Sunday, July 13, 2014

Questioning Instinct

Everytime I take one of those Personality/Skill assessments like Meyers Briggs or Strengths Finder a key element for me is Feeling. I go with my gut as a default reaction, I care deeply about the soft side of things and have to work really hard not to take things personally. At work I push myself to remain objective and make decisions based on data. Going with my gut has served me well in my personal life and is a big part of what makes up my personality. The concept of Open Adoption is one of the first things in my personal life where I've had to really push myself to think about the situation outside of my instinctual reaction.

My husband and I have to always ask "Are we making this decision because it's good for the kids or because it's good for us?". Traditional closed adoption is based around what is good for the adoptive parents. A generalization for sure but just go with me. Bringing a child into your home and making their world what you would for a biological child is what feels natural to an adoptive parent because you view that child just as you would a biological child. There are countless stories around the feelings of those who have been adopted ranging in everything from this is 100% ok to being their biggest struggle in life. I want to focus here on what it feels like to support open adoption as an adoptive parent.

We have made the choice to support contact with our kids' birth family because we know in our hearts it's the right thing to do for them. This is not an easy task because we need to carefully evaluate what that contact means and determine what is best for our situation. There's no instruction manual to reference. This means careful consideration of each and every type of contact. This is where that element of questioning your gut comes into play because if I used only that I probably wouldn't have had any contact other than email.

Last week we had an email request from the kids Great Aunt whom we've had frequent email contact with and met in person on a few occassions. She asked for our address so her parents could mail the kids cards directly for their birthday. They have mentioned wanting this info at some point when we felt comfortable since our first in-person meeting. They respected we didn't want to give that out yet but did think it was something they may eventually be able to get. Until that time we've provided the address and instructions to exchange packages and cards through our agency which provides anonymity for both sides.

My immediate reaction was no. If I'm being honest it was "Hell NO" accompanied by a sinking feeling in my stomach. Then kicks in the logic and I have to start digging deeper. On one hand I can understand why they want this. It's a generational thing and the Great Grandparents don't use email. They rely on the kids Great Aunt as their sole contact point to get printed photos I send and the updates. She has a family of her own and is the pastor of her church so she has got a lot on her plate. The instructions for the agency are admittedly confusing and complicated. They have given us their family history, full names, and address & phone numbers without us asking for it. I'm sure in their mind asking for just an address to mail something directly to is not a big deal in light of what we are privy to.

In questioning why I felt the reaction not to share I needed to think about the facts and then vocalize them since thoughts in your head can be pretty extreme. By having our address you can do all kinds of reverse look ups for free and know when we bought our house and for how much, find out our last name, if we're registered to vote and the last time we did that, google search our name and discover my blogs, my public Facebook profile, my job profile on linked in, photos and records of when I've attended professional meet up events, and my marathon records. This is all stuff any novice person who knows how to use google could do in about 10 minutes (and I'm sure there's even more I haven't thought about). Then I had to question why that scared me because really anyone who knows my last name can get all that info just like they could. It came down to my comfort in having control over of what information they have about us now. I don't worry about them trying to take my kids because I know they can't legally do that and I also know they fully support us as the kids parents.

There are of course several other things at play with this being a Foster Care adoption. There are dangerous people that could enter our lives should we share too much who may have motives to cause our kids and/or family harm. This alone allows me to justify the control of our privacy for now. I'll have to continue to weigh these risks as the kids get older and they request to have members of their biological family involved in meaningful events. I don't want to deny them this if it's what they want but I'm going to have to fight that urge to not share the kids lives with them. All this needs to be done while making sure I keep them safe which is the primary responsibility of any parent.

The instruction book I think we'll have to start following is this -
1) How does the interaction benefit the kids?
2) What are the risk associated with that contact and potential impact?
3) Benefits for the kids always take priority over risks of insecurity of adoptive parents feelings.
4) Legit safety risks trump benefit for the kids until they are 18.

I'm sure there will be many failure points along the way but if we keep these principals in mind at all times I think we can forge ahead on this adventure and feel good about our choices.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Family Day 2014

Today is the day we celebrate becoming a family. I actually love this day is not on the kids birthday but a day set apart with the sole purpose to celebrate when we first met and became a family. So much has happened since 6/30/2011.

My strongest memories of that day were Jay and I's rushed trip to the Everett Costco to pick up diapers, wipes, and formula before we drove to the Foster Home where both kids were waiting for us. I remember sitting in the car eating our final meal from Wendy's (what a horrible choice for a last meal!) thinking this would be the last time I could eat uninterrupted for a very long time. I was right. We sat there full of nerves wondering what would come next. I kept glancing in the backseat at the two newly installed infant car seats. It was hard to imagine that in just 30 minutes our babies would be in them! It's a strange thing to have an appointment to pick up your kids and then bam, insta-family.

The first 18 months were a rollercoaster ride of emotions from the adoption process and the jolt of becoming a new parent. That's pretty well documented in previous posts here. The noticeable difference in us as a this year is we're just a regular family. Gone are the nerves about the kids going back to their birth family, no more social worker visits or incident reports for a bump or scrape the kids were constantly getting. We're just a normal family that has a unique story about how we came to be a family.

The big milestones this year included being done with all things baby related - No more cribs, no more diapers, no more onesies in anyones drawers. I have big kids now who insist on doing everything themselves, or at least trying. They like to show their independence by making choices about their wardrobe and how they like to have their hotdog dressed. Little Dude - ketchup only and maybe a bun. Little Miss - Ketchup, mustard, and lots of dill relish.

We talk a lot about their birth mom and they mention they miss her every few days. I'm excited to be able to have some real conversations with the kids about their feelings on this when they start to form. Right now they mention they miss her along with our dog Tucker who they actually do remember. I love that they mention her regularly and are not afraid to ask questions about their birth mother.

This year is going to bring many great things for our family. We'll soon be adding a new member of the canine variety. The kids are really excited and talk about it a lot. David is convinced we need not one dog but four, one for each person to hold. We'll be taking the kids to Disneyland for the first time. It's the final year of both kids being together in pre-school since Little Miss will start school next fall...crazy!

As for today we are enjoying quiet time with just the four of us. We're jumping on the newly assembled trampoline, picking blueberries in the backyard, and enjoying each moment while I stand in awe of how blessed I am to call these people my family.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A letter to my kids birth mother

Dear J,

Today is the first day of National Adoption Awareness month and it's only because of you I'm blessed to be among those who are impacted by adoption. We both know we did not join that club altogether by choice, but here we are fully fledged members.

It's been almost a year since I told you of our plans to adopt the kids and I still remember how scared I was to let you know it was going to happen. Each time we spoke you made it very clear the kids were with me "for now". In your mind this was a temporary arrangement but my heart was stolen almost immediately and I knew this was a forever connection no matter who the kids lived with.There is hurt in that for everyone...the mother you wanted to be but could not, the mother the kids wanted but didn't get, the mother I wanted to be but could not. That pain is what drives me to be a good mother, to be the best I can possibly be. Not because I'm seeking to prove I'm better than you but because I know I can never replace you and it's a hole I'll never fully be able to fill in their hearts. If I do everything else to the best of my ability, I'll be able to say I've done right by the kids and you. The chance to be called Mom is an awesome privilege and one I'll always be grateful for.

In the months since you've passed away we have begun to learn more about you and your family. I now understand why you felt like you were providing for your kids well when it was so far off from what they needed. I'm sorry you didn't get the love and support you should have. I'm sorry you had so much taken from you at such a young age. Your family loves you very much but didn't know how to help you or themselves. I know now that in your eyes, being with your children meant more to you than your ability to provide for them. The cycle of abuse and neglect is broken for your children. They are loved and don't know what it feels like to be hungry, scared for the safety of their parents and themselves, or worry about violence. I know you wanted to be the one to give them this gift but they have it now and you are also free from pain.

The children are happy and they have started asking about you about once a week. They ask where you are and we let them know you are their angel and are resting in heaven. They have your eye shape and Little Miss has your height. Little Dude has made a full recovery from his drug exposure at birth. The incredible dimples and easy going nature of his are going to help this early life hurdle from ever getting in his way again. He's incredible and my absolute joy. Thank you for making it to the hospital in time for his birth to get the care he needed.

I know you wanted to keep Little Miss' hair long but she wanted it cut and we went last weekend for her first haircut. It was cut by her aunt at a salon just a block from the motel you lived in. I felt guilty as we drove by on our way there. Her joy in the experience would win you over I'm sure. She was a trooper and didn't shed a tear. She loved her shorter hair and wouldn't stop smiling.

You are ever present in my thoughts and I thank you every day for the gift you have given us.

Wishing you peace,

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Painful Milestone

Ever since I first began thinking about adoption with any level of seriousness I've had a fear of my child saying in anger something to the effect of "You're not my real Mom". This could of course be said in so many different ways and I imagined many of them. I knew this kind of statement was inevitable, I just didn't expect to hear it tonight for the first time.

Today was the first day back in daycare after a week long break and the kids were wired when they got home. I'm sure it had something to do with the combo of rain equaling inside play all day in a small area and the birthday cake they had there. I haven't been feeling well so a I didn't have dinner at the ready and decided to whip something up quickly. The kids picked at their tuna melt begrudgingly because they didn't like it but really wanted a little of the chocolate donut (aka Bundt cake) left over from the weekend. After 5 minutes of picking and giggling we called it quits and I began cleaning Little Miss up.

As I grabbed her hand I heard her say "No! I want my Mommy." I looked at her and said "Oh?". She then looked me square in the eye and said "Mommy Jennifer". This is the first time she's ever said her birth mother's name on her own, without repeating what I've just said. I asked her if she remembered Mommy Jennifer and she nodded her head yes.  I told her I was glad she remembered her and unbuckled her booster seat.

She got down from the table in a bit of a foul mood knowing there was no cake in her future. She quickly ran off to grab a toy to taunt her brother with so he'd chase her around the house. Both kids began to run and giggle. The cake was long forgotten in a mater of minutes.

I was left hurt, confused, curious about her memory, and in awe that something we've been talking about has sunk in and that my little girl was smart enough to know just how to use that information. She somehow knows just the right button to push at just the right time. Did I mention she's just shy of 3 1/2? I'm in trouble.

As I analyzed my thoughts on the exchange and Little Miss bounced off the walls I knew I was bigger than feeling upset about this. I knew this was not an "adoption" problem. I could make it that but it's just a twist in our story that can be used as a "card". The same card can and does get played with step parents or single parents. In the end I would have felt the same way if she's said "I hate you" which she pretty much said when she told me she didn't like me before running off from the table. I know it won't be the last time she says it and I know times in the future she'll really mean it. The bottom line is I need to set my feelings aside during the rough times because that is what gets me going and sends us on a course to butt heads.

When about 30 minutes had passed I showed Little Miss the photo we have of them with their Birth Mother and asked her who it was. She pointed to herself and her brother right away but said she didn't know who the woman was. I told her it was Mommy Jennifer and she said "oh, her?" then ran off. Ok, this wasn't the pent up ammo I imagined. No, she doesn't have a clear memory of her Birth Mother.

This is only the start of a long and difficult road. The embrace and "I love you" I got from Little Miss as she went to bed tonight were also a reminder it's a road filled with the highest of highs  and lowest of lows...sometimes in the span of just an hour.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Birth Family Daydreaming

I'll admit right now I worry about a lot of crap years before I need to even think about it but I own it and know it's pointless. One such worry is the birth family fantasies I expect my kids to have and the emotional pain it might cause them down the road. I expect they will invest a lot more time thinking about what could have been or what will be than I have already.

I have spent a lot of time over the last two years thinking about their birth family. For the first few months I was dying to meet the kids bio Mom because I wanted to know what she looked like, her personality, how likely she was to be involved in the process and her chances of getting the kids back. I would hear songs on the radio and wonder if it was something she listened to as well. She would pop into my head at random and I'd start wondering what she was doing that very moment and what it would feel like to miss the kids the way she did.

This kind of thought process happened continually until her rights were terminated. Then my thoughts started shifting to a fantasy where we would meet up with her a few times a year and she would get to see the kids. In this fantasy she was sober, in a healthy and safe place, employed,  and looking to make her way in the world. That was my hope for her and my hope for the kids to get to see her in that way.

When their bio Mom passed away my daydreams of what our relationship could look like died too. It then shifted to wondering what her final days were like. In my head it played out like an episode of Intervention gone wrong where they just didn't make it to that life changing meeting and offer of help.

When we got in touch with other members of the kids bio family I started to have these day dreams again of what our interaction might look like in the future. Last week we met in person for the first time and I hoped it would be the start of a great thing for the kids. It is still too early to say what that may turn out to be in the future but the meeting itself and the lack of communication following has shown me once again that matters of the heart are unpredictable and complex.

I thought our time together went well and I followed up with an email letting them know as soon I we got home. At the end of our visit the bio family mentioned wanting photos and meeting with other members of their family but now I'm not so sure continued meetups will happen. As I think about this from their perspective I'm realizing I don't know what their idea of future contact looks like. They mentioned several times how concerned they were with the welfare of the kids. Our meeting and the lack of contact following it has me wondering if we "passed the test" as in they feel good enough about the kids caretakers that they can let go. I have to remind myself the visits might be painful for them as it's a reminder of their loss.

I'm not really sure where I was going with this post but these were thoughts I wanted to get out of my head. I imagine they are common thoughts for any other over-thinking adoptive parent :)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Meeting the Bio Family

I have had email contact with several of the kids bio family members over the last 6 months, some of which are local and others not. We were invited to meet with their family at a reunion which was taking place at one of their homes and again to participate in the kids bio Mom's memorial service. I declined those invites as I felt they would both be overwhelming and highly emotional. It just wasn't what I wanted for a first meeting. I planned a picnic at a park near our adoption agency with the agency itself as our fall back if the weather was bad.

I set clear expectations before we met. I would not be telling the kids we were going there to meet them and the best way for them to interact would just to be to start playing. The kids get shy when they are introduced and know a bunch of people are looking at them. They don't like to be center of attention. I also wanted to remind them while they have a clear understanding of their connection and a large emotional attachment, the kids do not. I never got a response to that email so I was nervous about how it was perceived and if our boundaries would be respected.

We made a quick stop at a cupcake and coffee shop across the street from the park to pick up treats to share. I was so distracted and anxious about our meeting I didn't even blink when I was charged $44 for my coffee and mini cupcakes (I got that resolved later). We headed out pushing our loaded up stroller looking for a level entry into the park. As I glimpsed up the stairs I saw their family setting up their chairs and tried to settle my nerves as we pushed further up the block. As we entered the small park there was the awkward moment of us seeing each other for the first time. It meant everything to all the adults there and nothing to the kids. I'm so thankful for that because in a second they were off to play. I quickly said hello and followed my kids onto the playground. I then had casual conversation with their Great Aunt as she stood next to me. It was comfortable as we could both have our eyes trained on the kids digging in the sand box. Kind of like you'd make small talk with another parent.

 We met with the kids Great Aunt who is significant because she had custody of the kids bio Mom off and on throughout her childhood. Along with her partner and their 17 year old son who looked up to the kids bio Mom as a big sister. They also brought the kids Maternal Great Grandparents. I had exchanged many email with their Great Aunt so it was nice to talk with her in person and attach a voice to the words.

Our visit lasted just over two hours which seemed to fly by. The kids had an awesome time playing. They were able play catch with everyone and share a meal. We did a lot of talking at a very high level of our families. It was a respectful dance on both sides in an attempt to not cross any boundaries. We remained very vague on where we lived with it being obvious some of them thought the park was near our home and a place we visit often (not true). I was asked near the end to please share our address when we feel comfortable so they can send card even though that can already be done through our agency.

Another emotionally charged moment was the bio family asking about how D was doing since they knew he was born drug exposed. There was fear and shame in the tone when the question was uttered and relief when I assured them he is amazing. I did go into details on the first difficult months so they would not have any illusion that the drug exposure had no impact on him. I also talked about Zoe's insatiable appetite when she came to live with us and they confirmed my suspicions about her lack of nutrition were true. They also talked about how she was a "rigid" baby at about 6 months and wouldn't cuddle or interact with you much. It's funny because now she LOVES to snuggle and is known as a little cuddle bug. This just shows what love and nurturing can do for a child.

There was difficulty in them understanding the kids have no concept of who they are yet. The bio family asked several times if the kids know who their bio mom is and if they ask about her. I explained we talk about her and show them pictures often but they are just not interested. Anyone besides us as their parents just isn't a thought they have because as far as they know at this moment, the kids have all they need. This will of course change and that is why I'm so glad we're meeting them now. That side of their family won't be a mystery. My only regret was not capturing photos.

They gave us a treasure of photos from their family and the back of the album includes a photo of our family and one of the kids alone together. Is is symbolic and touching, something we all will treasure. I'm so glad the initial meeting is over and I hope they left feeling good about the kids well being. Zoe told me as she laid down for her nap "I want to go back to that park and see my family sometime." I couldn't agree with her more and I resolve to make that happen.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Tonight I want to talk about something I've held fairly close to my chest for some time now. At first it was because we were not allowed to share it. Now we make the call on what part of the kids story we share. We make decisions about what to share with great care. If it is done for the need of venting, it's not ok for us to share that with more than a handful of people and certainly not in a public forum such as this. My reason for sharing now is that we'll be a featured family on our agencies blog next week and it discusses the start of my sons life which was the catalyst for my kids being placed with us.

I'm sure many people have assumed there were issues with drug exposure but I want to clearly say there were. My son tested positive for several substances at birth meaning he'd recently been exposed. We have no idea how many times he was exposed through the course of his mother's pregnancy but we do know what it was just before she went into labor. He spent the first 5 weeks of his life at the Pediatric Infant Care Center (PICC) in Kent, WA going through withdrawals until he was weaned and no longer in need of morphine to help ease him through the process. 5 weeks at this center is on the shorter end of time usually spent there so we felt lucky he was able to come home to us that quickly.

The first two months were rough. There's no way to sugar coat it. That was in part due to his special needs of low stimulus (low lights, little to no noise, and kept tightly swaddled) but even more so the shock of becoming first time parents to two children under the age of 1. It rocked our world but in a great way.

We had 24/7 support over the phone for any questions or concerns. We had in home visits from nurses and access to a fantastic children's center who helped us find strategies to get Little Dude through the roughest patches. Yes we had to deal with inconsolable crying for hours on end for the first two months but now he's a chill and mellow kid. We never had to see him go through shakes or other withdrawal symptoms which can be hard to watch.

We felt it was important to speak out because kids born with drug exposure (excluding alcohol which often causes permanent damage) are incredibly resilient and if given a loving supportive home they can accomplish incredible things and go on to live without any issues linked to those found at birth. I'm proud to say my son is exceeding in every developmental category, he's perfect.

There is so much stigma of what a "crack baby" is and it's tragic. There is also not a lot of data available because there is so much unknown. It's rare that a child is born with exposure to just one thing, as was the case with Little Dude. You can read about what say cocaine does to a child but you don't know what it means for your child when paired with other drugs. Each child often has their own "cocktail" of substances present so comparing one to another is difficult.

I want people to know these children should not be neglected and people should not be afraid to open their hearts to them. I also never want a label assigned to my son that reflects in anything other than positive. I don't know yet how we'll talk to him about the start of his life but it's a discussion we'll have to have. We want him to know he has risks and experimentation with drugs for him could result in very different outcomes than what might happen for his friends.

We have no regrets and are VERY proud of the child he is today. No one could convince us he's is less than perfect in anyway...not from the moment we first laid eyes on him or until he's an old man himself.