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.