They may be seeking infant adoption because they know, somehow, that they’re not prepared to answer the questions that an older child might ask right away, or that would be more obvious to ask with an adopted child from another country. I don’t know … I’m speculating just as you are.

    I agree, as you say, that “Just because someone may be a great parent does not necessarily mean they would be a good adoptive parent.” But I think I disagree that with the wording when you say that it involves “the ability to put your child’s needs above yours in a way that inherently exceeds the bounds of traditional parenting.” I think that depends so greatly on the child, on the parent, and on so many factors that influence a relationship … parents of special needs children, for example, would likely never agree with that statement. It’s a different skill set. But I also would hope that it’s a skill set that can be learned, if you love enough. And though people can be HUGE ignoramuses when it comes to being compassionate friends, they do seem to find more and more room in their hearts as their families grow.

    I think that it’s important to continue to offer yourself as a reference. But you may be too close for comfort for them, too. Maybe what they need is someone who *isn’t* so close, who can talk with them anonymously?

    You know these people far better than I do. I’m sorry that this is so hard to watch … sometimes I think all we can do is hope that their hearts are in the right place as they begin this process, and that karma is at work. *hug*

    • justine, I’m replying as a comment, even though I’ve already said some of this to you already!

      thanks so much for your comment. you are right that tale is told through the teller’s lens. no doubt my biases are showing through. I own that.

      I understand the desire to pursue infant adoption, and it would be hypocritical of me to suggest that’s wrong when I firmly believe every family needs to decide for themselves if and how to grow. I’m more concerned about the way in which they’re pursuing it and the lack of attention to openness. the gender preference is also disturbing because let’s face it, while I understand wanting a boy when you have girls, if you’re trying to “save” a child, it shouldn’t be based on gender, and that kind of adoption is more about the needs of the adopting parents than the child. many (not all) adoption professionals won’t even work with couples with a preference.

      I appreciate the other issue you raise, challenging my statement that adoptive parenting requires “the ability to put your childs needs above yours in a way that inherently exceeds the bounds of traditional parenting. you provide an excellent example where that is simply not the case, such as parenting a child with special needs, and I agree with you to an extent.

      yet I don’t think I articulated well what I was trying to say. I mean most parents (ideally) put their kids first, and of course parents in extenuating circumstances even more so. what I was trying to get at is that I think adoptive parents need to have a sort of ego-less approach to parenting, in some sense, to be able to deal with complex issues that arise with other parents in our lives, knowing that our children have needs that we can never fulfill. adoptive mamas need to get beyond our own insecurities and emotions to enable our children to embrace their other mothers. I don’t think every woman can do that, without burdening their child with their own issues. hope that makes some more sense. and yes, I hope that can be learned, or that the heart will open wide enough to allow it.

      many thanks again for your thoughtful comment!

  3. It is an excellent point — just because someone would make a great parent doesn’t mean they’ll make a good adoptive parent. But don’t we also sometimes rise to the occasion? There are so many types of parenting I don’t think I’d excel at, but if that was the child I had, I would have to get good at it. Perhaps they’re going in blind, but they’ll rise to the occasion once they get in there. Not — perhaps — the best route from your vantage point, but maybe the only one that makes sense to them right now where they’re at.

    • yes mel, I hope they will rise to the occasion. and you’re right, we never know what we’re capable of until we’re in that situation. BUT. there is so much preparation they could do, and I feel like adoptive parents owe it to everyone involved to educate themselves as much as possible while they can. I think education and awareness are critical to cultivating a thorough understanding of what it takes to parent an adopted child. that said, of course you can’t REALLY know what it’s like or how you’ll respond until you’re in the thick of it, as I can attest.

      thanks again.

  4. Oh, honey. I think you know what I’m thinking. I’ll just say that I hope things work out well for both families. If it were me, I’d get Family #2 Lori Lavender Luz’s book – but then again, you can’t make somebody read what they’re not ready to see.

    Sometimes, things work out differently from the way you plan when you start. I think you’re being a good friend to both families.

    • I hope so, too. I’m hoping that they just want some space (privacy?) now but that they will open up soon. the whole thing is just bizarre to me, that we could be so close and that she would want to keep such a distance. then again, maybe she found my blog? heh.

      thanks for your kind words.

  5. Friends of mine let me know they were talking about adoption recently. Knowing them, I wasn’t really sure they knew what they were in for, though of course they are good parents already. I tried to be as clear as I could that adopting because they could offer a child a “good” home was not the same thing as wanting to “have” another kid. The desire to “save” a child versus actually wanting to grow their family. Do you know what I mean? I offered them links, offered my support and hoped they would educate themselves a bit. Adoption does require you extend yourself to strangers in a way that is not normally required. In any case, since they didn’t ask, there isn’t much you can or should do. The process itself will be enlightening, don’t you think?

    • ha! enlightening, yes, that’s it. seriously though, our process was an excellent exercise is mindfulness, living in the present moment, and trying to remain engaged yet not attached. funny, I think this person believes she is on an enlightened path. but I still think she has no idea. it’s a whole other world…

      you do what you can do, I guess. you share the resources and hope they’re open to it. in this case, there hasn’t even been an opening and it’s as if anything I have to offer (aside from outreach tips) has been unwelcome. not a good feeling.

      anyway. thanks for your comment! xo

  6. Clicked over to read the comments. We have good friends who are very, very fertile but committed to adopting (so fertile that an “oops” arrived between their first home study and completing the paperwork). I know that they have many reasons they want to adopt, but some of the ones they articulate in public include “saving a poor child” and specifically a “non-Christian child.” But of course they want a child as young as possible, and are considering sibling sets to get a baby despite an already large family. And it is just so hard. I know they are good people, devoted parents, and will love any children they parent but so much of me just wishes they could understand a little more about the complexities of the world.

    • thanks for your comment. it’s tricky because I don’t want to question their desire to build their family. after what I’ve been through, I know it’s no one’s business and I wouldn’t want to be judged for the choices I’ve made. that said, it’s hard to stand aside when I feel like I could help. but it’s clear they don’t really want my kind of help. and while I shouldn’t begrudge them that, it still disturbs me since I’d be trying to prepare them a little more for the complexities of what they’re about to undertake.

      ah well. as someone said above, you can’t force people to hear what they don’t want to hear. and I don’t want to overstep more than I already have.

  7. adding for anyone interested: a wonderful and relevant letter directed to a family inquiring about international adoption: http://www.jillianlauren.com/2013/01/a-letter-about-adoption/

  8. First off, thanks to JJiraffe and SpykerKL for their kind words.

    Next, I think what would hurt me most is that I wasn’t asked by Couple #2. That’s the thing I would really want to know from them, but not be quite able to ask. The hurt from that snub would take some work on my part to release it.

    The savior thing bothers me, too. And I didn’t realize why until I read through your post and the wise comments. We hear adult adoptees say that they don’t like the expectation that they be grateful about their adoption. I wonder if this tends to happen more with parents who want to “offer a child a good home.” The parents feel like they’ve put themselves out and dammit, someone oughtta be grateful for it!

    The flip side is the parent who wants to parent — almost for selfish reasons. Then it’s the parent who ends up feeling grateful for the child (as well as the child’s first parents) and who seeks ways to express that gratitude on the entire parenting journey. Heartfelt gratitude naturally cultivates openness.

    Hmmmm…I think I have more thinking to do about this.

    • Wow! You nailed it on the head! I have such a problem with the “save a child” mentality. I hate that I judge people who think like that/ do it, but I do. I don’t think any adoption should start because the adoptive parents want to save a child. Every adoption should start because they want another member in their family.
      I became a silent follower of a blog who was only open to adopting an African American boy into their Caucasian family. While we are a transracial family hoping to adopt a brown baby, we weren’t that specific (thank God) and now we have our beautiful son. But when she told the blog world she denied Caucasian matches because they only wanted an AA baby, my heart sank.

      Don’t get me wrong, as a foster parent, anyone capable to opening their home to a child taken from their home, should. So I am 100% on board with any loving family becoming foster parents and adopting through foster care.
      There is just something that rubs me the wrong way about a family adopting an infant with that sort of mentality. That being said, I know every birth parent is 100% capable of choosing the perfect family for their child.

      • thanks for your comment, annie. yes, I think there’s something about the selectivity, when it has nothing to do with capacity or ability of the family to care for the child or provide what s/he may need (given his/her background), but more about a personal preference that serves the parents. that said, I do love your last sentence and have to agree. thanks again!

  9. So difficult.

    I think I might be tempted to be vague to the point of unhelpfulness with their outreach efforts — perhaps sprout an unfortunate case of amnesia.

    If they’re determined to adopt, they probably will. But I think the journey can be educational and enlightening, like somebody else here pointed out… and while it may not lead to the epiphanies that we might hope for — there is a chance at least that they’ll learn important things along the way, which may go un-learned if their journey is shortened by quicker/easier matching.

    • thanks for this. I did mention that my outreach was over 4 yrs ago and things are a lot different now. I kept it pretty general. I especially love your comment about how a shorter process can also bypass much of the enlightening journey. I think this is so true. every step was truly the best buddhist practice I could have ever imagined — living in the moment, focusing on the process but not the outcome, letting go of attachment, knowing that suffering was inevitable, and remembering to breathe. thanks again!

  10. What an unbelievably tough road to travel. No matter what happens for either family, you will be an invaluable resource and support for them.

    • thanks so much for your comment, kristin. and so it continues. while emails to the wife have gone unanswered, the cousin wants to talk. so that’s something! thanks again.

  11. I venture to say that you can’t broaden the scope of a discussion with someone who doesn’t appear interested. I’ve seen this already between me and someone I know as we’ll as other bloggers. It’s hard to listen or read something from an adoptive parent that is obviously not the right approach. I have to remind myself that I’m mot going to change their mind, especially if I’ve already tried through example. There I go being judgmental!

    • it’s true, I think there is little interest in having a real conversation. and it’s true, if you can’t show by example, what more can you do?

      thanks for your comment!

  12. I feel (and maybe completely off in my intuition) that you are a bit close for your beloved relative’s partner. Maybe its like seeking out a psychiatrist for therapy. You won’t go to one who is your friend or with whom you socialize, would you? I would prefer someone who only knows me as a patient. I know this is not the same but can’t help wondering if there are parallels…

    • thanks gigi. yes, I think you make an excellent point. I’ve considered whether I am too close for comfort. but I’ve also offered to connect them with any number of other people who they wouldn’t know. they just don’t seem interested in engaging.

  13. This is such a great post. I struggle a lot with many of the aspects of adoption which is why at this time at least I’ve chosen not to pursue it. Part of my struggle does come from being adopted myself. One thing though that often bugs me is this concept that by adopting you’re “saving” that child from something yet there are so many who are only interested in adopting well, healthy infants, not those with chronic health problems or older children which are often the ones more in need of saving. I’m not sure what the thoughts or motivations of your relatives are and while they may have only the best intentions I understand your concern. It seems there are so many who fail or refuse to see the heartbreaking side of adoption which is there.

    • it’s true there are many who refuse to see a dark side to adoption, but also many who wouldn’t even know where to look.

      I also know several adoptees who have chosen not to pursue adoption to build their families. (and a few who did!)

      thanks for your comment!

  14. […] how far I’ve come. It’s hard not to look at people just starting out now and think wow, I wish I could share with you all that I’ve learned. I know everyone on this path has to find their own way, but it helps tremendously to have guidance […]

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