Gotcha!

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We just celebrated our Gotcha Day by going to our closest Chinatown for Peking duck and just wandering around. BB loves the annual train ride and Chinese gummy candy. Hubs and I love the duck. We gave BB Connectagons for a GD gift. Hubs has accused me of playing with them more than BB. I do share… Really.

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Ten Common Misconceptions about Adoption

Please read, Ten Common Misconceptions about Adoption, by Shannon LC Cate at Peter’s Cross Station, printed in full below with her permission.  Thanks so much, as I have thought so many of these things, but never was able to put it together this coherently.  And frankly, now she’s done all the work and I just get to reprint and site her.   Phew!  The rest of this post is all hers.

1. Birth mothers are all teenagers.

Birth mothers (sometimes called “natural” or “first” mothers) — international and domestic — come in all ages and from all walks of life. Some are teens, but the mythical “unwed teen mother” that many people think of when they imagine adoption is a hold-over from the 1950s and 1960s when single and teen motherhood were less acceptable in certain areas of society than they are now. These days, the reasons for placing children in adoptive families tend to be more diverse than mere age or marital status.

2. Open adoption is confusing to kids.

Most international adoptions are “closed” by default, because the first parents are unknown and perhaps untraceable. But there is a growing trend in domestic adoption to open the process and maintain some connection between birth and adoptive families. While this idea is often hard to grasp at first thought, the fact is that closing adoption records is a fairly recent phenomenon and fairly limited to industrialized societies. Even in the United States where formal, legal adoptions have been closed for the past few decades, there are subcultures in which informal and open “adoptions” have always been the norm. These might include extended families, neighbors or close friends raising each other’s children in times of need, temporarily or permanently. Such practices have been common throughout human history. Research is starting to show that adopted people who at least know a little bit about their first families have a better chance of adjusting healthily throughout their adolescent years of identity formation and on into later life.

3. They hate girls in China.

The circumstances that lead to so many girls being available for adoption in China are complex. But, in short, it is more the tradition of wives being absorbed by their husbands’ families that is the root of the problem in China. When you combine this with an economy that relies on adult children’s care of aged parents and a law restricting most families to either one son or two children (when the first is a daughter), the problem is seriously exacerbated. Some families — by far the small minority — with a first-born daughter feel pressured enough to have a boy on their second try, that a second daughter is sometimes abandoned so they can try again for a boy.

4. Black babies are the latest trend among celebrities.

If a celebrity does something, we hear much more about it than when Bill Smith from Peoria does it, right? When two celebrities do the same thing, we hear enough about it to make it feel like a “trend” simply by virtue of the percentage of space it takes up in the media. The fact is, African American babies are still the last to be placed in adoption in the United States. African American boy babies are at the very bottom of the demand pyramid for healthy newborns. Perhaps the reasons more than one white celebrity has a Black adopted son is because celebrities live such cosmopolitan lives that when the social worker doing their home study asks “are you open to adopting a Black boy?” they say yes more often than other people. And if you say yes to a Black baby boy, you will probably get one — and fast — because not many people say yes.

5. Adoptive parents are saintly for adopting.

Adoptive parents are always hearing how great they are for having adopted. People always mean well when they say this, but the fact is, most adoptive parents adopted because they wanted to be parents. Period. Not because they are special saints. This also sometimes sounds to adoptive parents like their children are somehow less lovable, and therefore, loving them is a heroic act. Adopted parents just love their kids like other parents love theirs. It doesn’t require any special effort!

6. Adopted kids are lucky.

The knee-jerk response that adopted people are lucky is also a misguided attempt to be kind. I think most people mean, “rather than dying on a roadside in China, your daughter gets a loving family — what luck!” But in fact, the adopted person had the rotten luck of getting stuck on that roadside in the first place. Now she’s been utterly displaced from her culture, language, religion, and country and sent to live with strangers. Those things are not magically erased by adoption. Yes, it’s wonderful to have a loving family, but all people deserve this. People who only get to have it after — even as the result of — incalculable loss aren’t lucky. Often though, adoptive parents will tell you that they feel lucky to have their beloved children.

7. Adoption costs a lot of money and only rich people can afford it.

Some adoptions are more expensive than others, but some are virtually free. (In the original spirit of Adoption from Foster Care Awareness Month, I will mention here, that many state adoptions are free and/or come with financial subsidies to assist adoptive families.) There are a number of factors involved including what kind of professionals are involved (social workers aren’t in it for the money but they do have to get paid something), whether travel is required and how much of it, whether an employer gives adoption benefits and many more. Don’t assume an adopted baby is a “luxury.”

8. There is a high level of risk that once adopted, a child will be given back to/taken back by biological family members.

Cases in which children are moved after they have been living with “adoptive” parents for many months — even years — get so much publicity they can scare people into doing as closed an adoption as possible to defend against this outcome. But the fact is that adoptions are almost never overturned, once final. The hugely publicized cases are not only a minute percentage of adoptions, they are usually — nearly always, in fact — cases of would-be adoptions that are not yet final because of issues the adoptive parents have been aware of since the placement of the child. In other words, there was always a risk and the prospective parents took it willingly.

It’s also important to note that the courts in the United States favor adoptive families so strongly that when a child is removed from a prospective adoptive home, it can almost always be assumed that the reasons were excellent and much more than fair.

9. Birth mothers are saintly for placing their children in adoption. OR Birth mothers are demons for getting pregnant unintentionally/being “unfit”/not loving their children enough to raise them.

Birth mothers are women who have experienced a crisis pregnancy and dealt with it as best they can under their particular circumstances. Nothing else can really be assumed about them. Birth mothers and adoptive mothers are not in competition. Both are important to adopted people and both love their children as often as the general population of mothers love their children, that is, nearly 100% of the time. Birth mothers are severely judged in U.S. society. Doubt it? If you are not a party to an adoption, think about the birth mothers you know. If you’re having trouble coming up with a birth mother you know, that’s largely because most birth mothers are not hasty to share their adoption placement story. Some never tell a soul for the rest of their lives. Try to remember, the next time you’re talking about adoption, that the woman you’re talking to might in fact, be a birth mother. It’s time to make it safe for these mothers to “come out.”

10. Adoption is the opposite of abortion. As long as we have one, we don’t need the other.

Adoption is one option in a society with reproductive freedom. Adoption requires motherhood of a woman — both throughout a pregnancy and delivery and throughout the rest of her life — even if she never sees her child again after birth. For a woman in a crisis pregnancy who doesn’t want to be a mother, abortion is an important option. For a woman who doesn’t personally feel comfortable with abortion, but neither feels ready or able to raise a child, adoption is an important option.

These misconceptions are so popular, I think, because most media representations of adoption draw on them heavily. Racism, classism, xenophobia and national pride all contribute to simplistic understandings of adoption as well. I am an adoptive mother myself, and I have heard all of these many times in many places. I don’t mind clearing them up in a friendly conversation, as long as my children’s privacy isn’t being invaded. Most people who are not personally involved in adoption have little reason to learn the facts. But as adoption becomes more and more open in the United States, and transracial and transnational adoptions make adoptive families more and more visible, it will be helpful if everyone can learn a little bit more about those facts.

Adoption Paradigms

I just finished reading this post, Adoption Paradigms, by Claudia at My Fascinating Life, (thanks for the tip, Tonggu Momma).  It sums up very nicely, why the arguments between those in the adoption triad (bio moms, adoptees, and adoptive parents) happen.  I’m not going to try to explain it.  You can read it for yourself.

Kung Fu Panda

I’m really looking forward to what those connected to adoption, besides Angelina Jolie, will think of the movie Kung Fu Panda 2, which will be in theaters on May 25.  Here’s a bit about Jolie:

The actress said the fact that Po discovers he is adopted in the movie meant her three adopted children felt closer to the character.   She also has three biological children.

“I brought my children to see the movie and they absolutely love the movie … and I wondered whether they’d ask me questions about it.

“But because ‘adoption’ and ‘birth mothers’ and ‘orphanage’ and all that in our home these are happy words, they’re used to these discussions and they just felt that much more proud that they were a little more like Po.”  WHOLE ARTICLE HERE

The Hubs and I love the first Kung Fu Panda.  How could we not?  Po is a panda, he loves almond cookies, his father is a simple noodle chef who gives him the secret ingredient to Kung Fu; the secret that even his Kung Fu master doesn’t know.   Love it!  Oh, and then there’s the mysterious, never stated, yet obvious adoption… apparently the topic of Kung Fu Panda 2. 

The Bing has never seen Kung Fu Panda.  She is quite sensitive to fighting, so despite it being a story about a panda, she hasn’t seen it.  Someday… someday.  But,  Tigress, I’m hoping that adoption, birthmothers, and orphanages, or whatever is covered isn’t all happy ladybugs and puppydogs, because someday I’m hoping that BB will see it and that it will make sense.  She is aware that adoption is about loss (other things too).  I’m hoping the movie handles this well and didn’t consult Jolie as an expert on adoption.

Fate

As I surf around the web I see a common theme, the idea of fate or God making things happen a certain way – good and bad.  You know, “wow, our daughter was born the ten years to the day that my beloved grandmother died.  They are connected.”  Or  “on the day our daughter was found, we were painting her nursery.  We were preparing for her, while she was moving toward us.”  It feels so cosmic, so right, makes it all feel meant to be.  Hubs and I had an experience like this while waiting for BB, which you can read about in my Feeling Fortunate Post, in which I tell the story of our fortune cookies predicting our match date for BB.  Really.  When I tell people the story, they often tell me they get chills.  This is all very well and good, I suppose… when things are going well.  But what about when the gods and fate aren’t working in your favor?  What then? 

I’ve been lucky enough not to have much of this tossed at me, but I know others who have and I’ve gotten angry on their behalf, so I can imagine if it was more personal.  I work with people who have sustained serious traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).  Once someone told me the story of a loved one who had sustained a TBI, but through the “power of prayer” had been fully healed.  I remember feeling fury at this and oddly wondering why, as an atheist, it bothered me so much.  All I could think of was my clients and their families, many very religious families (I know this), who would also have prayed.  The implication seemed, their power was weak?  They didn’t pray enough or right?  God didn’t care about their loved one very much?  Maybe they weren’t the right religion.  Or maybe it was something else?  Who am I to know the mind of God?  How do my clients and their families make sense of their tragedies?  Many believe they are “here for a reason,” damaged, but saved.  It’s interesting how everyone’s rationale is different, depending on the outcome.  The danger, I guess, is in tossing these things around, claiming personal connections to the gods, the fates, when others, well, they are left out… not special.  That was what irritated me, not that I believed that one family was truly chosen by God for healing through the power of prayer and others dumped, despite their asking.  Because, I know more about the medical issues of TBI, how some are just more serious than others, some will heal fully, some will be very disabled, some will die.  No, what irritated me was the belief in being chosen. I suspect they weren’t thinking of all who weren’t chosen (no, they aren’t mean people) and if they did, the thinking I usually hear is, “God had a different path for them.”  Then shouldn’t the first family be just as happy for a less than perfect outcome?  Then why pray at all?  Why ask?  Isn’t it all God’s blessing to get what we get?  Isn’t the sickness as blessed as the cure?

I think of this when reading blogs by adult adoptees who say they are often put in this position when they attempt to tell others, including their loved ones, anything but the rose-colored version of adoption.  Adoptees who do love their adoptive parents, who are happy with their childhood, who do feel they belong in their adoptive families.  But, who recognize another side of adoption, a sinister side that sometimes hurts people.  All they want to do is point it out.  When they do, they are accused of being “angry adoptees.”  Some will say, “why don’t you talk about the positive side of adoption?” and many try, but they also say that it’s being done.  The puppy dog and daisy side is all over the internet, the media, society… and it’s true.  When we are approached as a family, because we were obviously formed through adoption, we are told… no, BB is told, she is lucky.  We respond that we are the lucky ones and I reinforce this message to BB daily.  But it is constant.  Adoptees are lucky.  Why?  Because of what they get… a better life, life outside an orphanage, life in a richer country, life with better education… many assumptions made, some may be true, but assumptions just the same.  I’ve never heard anyone follow the adoptee’s history further back to the loss.  She lost her parents.  She lost her country.  She lost her culture.  She lost her language.  This we do know.  The gains, they are assumptions.  Isn’t it strange that we make assumptions about the gains, but pretend the losses never existed?  Yet, when anyone else speaks about loss of this magnitude, it is considered greatly and we mourn with them.  We try to make it cosmic, “it was meant to be.”  It was God’s plan that you came to us.  But what does this say about the losers?  Do the fates mean for poor parents to lose their children?  Does God mean for parents in China, governed by the One Child Policy, to lose wanted children?  If the gods or fates meant for these children to be with us, why not bring them to us in ways that so many didn’t have to be hurt?  And if I pray for myself to win, might I also be praying for someone else to lose (someone like a child, something like a football game)?

So, for me, I don’t deal in blessings and prayers.  I believe my life is just what it is, some of it in my control, some of it not.  Some of it I handle well, some of it I don’t.  Although I happen to enjoy our fortune cookie that predicted our match day story, I don’t believe there was any Divine Intervention.  It’s just a cool story.  Life is full of them… and we move forward with our own plans.

Chatting

At nap time we had a little talk:

Mom: Daddy and I are so lucky. 

BB: (questioning look)

Me: We got to adopt you.

BB: Did anyone else adopt me?

Me: No.  When we adopted you, we became your mom and dad.  We got lucky then.

BB: (Reached out to hold my hand)  I’ll live here forever… until I die.

Then at bedtime:

Me: I’m so lucky I get to be your mommy.

BB: I came out of your tummy.

Me: (Surprised… she’s never said anything like this before)  No, that’s kind of what it means to be adopted, that you didn’t come out of my tummy.  You came out of your China mom’s tummy.  I’m the lucky one.  I get to have you live with me.  She didn’t.

BB  quickly moved onto another topic, showing her sometimes frustrating, sometimes delightful 4-year-old attention span.   Frustrating this time, as I was curious what she thought about this.  I must have the patience of… a mother.

Recognizing faces

I’ve been reading Oliver Sacks again.  I love reading him.  He makes me feel so… uh, human.  So, I was reading a chapter in The Mind’s Eye about prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize faces.  In the chapter, he writes about the development of the ability to recognize faces, which comes quite young.  In fact, he mentions a study that shows the general ability to recognize individual faces comes very young.  Babies can recognize individuals even of other species.  However, by nine months of age, this ability becomes more specialized and the ability to recognize faces is narrowed to the type they are exposed to most.  Sacks speaks of the implications of this regarding race, mentioning that a Chinese child raised in a Chinese environment may feel that whites, Blacks, etc. look alike.  Same for whites regarding Asians, Blacks, etc.

It seems there is an innate and presumably genetically determined ability to recognize faces, and this capacity gets focused in the first year or two, so that we become especially good at recognizing the sorts of faces we are likely to encounter.  Our “face cells,” already present at birth, need experience to develop fully.” – Oliver Sacks, The Minds Eye

When I read this, I immediately thought of the implications for transracial adoptees.  Our adopted kids are being raised in primarily white environments, around white faces.  I have often seen transracially adopted adults write that they don’t “feel like” their race.  They feel white.  Hence, the terrible banana (white on the inside, yellow on the outside) or Oreo (white on the inside, black on the outside) analogies.  Yet, how true they may be… even on a very cellular level.

I’ve heard white people say that all Asians look alike or all Blacks look alike and I’ve just nodded my head (as I believe they do look alike to them) or said, “not to me, they don’t.”  Because they don’t to me.  Why?  Because of exposure.  I didn’t have a lot of exposure to non-whites in my first nine months of life.  It came much later, but I came to know many.  So, while there may be truth in what Sacks says, I believe that these perceptual capacities can grow, at any time through exposure.  I know they have for me.  This doesn’t take away from the banana/Oreo experience for transracial adoptees, as that isn’t just about facial recognition, but I do think there is great capacity for growth in that area, simply through exposure.  It does reinforce the idea that transracially adopted children do need many role models who look like them in order to be comfortable with their faces and in their skin.

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