Welcome back to Blogville. Thank you for being with me and keeping me company. Today my tea cup sits empty for there is no tea leaf that can warm me as I deal with my thoughts. The thoughts in this blog may not apply to everyone but I know that many will relate.
*Trigger alert.* So many raw emotions while writing this blog, the most emotions I think I have ever shared out loud. My birthday month is hard, always has been, and probably always will be. Technically, the day of my physical birth is in September but it has never been a day of celebration for me. Often in September I feel like I can relate to the expression ‘one person’s trash is another person’s treasure’. (Yes I know it’s “one man’s trash” . . .but we live in 2023.)
I am always devastated when I hear about miscarriages. They represent the end of, or at least a delay of, the dream of parenthood, or maybe they are sometimes a relief from the idea of unexpected parenthood. My adoptive parents suffered several miscarriages, each one eating away at their parenthood dream. So, I often wondered why I survived instead of their much sought after babies? Why did my birth mother’s unwanted pregnancy (trash) proceed to term when so many wanted pregnancies (treasures) did not?
I often think about how my birth mother found the strength to tell her parents that she was pregnant, with no plans for marrying my birth father. My birth father, in fact, was already gone from the community, leaving his seed behind. I was already there but he couldn’t hear or see me, not that he ever looked back. She was left with all the adult decisions while she was barely an adult herself.
I picture a young woman and her parents seated at a formica kitchen table sharing tea and tears, whispering plan options so that the other children, her siblings, wouldn’t hear. My birth mother would have to go away they decided, so that even though there may be whispers, there would be no actual proof of the family’s shame. This meant me, shaming their family. Leaving was the only solution. I picture my immigrant birth grandfather’s face, angry or sad, the face of a hard worker whose daughter would now need to leave their new Canadian community under a veil of shame.
I often wonder about her time at the home for unwed mothers. How did she get there? Did her parents take her or did they put her on a train where a stranger would be waiting at the other end of her journey to hide her away? How did the religious sisters treat her? Did she miss her parents? Her siblings? Did she grieve a future that she had planned for herself, a future that would now be delayed at least, if not destroyed? How did she feel about the man who likely whispered promises but then left her behind? Did she try to find him and tell him about me? If he made any, did she grieve his empty promises?
I have no real, concrete information about my birth, so my imagination fills in the blanks instead. I picture a young woman in labour, with sweat on her brow, crying out with the pains of labour. I picture a privacy sheet hung between her and her bottom half from which I would eventually appear, ready or not, the sheet put there so that she would not have to see me. I picture a nurse covering me up and whisking me off, leaving my birth mother with nothing but the echos of my first cries and the scissor-like cutting sound of my separation from her, dividing the cord that had bound us for nine months.
My fantasy shows a tearful young woman begging for just one more minute with her baby before she had to take a train back to her family. My file information is in complete conflict with my fantasy however, describing instead her checking herself out as soon as possible, just seven days after my birth, without ever seeing or holding me. Instead of making any pleas to keep me, she voluntarily left me in the hands of a broken child welfare system, and never looked back.
I remained there, for almost an entire month, at the home for unwed mothers, abandoned and alone in the care of overworked nursing sisters. The original plan of a worker coming to collect my birth mother and me was vacated in my birth mother’s haste to return to her family, and in her desire leave me behind. Finally, the frustrated head nurse wrote to my agency demanding that I be collected at their earliest convenience as they were in need of my bassinet for other ‘unwanted babies’. When I read that in my file, I felt inconvenient, and abandoned.
An overworked staff member was eventually sent to retrieve me and travel back with me to my home community where I was placed into an emergency foster home. From there I was moved to another foster home which turned out to be filled with system failures that left sores and rashes on my tiny body. Rescued from there I felt my first taste of love. My third foster family saved my abandoned self and showed me the rewards of being loved.
Sadly for her, my birth mother was sought out regarding the need for her signature on a form. A Judge needed confirmation of her plan for me to be adopted before releasing me for legal adoption. My fantasy saw this as her second chance and I imagined her being grateful for the error and therefore, facilitating her change of heart. However, my file indicates only her surprise and irritation at having to complete forms a second time. By reading the reality of her reaction, I felt relinquished all over again.
It is so very hard to describe the impact on me, on my self-image, to have been unwanted, not welcomed to join my birth families, maternal or paternal, even as a tiny baby. What was so wrong with me? Maybe you see how my ‘birthday’ brings that all back to me, that I was once one person’s trash. Since childhood I have disliked the anniversary of my birth, grieving what I never knew. Friends and family wishing me a ‘happy birthday’ never made it true, though I appreciate how hard they tried. Throughout my childhood and youth that September date served only to remind me that I was unwanted at my birth. Now, at my age and state of being, that calendar date simply reminds me that I am physically another year older, however my sense of not having been wanted remains with me on that September date.
I once asked my mother if we could celebrate the day they got me instead of the day I was born and I remember her replying, “oh you just want two birthday parties!” No mom, just one, I wanted to celebrate the day I was placed with the family who loved and wanted me, the day I was no longer one person’s trash, because I had become one family’s treasure. That day was worth celebrating! This is my first September without the mother who wanted me, whose treasure I was, so I grieve even more this year. Part of me still grieves for what I never knew and now, a bigger part of me grieves what I had instead.
So instead of September, actually a grief time for me, celebrate with me in June, for that is the month my happily-ever-after story began, and in it I became my parents’ treasure. If you know an adoptee, ask them when they celebrate, or would like to celebrate, having started their life. For some it will be the day they were born, for many it will be the day they joined their adoptive family, and for others, it will be the day their adoption was finalized and they knew they would never have to leave another family again. If they look at you funny when you ask, simply tell them you read about the idea in some adoptee’s blog and thought you would ask them.
Thank you for reading, I know it was a tough one to read because it was a tough one to write. It is important for you to know that, unlike me, many adoptees love celebrating their birthday. As well, I feel that current and future openness in adoption will help adoptees deal better with feelings around celebrating birthdays. I just want other adoptees to know that if they don’t want to celebrate their birthday, they are not alone. I want adoptive families to listen if their child objects to celebrating their calendar birthday. Maybe instead, together you can find a day (or even two days) to celebrate your child’s physical birth and/or your child joining your family! Everyone’s story is unique and deserves to be uniquely celebrated!
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Hello Blogville friends. Welcome back. Today’s tea is a simple English Breakfast blend that I enjoy. I hope it will offer me strength as I write this particular blog.
You know how, when you go to a fair where there are carnival rides, you will usually hear parents explaining to their children that a certain ride might upset their stomach, or that the child is too tall or too short for that particular ride, or even that the ride might scare them (the child, not the parent that is). Usually you will hear sound advice from the parents. However, a bit later as you continue walking around you might hear those same children screaming their loudest, some even throwing up their popcorn and cotton candy. You know what you don’t hear the parents yelling? Things like, “I told you so!” “Well now you just have to deal with it.” “Suck it up!” What you usually hear instead are things like, “You got this!” “Don’t worry, its almost over.” “I’m waiting right here.” “I’ll be right here when the ride stops.” Think for a moment about the child who was put on the ride, not knowing what was coming? Think about the parents who had faith that the child, though scared, would not only survive the ride, but love it!
That’s kind of like adoption. Children who are old enough to agree to an adoption plan do not really know what the ride will be like but, initially, it sure looks like fun! Adoption placement can sometimes be like getting off of the ‘tilt-a-whirl’ and then onto the slow ride up to the top of the roller coaster. Sometimes their new parents have even gotten on the ride with them and together they all experience the curves, drops, turns, and unexpected feelings that accompany the ride. Riding that roller coaster can be a traumatic event for the new parents but also keep in mind that the children had the tilt-a-whirl ride before they even met their new parents, making that roller coaster ride even more traumatic for them.
If, at those same fair grounds you saw a small child who was clearly lost, what would you notice? The child might stand still, looking around and around, or they may walk slowly while examining every adult nearby looking hopefully at each of the adult faces, they may even just stand there with their fear evident on their face, or you may see the child running and crying while looking all around the fair ground. Every child’s fear and sense of loss looks different. Even a group of siblings lost together might look quite different from each other as they try to manage their fear. When a stranger stops to help them their fear is often heightened because they know they should not go with them but, at the same time, do not know how to find the adult they came with. Finally, they may have to put their trauma aside, take a leap of faith, and trust the adult system that has already let them down so often.
Parenting is a ride every time. New birth parents often find people expecting that they know everything there is to know about their baby and how to parent their new baby. After all, caring for their new baby is supposed to come naturally to them right? What a set up. I don’t care how old or young you are when someone hands you your new baby, the very baby that you have waited nine long months to meet, and you realize that all that actually follows out of the birth canal is the placenta, not a baby care guide, it is terrifying. Society looks at these new parents, smile smugly at each other and say, ‘oh, they’ll learn’ and then, ‘we can guide them’ and usually (though not always) a support system will wrap around the new family, complete with information and support.
New adoptive parents often find people expect that adopted children do actually come with a guidebook. Often friends and relatives expect and hope that the adoptive parents will refer to the guidebook because they have never adopted and would not know what to tell them. They think that the workers and foster parents or kinship parents have told the new parents all there is to know about parenting their new child. Society seems to look at these new parents, smile smugly at each other and say, ‘oh, they asked for it’ or ‘we warned them’, and usually (though not always) disappear, and taking their support with them. Sadly, these are often the same people who gave references and a pledge of support during the home study process.
How a child arrives in a family seems to matter to our society and adoptive parents are either saints or fools in the court of public opinion. I will add that birth parents of children with special needs often experience a similar judgement from the court of public opinion, assuming that the birth parents must have been careless in some way for their child to be born with extra needs. Often in these circumstances society also disappears, taking their support with them.
Once, when I was young, I remember the midway was coming to town so I asked my one friend if she wanted to come to it with me. She said her mother would not let her go because the last time she went on the Ferris wheel she threw up on someone on the ground. I tried to tell her we could simply avoid the Ferris wheel but her mother was adamant, based on that experience, that she could not go. Instead, I asked another friend if she wanted to come with me and she said she wanted to but her mother would not let her. She explained that the last time she had gone to the midway someone on the Ferris wheel threw up all over her. I found myself making a terrible connection. Both of my friends had experienced the same event in very different ways but with similar outcomes. Reminds me of parenting in a way, similar events, different and often traumatic experiences that result in families needing support!
When we talk about adoption disruption I find pretty distinct pros and cons in the court of public opinion. People who have heard about adoptive parents returning a child to the agency and are either smug (I knew they could not do it) or in their view of being supportive, blame the agency for simply putting a ‘bad child’ with them (without any preparation). Typically, but not always, we hear professionals wondering what more they could have done to support the placement. However, rarely do we hear society ask that same question.
So what can you, a member of society, do to support adoption and adoptive parents? You can be there. Ask the adoptive family what they need, BUT, be prepared to follow through. If you are not comfortable offering to look after the child while the parents get things done or take a break, offer instead to do some loads of laundry, clean out their fridge, mow the lawn, prepare school lunches, or any of a million household tasks that need to be done while the parents are trying to manage the child’s behaviour. Order food and have it delivered to the family, or, more affordably, drop off a meal. If there are other children in the home, take them to the park, or to a movie when things are rocking and rolling in the home.
You know, we offer more support to people who are grieving, than we do to prevent an adoption disruption; which also involves significant loss. Think of struggling adoptive families as grieving, the child is grieving the loss of their birth family and foster or kinship families, even sometimes grieving losing the support of their workers. These often traumatized children must grieve what they have lost before they can accept what they now have. The adoptive families are often also grieving the child they knew pre-placement and when initially placed (often known as the honeymoon) and, in the case of infertility, the adoptive parents may be grieving the concept of having a birth child or children. Society often does not recognize or acknowledge this grief.
When we hear of a family’s loss, we often send flowers as an expression of support. We do this mostly because we do not know what else to do. Though flowers are appreciated, I honestly believe that the actions of person who stops by with a giant hug (and maybe a coffee or tea), the person who cares for the family’s small children during the wake, and/or the person who quietly cleans up the kitchen, mean more to a grieving family because they offered actual, tangible, help. Often it was help that they didn’t even know they needed, or that they could not have identified they even needed it.
Not all adoption matches will be successful, just like not all pregnancies make it to term. Sadly, disruptions often happen when the placement lacked an appropriate assessment in the first place, or the placement date may have been rushed, or other ‘system’ issues. To me, adoption disruptions that occur due to the lack of friends’, family members’, and/or society’s support are the saddest stories of all. So, if you know an adopting family, roll up your sleeves, open your heart, and be there to say, “You Got This!”, “How can I help?”
Remember, your comments are welcome and encouraged, if not here then please send me an email at email@example.com so I can read your thoughts. Take care Blogville friends.
Today’s blog is accompanied by a strong black tea. Welcome back to Blogville friends! (Sorry I’m late but I was travelling earlier today.)
Most birth children are not typically grateful for having been born and then raised by their parents, right? In our society, parents are simply expected to love and take care of their children without being showered with thanks. Well, except for those cards or homemade gifts presented on Mother’s Days or Father’s Days, usually as arranged by their child’s teacher. In my experience, most children bring credibility to the expression, ‘parenting is a thankless job’. That is to say that, knowingly or unknowingly, you enter parenting to give a life to a child, not to be thanked.
Understanding that parenting is a giving, though not necessarily a receiving, relationship is a good way to start. I’m pretty confident that an ovum does not yell out, “Hey! Thanks!” when a sperm cell collides with and fertilizes it. Often children will remind their parents that they did not ask to be born and that their parents chose to have children, not the other way around. No one ever said parenting was easy, did they?
Of course, most parents expect their children to have good manners and to say thank you for things they are given, to thank teachers for their help, or to express gratitude for things like a ride to an event. At birthdays and other holidays where gifts are given, parents expect their children to thank the gift giver with sincere appreciation. However, as a rule, parents do not expect their children to express gratitude for simply having been born, do they?
We know that often, there does come a day when many children will suddenly recognize and acknowledge the challenges of parenthood and be grateful to their parents. I have heard adult children thank their parents in retrospect for opportunities given to them, for driving them to and from activities, for making special school lunches, and for supporting them and cheering them on like parents are known to do.
Still, I have never personally heard a child thank their parent for giving birth to them; sure maybe in a joking manner, but not sincerely. That being said, it is almost guaranteed that when children grow up to be parents themselves they often ‘get it’ and then are able to say thank you to their parents for all they have done, and often continue to do for them, but still not for having given birth to them.
The bottom line is that typically, parents do not expect thanks from their birth children for giving birth to them and being raised by them, do they? However, I have found that in adoption this is not always the case. I feel that, too often, our society expects children and youth to be grateful for simply having been adopted. They often are expected to be thankful for having been ‘saved’ from their birth parent, their birth family, the ‘system’, or even from their country of origin. When you think about it, adopted children and youth are actually expected to be grateful for the loss of their birth parents, birth relatives, birth community, and in some cases, even their birth country. I’m not sure our society fully understands what is being asked of adoptees when they expect gratitude from them.
Usually, when a family, person, or couple, are wanting to parent through adoption, they are required to make an application to do so. Please remember that the adoptee has not filled in an application to be adopted. Nor have they completed any courses to prepare them to be adopted and what to expect as an adoptee.
Keep in mind that infants have heard heartbeats of their birth mothers, as well as other voices and sounds in-utero before they ever even met their adoptive parents. Older children and youth had those same in-utero auditory experiences, and then went on to having lived, laughed, cried, and felt many emotions with other people before ever meeting their adoptive parents. Adoptees may have lived temporarily with kinship relatives, or foster parents, often while maintaining relationships with their birth parents. Remember that these lived experiences have formed the infant, child or youth the adoptive parents have fallen in love with, and subsequently have asked to parent.
If an adult suddenly loses their partner, we don’t set them up on a blind date immediately do we? Instead we acknowledge their need to grieve before moving forward. Adoptees also need time to grieve their significant losses before they can be expected to accept new relationships. This is not about adoptive parents, it is about adoptees, but they need your help, often with the assistance of professionals, to work through their grief.
I have heard birth children tell their birth parents they didn’t ask to be born. Remember, adopted children didn’t ask to be made available for adoption. It is hard for adoptees to be grateful for having been adopted, at least the way society expects them to. Logically, for a child to be grateful for having been adopted, they must first be grateful for having been made available for adoption. I want you to think about that for a moment. This has nothing to do with the adoptive parents, it has everything to do with the adoptee, and their history. It is not that are not grateful to have you as their new parents, it is that they are grieving the fact that they needed you in the first place, because their first parents did not want to, or could not, parent them.
Why can’t these children and youth just expect to be loved and cared for in their adoptive family just the way birth children are? Why are they held by our society to a different standard of gratitude? With rare exceptions, they did not ask to be adopted by their new family, but their new family asked to adopt them. When a birth child yells that they did not ask to be born we accept that they are feeling big feelings and help them manage those feelings. When an adoptee yells that they never asked to be adopted society responds with shock at their ingratitude.
When I would fantasize about my birth mother showing up on our doorstep to ask for my return to her, I always pictured her thanking my parents. I imagined her thanking them for taking such good care of me, for the clothes and food they had provided me and for their guidance in raising me to be a nice and polite little girl. I would imagine her gratitude to my parents for keeping me safe and for caring for me until she could come and get me. Fantasies about our birth parents is not a slight against our adoptive parents, it is the inner child who still cannot understand what was so wrong with us that our own birth parents, all of their extended family members, and in some cases, their entire country, did not want to keep us. It is not that we are not grateful to our adoptive families for the opportunities they gave us, it is that we are not grateful to have been available for adoption in the first place.
I find it very hard to express how difficult it is to know that I was unwanted by my birth family; despite being wanted by my adoptive family. An innocent baby created by two people who did not expect to create one forms part of who I am. First I was an accidental conception, then I was a symbol of shame and subsequently abandoned. Does that mean that I was not intended to have existed? I don’t think that is true; well if I’m being honest, sometimes I do think that it might be true. When disappointed by friends and family I often default to thinking “well my own birth parents didn’t want me” or “well I was never really meant exist anyway” and other thoughts of self-deprecation. At the same time, I find it very difficult to express how much I appreciate everything my adoptive parents did for me, or gave me simply out of their love for me, because I often felt like a consolation prize for them when they could not have ‘children of their own’.
When I met my birth father, it was such a weird first few minutes. Was I supposed to thank him for creating me? While I was being adopted by ‘strangers’ my birth father became a step-father to his wife’s biological daughter, eventually giving her his name. Was she supposed to thank him? That he did not know I even existed made me feel even more insignificant. However, I am grateful that he tried to make me feel important once I eventually found him, and that he gave me medical and social history information. I am grateful that I got to know his adult children, my paternal half-siblings. As you know, I was not afforded the opportunity to meet my birth mother but if I had, was I supposed to thank her? If so, for what? For choosing life over abortion? She only chose physical life for me really, despite not knowing what my lived life would be and then, in the end, did not want to know what happened to me. But I am grateful for having a relationship with her adult children, my maternal half-sisters.
So, I say to society that adoptees should not be expected to be grateful for having been adopted because they first had to be relinquished for adoption. No one is expected to be grateful for experiencing a significant loss. I say to adoptive parents, be grateful not to be thanked by your child for adopting them, because that means they are simply your child and that they accept you as their parents, just like birth children do, no more, no less. ‘Parenting is a thankless job.’
I’m glad you visited today. As ever I welcome your comments here or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi everyone, welcome back to Blogville. I’m having a lovely ginger tea today. Last blog I wrote about the day I arrived at my parents’ home when I was placed on adoption with them. That blog was inspired by video calls with my 9 month old grandson. Recently we have been visiting with this little guy and my heart is filled with love for him but then, suddenly, an even greater sense of loss for 9 month old me. I thought I would share more about this with you in today’s blog, there may be some lessons here.
Spending some time recently with our 9 month old grandson feels bittersweet. If you recall, in my previous blog ‘9 Months’ I talked about being placed with my adoptive parents at that age. I wrote about the way I had been simply dropped off to them with no pre-placement visits, and no pre or post placement contact with my foster parents. I know that meeting my foster parents, even having spent some time observing me with them, would have helped my mom know what my routine had been and what comforted me. Remember, a 9 month old baby is not a clean slate, they already have preferences, likes and dislikes, fears, and things they found comforting.
My placement was further complicated by an immediate hospitalization that had been pre-planned, and a condition of my placement with my new parents. I needed a small surgery and my parents were able to arrange it almost immediately after I arrived at their home. To me, it should have been apparent to the professionals making these decisions that I would have been better off to have had the surgery while in the care of my foster parents than while in the care of my new parents. My foster parents had a relationship with me and would have been better able to offer comfort to me following the surgery. My poor parents and 9 month old me were really set up for a terrible attachment experience. As I see my 9 month old grandson and his secure attachment to his parents, deep feelings of abandonment are rekindled in me and tears fill my eyes on behalf of 9 month old me. Though our grandson plays with or is held by us easily, when he suddenly looks at me or my husband, then looks around for his parents with lips quivering, we quickly hand him back to his mommy or daddy where he is immediately soothed and relieved. Watching this, it occurred to me that when I felt that insecurity at 9 months old, there was no one to hand me to where I would have felt soothed and relieved. I know that eventually an attachment with my parents formed but those first few weeks or months must have been difficult for all of us.
At one point in our visit we were calling our grandson’s name and as he turned from the window to look at us in response my husband said, “Well he sure knows his name.” I realized at that moment that my parents would have immediately been calling me by my new name, they may not even have been told what my old name was. How confusing that must have been for me. I suppose over time I must have realized that they meant me when they said “Lynn” instead of “Marie”. I wonder how long that would have taken? I wonder if I wondered where the people who had called me Marie had gone.
After we had been with him for about a week, our grandson’s parents had to attend an appointment, so my husband and I watched our grandson for an hour or so. When we knew his parents would be home soon we started watching out the window for them together. When they pulled into the driveway our grandson started to cry at the unexpected sight through the window of his mother standing outside; he’s used to watching through the window and greeting his dad as he arrives home from work, but not his mother. He was frantic for her to come in the house and hold him. When she came in and picked him up, snuggling him close to calm him, a strong feeling of jealousy bubbled up in me as I realized I had had no one that could comfort me like that when I was 9 months old. I cannot describe how overwhelmed I felt. My husband looked at me and asked what was wrong. My eyes filled with tears and my throat burned with emotion as I said, “Nothing.” There is no way anyone in the room with me at that moment could understand what I was feeling. There was no way I could help them to understand so I simply swallowed my grief. As I watched my grandson playing on the floor with his toys I noted that he is always tracking where his parents are, as is developmentally appropriate. How would I have known whom to track in my new family when I arrived? I had never met these people, a man, a woman, a little boy, and a dog. I honestly cannot even convey my strong feelings of sadness on behalf of 9 month old me.
The adoption placement procedure has changed significantly since my placement day over 60 years ago. Now there is typically great emphasis placed on slow introductions, usually in a space where the prospective adoptee is most comfortable, such as in their foster home. Many procedural changes now contribute to a smoother permanent move for children. For example, not automatically changing a very young child’s birth first name but instead, giving it great consideration. If, after consideration, the name is changed there are helpful tips like initially using both the old name and the new name together, eventually dropping the old name once the child starts responding to their new one. Sometimes people will elect to choose names that are similar to the birth name, such as Byron and Brian, or Lena and Tina, to make an easier transition. (To me, not changing it at all is the best approach.)
Although I still see flaws with some International Adoption placement procedures, I appreciate that adoptive parents are now most often expected to attend their future child’s country of origin and begin building a relationship with their new child. What I cannot imagine is the depth of the loss experience as the child loses not only their caregivers, the sights, smells and sounds of their community, but also the landscape of their entire country and culture. What could possibly mitigate the magnitude of those losses? I think these are the things we need to pay better attention to not only in International Adoption planning but in multi-racial, cross-cultural adoptions as well. Our loss is real, and it is not necessarily about anything our adoptive parents did or did not do, it runs deeper than that. Just like everyone deals with their grief and loss resulting from the death of a loved one differently, adoptees deal differently with our losses as well.
My eyes sting and my heart pounds with emotion when I see that my grandson is so protected from the kind of loss my adoption visited on me, at nearly exactly his age. I’m so happy for him, grateful on his behalf really, while at the same time feeling such enormous sadness for 9 month old me.
So my message to adoption professionals is to say that, no matter how busy you are, how full your caseload is, a proper pre placement plan is critical to attachment (or perhaps better identified as attachment transfer) for that child and their new family. A proper life book, or life story, is one of the best gifts you can give a child you are placing on adoption. When your supervisor, manager, or even Ministry personnel return your Social and Medical History document for clarification or revision, be grateful, for they are helping you to provide the best, most accurate, information for that adopted person. The next gift you can give an adoptee as access to vetted files increases, is to be clear, concise and detailed in your notes. You hold their history in your hands, their truth as you know it, or as told to you, for them to receive and read some day, so please strive for accuracy. This is a great honour and privilege that needs to be respected.
My message to birth relatives and adoptive families, as an adoptee, is that some openness, in whatever form works best for everyone, can only help ensure the secure adjustment of their shared child, and may even help to mitigate some of their child’s abandonment trauma. I strongly believe that when a child is surrounded by love and acceptance they will learn to love and accept themselves and others more easily.
As you know, I welcome comments from any or all of my Blogville visitors either here or by email at email@example.com.
Our youngest grandchild just turned 9 months old. It made me reflect on the fact that I was 9 months old when my parents met me; when I became their daughter.
Since we do not live in the same community I do a video chat story time with my youngest grandson on a regular basis. I love getting to see him grow and develop even if it’s only on a ‘screen’. Partly as a result of these chats, my grandson knows who I am, he hears my voice and looks for my image. He sees my image on screen and reacts; I clap, he claps, I smile, he smiles, he belly laughs and my hearts just melts as I laugh too. At 9 months old he recognizes me. Even though we live hundreds of kilometres apart he knows who I am, and that we are important to each other.
Seeing my grandson’s secure attachment made me reflect on my placement into my adoptive parents’ care at about the same age as he is right now. We all know there is a 9 month gestation period for the development of a human being, and then the first 9 months of life outside of the womb are dedicated to the development of a secure attachment. I did not have that in my first 9 months. Instead I had an extended hospital stay (for housing needs not medical ones) as a newborn, followed by three foster care placements.
I was lucky that my third, and final foster parents and their children, loved and cared for me. I’m sure I must have been forming an attachment with them. I can almost see it in the few pictures I now have of my short time with them. As was done in those days, in a sudden and bittersweet moment, I was matched with my adoptive family and removed from my foster home without thought to trying to transfer that attachment.
There is an old 8 mm film recording of the day that I arrived at my parents’ home to be placed on adoption with them. My mother had given the film to me on one of her ‘spring clean-up’ days years ago as she no longer had the projector it needed. I did not have any way to see it either so I simply tucked it away. Years later my brother transferred the old film onto a new format for me so I could finally watch it. The film starts with a flickering image of a smiling worker carrying a tiny white-blonde-haired baby girl down the outside cement steps to meet her new family . . .
One sign of the age of the film are the blinding lights that were part of the technology back then. So throughout, there is a whole lot of squinting going on, often making my expressions hard to see. Somehow though, watching my image, I can sense what I was feeling.
Appearing in the film are the worker who was dropping me off, the other foster child she was transporting, my new parents and brother, as well as other women in the background, oh, and a random tiny little infant that I will talk about later.
Clearly my arrival was cause for a celebration as there were so many people in the house, including the person filming the event. If I’m not mistaken, my parents’ friends would have come over as a supportive gesture. I believe that were too many women present for me to figure out who my new mother was. My dad was the only man in sight so it may have been obvious to me who my new father was.
9 month old me, the star of the production, honestly just looks lost, confused, and uncomfortable. Today, I recognize that 9 month old me was likely traumatized. I watch myself staring into the faces of the people holding me or sitting near me, looking for some sign of familiarity, an uncomfortable smile on my face. You know that look, the one when you plop a smiling little one on Santa’s lap at the mall and they are all giggles, until they look up, staring blankly with a frozen smile, trying to figure out who this is, then suddenly bursting into tears from a lack of recognition.
In the film, while my new mother spoon feeds me lunch, I stare into her face as if trying to place her, or maybe even trying to understand why my foster mother is not there to feed me. I can be seen looking somewhat longingly over at the worker who is feeding my little carpool partner, after all they were the only two people in the room that were familiar to me. I noticed that while I opened my mouth automatically to accept the spoon, and later the bottle, from my new mother, I never seemed to take my eyes off of her face. Perhaps I was ‘filial imprinting’ in case I lost this mother too. Seeing this on film hits me right in the ‘feels’, every time.
There are at least two spots in the film where my parents are holding someone else’s baby (maybe to show me, or perhaps the worker, that they knew how to do it?) and showing the baby to me, even placing that baby on my little lap at one point. I feel that if my son and daughter-in-law were to be holding an infant, my grandson would be trying to pull that baby off of them, or at least be trying to move the baby so he could fit on their laps too. 9 month olds with secure attachment are territorial like that. Honestly my confused expression is only overshadowed by my complete, and obvious disinterest in that baby.
My brother, who was placed for adoption with our parents at 2 1/2 years old had only been with them less than a year, and was likely just getting settled when I showed up. His disdain for me is apparent in the film. Frankly, he seemed more interested and comfortable hugging the family dog than hugging me as repeatedly directed. It was a small consolation when I saw that he too had to hold that mystery infant; his indifference apparent. That poor little boy was like an actor auditioning on a film set with the directors telling him to hug me, to kiss my little cheek, and to accept this little intruder as his sister. He did not appear impressed. However, even though it was not a great audition, we were given the role of siblings.
When I look at this film it upsets me to see how many people were there on the day I met my new family. I wonder how I even knew which of these people belonged to me? If I had hurt myself, which person would I have shown my distress to and sought comfort from? I’ll even bet I felt abandoned when the worker and the other foster child left me behind in a house full of strangers. After all, they had been my only familiarity in that house. I often wonder how that other little girl, my carpool partner, felt when she was subsequently dropped off at her new placement, did she miss the worker and me too?
There is one spot in the film showing me jumping in a crib looking gleefully at my image in a mirror, reaching out and trying to touch the only image I recognized in my new environment! Another spot in the film finds me on the couch squinting and rocking myself; likely a self-soothing behaviour. Anyone outside of the adoption constellation who looks at this film might see a joyous occasion and celebration of a young child joining her new family. They would see a new family supported by workers, family members, and friends. What they would not see is the trauma, after all, how could there be trauma at such a happy event?
As I write and edit this blog I feel many things, grief for the way I was introduced to my family, and pride that as an adoption worker, I tried to do things better. There is always room for improvement but generally speaking adoption workers now try to mitigate the confusion of moving from one family to another. Pictures and videos are sometimes used before the parties meet. There are pre-placement visits between the foster home and the adoptive home before the big move. Visit calendars are created and information is provided (likes and dislikes, favourite foods, things like that) so that the receiving family is somewhat prepared. Thankfully, foster parents now play a huge role before a baby, child or youth is even introduced to their new family, and after they are moved.
I mention these things to give prospective adoptive parents an idea of what types of pre-placement activities they should expect, or even request if necessary, to help that baby, child or youth transition to their family. I believe that, to mitigate some of the trauma of changing families, contact with previous caregivers should be eased off, not cut off like the umbilical cord, no matter how challenging it might be for the adults. A huge bonus is when contact continues through openness.
I remember when I finally met my last foster mother (I was in my 60s and she in her 80s) and she talked about her grief at having me ‘just gone’, no further contact, never knowing if I was okay. She never got to tell my new family my likes and dislikes, or my usual routine so that I could be comforted. All those years, she worried about me while I wondered who she was and if she missed me. Our relationship mattered.
If this blog has struck a chord with you, pun intended, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for visiting and having tea with me in Blogville.