A perfect day to say Thank You…

Let me set the scene. I was very pregnant. Probably 7-8 months. I was starting to experience some swelling and water retention, pre eclamptic. Likely not feeling the best. Hormonal. Uncomfortable. Testy.

Our ASC team was at our weekly staff meeting.

I can’t remember exactly what we were discussing. And really, the specifics don’t matter. The room started to heat up. Tensions rising. As can sometimes happen when a handful of strong, smart, opinionated women are working together. It’s why we’re good at what we do. I was sharing my heart, my passion for the birth mothers. Specifically the ones I’ve walked with and sat next to in their trauma. Julie was sharing from the business side of adoption.

Side Note: Yes, ASC is a business. We’re not afraid to say that. There are things to consider when running a business. If we didn’t do that, we would not still be here, able educate and support all sides of the triad. I’ve heard one birth mother speak on this before (Ashley Mitchell,  @BigToughGirl). She talks about how women are going to keep choosing adoption. A lot would have to change for that to change. That’s a discussion for another blog. So, if women are going to keep choosing adoption, hopefully agencies and attorneys will then serve them well. Ethically. Compassionately. With life long support. Our goal is never to convince a woman to choose adoption. Our goal is hopefully the women who are considering adoption and then the ones who ultimately place, find us or an organization like us. One trying to do right by them. Again, all of this is a topic for another blog, but I think worth acknowledging here when you put the words adoption and business side by side.

Back to the day in question. As Julie and I shared from two different perspectives, I quickly lost it. I am a passionate person when it comes to my work. My energy can become frenetic. My voice raises. I talk fast. On this day, I took it to another level. I’d say it was an out of body experience. I don’t remember much of it. I began yelling. Some profanities spewing out of my mouth. I quickly stormed out and got in my car. Presley ran after me, as they were worried my emotional, pregnant self was now setting out in the car. More profanities exited my mouth. Amanda was back inside crying. We all say if Kathryn had been there, maybe it wouldn’t have escalated to this point. She keeps us all grounded and in check ;). My husband still doesn’t believe me. He thinks I exaggerate this story and how I acted. Ron, I promise you, it was as bad, if not worse then I’ve described.

In many places of business, you’d be fired if you acted the way I did. That’s not the case here. I apologized to Julie. She acknowledge my feelings and my heart. We moved forward.

Julie founded ASC in 1986.

She was an adoptive mother and wanted to start changing things in adoption. She had a vision of more support for all members of the triad. Later, when her daughter (through adoption), Lauren, struggled with her identity as an adoptee, Julie was the one paving the way for her. Making a safe space for Lauren to search for her birth family. Sitting next to her in her grief and trauma and then in her joy and peace when she reunified. I often ask Julie how she did it. She was ahead of her time as an adoptive parent. Julie has told me on numerous occasions, “There was no room for insecurity and/or fear (many adoptive parents experience) when it came to supporting Lauren.”

Julie hasn’t always gotten it right in this work. None of us have. How could we? Adoption is ever changing. We’re learning as we go. Sometimes faster then we can keep up! But I can say this with 100 percent certainty. Julie has always been willing to listen and learn. And then, change and grow. And thus, ASC has always been willing to do the same. It’s why we’re still here. It’s why I’m still here. Why I still believe in this work, this incredibly difficult work, we are doing.

Julie lost her daughter, Lauren, in a car accident, suddenly and tragically, in 2005. I have no doubt if Lauren were still here she’d be one of the strong, courageous, trailblazing adoptees on social media sharing her story. Hoping to help future generations of adoptees and adoptive parents. I can picture she and Julie sitting next to each other, educating the adoption community together. I imagine her calling Julie out on the things she did wrong ;), and thanking her for the things she did right. Lauren would be leading us right now. I have no doubt about that. I never got the chance to meet her, and I miss her. I know she’s looking down, proud of her mom. I hope she’s proud of us too. 

Why am I sharing all of this today? Both taking a trip down memory lane and looking towards the future. Today is Julie’s birthday! She’s 60 some years young ;). I think it’s a perfect day to say thank you.

Thank you for leading us. For paving the way. Even when you/we didn’t or don’t get it right, you’re ready to make changes. To grow! Thank you for trusting us, this next generation at ASC. When we recently asked to set aside some funds for continuing education on transracial adoption and post placement support (as we move into this next era in adoption) you didn’t bat an eye. Your YES was on the table. Thank you for that. We wouldn’t be here without you Julie, and we wouldn’t be going forward without you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. And, happy birthday!

With love and gratitude, Alli (and all of your ASC ladies J)


Search and Reunion Three Part Series: Introduction

For many decades, adoptions were closed. Birth and adoptive families were not really given the option of an open adoption, or an open adoption beyond a basic simple “contract” of letters sent for an initial few years. This left grown adoptees to search for their birth family in their early adult years. Their curiosity and quest for answers sent them out looking. We can only imagine what adoptees felt/feel when they set out to find their birth family in hopes of filling in the missing pieces of their story. As some adoptees refer to as “the hole in my heart.” 

Thankfully, we’re learning. We’re learning what an open adoption from day one can do for an adoptee. It provides connections and relationships with their birth family. It prevents secrecy and shame. It allows adoptees to explore the entirety of their identity. It gives them permission to ask questions. And then find answers. Open adoption is ever evolving, changing and growing. Thank goodness for that.

However, for the adoptees of generations past, searching and reunification is still very much a challenge they are facing. When an adoptee sets out to find their birth family as a young adult, it becomes an event. Sometimes a very big event. Fear and anxiety often accompany the search. What will I find? Will I be accepted? What if I don’t find anything? We see the viral “happy” picture perfect reunions. But that’s not always the full story. 

In an upcoming three part series by our founder, Julie Craft, we are going to explore the myths of searching, what you may find when you set out on your search and Julie and her daughter’s personal story of search and reunification. The growth of open adoption is changing the landscape of search and reunification. In many cases eliminating it all together. For those of you still on the quest, follow along as we explore the adoptees search and reunification journey. 


BIRTHDAYS

You have this glorious child through adoption – this gift. You want to give them everything – love, family connection, a good education, fun vacations, and generous holidays and birthdays. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that is what they want from you at all… 

For instance, birthdays. When my daughter was turning about nine or ten, she started rebelling against her birthdays, sabotaging them. She would really act out and just make them impossible. This behavior lasted until she was 15. That was the year I read Sherri Eldridge’s book, “20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew”. In the book, Sherrie pointed out that sometimes a child grieves on their birthday. They know they are adopted (or should know that from you, the adoptive parent) and they grieve the unknown or what life would have been like with their birth parents. They don’t realize they are doing this; they can’t put it into words. But when I read this passage, I asked Lauren about it. She said, “Yes! I didn’t know why I felt that way, but I would sometimes be sad on my birthday.” It prompted the most wonderful conversation. She was grieving “what could have been.” We’ve all done that. Grieved a lost marriage, a job we didn’t get, a boy that didn’t call after a date.

We grieve what could have been.

It didn’t hurt my feelings when she recognized this, I thought it made perfect sense. That was the year we decided to search for her birth mother – it took me less than 24 hours to find her. Ours was a private adoption in the 80’s. Her birth mom was a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend so backtracking just took a few phone calls. 

The reunion with her birth mom was prompted by a deep conversation on her 15th birthday. I wish I had known so much earlier what she was thinking, why birthdays were not all I wished for her. Not every adoptee will feel this grief, but now you might know why your child is sad on such a happy occasion.


Grit

Sometimes I want to walk away. Why don’t I? Yes, why don’t I? This is the argument I have with myself. Especially as the days go on, in this industry and I feel the back of my legs ache as I have been fighting uphill for 20 years. Nothing, I mean nothing has been easy. Most days in fact, have been brutal. The life of an adoption coordinator at one of the largest adoption agencies in the Midwest.  

 This is fighting for the women and men who are vulnerable and fragile consumed with emotion. This is reminding society and all around that yes, she WANTS her baby. No, the adoptive families are not perfect, and YES, they too are vulnerable and fragile. No one in this situation ever dreamed this or desired this. And if they did, they had no idea how uphill they would be going and how it can change you inside out!  

Some Monday mornings at staffing we look around the room at each other and we all have the same look on our faces. Exhaustion, adrenaline, and grit. Grit, is what I want to focus on, because this my friends, is what makes ASC stand out!  

According to Wikipedia: Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a long-term goal or end state! Our long-term goal and end state are clear. An adoptee that is stable and comfortable with their identity. The questions of the where and the why and the who have been answered with open heart and arms. Once an adoptive parent feels secure in his or her role as parent, they can begin to fill the holes that are created with the trauma of adoption. Yes, there is trauma in domestic infant adoption.  

The exhaustion comes in when these adoptive parents are never fully secure in their role. They then fail to be able to fill the holes. Case in point: Twelve years ago, I met a girl named Sara. She was raised in north west Indiana. Her and her twin sister, Laura were conceived out of prostitution.  They were eventually placed into foster care.  Unbeknownst to them or anyone else the twins older ½ brother was already in that foster home. Laura eventually became pregnant by her ½ brother and that baby was removed and placed in a different foster home.  

When Sara turned 18 and aged out of the system, she was determined to never deal with DCS again. At 20 she found herself raising her two-year-old alone and in a domestic violent situation. She contacted ASC to place her daughter and help her start over. I immediately fell in love with her and her Grit. In 2007, Sara contacted me again and was pregnant. She was interested in making another adoption plan. She chose a child free family that doted on her and showed her so much respect and true love. They had a fabulous relationship. It was right after placing her baby boy that Sara decided she wanted to move away and not be contacted as the grief was too much to bear.  

During this year, we did a great job of explaining the process of adoption to adoptive families. Where we fell short was educating on how to do an “open” adoption when the birth family chooses to not be involved. So today, this baby is 12 and the adoptive mom is asking for advice as he’s struggling with his identity where he came from. The mistake we made was not putting more effort into the two adoptive families connecting. So this is the time to reunite Caroline and Thomas. They share ½ of the same DNA. They both have her complexion and grin. They are both beautifully loved. 

(All names referred to in this post have been changed to protect their identities.)


Sisters and Brothers

As an adoption professional with two children who joined my family through adoption, I would often try to get their perspective and views on things. On one such occasion, I asked my oldest, blonde haired, hazel-eyed daughter her views on the wisdom and advisability of a white family adopting a second black child. My daughter was about ten years old at the time, and she had been letting me know that she often felt different from her friends and not always a part of the family. I wondered how race might play into her thoughts.

Her answer had nothing to do with race and very little to do with adoption. Her answer took me aback—“Why would anyone adopt more than one child?” As we talked further, I realized this had nothing to do with either race or adoption. It had everything to do with wanting to be an only child. My daughter expanded her views, voicing her exasperation with her little sister and her jealousy of her friends who were only children. Only children, it seemed, were entitled to such delights as undivided parental attention and horses. And the ability to do whatever they wanted to do whenever they wanted to do it.

It is worth noting that this same ten-year-old child is now past her twenties and a mother of five. Perspective changes with age and circumstance!

But the relationship of siblings in adoption is a topic worth mentioning.

What, exactly, makes for a sibling relationship? Are siblings those people who share your DNA? Are siblings those people with whom you are raised and share day-to-day relationships? 

For families notcreated through adoption, the definition of a sibling is easy to create. It’s the bossy older brother, or the pesky little sister. It’s the person you can bully, but if anyone outside your family tries the same, that bully best watch his or her back. 

On the other hand, for families who are created through adoption, the sibling question becomes a little more tricky. Some families only adopt one child. Others adopt two or three children. Some families adopt children who are biologically siblings. Other families have biological children before adopting children. There are step-parent adoptions, kinship adoptions, and transracial adoptions. You can look at some families and know that there is an adoption story there. Conversely, you can look at other families and have no idea that adoption played a role in their creation.

It’s relatively easy to look at a single family unit and identify the brothers and sisters. No one can push your buttons like your sister! “Stop touching me! Stay on your side of the line! That’s mine!”These conversations can easily be followed with “Let’s go build a fort! Want to play a game? Can I borrow your shirt?”

Often adopted children will ask about siblings.

This simple question can mean a variety of things. A young only child asking about siblings may just be the desire to have a brother or sister in their own family. On the other hand, adopted children may be asking about birth siblings. Sometimes this is because the child doing the asking would like a new playmate. If the child is in his teens, he may be concerned that the person on whom he has a crush may be somehow connected to him through DNA. That could be gross! 

Many adoptee questions regarding siblings have to do with timing, developmental stage, and an understanding of their own identity and adoption story.

Young children are very accepting of different family roles, without a deep understanding of what each role entails. As with most things related to open adoption, the more normal and natural it is to talk about birth siblings, the fewer questions and more accepting the child will be. For a child to discover later in life that there are siblings, the questions about identity again come into play. 

What does this look like in real life? At a recent post-placement visit, big brother was happy to show off his new little brother. This young man, not quite in kindergarten, understood that his new little brother was here to stay, and that he had big responsibility in teaching him what it was to be a member of the Smith family. This same young man had recently shared a birthday party with a younger biological sibling placed in a different family. The young man knew that this other child was also his sister, and this sister didn’t live with him, and really…this was no big deal. 

It was no big deal because all the adults involved were comfortable in their own roles as parents and understood the connections between them. No one worried that the little ones wouldn’t understand. They answered questions as they arose, and celebrated the connections they shared.

Now it’s your turn. How do you—as either birth parents or adoptive parents—navigate the questions related to siblings? What do your sibling relationships look like? Any great challenges? Any great answers?

Until next time,

Diane


Why Adoption?

Ever heard the expression “I can’t see the forest for the trees?” Sometimes working in the field of adoption, this expression comes to mind, and I start to feel a little overwhelmed. Adoption is a tough way to make a living. The emotions of everyone involved generally run high. Prospective adoptive parents who may still be grieving their infertility. Birth families who are grieving the physical loss of their baby. Sitting in grief with both sides of families touched by adoption is a privilege. Yet it’s a tiring privilege.

So why do it?

I do it for the adoptees. 

Adoptees become adoptees completely through the choices of the adults to whom they are connected. Their birth parents make a choice based on their inability to provide care they believe the child needs at that point in their life. Adoptive parents choose to adopt a child because they believe they can provide for that child in ways that the birth family cannot.

Because adoptees do not have a choice in this crucial piece of their lives, it is up to the adults who did make this choice to provide not only for the child’s physical and emotional needs, but also for their identity needs.

Adoptees need to believe that they are wanted. Treasured. Loved.

They have a right to know the parts of their biology that make them a unique individual and the parts of their adoptive family that also contribute to this uniqueness.  

Adoptees do not need to be grateful to their adoptive parents any more than a biological child needs to be grateful to their parents.

I work in adoption because I want to help first moms realize that their decision to place a child was a good one and one that was not made for nothing. 

I work in adoption because I want to help the adults create the kind of environment in which to raise children that lets the child flourish. 

I work in adoption because I want the adopted child to grow up to be a confident adult who knows—really knows—that they are loved and have value. 

That’s why I work in adoption.


Unpredictability

Have you ever thought much about the expression “it’s time to rattle someone’s cage?” I have to confess, I hadn’t either. Then I came across the expression in the context of an experiment involving rats in cages. As it turns out, when a rat’s cage is rattled without warning or in a manner that is unpredictable, the rat’s stress level rises. 

This seems like a topic completely unrelated to adoption. And at first glance, it is. 

But what is predictable about adoption? 

Waiting adoptive parents can’t predict when they will be picked, what the relationship will be like, or even if the expectant mother is going to place.

Expectant parents can’t predict how they will feel as the pregnancy progresses. Expectant parents can’t predict what the adoptive parents will be like.

Let’s face it. Adoption is unpredictable. 

Back to the rattled cages. Unpredicted cage rattling causes stress levels to rise, including a physiological response that impacts the wiring in the brain. Interestingly enough, if those same rats could predict when their cages would be rattled, they did not have the same indicators of stress. Their bodies and brains could expect that particular disruption, understand it was temporary, and then move on. What researchers found is that the brain can tolerate stress if it is predictable, but even mild stressful events are intolerable to the brain if they are “very unpredictable.” (Childhood Disruptedby Donna Jackson Nakazawa, page 42.)

Some of the things you can do to alleviate the stress associated with the unpredictable nature of adoption include staying in close communication with people you trust. Check in regularly with your team that is helping create your adoption. Do your research—whether it’s related to drugs, race, or ongoing communication.  

So how are you coping with the unpredictability of adoption? Don’t let the stress of unpredictability really rattle your cage.


Shame has no place in adoption.

Shame is hot right now. And by hot, I mean trending. Social worker/author/speaker Brene Brown has made shame a trending topic. From her TED talk to her Oprah featured best-sellers to her Netflix special, Brown is tackling the subject fearlessly. 

Adoption is no stranger to the concept of shame.

Historically, adoption thrived on shame. There was the shame of infertility. Obviously, real men are able to get their wives pregnant, and real women are able to conceive and bear children. There was the shame of unexpected pregnancy. Really good girls don’t have sex outside of marriage, so they certainly can’t get pregnant. Over time, that morphed into really good girls may have sex outside of marriage, but if they give away their babies,they are inherently bad. And sadly, many adoptees have wondered if there was something intrinsically wrong with them that led to birth mothers’ decisions to place them. 

You could say adoption has been a real shame storm.  

“So, what’s the problem with that?” one might ask. “Doesn’t a little shame motivate people to do better?”

And that is where the misconception lies. There is a difference between shame and guilt.

Guiltis the emotion that claims, “I made a mistake.”

Shameis the emotion that insists, “I am a mistake.”

All of us make mistakes. Not a day goes by where I don’t realize I could have handled a situation differently, spoken a little more kindness into the world, or merely even made eye contact and smiled at a stranger. Some days—some situations—are more apparent where the mistakes lie, and on those days, my guilt meter perks up and reminds me to change what needs to be changed.

But making a mistake is different than believing my very existence is a mistake. 

As adoption has evolved past the days of “secrecy for everyone’s best interests,” it’s stigma and power to shame have decreased. This is in no small part why adoptions are increasingly more open in terms of post placement contact. This is why adoption professionals, myself included, advocate for talking with children about adoption from the very beginning of their lives. This is why ASC advocates for our birth mothers, reminding the world that strong women make brave choices.  

Adoption is about relationships. And shame has no place in adoption. Adoption is about relationships, and the healthier the relationships are, the less need there is for the toxicity of shame.


The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same!

It’s time to say “thank you.”

Thank you to everyone who wished me well as the news of my 20thanniversary was posted on social media in June. Thank you to all the families who have allowed me into their homes as I asked oh so many personal questions. Thank you to all the families who have allowed me to share in their joys and walk through the tough times. Thank you to all the women with whom I have cried over their loss. Thank you to all the adoptees who have allowed me to be a part of the struggle in their understanding their identity. Thank you to a great group of women who have allowed me to be vulnerable and a part of their struggles—I call you co-workers and more importantly friends. Above all, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Maria and Shannon who had no choice in my becoming their mother, but are the embodiment of family.

There. The mushy stuff has been said. It’s heartfelt, but let’s move on.

I first began working for ASC in 1994. After a five year hiatus from 2004-2009, I have been back and immersed in the work of adoption. Looking back at 25 years, I have been struck by a few things. 

The mechanics of the process have changed.

Oh, sure, families still need a home study to adopt a child. The basic requirements of what is in that home study have varied slightly, but not by much. As an agency and a professional social worker, my goal continues to be to help families think about what it means to raise a child—not just get a baby. Expectant moms still consider making an adoption plan because they believe they are unable to provide the care they believe their child needs and deserves at that time in her life. 

Expectant parents used to connect with potential adoptive parents by reading classified ads in newspapers. Newspapers are now  going the way of the dinosaurs. The agency’s advertising budget relied heavily on Yellow Page ads. Packets sent to expectant moms used to include a “Dear Birth Mom” letter accompanied by a very brief biography. Adoption coordinators would take scrapbooks of families with whom the expectant moms thought they might be interested. Expectant and adoptive families would meet once or twice before placement, but have very little contact before the baby was born.

After the adoption was finalized when I first began working at ASC, families would send letters and photos to the agency to forward on to their child’s birth family. Every piece of correspondence would be photocopied and placed in the adoptive family’s file. It quickly became apparent that we would not have enough storage to do this indefinitely.

Post placement visits were extremely rare. So were transracial adoptions. 

So many changes.

What hasn’t changed are the feelings underneath it all. 

At it’s heart, I’ve learned that adoption is about connection. Birth parents are looking for a connection to the family who will raise their child. Adoptive parents are looking for a connection with their child’s birth family so that they can provide their child with a solid foundation from which they can grow. And adoptees are looking for connection to the people who gave them life—both in the physical and emotional senses.

So once again, thank you. Thank you all for allowing me to connect with you.

Diane


Our Wait…

As I sit here typing this in the Notes on my phone, with my son (OMG I have a SON!) who is asleep on my chest; and it’s just been two weeks since we’ve met him! I know there are a million and one things I should be doing, but in this moment time can stand still, and chores can wait.

This is the moment I dreamt of for so long. We truly got the child we were meant to raise.

That saying was said to us so many times during our long wait.  I thought “yeah, right…whatever…” It irritated me every time I heard it. Those 10 simple words made into one very true sentence.

Our wait was a hard one. We had complete radio silence from the very beginning. I would email in to get our monthly updates; we would be out to a few expectant moms each month.  But as those expectant moms’ due dates came and went, our hopes slowly got leveled because we never got “that call.”

We are people who like control. We like to have a plan, and with adoption that’s a joke in a half! You can’t plan; don’t even try! We were not in the driver’s seat… AT ALL! We had no control over the timing or the situation. We just had to sit back and let it happen.

We tried to live our lives like normal.  Take vacations, go on dates, and be a “couple” without kids.  The holidays came and went, and that time was so hard.  We found ourselves daydreaming, and imagining what future holidays may look like.  Again, not having control over the situation was hard.

We had told ourselves that if we didn’t have any activity in six months we were going to open up to more situations. When that time came to open up, something just didn’t feel right. We didn’t feel like it was the right time to change things up. We then said we would reevaluate things at our one-year mark. We researched all the possibilities of what could happen with a child born dependent on substances. We researched drug use during pregnancy, and everything that goes along with it, trying to cover all our bases. 

I remember Diane, our social worker, saying to us that generally there are two kinds of waits.  Some couples have a lot of activity, and a lot of disruptions. Other couples have absolutely no activity then all of a sudden a match and a placement.  

Well, that was us! We had complete radio silence. 

On May 2ndwe had a scheduled call with Diane, to talk about our homework for that month and the first words out of her mouth were “Have you heard from Leah yet?” My jaw hit the steering wheel (I was sitting in my car) and my eyes instantly welled up with tears of joy.

The first part of what Diane was telling us went in one ear and out the other. I was in such shock! Shock that we had a lead, disbelief that Diane was the one giving us the news and not one of the coordinators, and complete dismay at the timing. Only twelve hours before getting the news, Chris’s Grandmother passed away. We got news when we least expected to hear what we’d been dreaming of. 

The best part, we only had to wait a few weeks for delivery, the expectant mom was due any day. In the matter of 20 minutes, our lives changed forever, getting the lead that we had dreamt of. An expectant mother had chosen us because we were active and outdoor lovers, and because of our dogs.  

We met with her the next week in her hometown and instantly had a great connection. About an hour later Leah called us to say “E” wanted to “lock in” with us!! We were so excited. She was everything we hoped for in an expectant mother. We loved her already! We began to text, and get to know each other. Three short weeks later, we got the text message that changed our lives forever. Our little dude was on the way. 

To make a long story short, we have a beautiful adoption story that took some unexpected turns but we got the child we were meant to raise.

Every hopeful adoptive parent has an idea in their mind of what they want their ‘story’ to look like, and how they think it will go. Well, I’m telling you to just throw what you think will happen out the window and buckle up, because your expectations will be rocked HARD and it will be more beautiful than you’d ever expect.

Looking back on how everything played out, God had this whole thing planned. He had it planned from the very moment we signed on with ASC, to the moment “E” chose us to parent her baby. He taught us how to be patient in a VERY trying time. He taught us that great things happen when they aren’t planned, and he taught us how to ‘roll’ with things as they come.  He blessed us with the greatest blessing possible; our son. 

We are so honored that “E” chose us. She is truly one of the strongest woman we have ever had the pleasure to meet.