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DAY 14: New Beginnings

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Lori Prashker-Thomas

“I met you on March 23, 1996.”

I dropped the card and began to cry. I knew immediately it was from my daughter, April, who I had placed for adoption immediately after she miraculously entered the world.

The decisions that led up to placing my daughter for adoption were very difficult. At that point in my life, I had lost my job, my apartment and my boyfriend of four years. I was emotionally distraught. Feeling lost, I started to drink and party. It was a dark time for me.

It was November of 1995 and I was pregnant. I did not know who the father was and needed to figure out what to do. Abortion? Maybe…I am pro-choice and feel that every woman has the right to choose. I went to the clinic and started filling out the paperwork, but I could not go through with it.

Not knowing what to do, I packed my bags and moved 1,000 miles away, in the hopes that my family would not find out about the pregnancy. I knew I could take care of myself financially, but not emotionally. I realized I was not ready to raise a child.

The only option left was adoption. Not knowing what to do or where to turn, I started looking in the yellow pages for adoption attorneys. I picked the one with a big, bright ad. Scared and embarrassed, I walked into her office and sat down. I went through the questionnaire the attorney gave me and went to the OBGYN for the tests. Then, I sat down to choose the family who would raise my daughter.

I had only two requirements: I wanted them to be well-established and Jewish. I chose a couple who seemed secure, loving and responsible. We met only a few times and the decision was made.

On March 22, 1996 around 8 p.m., I went into labor, alone and scared. I entered the hospital with the attorney’s social worker. My family still didn’t know.

Seven hours later, my baby girl was born (six weeks early). She was tiny, only a little over four pounds, but otherwise perfectly healthy. I held her in my arms, talked to her, and tried to explain why I was letting her go. I handed her over to the nurse, and off to the NICU she went. I never saw her again at the hospital.

For many years, I didn’t talk about this experience. The conversation around abortion and adoption is so frequently weighed down by judgments, opinions, and agendas. With great sadness, I have found this to be the case within my own Jewish community, and within my own family.

The decision I made to place my daughter for adoption not only affected my life, but my family’s as well. When my mother learned about my choice, she said that she never forgave me for placing her grandchild up for adoption. That conversation sticks with me; it still stings. Thank G-d, today I am in a good place with my family.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”  This is my motto. Making the decision to place my child for adoption was my first stop of faith. It forced me to reconnect with my roots, my core reason for being.

After many years of struggling with G-d, I walked into Shabbat Services and started to pray. Amazingly, as I was praying, I began to feel grounded. I felt prepared to pick up the pieces of my shattered life and piece them back together.

Today, I am married to the love of my life. I have started two successful businesses. I gave birth to another daughter who I have been privileged to raise. I have reconnected with my family. And, today, I have a close relationship with April, the daughter I was not ready to raise when she first entered the world.

April’s courage allowed a beautiful new beginning to emerge. She, my daughter, reached out to me. She asked hard questions. I was as honest as I could be. I told her why I chose to place her for adoption. I tried to explain that I was not emotionally prepared to be a parent. I told her life does not always play out the way you envision it. Circumstances change. Seasons change. People change.

Today, I try to live each day as fully as possible. I tell the people in my life — and especially the women I am privileged to meet — that they are not alone. You are not alone. Try and make the best decision possible at any given moment. Be honest with yourself, and with others. Love deeply, love bravely. Do not let the fear of losing those closest to you keep you from loving.

Though the road of life may twist and turn, there will always be a chance to start anew, and begin living again.

lori

At 23, Lori’s life was unraveling. Pregnant and alone, she felt abortion was her only option. When she couldn’t bring myself to go through with the abortion, she set out on a lifetime’s journey as a Jewish birth mother.  Twenty years later, she is a successful business owner, in a wonderful marriage, with a great relationship with both of her biological children. She has always had an interest in the arts. She is an accomplished photographer, speaker, and writer.

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

DAY 13: Adopted Across Color Lines

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Lucy Waldmeir

“Where are you from?” I’ve been searching for the perfect answer to that question for my entire life. On occasion I will say I’m Chinese, and then an American asks me, “Why is your English so good?” or “How come you don’t have an accent?”

Other times I will say I’m American if a Chinese person asks me, “But where are you actually from?” or “Why can’t you speak Chinese better?” Most of the time however, I say Chinese-American in an attempt to avoid any follow-up questions.

I am far from a conventional adoptee, as I have lived equal halves of my life in the US and in China. I have experienced the stigma that comes along with being adopted from both sides of the world, most of it stemming from lack of understanding.

As a young child growing up in America, I can remember little about how I was treated in reference to being adopted. All I can recall is realizing I was different. My black hair and almond shaped eyes never matched the blonde or brunette hair and round eyes of my friends and family.

I’ve always known that I was different, and as a young child wanting nothing more than to fit in, I resented not looking like the classic American princess. Although back then I thought I could dye my hair and that would be the end of it, I now know that my identity problems (if you can call them that) are far more complicated than that.

Fast forward to when I moved to China and I experienced entirely different problems. I had never been in a place where I looked like the majority as far as I could remember up until that point, and that helped China quickly start to feel like home (though I would not admit this to my mother until years later).

Though it wasn’t all good as I had never, up until that point, been held up to an impossible expectation: to speak Chinese fluently. While praised for the ability to speak fluent English (my mother tongue), the inability to speak what was assumed to be my first language made me feel inferior.

The first couple years we lived in Shanghai, before I got fluent in Chinese, were the worst. I was constantly being spoken to and expected to speak fluent Chinese. When I was unable to converse, I got nothing but looks of confusion and disapproval. I felt like a failure in the eyes of “my own people” which perhaps motivated me to learn Chinese.

Culture shock hit me in many different ways besides from the language barrier. I may not have looked the part, but I had been treated like an American princess my whole life and this meant cleanliness and friendliness — two things China is largely lacking.

Between the snot-filled spit that littered the streets and pavements to the dreaded public restrooms which were worse than I could imagine, I was getting hit with a major reality shock in culture difference.

The pollution and trash-littered grounds were almost unbearable in the beginning, though I quickly found all of this to be routine. I tried to keep interaction with locals as minimal as possible for fear of either getting scolded for my inability to speak Chinese, or lectured about how lucky I was to be adopted.

Whenever I did come into contact with people, I quickly learned to keep my head down, never to smile, and not to go out of my way for any stranger because that favor would not be returned. People in China were fast-paced, always moving, and so I quickly adapted to do the same well (a habit I had to correct when moving back to America).

What would seem rude or isolating in America was the norm in China. I spent the most crucial years of my childhood in Shanghai, and most of my seemingly bad habits (including rarely smiling or interacting with strangers, only doing things if I have a strong purpose to do so, and maintaining a constant quick pace about me) emerged because of my time there.

I may not have been enamored by the locals, surroundings or the language, but I was quick to fall in love with the food. Unlike my sister, I loved and continue to favor Chinese cuisine over any other.

I remember joking around with my sister saying I was “the perfect example of an Asian stereotype” as I love Chinese food, play Chinese sports, have good grades and a competitive need to do well in school, as well as the conventional Asian body.

In a way, I liked this joke more than I should, as it made me feel connected to a culture in a way I never had felt before. Though living up to my Asian stereotype in many ways, I was lacking in a talent for math. I seemed just average for the Chinese standard, which was always a disappointment.

At school, I was far from a conventional Chinese student, and I quickly fell into the “foreigner friend group” with all the children at my international school who were westerners ranging from Nigerians to Finlanders.

I fell into this group simply because of my interests including theatre which was something the Chinese students didn’t have time for. My school had and continues to have one of the best Chinese programs among the international schools, and I quickly picked up on the language. I studied Chinese for 8 years and became fluent. Recently I took my AP Chinese self-study, and received a 5.

Many of my Chinese teachers were my favorites. They took a liking to my story and unconventional personality as compared to the normal Chinese student. School was where I felt the least stigma for being different, though it was hard being one of the only adopted people many of the children had ever met. They gave me constant pity.

I was never one to appreciate pity and always made sure people understood how I felt about adoption. Being adopted was the norm for me and I did not feel bad because of it.

With mastering the language to the best of my foreigner abilities came mastering the signs, locals, everything. I could get to wherever I wanted cheap, easy and quick. I could order food at restaurants or buy groceries proficiently and towards my final years in Shanghai, I was often never recognized as a foreigner as I perfected my accent and would translate for my friends (even ones with Chinese-speaking parents).

My proudest moments were when I could maintain an entire conversation without anyone detecting Chinese as not being my first language. Though I didn’t receive any praise because of it, unlike my mother, I felt personal pride and achievement when I was able to prove my Chinese abilities.

My Chinese way was exercised constantly, whether it be in school, everyday life or even at home. At home was where my beloved AiYi (which loosely translates to nanny) worked for us for all eight years. Though she was there to cook, clean, walk the dogs and look after us, she was more like family, and we called her our Chinese mother.

I love AiYi as my family and my mother treasured her as her best friend, despite the fact that she could not speak a word of English. It wasn’t hard to fall in love with China when you had family there. She knew my sister and me better than we knew ourselves and catered to our every need, spoiling us endlessly.

I will keep in touch with AiYi forever, and she will always be in my life. She was constantly sticking up for me during my earlier years in China when I couldn’t speak the language and she helped me through any tough times.

I found it hard to get used to public transportation. It was less convenient than having a car, though I quickly realized it was my ticket to freedom. I knew that living in such a safe place came with its perks and was quick to take advantage of this. I was able to navigate my way around the city which was full of fun and exciting things to do especially as a teenager, something I would never have gotten to experience in America and for that I am grateful. It was dirt cheap, too, which was always appreciated by my scrappy teenage self.

There is a lot I was able to experience in China that I never would have encountered in America. I was engulfed in a third world country for half of my life, and this changed my perspective of the world as a whole. I often feel American peers know and experience little outside their American bubble and are stunted by ignorance because of it.

I have travelled not only Asia but to the rest of the world and that has given me experiences far more unique than many people I know. I have been to ice festivals in HarBin, seen the Terracotta Warriors in XiAn and climbed The Great Wall in Beijing. I have been exposed to dog eating festivals, up close and personal fireworks, and the poorest of locals. I have experienced all the Chinese holidays partaking in the traditional holiday activities and traditions. My life in eight years has been filled with more exciting experiences than many people achieve in a lifetime.

One of my favorite experiences was going back to visit my own orphanage in AnHui, though I was young at the time and my memories may deceive me. I remember it was one of the holidays where I got almost all of the attention, something I loved, being a theatre student.

I remember meeting all these people who made my very existence seem like such a big deal. I recall seeing the disabled children left in the orphanage and feeling sadness in my heart knowing they would most likely end up living their whole adolescent lives in the stuffy orphanage.

Most of all, I remember feeling such privilege that I had made it out of that place. I remember thinking about what my life could’ve been like before going to bed and for the first time really thinking about who my birth parents were and why they abandoned me.

My curiosity fueled by personal interest started my research into adoption in China. I wrote many papers about this topic over the years of my schooling. Though there were many facts that shocked or interested me, my favorite part about learning about adoption in China was trying to connect it to my own adoption.

Was my family one where my parents loved me but were forced by my grandparents to give me up? Or could they simply not afford the fine? My mind always raced with questions whenever I did my research and this eventually led to my curiosity about finding my birth parents. This was something much more complicated than I could ever really imagine.

I never wanted to find my birth parents at a time that was inconvenient to myself. I took a more selfish approach, because I often blame my birth parents’ decision to give me up for my lack of feeling good enough and the constant need to prove myself.

I was harsh and unemotional whenever my mom asked my about finding my birth family, because in my eyes, they didn’t want me for whatever reason and that was all that mattered. Be this as it may, unreasonable or unfair, it’s how I felt and how I still feel to some extent.

I feel no obligation or responsibility towards them though my mother fears this to be untrue once I have a more mature view of the situation. I have now decided to wait until I’m older to start looking, though I may never look.

Though now I have moved back to America, I still consider China my home and have made it a necessity that I go back and visit at least once a year. In 2017, I went back and volunteered at the Shanghai Healing Home where disabled orphans were taken care of and nursed back to health with the love and one on one care they wouldn’t be able to receive in a crowded orphanage.

Little did I know at the time that this was going to be a life changing experience for me. My sister and I went to the orphanage every day for a week, spending our time feeding the children, playing with them, and just giving them love and attention.

I expected it to be depressing and was surprised when I saw how much love these children got and how much love I felt for these children. They were like me, not knowing where they came from, and I felt an instant connection to them because of it. My sister and I were quick to develop our own favorites and bonded with them as much as we could.

Prior to that experience, I had never considered adoption for me, though I’m not entirely sure why. I suppose I wanted to love a child I had created, because all my life people seemed surprised an adopted kid could get as much love as a biological kid. This experience showed me how untrue this was as my bonds to the children were strong and almost immediate.

My outlook on being adopted has been significantly influenced by my experience overseas which I now call home. I can honestly say I feel more Chinese than I do American. I am not like any other adopted kid I know as simply speaking the language sets me apart let alone living in the country I was born into for so long.

Yes, I am different and I have often found myself wishing I could be just like anyone else, though now I realize how unique I truly am. As far as answering the question “Where are you from?” goes, truth is that I don’t really know. Perhaps there is no right answer without an intro to my special life story.

However, I do know I am and always will proudly identify as an adopted Chinese American.

lucy-w

Lucy Waldmeir spent spent eight years of her life, from ages seven to fifteen, living in China as a Chinese American adoptee. She is now a high school senior at an American public high school. She is interested in pursuing anthropology as a major in college.  

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

DAY 12: Good Hair: A Lifelong Labor of Love

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Heather Freer Kurut

A few years ago, when our twin girls were just three months old, I took advantage of their then-predictable afternoon nap time to watch the Chris Rock documentary “Good Hair.” I sat with rapt attention, equally fascinated, moved by and, at times, horrified by the lengths we will go to in the name of cultural ideals of beauty.

The irony of a white woman with thick, straight hair – who has donated her own quickly-growing braids multiple times – watching and being moved by Chris Rock’s film was not lost on me. But I am a mommy, too, to two beautiful brown girls with heads of coily curls who arrived to our family through adoption. They share none of my genetic material; not surprisingly, their hair and skin share none of my characteristics.

After finishing the movie, I pledged: “I will spend my life assuring our girls that their skin, their hair and their shape are all perfectly beautiful and exactly as God intended.” (And I put it on social media, so you know I meant business).

I agreed whole-heartedly with Chris Rock’s parting words of wisdom: “What do I tell my daughters? I tell them that the stuff on top of their heads is nowhere near as important as the stuff inside their heads.”

Then (in hindsight, and much to my chagrin) I simply ignored that stuff on top of their heads.

After all, I assured myself, I had grown up loving to style hair, and eagerly learned tips and tricks at every opportunity. I could French braid with the best of them, knew how to cut hair with scissors and with clippers, and could do “period” hairstyles for theatrical productions – French twists! 1940’s up-dos, with snoods! Pin curls and finger waves! Braids and buns and wigs galore!

I had even earned college credit and been employed doing hair design for shows. So, I did what I knew to do with kid-hair – I shampooed their hair daily with baby shampoo, and combed it, and then just kind of let it be. Even now, as I write this, I cringe.

My husband and I have a running joke: that our girls will, during their teenage years, look back upon photos from their first two years, see the state of their hair, and immediately stop speaking to either of us. (My darling girls – we are so sorry. We simply didn’t know.)

The first time someone addressed the state of their hair in public was at a restaurant. A lovely older woman approached our table to say hello. She smiled at the girls, who promptly smiled back. She remarked that we made a beautiful family. We beamed. After all, this was a welcome change from the strangers who’d tried to figure out if we were biologically related.

A few minutes later, I ran into the same woman in the ladies’ room. “You know, honey,” she said to me, gently touching my arm, as I eagerly anticipated more compliments, “those babies’ heads are DRY. You’ve got to start getting some moisture to that hair.”

I went back to our table, red-faced, and a bit indignant. She was a stranger! She didn’t know me!  I shared the bathroom interaction with my husband, liberally peppered with lots of “can-you-believe-its” and a few “I-would-NEVER…s”. To his credit, he gently asked, “Well, should we be doing something different?”

What I was too proud to realize, of course, is that she may not have known me, but she did know their hair.

A few weeks later, in a hair care aisle at Target, I spotted a woman with hair just like our girls, only her coily spirals were shiny, and defined, with tell-tale healthy bounce. After staring for a little too long at this stranger’s magnificent crown of curls, I glanced past her to her cart and spotted an adorable little girl, with hair perfectly parted into two round, springy puffs. Same curl texture as our girls. Same shiny bounce as her mom.

“Pardon me…” I opened, “Can I ask you a question?” The woman shot me a sideways glance, perhaps unsure if agreeing would open a proverbial can of worms. After a hesitant “okay,” I asked for haircare guidance, explaining the similarity of textures, yet the noticeable difference in condition of our respective children’s hair.

“You’re not using baby shampoo, are you?” she asked, her raised eyebrow and side-eye as defined as when I initially approached her. “Not anymore!” I confidently responded. She spent the next several minutes showing me different types of products while I eagerly took notes on my phone. She talked about the importance of moisture, explained the benefits of going sulfate-free, and shared a phrase that would later change my life: protective style. I thanked her for her advice and filled my basket with products she had recommended.

I came home from Target a bit overwhelmed with information, but equally motivated to learn.  That same afternoon, I ordered two books (Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care by Rory Mullen, and Come Rain or Come Shine by Rachel Garlinghouse, both written by mamas through adoption).  I found the blogs Mixed Family Life and De Su Mama, and pored over their haircare tips and tricks.

In hindsight, I only followed some of the recommendations. When washing and styling the girls’ hair, there was a lot of trial and error; mostly error. The condition of their hair was improving, for sure, but they still had a lot of dryness and breakage. Though the books and blogs were (and still are) tremendously helpful, I knew I needed more help. We signed up for a haircare class, sponsored by ORS Olive Oil products, at our adoption agency. I was invigorated, and ready. I clapped victoriously when we completed the class registration form.

And then, as happens from time to time amid the busy-ness of parenting and working and spouse-ing, I goofed. Though I had the class scheduled in my calendar, I had forgotten to set an alert. When I realized that we had missed it, I cried. Cried as though I had committed some egregious criminal act against our children.

My mama-guilt at an all-time high, I wept to my husband. “What if they go to Middle School having to ask friends’ moms or, worse yet, their teenage friends to fix their hair because their mom is clueless? What if they resent me for letting their hair get so out of control? What if they are ashamed of me?”

My level-headed, stoic husband – my voice of reason when I am creating catastrophes out of conflicts – gently asked:

“Why don’t you ask people who love you for help?”

Of course.

Tucking a teeny bit of pride away, I sent a Facebook message to a group of strong, loving African American women I feel close with, each of whom has beautiful, natural hair. “Hi ladies,” I wrote through tears. “I am writing to ask you for some advice.”

My former student Jessica (now an accomplished adult) responded immediately: “What’s up”… and I launched right into it, sniffling as I typed. Within moments, I also received responses from a classmate from undergrad (Nikki), and three other former students (Ivory, Marcia and Sharice).

In several paragraphs, I sheepishly admitted that I didn’t know what I was doing.  I, who, for a lifetime, had prided myself on being a good student, had read books and blogs and tried things, and still felt lost. I felt like I had failed.

Without an ounce of judgement or condescension, they each offered input and made suggestions.  They shared details from their own natural hair journeys, and asked what we were doing that had been successful. They recommended products and styles, video tutorials and continued support.  Though this group message thread was two years ago, I routinely re-read much of what they wrote.

I follow their tried-and-true guidelines for cleansing, and caring for these precious curls. I will forever be grateful for both their patience and their sage advice. Likewise, I am grateful for the stranger who approached me with gentle concern, for my husband’s careful prompting, for the woman in the Target haircare aisle, and for the online and print resources available to parents whose children have hair texture that differs so vastly from their own. The combined efforts of the people who helped us have resulted in phenomenal hair growth, and shiny, happy, curly heads of hair.

Though it has been over two years since our family’s hair care journey began, I continue to learn as much as I can about braiding, gentle cleansing, preventing breakage and protective styling.  As is the case in many other families’ homes, hair washing, moisturizing and styling is a weekly event.

Our girls can relate to the main character in the children’s book I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley; they identify with both her impatience at the time it takes to detangle, wash (or co-wash) and style, and the pride in the shiny, braided product. In what I consider to be the ultimate compliment, a co-worker recently referred a woman to me for haircare advice for her multi-racial family. In talking with her, I realized how very much I have learned… but I’m not done learning yet.

Most recently, we took our girls to Aishia, an African American stylist, for an end trim and consultation. Hearing her remark that their hair is healthy and strong made me beam with pride.  Her confirmation of our hair care routine was reassuring, and her suggestions for products were spot on.

She recommended another stylist, Lauren, for a braided protective style.  Our girls were champs for a whopping three hours (total) in Lauren’s chair, during which time I asked what must have been hundreds of questions about comb tails and parts and non-tearing elastics. While at the salon, an older woman approached me and said, “What a beautiful family you have. Their hair looks fantastic.”

I recently watched “Good Hair” again, and found it as moving as my first viewing. I agree that what’s inside my daughter’s heads is far more important that what’s atop their heads… and yet, I know that how I treat their hair is pivotal on the path to helping them love all of themselves.  And after all, that’s what I pledged to do.

This time around, my favorite moment from the film was from Chris Rock’s interview with Maya Angelou.  Dispensing some of her trademark wisdom, Dr. Angelou remarked: “I would say that hair is a woman’s glory and that you share that glory with your family.” Ultimately, styling and protecting our girls’ hair is an act of love, and we do it gladly.

To our darling daughters:
Daddy and I are in awe of the glory of your hair.  Your curls could run the world. 

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When she’s not hanging out with her family, Heather Freer Kurut works as a Middle School Principal and a Yoga teacher. She volunteers as a speaker for the Cradle’s Adoption Education program. She and a colleague created a workshop to help schools craft curricula that works for families formed in all types of ways. Heather Kurut has written previously for the Portrait of an Adoption series.

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

DAY 11: From Adopted To Surrogate: Discovering My Family of Origin

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Jen Rittenhouse

Five years ago I shared a piece of my birth story for this blog. I had just closed the door on the chapter of my life that was getting to know my biological family. My daughter was eight months old. I was processing and moving forward.

You are reading this so you already know adoption stories are vastly different. I tossed mine in the mix years ago to add a layer of irreverence, heartbreak and not-so-happy ending that I longed to connect with as my relationship with my biologicals was unraveling.

It was cathartic, liberating, candid and mine. I’m a writer. That’s how we do things.

I hadn’t thought about my biological family — namely the mistakes I made, the people I hurt, the disappointment I felt and the lessons I learned — for almost eight years until I was dropping my youngest daughter off at her childcare center last spring. I recognized a biological cousin from a meeting a decade (or more?) ago.

Small world, I thought.

I had no intention of introducing myself until we were both leaving the center. We made eye contact, quite literally walking out the door at the same time, so I did what felt like the decent thing to do.

I introduced myself. We shook hands and I asked him how old his daughter was. The encounter was brief and I remember driving away thinking about how sweet it is to see a parent’s face light up during that first year when everything is a marvel and new.

Four days later all hell broke loose.

A direct message to my Instagram account from my biological sister. She was mad and wanted me to know her family wanted nothing to do with me. She referenced the blog story I wrote five years ago and made some general statements about what I said about my biological mother.

My reaction was visceral: I deleted the message as soon as I read it. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Not because her words were intended to hurt me, but because it was so clear how deeply I had hurt her.

I carried an apology to her in my heart for days. I whispered “I’m sorry” into the universe every night before I went to sleep hoping it would get to her. A biological aunt, the only biological connection I keep, reached out to have a lunch date.

She gently told me that her family members wanted nothing to do with me. She explained they were upset about the blog story (you do the math, my biological sister had to Google me to find it) and never believed I should have lingered in their lives as long as I did. She asked that I not acknowledge her nephew if we passed at childcare.

We laughed about the drama. I shared stories about my girls. As we parted ways we hugged and agreed the drama wouldn’t impact our relationship.

As part of processing the ordeal I let myself feel mad, sad and frustrated (and sad, did I mention that?). I cried. I went to counseling. I journaled. I Instagrammed. I Googled everything I could find about healing wounds for your family of origin.

I was twenty weeks pregnant as a gestational carrier (aka surrogate) for my friend as this was all crashing down. I’m a compassionate carrier, quite literally having someone’s child out of the goodness of my own heart. And yet I struggled with the doubt I was suddenly feeling about myself.

Could I truly be the careless villain this family believes I am?

I was in a rabbit hole about family of origin when it occurred to me I’ve been seeing things upside down my whole life. I was so desperate to be accepted and be a part of a family that was never my own. And with this latest kerfuffle I was eager to heal a wound that I believed I had caused by being born.

There’s a reason the saying goes “it hit me like a ton of bricks.” Sometimes when you have a realization that hard you can quite literally feel the weight of it.

My realization: I may have been born to a member of another family, but I belonged to my parents – to my family. To my grandparents. To my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who have nurtured and loved me for my entire life.

I remember looking in the mirror at my pregnant self as these thoughts came to me. I thought healing for my birth story and my mother’s infertility would come through having children of my own. And while the miracles of new babies certainly make our lives better, carrying a child for a woman unable to carry her own is where I can create healing for a primal wound in my family.

Infertility.

My mother tried for years to have children. Miscarriage after miscarriage. She almost died from an ectopic pregnancy. Then came more heartache as multiple adoptions fell through. She was scrubbing toilets on a Monday morning when her phone rang.

The social worker had a baby for her. How soon could she and my dad get to the hospital?

I can offer apologies and explanations to my biologicals but it will always feel empty to them. But with this baby I can offer something far more significant to my parents, the people who experienced heartbreak along with them so many years ago, and to my friends planning for this this baby boy.

My adoption story taught me that sometimes you have to accept that you hurt people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive, grow and recover. It doesn’t mean you can’t still find healing and hope.

I spent decades desperate to trace my roots and know where I come from. Turns out, I never needed to look very far to understand who I am, where I come from and most importantly, where I belong.

30-adoption-portraits-in-30-days

Jen Rittenhouse is a copywriter and social marketer who lives in the not-Seattle Seattle-area city of Puyallup. By day she manages social media for a Puget Sound-based health system. By night she wrangles her daughters, 6 and 3, and dreams of a full-time freelance life. You can connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @YennyPie.

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

DAY 10: Children Are Exactly Who They Are Meant To Be

Children Are Exactly Who They Are Meant To Be

 Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Anne Moody

This piece is an adaptation from Anne Moody’s intelligent, thought-provoking book called The Children That Money Can Buy: Stories From the Frontlines of Foster Care and Adoption.

“When a wonderful baby flies over the ocean
To come like a little bird, safe to this nest,
We’ll surround her with all of our love and devotion
And give thanks for the child from the East who came West”

By Jean Moehring, on the occasion of her granddaughter’s arrival

I have a distinct memory of the moment I first wanted to be an adoptive parent. It was 1964. I was thirteen years old and on a spring-break road trip with my parents and sister. We were driving across country, stopping at various sites of historical significance along the way, but I just wanted to stay in the car and read.

At one point in the trip, I was sitting in the car reading a newspaper article about a single woman (I believe she was a well-known reporter) who had adopted a little girl from Korea. I think what made the story newsworthy was that the woman was a little bit famous and had managed to adopt as a single parent at a time when that was almost unheard of. But whatever the reason, I was fascinated—and could clearly see my future, most of which was extremely murky, as the mother of a Korean daughter.

Twenty-three years later, that future was realized in the adoption of our youngest daughter, Jocelyn, who arrived from Korea at three-and-a-half months old. My husband, who is a writer, wrote a wonderful story about our adoption experience for the Seattle Times, in which he tried to explain why we had made the decision to adopt.

As he told it, when I brought the subject of adoption up to him it didn’t seem like I wanted to start a discussion; it was more like I was announcing a pregnancy. And that’s exactly the way I felt about it.

People were curious about why we had decided to adopt. We were already the parents of two daughters who had fulfilled our expectations of parenthood beyond our wildest dreams. The grandparents, especially, couldn’t figure out why we didn’t just have another child like the two we all adored so much.

I would try to answer their questions logically, by saying things like, “Well, we just feel we’ve been so fortunate to have two healthy children and we don’t want to press our luck with a third pregnancy.” But that wasn’t true at all: We wanted to adopt because it felt fated that we do so. I had known that little girl was coming for a long time.

I had been an adoption counselor for five years by the time we adopted Jocelyn. I don’t think it’s necessary for adoption counselors to be adoptive parents—although many are—but there’s no question that becoming an adoptive parent teaches you things you can’t learn in any other way. And being an adoption counselor definitely helped me as an adoptive parent.

Jocelyn’s adjustment to her new life as a member of our family was not easy for any of us. Although she weighed only ten pounds when she arrived, Jocelyn was a mighty force who immediately dominated the household with her distress.

Her sisters, Erin and Caitlin, who were eight and five, were old enough to understand that she was, as her doctor so scientifically explained, “freaking out” about all the changes in her world. Most specifically, she was freaking out about the loss of her foster mother, and she wanted nothing to do with us—with the exception of her sisters, who could amuse her by day, and her new grandfather, whose broad chest could comfort her into sleep.

Since Grandpa loved naps, this worked well for both of them when he was around. But the night times were dreadful.

Because I had known other babies who had similarly difficult adjustments, I took Jocelyn’s unhappiness as a sign that she was smart and sensitive and, most importantly, that she had been able to develop healthy attachments in her foster home, along with the belief that her crying and protests would matter to someone.

The babies who concerned me in my work were those who seemed not to have noticed that their lives had been upended, not only by new caretakers but by an entirely new world with strange sights, sounds, smells, and touches.

It was common for me to do a post placement visit in the first few weeks after a baby’s arrival and then write a report stating that the parents described the child as calm and easygoing, noting that she rarely cried and was already sleeping through the night. On the surface, it looked as though these babies were doing well, and their passivity made the early adjustment period for their families relatively easy.

But I think many of these “easygoing” children were actually so frightened and overwhelmed that they had retreated emotionally. Rather than register protest, they responded to the trauma with silence and complacency.

I remember one seven-month-old baby from Korea who carried this reaction to an extreme. She arrived bearing no resemblance to the child described in her referral paperwork. Her parents were expecting a child who was “smiling and babbling, sitting steadily and standing when her hands are held.”

Instead they brought home from the airport a silent and limp baby who seemed unable even to hold her head up. They rushed her to the doctor, assuming she was sick, but there was no indication of a physical problem.

For two excruciating days and nights, the parents worried while the baby remained listless. Then, on the third day, she began to cry and she cried for hours while her parents made futile attempts to soothe her. Finally, completely exhausted, the baby was quiet in her mother’s lap.

Then she slowly lifted her head, sat up straight and cautiously reached up a tiny hand to touch her mother’s cheek. This child turned out to be exceptionally bright, and I think she had just initially “decided” that total withdrawal was an intelligent and sensible response to such a traumatic situation.

Jocelyn’s adjustment period wasn’t nearly as dramatic or as rapid. It felt as though it took months before we figured out how to make her happy, yet when I look at pictures of her first few weeks with us now, there is evidence of faint smiling even then. But she remained mysterious to us, and my husband and I had to relearn many of the things we thought we knew about parenting.

This time, our tried and true methods for getting a baby to sleep, such as gentle rocking and quiet singing in a darkened room, seemed only to infuriate the baby. We finally figured out that what she found soothing was rigorous bouncing and distracting chatter, neither of which came naturally to our minds as methods for soothing babies. (When we met her incredibly vivacious foster mother twelve years later, we finally understood why this behavior felt comforting and familiar to Jocelyn).

I think a primary lesson parents, whether by birth or adoption, need to learn is that it is their job to adapt to the child—not to try to make the child adapt to them. All children come to us as unique, distinct people, and it is the parent’s responsibility—and joy—to discover how to help them thrive. This responsibility extends to everything from figuring out how to soothe them as babies to knowing how to steer them toward becoming independent adults.

When Jocelyn was a toddler, I was working as a supervisor of the birth parent counseling program at a large adoption agency. Ten years earlier, this agency had been one of the first to embrace open adoption.

I remember a training session for the counselors that included a fascinating talk by a psychologist who wanted to give us tips about how to talk to birth parents about choosing adoptive parents for their child. She told us about a study of adoptive placements whose authors concluded that the single most significant factor affecting long-term happiness in adoptive families was the fit between parents and children in what the psychologist called “energy level.”

She explained that a mismatch in the energy level of the parents and child was the most highly predictive indicator of an adoption disruption—meaning that the child ultimately left the family.

At first this idea seemed preposterous to me. After all, there are plenty of birth families in which there is an obvious mismatch in the energy levels between parents and children, and they seem to have no more trouble getting along than do families in which everyone is similar in that respect. I also resisted the idea that families can be typed according to energy level and that family members necessarily resemble each other in this way.

I found myself rejecting a lot of what the psychologist was saying, but as I thought more about it I realized that my agency and others that encouraged open adoption were already doing a version of what she recommended. We weren’t doing it deliberately—it was just a natural outcome of openness.

When our birth parents searched for the right adoptive family for their child, they looked for people with whom they felt comfortable, and their (possibly unconscious) recognition of a shared energy level probably contributed to that feeling in subtle but significant ways.

When a child is born to a family, we assume that he or she will in some ways be a “chip off the old block.” Children aren’t clones of their parents, but they do share traits that go beyond height and hair color to include more nebulous areas such as talents, interests, and personality type.

As someone who has worked with many hundreds of birth parents and adoptive families over a period of thirty-five years, I have been in a position to study the age-old nature-or-nurture question. I’ve watched in amazement as some children turn into the spitting image of their adoptive parents, even when they are of different races.

I’ve been equally amazed by children who have had no contact with their birth parents but nevertheless grow up to share not only their physical traits but their mannerisms, avocations, and dispositions.

I often thought about the psychologist’s explanation of this “fit” between the energy levels of adoptive parents and children. She had used the example of the Thanksgiving dinner traditions of two large extended families. One family traditionally played football after dinner; the other played Scrabble. The kids in each family grew up knowing what was expected of them as they became part of the family tradition.

For a high-energy kid in a football-playing family, everything feels natural, just as it does for a quieter kid in a Scrabble-playing family. But when you have a child who doesn’t like to play football and is either forced to play anyway or is allowed to sit out (maybe reading a book), then problems can emerge. Other family members might interpret his behavior as being uncooperative and “not like us.”

Conversely, the kid who loves to play football would be just as noticeably different in the less energetic family. He would be squirming, unable to focus on the Scrabble game and dying to work off some energy—and the family might interpret all of this as uncooperative and “not like us.” Of course, the families still love their children, but there is an underlying recognition of difference, and when the different child is an adoptee, that can feel significant.

Then I started thinking about my own family, and the fact that there was a clear discrepancy between Jocelyn’s energy level and the energy levels of the rest of us. Jocelyn is not hyperactive and the rest of us are neither quiet nor sluggish, but there was a noticeable jolt of energy when she joined the family.

My husband referred to her, with what he called her “outsized zest for life,” as “the human plus sign,” but she could be just as energetically unhappy when forced to do something that required sitting still.

My husband and I were kept busy modifying our beliefs and approaches to what we had assumed was good parenting in order to accommodate the reality of this very distinct little person. With Jocelyn, good parenting meant things like understanding that a toddler—at least this toddler, unlike her sisters—just shouldn’t be expected to sit happily at the table (not at home, not at someone else’s house, and definitely not at a restaurant).

Had my husband and I shared Jocelyn’s energy level, we probably already would have known that.

Intellectually, I understand that high-energy children might fit better in a high-energy family and that the same is true for calmer children and calmer families. I also understand how completely appropriate it is for birth parents to pick adoptive families with whom they feel familiar and comfortable.

It all makes perfect sense—except that if adoption agencies actually matched children with adoptive parents according to this metric, we never would have been matched with Jocelyn. And that makes no sense at all.

Before we adopted Jocelyn, I was part of an adoptive-parent support group made up of clients and fellow counselors. The group included mothers with children, aged newborn to six years old, who had been adopted from all over the world as well as through in-country infant adoptions. There were also a few birth children—including my two daughters—in the group. I thoroughly enjoyed socializing with these women and learned a lot from them and their children.

I also sometimes attended a larger gathering of adoptive mothers where speakers would share information and facilitate discussions. One discussion focused on the proper way to talk with a child about adoption—particularly about how to address your child’s feelings of loss or confusion over not having “grown in your tummy.”

The consensus was that when children expressed this feeling, parents should soothe and cuddle them and tell them that they also wish that the child could have been in their “tummy.” The mother and child could then bond over their shared loss.

I wasn’t an adoptive mom at that point, and everyone else seemed to be in agreement, so I didn’t say anything. I had read similar things in books about adoption, and although the approach seemed a little odd, I couldn’t explain why it bothered me.

Some years later, we adopted Jocelyn, and she grew into an energetic, outgoing, mischievous little four-year-old. She was not at all what I would call introspective, and generally made it obvious when something was bothering her.

Because of my work, we talked about adoption freely around our house, and we knew many other adoptive families—including our own extended family, with four of the eight cousins being adopted. (In later years, the number of cousins in the family would number eleven, with seven of them being adopted and four of them being Asian.) So Jocelyn just naturally amassed a lot of information about the subject.

Jocelyn knew the basics about where she had been born, how she had come to us, and that she looked different from the rest of us. The most complicated thing that she knew was that she had a birth mother and that when she was born, her birth mother hadn’t been able to take care of a baby and had decided on adoption. It was complex information for a four-year-old, and she didn’t ask a lot of questions or express concerns until one day when she voiced the classic, “Was I in your tummy ?”

I had always assumed I would say and do some version of what had been advised by other adoptive mothers. But the moment my daughter said that to me, I realized that telling her I wished that she had grown in my tummy was not only inaccurate but could be interpreted as saying that I wished she was a different child.

The truth for her and for me was that her father and I had quite specifically wanted a daughter from Korea. We had made the deliberate choice not to have another child by birth primarily because I had always wanted to adopt a child from Korea. A child who had “grown in my tummy” not only wouldn’t have been Korean—she wouldn’t have been Jocelyn.

I ended up telling her that she was exactly the child I had wanted and the child she was supposed to be. I also told her that I didn’t know why it had happened that she had been born to her birth parents and then adopted by us but that, for us, it was exactly the right thing to have happened.

And, most importantly, she was who she was, the exact right person, because she had been born to her birth parents, not to us. There was a little further talk about how it was very, very hard for women who lived in Korea (31 years ago) to have a baby when there wasn’t a daddy around to help them, and that maybe her own birth mother had decided that she wanted her baby to have two parents to take care of her.

That sounds like a pretty complicated conversation to have with anyone, let alone a four-year-old, but it was actually quite brief, and off she went on her busy, independent way.

There were no tears or cuddling—just big sighs of relief on my part for having figured out in the nick of time not to inadvertently make her feel like I wished she was some other child.

About six months later, when she was five years old, I read Jocelyn The Mulberry Bird. We had already read lots of books about the process of adoption and had talked a bit about her own adoption, but this was the first time that the idea of birth mothers (in this case mulberry-bird birth mothers) was addressed in any depth.

The book is about a young mother bird who is trying to raise her baby on her own because mulberry birds are the sort of birds where the father doesn’t stick around. Although it is hard, she is doing well until a storm blows her nest to the ground and she has to struggle to keep the baby warm and protected while also having to go off in search of food.

Eventually the baby gets sick and the mother realizes that it will die if she doesn’t get help, so she seeks advice from a wise owl. He tells her about some ground-dwelling birds that live far away (sandpipers, who according to the book raise babies as couples, so that one can look for food while the other stays and protects the baby), and she agrees to put her baby on the owl’s back and let him fly the baby to them.

Jocelyn took in the story without question, no doubt registering the breaks in my voice and lengthy pauses while I collected myself. (I cannot read this book without getting emotional even though there are some flaws in it, such as why not have the owl just fly the baby to a new nest, since single parenthood apparently works for mulberry birds most of the time).

I wasn’t sure that Jocelyn even understood the book as a story about adoption because it doesn’t actually use the words “adoption” or “birth mother.” But when I was tucking her into bed she told me that she thought that maybe now her birth mother “has a daddy and some other children.” She went on to say “wouldn’t it be nice of we could go and see her sometime and see her house and her beautiful garden.” (It’s all recorded in her “baby” book.)

Jocelyn didn’t say anything further that night about adoption but she had clearly understood the essence of the mulberry bird’s story. And she had clearly remembered our earlier conversations. At age five, there was obviously still a great deal she couldn’t understand about the selflessness of a birth mother’s love for her child (even when disguised as a mulberry bird).

But I do think she got the message that birth mothers love their babies, that her birth mother had loved her, that we loved her, and that she was exactly who she was meant to be.”

anne-m-1 anne-m-2

Anne Moody is an adoptive parent and the co-director of an adoption agency specializing in in-country infant adoption. Her youngest daughter, Jocelyn, came from Korea in 1987 when she was three-and-a-half months old. Anne is the author of The Children Money Can Buy: Stories From the Frontlines of Foster Care and Adoption. Anne Moody wrote a piece for the 2016 Portrait of an Adoption series.

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

DAY 9: We Will Always Be His Mothers

We Will Always Be His Mothers
An Open Letter to My Adopted Son’s Foster Mother

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Amy Passalugo

“For this child, I have prayed, and the Lord has granted the desires of my heart.” – 1 Samuel 1:27

Dear Foster Mother,

You don’t really know me, and I don’t really know you.

Three hours in a room together does not a friend make (especially when all 180 of those minutes were spent in a volley of questions-and-answers). And yet, we are connected in a way most people will never be, all because of red hair and a pair of glasses.

An excerpt from his profile: L enjoys playing with toy cars, puzzles, riding bikes, and other fun activities. He enjoys cartoons like Paw Patrol. He likes to be on time.

I chose him, but they chose you. I entered into this eager and willing, but you were called upon to take him in. A difficult little boy with a traumatic past, he was a stranger and a burden to you and your daughters.

And yet… you fostered him, in the truest and purest definition of the word. You advocated for him. You nurtured him. And under your care, he has thrived. Yes, he has a long way to go, but he has come so far from where he was two years ago.

I have not met him yet. I’ve read hundreds of pages of paperwork, but I don’t know him. He doesn’t know me. I have never heard his voice, and he doesn’t know I’m his mom.

“Don’t you just wish he was here with you, away from his foster family?”

If there was an FAQ document to this adoption, this would make the top 5. The question is simple – always coming from well-meaning people who don’t have a clue what this is really about – but the answer is complex.

Yes, I do wish he was here with me. I spend what feels like every second of every day thinking about him, wondering what he’s doing and how he’s feeling and when he’ll come home to me. I want him here more than I ever knew it was possible to want something.

But do I wish he was away from his foster family? Away from you, the woman who defined the word mother for him, and your daughters, the girls he’s come to love as his sisters?

Heck no.

It might sound strange, but if I could choose what’s best for him, it would be to stay with you. That’s not to say I won’t be a great mom to him, that I won’t give him every ounce of love and energy and strength I possess. I will. But no mother wants to see her child hurt or traumatized, and leaving you, dear Foster Mother, is exactly what that will do – hurt my son, and traumatize him for the umpteenth time in his short little life.

“She is what I wish would be the face of foster care,” I tell people of you. “If I can be half the mom she is, I will consider myself successful.”

You have been there for the good. You have been there for the bad. You have been there for the in-between.

You’ve made him laugh; he’s made you cry. You’ve kissed his boo-boos; he’s bruised your arms. You’ve prayed over him; he’s been the curse on your lips. You’ve offered him solace; he’s taught you grace.

You’ve been to his day care. You’ve been to his school. You’ve gone to therapy with him. You’ve taken him to the doctor and the optometrist. You’ve fought for him when no one else would.

You make him dinner, read him stories, tuck him in at night. You know how he likes his sandwiches cut. You know if he eats the crust on his pizza. You know what temperature he likes his bath water, and you know how many books he asks for before bed. You sacrifice for him.

You are his mother.

I recognize all you have done, and all you will continue to do, for him and for me. Words cannot express the gratitude and joy I feel that you would like to continue a relationship with him. With us. As an adopted child myself, I will never take for granted my son’s other family members, and you are the most important one.

I look at the pictures you so graciously shared with me, the ones I have framed in my living room. I wonder if you have the same pictures in a frame at your house; if you’ll keep it on display long after he’s gone. I wonder how long your daughters – his sisters – will ask about him and miss him. I wonder how you’ll feel his absence: as a sorrow or a relief? Maybe a little of both.

I know you love my son, and I want you to know I do, too.

Right now, I love the idea of him and what little I know about him. But I promise I will grow to love him for the sweet, difficult, kind, compassionate, wild little person he is.

I promise to foster his spirit; teach him right from wrong; play with him and tell him how amazing he is; and raise him to be a gentleman, the type of man you’d want your daughters to marry.

I promise I’ll do my best, and when I fall short of my own high expectations, I’ll dust myself off and try again.

The connection may not be instant; the attachment could take weeks, months, even years to form. I know this, and I know better than to expect too much from my son or myself. After all, there are experts who write books about these exact issues. It’s a process – a long one, in some cases – full of growth, doubt, mistakes, victories, and triumph.

But I’m also not worried there will never be a connection or attachment. Maybe it’s instinct, or maybe it’s the dozen nieces and nephews I love so much, or maybe it’s a subconscious awareness as an adopted child… but I know it takes more than genetics to feel connected to a child. Identical noses or similar left earlobes do not equal attachment.

None of this is to say I’m not scared; I am, very much. Isn’t every first-time parent? But I’m not scared I can’t do it. I’m not scared I “picked the wrong kid.” I’m scared I’ll never be able to erase the feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and sadness that are so deep-rooted inside my son.

I’m scared because I knew these feelings all too well growing up, and I know there was nothing anyone could have done to ease them. I do not have the solution to these feelings, or the antidote to these fears, but I have a good idea of where to start.

It’s commitment, strength, perseverance, and every other word you’ll find on an inspirational poster. It’s never giving up on your child or yourself, and it’s waking up to do it all over again, day after day. When my son sees how much I love him – how I’m never going to give him up, no matter what – it will (eventually) come to mean so much more to him than why we came to be a family.

Thanks to my own adoptive parents, I know this to be true, and thanks to you, my son knows this, as well.

I know why you can’t keep him forever, and I respect your decision. I admire your self-awareness and courage to give up someone you love so much. And I’m grateful for it, because I get to be his next momma.

But if you don’t believe anything else I say, please believe you will always be his mother (as long as you want to be). Distance and time will never change that because neither he nor I could be a family without you.

I was raised by a woman like you: strong-willed, tough, and proud with an open heart and a generous nature. When I unexpectedly lost her eighteen months ago, I thought I’d never be whole again. But through time and healing, I have come to realize there are other things – other people – who can fill the void her death has left. No one will ever replace her, but I am hoping through careful study and purposeful intentions, I can learn how to be the best mother I can be to my son.

And so, I thank you, Foster Mother, for being there when I could not. I thank you for wiping his tears and kissing his face and lifting him up to his potential. I thank you for loving him, and I thank you for giving me a chance.

I thank you for him.

We are two strangers from different parts of the world, brought together by a face too cute to turn away and a spirit too sweet to deny.

We will forever be linked, you and me.
We will always be his mothers.

Together Forever,
Amy

Amy Passalugo is a single adoptive mother from Rochester, NY. She works full-time as an instructional designer and has written and published a novel called Stay Under the Stars, available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle. She enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and snuggling with her cat, Posy. This is her second feature in the Portrait of an Adoption series, and she is honored to be a part of it once again.

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter 

DAY 8: Seeking Out My Origin Story

Seeking Out My Origin Story

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Rick Hughes

When I was a young person, I was generally comfortable with my status as an adopted child. My parents loved me and provided well for me. They were open and forthright–but not generous–regarding the details of my adoption. Based upon the information given to me, I had enough knowledge to create a blurred image without much depth and color. Nevertheless, I believe most adopted children crave an origin story–I know I did.

My parents’ attitude about disclosures changed with the birth of my two children. My wife Stacey had always encouraged me to search and question more regarding my identity and any health issues. I resisted because I felt that my parents would provide additional information when they felt comfortable. My Mom seemed to carry a deeply imbedded insecurity about my adoption that, I believe, prevented her from disclosing the full story. However, when my children were born, my Mom and Dad were struck by how much their grandchildren looked like me and my biological mother.

While visiting my parents, my Mom and Dad started talking about the details of my adoption. At the time, I was around thirty-two years old, and finally I began to hear and visualize some of the details my adoption.

My Dad, a retired U.S. Army soldier, and Mom, a German-American wife, were stationed in Wuerzburg, Germany in the late 1960s. A military acquaintance of my Dad knew that my parents were having a difficult time having kids and revealed that he knew of a twin sister that was pregnant and needing to give the child up for adoption. My parents were anxious to meet my biological mother– an unmarried teenager in a staunchly Catholic region of Germany.

My parents continued to keep close contact with my biological mother and the Catholic adoption agency. My dad, as with many men, related this stage of his life to the motor vehicle he was driving at the time. He and my mom described picking up the mother of their child in Dad’s Buick Roadmaster and driving to the Catholic hospital.

After my birth and extended hospital stay (an infection for the new mother), my dad and mom picked me up along with my birth mother to take her home–an apartment on Weissenburgstrasse– that I would drive by thirty-three years later.

My mom specifically remembered that my birth mother was in the front passenger seat holding me, and that when they stopped at my birth mother’s apartment, she handed me back to my mom, who was in the backseat.

My mom then watched my birth mother leave the car, walk to her family’s apartment, and not look back. What struck me most about this story was absence of any parents supporting this teenage mother. Then on a lighter side, the fact that an infant was being held in the front seat of car.

Months later, my dad received orders from the Army that he was to return to the U.S. The adoption process was expedited and my parents were preparing to leave Germany. One evening while my parents were visiting and saying their goodbyes to my Mom’s family in Darmstadt– a city an hour and half west of Wuerzburg — a young blond teenage woman appeared at my Oma’s door.

My mom answered the door and saw the familiar face and said, “You can’t have him.” The young woman was not my biological mother but instead her identical twin sister. She explained who she was and Mom allowed her to hold me.

Oddly enough, these additional details didn’t satisfy my need to complete my origin story; they only made my desire to fill in the puzzle with more depth and color that much stronger.  Now armed with names and dates, I did a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request letter to Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) to obtain my entire file because I was German citizen and had gone through an abbreviated U.S. naturalization process later.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive a prompt response indicating that the file would be available at the federal courthouse in Louisville, KY–the same location where I became a U.S. citizen. I live in Bowling Green, KY and work as an attorney. I’d been to the federal courthouse in Louisville for clients, but this time my trip was deeply personal and potentially life changing.

When I arrived, I was surprised by the amount of documents — supporting papers, marriage certificate, adoption documents, original birth certificates (English and German), and the familiar legally changed birth certificate.  At that moment, I felt a tidal wave of emotion upon seeing a birth certificate with a different name and different mother (no father listed).

I occasionally spoke German with my Mom and studied German in college, so I was able to quickly learn new facts that filled in the puzzle.  I was disappointed that no father was listed; however, I was determined to find my biological mother.

My next destination was Germany. My Oma passed away in the spring of 2001 and the earliest my mom and I could go to Germany was in the fall. We purchased our tickets and then the horrific events of September 11th occurred. I was still determined to go.

I learned through a local judge in Bowling Green that there was a lady living in our hometown that was originally from Wuerzburg, and she still had family there. We became acquaintances and she introduced me to her sister-in-law, who happened to have a connection with the local city clerk’s office in Wuerzburg. She notified her contact that I would be coming to Wuerzburg and hoped to view family records.

On our flight to Frankfurt, I told my Mom about my FOIA request and arrangements in Wuerzburg. She was completely supportive and hoped for the best. When she and I arrived, we stayed with my uncle Helmut in Darmstadt and then toured the Rhine and Mosel — a pleasant journey through vineyards and castles.

I then dropped my Mom off with my uncle and continued my trip alone to another wine region of Franken in northern Bavaria — my birthplace.

I will never forget arriving after exiting the hectic Autobahn. It was a warm October day and the sun shone in an orange-yellow glow. I climbed a hill overlooking the Main River. To the left, I saw a fortress atop a hill covered in vineyards. To the right, a city rested below and across the river, alight with its red-tiled roofs and dozens of Catholic churches.

I stayed at a small, locally run hotel and walked to have lunch with my Bowling Green contact’s sister-in-law. She and I sat outside on the Marktplatz, and she spoke some English and coupled with my limited German, we were able to communicate well.

She and I drove to the hospital where I was born and I was feeling fine, but that all changed when she took me to Weissenburgstrasse. It took me back to what my parents described: the Buick Roadmaster, my Dad behind the wheel, a teenage girl handing a baby over to the back seat into the arms of a grateful, anxious mother to be. The seventeen-year-old then exited the vehicle — never looking back — and walked away to her other world. But she was never completely able to leave the child behind in her mind. I was, at that moment on Weissenburgstrasse, overcome with emotion.

I returned to my hotel and prepared myself for the next day’s appointment at the Standesamt Wuerzburg. I took the streetcar and arrived early but there still was a short line at the clerk’s office. I waited patiently but anxiously, and when I stepped up to counter, the lady, who only spoke German, said that they were expecting me and that the information that I needed was down the hall with the clerk in his office. I felt very positive at this point having visions of my experience at the federal courthouse in Louisville.

The clerk greeted me politely and offered me a seat. He explained that he had the information regarding my mother and that I needed to show identification and provide a signature. I fumbled for my ID, handed it to him, and then he appeared puzzled.

“Your name does not match any of names on our documents.” I explained in German that “I’m adopted, I’ve traveled 5,000 miles (8,000 km), and I’m searching for my birth mother — I mean her no harm.” He looked me closely in the eyes and indicated that he would leave the office for several minutes.

The clerk promptly exited the room leaving behind a tabbed ledger book with several entries regarding my birth mother– parents, their dates of death, siblings, dates of birth, addresses, marriage date, and deregistering residence. In Germany, one must register with the clerk upon arrival in a city and deregister when intending to move away.

The last entries for my birth mother indicated to whom she married and that they were moving to North Carolina. I was dumbfounded. I was wholly expecting to obtain information and continue my search in and around Wuerzburg. Instead I found out that she has been living in a state that nearly borders Kentucky.

I returned to the U.S. and continued my search. I learned in my research that my birth mother was an identical twin and her twin also moved to the U.S. I searched for the twin with no luck.  My wife and I had a contact at a police department, and although this is unconventional and certainly against procedure, this person ran the information that I had on their databases and within hours, I had a driver’s license of my birth mother and a phone number.

I summoned the courage to call on October 31, 2001, but I didn’t want to remember the day that I contact my birth mother as Halloween. So I decided to wait until November 1st — All Saints Day. I called at lunch because I suspected she was a housewife– many German women of that age are — and her husband would likely be at work.

My hunch was correct and she answered the phone and I told her I’m from Wuerzburg. She thought I was a local person, but I explained I’m not and that I tried to get in touch with her sister first. No problem, she indicated that her sister was sitting next to her. I told her I lived in Kentucky, and now she audibly seemed suspicious.

I replied with the date that I was born and my belief that she is my birth mother. She repeated over and over “Oh my gosh,” and confirmed that she is in fact my birth mother. We were able to meet in the spring and developed a good relationship.

In fact, my birth mother and Mom also met, spoke regularly, and became friends. They shared a lot in common– both being from Germany and having married U.S. Army soldiers. They also shared a common bond through a child.

What impressed me most was how my birth mother related identically the story of her being taken to the hospital and then being picked up by parents, big American car and all– over thirty years later. The scene at Weissenburgstrasse played out again. I’m a lawyer who talks to witnesses and parties for a living, and rarely do witnesses and parties to a single event, even within a year, describe an incident nearly identically.

Still not satisfied, I still felt the need to find my biological father. I had little information — he was not on the birth certificate and my birth mother provided only sketchy details. I learned that he was an MP in the military, stationed in Wuerzburg in 1967.

He was from the Midwest U.S., and his name had an English pronunciation with, possibly, a German spelling.  Based upon that limited but important information, one would think that my biological father’s identity would be possible to find, but after a great deal of research and multiple contact attempts with the U.S. military, I had no success.

Slowly, life changed. My dad died and then my mom. I felt more of an urgency to find my biological father. I submitted my DNA to 23andMe and Ancestry.com and then came the flood of 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins. Then one day I received an email out of the blue from an amateur genealogist and mayor of a small township in Ohio.

He announced that we were third cousins — Ok, along with dozens of other folks — but that he’d done the genealogy for all the folks with my biological father’s last name in northern Ohio. He passed on the information and there was a match with the name provided by my birth mother.

Oddly enough, while this was going on, my wife was on the Ancestry.com website and someone had uploaded the high school yearbooks from the mid-1960’s for the high school that my biological father attended.

My wife saw my exact resemblance over and over in these yearbooks from over fifty years ago.  I then looked to the computer screen and I felt that I was looking at myself from my high school days. My firm had a subscription to Lexis-Nexis and within seconds, I had pages of public information on my biological father, and more importantly, his cellular phone number.

In late summer 2017, I contacted him while he was in a large utility building cleaning a vintage car — I also love cars. The reaction from him was circumspection followed by surprise by the abundance of corroborated facts that I laid upon him. The call ended politely, but he indicated that he needed to reflect and study on what I explained to him.

He called me the next day and said that it all added up and he felt relatively confident that I was his son. I suggested a DNA test, and it’s since been confirmed that we are biological father and son — after only 2 ½ years of my DNA being listed.

We arranged a meeting in November 2017, but only my son and I went–my daughter was recovering from a medical procedure and so was my biological father’s daughter.

We met in Cincinnati and I felt like I was looking at myself twenty years into the future. Both he and his wife were warm and welcoming. His wife told me he had first found out about my birth and adoption soon after I was born, and he had shared that information with her during their engagement.

We scheduled another meeting in February 2018, and my wife, daughter, and son were finally able to meet my birth father and the remainder of his family.

I feel fortunate to have completed my origin story. I initially felt somewhat disappointed that I didn’t find someone that shares my personality. My wife Stacey pointed out that my identity and character is not traced to one person but is an amalgam of Mom, Dad, birth mother, and biological father. Nature and nurture are both strong influences on how we develop our identity and character.

Rick Hughes is married to a wonderful, supportive wife, Stacey. They are blessed with two great children Elise and Ryan who are currently in college. Some of their best experiences have been traveling together as a family. Rick’s dream is to get a point in life where he can stay for extended times in Wuerzburg. 

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

DAY 7: I Don’t Think Anyone Is Prepared To Return A Child To An Erratic Situation

I Don’t Think Anyone Is Prepared To Return A Child To An Erratic Situation

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Petrecia Shales

I am selfish and I know it. When people saw our three little girls going in three different directions, they would marvel and say things like, “You are such good people. Those girls are so lucky.”

And I would feel so guilty because I knew it wasn’t true. We were the ones who were lucky.  Lucky to love them. Lucky to be able to adopt Cheyenne and Savannah. Lucky to be able to watch them grow into the amazing young women they have become. Lucky.

But not lucky enough.

It has been over ten years now and still hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of Louise. I wonder how she is and I pray that she is safe. I imagine what might have been if she had been allowed to stay. I wonder how different her biological half-sisters might be without the grief of losing her.

I wonder who I would be and who my husband would be without that black hole that lives between us. This is what happens when you love a foster child and the system’s pendulum swings too far the other way.

We had four biological children before I became a C.A.S.A. I volunteered to advocate in court for children in foster care. I’m sure my husband thought our family was complete, but almost like a biological clock ticking, I experienced an undeniable pull to become a foster parent. My husband was not enthusiastic, but agreed to go to the classes.

He was fearful that he couldn’t love someone else’s child, and fearful that he would. I am half full and he is half empty. I ignored his concerns. I jumped in with both feet, headed for deep water.

Cheyenne came to us when she was just eleven months old (with beautiful blonde curls and more baggage than should be possible for her short life). She was terrified of loud noises, ate like she had been hungry forever, refused to wear shoes, and would stay silent in her crib long after she awoke in the morning, never letting us know she was ready to get up until we went in to check on her.

After her younger half-sister Savannah was born three months later, she joined us at two weeks of age, grey and weak, looking like a little bird. She had been removed from her mother, dirty and hungry, and would need therapy for several months to improve her low muscle tone. And finally, two years later, Louise arrived at our home at just twenty-four hours old, removed from Mom at the hospital.

On the day Louise was born, Mom was supposed to be in court where they were to revoke her parental rights on Cheyenne and Savannah. Instead of moving forward that day, the court allowed Mom to sign away her parental rights on the two older girls voluntarily a month later.  She was advised that this would be the only way she could get Louise back.

For the next three years, the sisters grew up together in our care. We adopted Cheyenne and Savannah. We remained hopeful we would be able to adopt Louise too. Mom took two steps forward and one step back, and sometimes two steps back. We found that it didn’t seem to matter.

Even though a fourth baby of hers would die of SIDS, even though she would get a new boyfriend and get pregnant again, the courts’ determination to send Louise “home” was apparent.  (We were later told by an anonymous case worker that DCFS had pushed to send Louise home to stave off questions about their decision to allow Mom to take that fourth child home).

Louise left us when she was just three years and two months old.

I am not one of those foster parents who smiles softly and pretends that I have some amazing ability to love a child and then let her go back to an uncertain future. We hired lawyers. In response, the agency removed any visitation/transition plan to support Louise and her sisters after Louise returned “home.”

We talked about the “best interest of the child” and in turn C.A.S.A. and the State’s Attorney refused to even speak with us in court. Our lawyers looked at us and whispered, “We have no friends here.”

We spent months riding an emotional rollercoaster from one court date to the next, going from hope one month to despair the next. We only stopped when we felt we were risking the rest of our family’s emotional well-being. We had to give up to save ourselves.

In the years since then, Mom has had more boyfriends and more children. All in all, Mom has birthed ten children with six different men. Off and on, she has allowed Cheyenne and Savannah to see Louise and their other half-brothers and sisters, but it is sporadic and it has been three years since the last time they were together.

There is so much more to tell, and I have tried to write this story many times in many ways.  There were years that I spent doing everything I could to befriend Mom, to gain her trust. I gave her any and every opportunity to see her/our daughters, and even allowed them to spend the night at her home.

But Cheyenne and Savannah came back with stories of how Louise was mistreated and how they didn’t trust their Mom or her boyfriend. No more sleepovers, but still I tried to give the girls a bridge to each other and a chance for Mom to develop and maintain a relationship with her/our two daughters.

I don’t pretend to be able to walk in Mom’s shoes. Perhaps it was too painful for her and perhaps she just wanted to move on with her life.  For one reason or another, she did not choose to be there for them in any way.

Some people will say that by getting into foster care we should have been prepared to let go.  And I know this is true. As foster parents, we are told to love the child like our own, but to be prepared to lose them.

I don’t think anyone is ever really prepared to return a child to an erratic situation; to a mother who has already had children with four different men; to a mother who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and has never put anyone first but herself. Forever, I think, I will feel guilty. I will feel sad. I will feel bitter. But I also feel lucky. Just not lucky enough.

My name is Petrecia Shales. I am a mother of six (two adopted through foster care) and a teacher.  Even as a child, I knew I wanted to adopt, and I am lucky to have married a wonderful man who was willing to slog with me through this messy life of ours. 

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter

DAY 6: My Heart Was Full and Complete

My Heart Was Full and Complete in a Way I Didn’t Know It Could Be

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Katherine

Anxious, I sat outside the restaurant on a bench, watching every car pass, wondering if she could be inside one of them. I had arrived 20 minutes before it even opened; I wanted to be there first. I had driven almost three hours to get there; I would have driven further.

The whole way, I listened to songs that reminded me of her, of my life over the last four decades, and of the relationship we might have: Ohio, a song about returning home to your mother. I Bet My Life, a song about choices made — good or bad — and the price paid without regret.

So there I was, sitting outside on a beautiful day, waiting for her. I was forty years old, and I was meeting my mother for the first time.

Growing Up
I had always known I was adopted. My parents were very forthcoming about it. They knew nothing of my birth mother; the adoption had been arranged through a private attorney. But they told me they were sure she loved me very much.

Other than wondering whom I resembled, I didn’t give my adoption too much thought as a child. I went through phases as I got older. I was a little bitter as I wondered what could have caused her to give up a baby, her baby. I assumed she was unmarried and in a relationship with a guy who got scared when he found out just how much of her he’d had to love. But that was all in my head.

I had conducted a cursory search for my biological parents when I was in graduate school. I was born in Ohio, and adoption records were sealed by law. An adoptee could ask for demographic information about her parents from the probate court, so I submitted my request.

A few weeks later a letter arrived in the mail that contained basic information: my parents were Catholic. She was twenty-four, he twenty-six. She was a nurse, he a store manager. More important to me than the facts written on the page, however, was her handwriting. For the first time in my life, I saw a sliver of my mother, a very tiny glimpse into her life. I saw her handwriting, and I wept.

For the next fifteen years, I would continue to wonder. There was nothing left for me to find, nowhere else for me to look. Her name wasn’t listed in the newspaper for hospital admissions on the day of my birth. The registry of Ohio nurses was filled with hundreds of names of women who were twenty-four years old in 1973.

The closest relative I could find on 23AndMe was a second cousin, but I never got a reply to my query. During that time, however, a dedicated group of adoptees and adoption advocates were lobbying the Ohio legislature to open the sealed adoption records. Finally, in 2014, they did.

The Search
At nine a.m. on March 20, 2015 — the first day the law allowed for birth record requests — I dropped mine in the mail at the local post office. And I waited. On April 14, nearly a month later, I received a reply. My original birth certificate had arrived, and I finally learned my mother’s name: Betty Tallmadge.

The space under “Father’s Name” was empty. I texted my dear friend and expert researcher Jennifer Hershberger for help. In a half hour, she had Betty’s married name, the names of her children (one named Catherine!) and ex-husband, her past addresses, and her current address.

With that in hand, I sat down to craft the letter I would write to my mother. An introduction of myself, a welcome, an invitation. But a letter that also thanked her for allowing me to have the life I did, the loving parents who raised me, and an assurance that I was asking nothing of her.

I sealed my hand-written letter in an envelope and mailed it the next day. Yes, I was sending off the most important letter of my adult life on tax day, the busiest mail day of the entire year. Nine days later, I received an e-mail from her: “Yes, I am your mother.” And so began the start of a relationship that was unlike any I could have ever fathomed.

The Meeting
Minutes after the restaurant unlocked its doors at 11 am, I saw her come around the corner of the building. I stood up, and her smile reached her eyes.

“Katherine?” she asked. With tears streaming down my face, I stood and reached for her. She came to embrace me, but before she did, she laid a gentle kiss on my cheek. I felt in my heart she had waited my entire lifetime to do that.

Both of us crying, we wrapped out arms around each other. My mother held me in her arms for the first time in her life.

We had gotten to know each other through phone conversations and e-mail messages over the past few months. She was about to retire from being a nurse and was dating a nice man who wanted to take her to Europe.

I learned that my sister Elizabeth was married, and my sister Katie was due with her first child that August. This visit was more about getting to see each other, and about asking and answering the hard questions about how she came to the decision to find another family for me.

Over the next three hours, between bites of pizza and soup, I learned that Betty had been in a two-year relationship with my father, Gary Schmidt. The relationship was ending when Betty found out she was pregnant.

Neither one of them wanted to get married, and it was nearly impossible for a single woman to raise a child in 1973, especially when she did not have the help or support of her parents. So Betty would carry me to term, made arrangements for my adoption, and give birth to me alone in a hospital in Columbus.

Per hospital policy in 1973, she was neither allowed to look at nor hold me. Rather, a nurse immediately took me from her and left the room. Two weeks later, Betty went home to northern Ohio for her sister’s wedding, and no one spoke of the pregnancy.

In the forty years between my birth and my letter to her, she had never ever spoken with her own mother about me.

We spent our time that afternoon holding hands, smiling, laughing, and crying. We shared stories and photographs about growing up. And then it was time to leave. With a last long embrace, we parted ways. My heart was full and complete in a way I didn’t know it could be.

The Rest of the Family
I would meet my sisters the following year. Betty wanted to wait until after Christmas to tell Elizabeth and Katie about me. By then, Katie would have had her daughter, and Christmas would be over.

Gary had died fourteen years earlier, an alcoholic and a heavy smoker. He had been married and divorced, and had one son, Gregory. Jennifer found those records as well and provided me with Gregory’s mom’s name and address. I wrote Marilyn a letter telling her about myself and my connection to Gary. I asked her to tell Gregory about me, in the event he might be interested in reaching out to me.

About six weeks went by with no word from him. Then, on Father’s Day, my phone rang. I answered the call from an unknown number, and it was him, my brother.

We shared a father, and he called me on Father’s Day to introduce himself. That is exactly the same kind of corny thing I would do! Marilyn had told him just a few years prior that he had another sibling; Gary never mentioned it. But at least he knew I was out there.

My relationships with my siblings have grown through phone calls, e-mails, text messages, and visits. Gregory is incredibly personable. He has a contagious, warm laugh and is incredibly compassionate.

Gary was not involved much in Gregory’s life, so the two of us have become close as we reconnected with Gary’s family and learned about the Schmidt family history. Elizabeth and I have an uncanny connection: we think about each other at the same times on a daily basis and have similar senses of humor. Katie is articulate and welcoming. The three of us share a smile. Most importantly they have all accepted me with open arms.

A little over a year after Betty and I found each other, she hosted a family reunion at her house. My family and I were the guests of honor. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my grandmother came to meet me and my family.

Every single one of them welcomed me. An entire family – most of whom did not even know I existed – brought me into their circle without hesitation.

My dad Gary is present in his own way. I see him in my similarities with Gregory. I feel him in myself when his first cousins and Marilyn have said, “Oh my gosh! You’re such a Schmidt!” My energy, constant movement, talking with my hands, and laugh; that’s all Gary. That’s the Schmidt in me.

And now, when I look at myself – not only in a mirror but look inwardly – I can see all four of my parents. I recognize the physical and behavioral traits that have been passed to be my Betty and Gary, and I identify the values that my mom and dad instilled in me. My understanding of myself is complete.

Katherine is a stay-at-home mom to two busy daughters who fills her time by volunteering at local museums, libraries, and schools. She credits her full life to her biological mother, who made the choice to give her a chance at a better life, and to her late adoptive parents, who loved her with every ounce of their beings

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter 

 

DAY 5: We Will Always Say Yes To Love

We Will Always Say Yes To Love

Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives. 

By Kelsie

People ask me when I knew I wanted to adopt. The answer I usually give is that when I was thirteen, friends of our family adopted a little girl with Down syndrome from the Ukraine, and that sparked the fire that burns in two halves of my heart — working with children with special needs, and adoption.

And then I remember that I never played “house” with my dolls and stuffed animals as a small child; I always played “orphanage”, taking care of my babies until they would “get adopted”. So honestly, I don’t know how long I’ve known. I’ve always known, somehow.

Our first adoption started in May 2015. International adoption was what I knew and loved, so it makes sense that the first child I fell in love with lived oceans away, and the first process I ever threw myself into was the complex tangle that is international adoption.

It took my husband and me ten days to go from finding this child on an online listing to saying “yes” to adopting him. We pursued him for six months before a bizarre and jarring conclusion to our adoption story. His birth family, who had placed him in an orphanage at birth, changed their minds and decided to take him back out of the orphanage to raise him.

Everyone in our lives had an opinion. His parents were probably trying to run a scam. His country was second-rate and didn’t know what they were doing. His orphanage must’ve been mistaken about the details of his short life. In the midst of it all, we were reeling.

I spiraled into a deep depression, fueled by equal measures of my own intense grieving and terror over the great unknown that was his life now. I didn’t know what was happening to my son, and it was unbearable.

The internet is a strange place. His birth family messaged us on Facebook. They do not speak any English, and we do not speak their language. Cobbling together thoughts via Google Translate, they managed to beg us for help: his medical needs were more than they could handle.

Their own doctors had suggested they move out of the country. And we had no money to offer them, but I had some knowledge — I am an occupational therapist. We said “yes”, again, to something new.

I gathered together a box of adaptive equipment and took videos of myself demonstrating how to use it so there could be no language barrier. We mailed this to him, along with the baby blanket I’d knitted him, and a teddy bear I had sewn to have “medical needs” matching his.

 

This was never the adoption journey I had expected. This was something new. This was a road of discovery that keeping first families together is its own messy rightness, that the God I assumed wanted me to adopt a baby instead wanted me to support a family.

The medical needs that meant nothing to me were so daunting to them that they put their precious child in an orphanage out of fear for what his life might become, and I had some tiny hand in empowering them to make his life amazing, at home, with them, where he belonged. This was better.

My role was smaller. His parents’ was bigger. His family stayed together. This was always better.

So when we began the path to a domestic infant adoption, it was with different minds and hearts. We searched for an ethical adoption agency that put the first moms first and the adoptive families second.

Then when we got a phone call that a baby half the country away needed us that day, we didn’t have any qualms about our “yes” of dropping everything and flying to him, even though we had never met his first mom. We trusted our agency. We trusted his mom.

It was a whirlwind of a day, then an achingly long three weeks of waiting for ICPC clearances to go home, then — a new life, with a baby boy.

He was nine months old and I got a call from the out of state social worker who met us when we got him. His first mom was pregnant again and placing this baby, too. If we wanted to keep them together, then this baby was ours (no pressure).

We considered: we had been in the process of packing up our house, moving to a new state, a new adventure. It took us all of an hour to say “yes”. We canceled everything. I picked up a local job. Our son is our family, this new baby would be our family — but his first mom, she is our family, too. And we stick together. We all stick together.

People ask me when I knew I wanted to adopt. And I’ve thought about adoption in some form or another since I was a small child myself. I barely knew what it meant when I used to play orphanage with my toys. I barely knew what it meant when I turned thirteen and watched our friends adopt. I barely knew what it meant when we tried to adopt internationally. I barely knew what it meant when we jumped on a plane and flew to where our son was waiting.

Adoption is so big, and so complicated, and so layered; it keeps unfolding and unfolding new things for me to learn, to grapple with, to love, to grow.

I was always on board with adoption because I always wanted to say “yes” to a child who needed it. I didn’t understand that that isn’t the whole of adoption. It’s saying “yes”, and sometimes that yes is to a child who needs a home, and sometimes that yes is to a mom who needs a hand.

Sometimes it’s to a placement nine months away; sometimes it’s twenty-four hours’ notice, sometimes it’s no placement at all.

I suppose “adoption” isn’t the right word for the sum total of all of these things, any more than “adoption” was the right word for the game I used to play as a small child. Maybe there’s not a word in my language. Maybe it’s just love. We will always say yes to love.

Kelsie is a mom, an occupational therapist, an activist for racial justice, and a pastor’s wife. She’s passionate about uniting the worlds of adoption and occupational therapy through research and practice. 

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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie’s blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter