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The Adoption Secret

 

 

During a recent trip to a playground, a well-meaning mom approached me with a surprising question. 

“Does your daughter know she’s adopted?” 

I looked at her quizzically and she continued, “My child asked if your daughter was adopted and I told her I didn’t know because I didn’t want her to say anything.” 

I certainly appreciate her sensitivity to the matter, but the thought struck me as amusing that my daughter wouldn’t know she’s adopted. This family was not aware that I didn’t get custody until she was a cognizant four year old, but I figured the fact that we have two different skin colors is pretty much a dead giveaway. 

That obviousness is not always welcome because sometimes we get double takes from strangers and frankly, how our family came together is no one else’s business. 

But I would never be motivated to keep her adoption a secret… especially from her. 

Why would I? There’s nothing to hide. I want it to be something she’s proud of…. the fact that she was chosen specifically and I worked so hard to make her my daughter. 

Social workers advise adoptive parents tell their child his or her “adoption story” often and from the start. I have a photo album of memories from our process in India that we look through every year on my daughter’s Gotcha Day, the anniversary of the date adoptive parents gain custody. 

Today happens to be the Gotcha Day of my niece, now 22, who was adopted as a baby from Russia. I’ve grown up in a family where adoption is something to be celebrated, not kept a secret. 

When children know their origin from the start, there’s no bombshell to drop later which can be shocking or interpreted as negative because it was kept hidden for years prior.  

Particularly in previous generations, many adoptive parents felt compelled to not tell a child whether he or she was adopted under the guise of protecting them. 

Let me tell you about a man named John. He was born and raised in Chicago with his parents who immigrated from Ireland at some point. His teenage cousin back in Ireland wanted to come to the U.S. to start a new life here and upon arrival, she stayed with her relatives in Chicago. 

Ann, 17, clicked with her cousin, John, who was just a few years older. In fact, they had such an apparent connection that it compelled John’s mother to have a sit down discussion with her son. 

His mother told him that he was adopted, which he had no knowledge of before. It was a shock to both John and Ann that they were not biologically related. 

It was not long after that, I’m told, that John and Ann were married…. My maternal grandparents had quite a story. The adoption roots run deep in my family. 

I know my great grandparents only had my grandfather’s best interests at heart. They most likely didn’t want him to feel different in any way. Adoption was something that was typically kept a secret back then. 

It’s taken decades for society as a whole to transform its thinking and embrace adoption. 

The current trend not only favors open communication, but complete open adoption, in which the adoptive family maintains contact, in varying degrees, with the birth parent(s).

Opinion on this and the extent of contact with the birth parents varies. That’s a personal decision which should be based on the unique needs of each individual child and all the players involved. 

But I’m surprised to hear there are still some adoptive families who currently choose to keep their child’s adoption a secret from him or her. 

I have a friend who works at a pediatrician’s office. One of her young patients has a note in her medical file advising all personnel who come in contact with her not to reveal to this child that she is adopted. It’s her parents’ request and completely their right up until the child is 18. 

From the outside we shouldn’t judge this situation. I’m not a fan of pointing fingers at other parents, but for medical reasons alone this is a secret waiting to be told, not to mention the emotional processing to come. 

My hope would be for all adopted children to be proud of the fact that their parents wanted them so badly that they went out of their way to make it happen even though biology or life circumstances didn’t cooperate. 

It hurts when some people still don’t get that. Ignorant comments differentiating between birth and adoptive children can strike a nerve. It doesn’t happen often, but I have an acquaintance who feels the need to point out having a “real child” (versus adopted.)

Biology and chromosomes don’t make a family. A family is defined by the love that binds them. 

My daughter is my REAL daughter in every way, legally and otherwise. I couldn’t possibly love her any more. It’s doesn’t matter that our skin color is different or that she didn’t grow in my tummy. 

We are connected in the most powerful way… through our hearts and souls. 

And I want her to know, that’s no secret. 

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Adoption and Navigating Through Unknown History

 

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A recent trip to a pediatrician’s office for a routine check up for my now second grader prompted a familiar question. 

“What do you know about your daughter’s birth parents?“

Any information I have will be shared with my daughter according to her best interests and already has been to a certain extent, but suffice to say, it’s limited. 

A minor symptom can prompt a doctor to speculate something that sounds to me like, “It could be a pimple, OR, it could be a rare, potentially fatal disease because…”

Here it comes. 

“… we really don’t know without the birth history.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a health care professional reiterate those stinging words, I’d be able to retire early.  While it’s always said with good intentions, it’s a jabbing reminder of one of my downfalls as an adoptive parent; one I have no control over, but something I’m lacking in nonetheless. 

To be clear, I do have medical records charting her early years in an orphanage in India. But what I don’t have is the medical history of her birth parents. 

This is something to ponder during the adoption process. In my experience, adoption agencies tout the obvious benefits of having that information when they champion open, domestic adoptions; i.e., an adoption that takes places here in the United States (domestic) and includes some on-going contact, to varying degrees, between the birth parents and the adopted child in his or her new home (open). In contrast, a closed adoption does not include continued contact after the adoption is finalized. 

There’s been growing interest in modern society in tracing our ancestry. This translates into DNA web sites and in adoption circles, there are more social media outlets to reconnect adoptees with long lost birth parents. It seems everyone wants to know their history. 

When those connections are made and it’s rewarding for all parties, that’s fantastic. 

It’s not unusual for parents in international adoptions to have zero information about their child’s background. 

And you know what, that’s ok too. 

That’s not to say I’m shrugging off the value of medical history. On the contrary, of course I’d welcome whatever information available that can contribute to a child’s upbringing.  But I’ve learned NOT having that background doesn’t take as big a toll on parenting as you might imagine. 

I have been to several pediatricians for various reasons in recent years. I’m fortunate that my daughter is healthy overall and like any parent, I pray that continues. 

The more I hear it, the more the line, “we really don’t know without the birth history” loses impact on me. Of course in response to certain symptoms, it’s an entirely valid concern. In other cases, I’m on guard that it could be an easy excuse to rack up insurance bills on genetic testing that may or may not be necessary. 

I entered into this process fully aware of how unaware I would be in the years to follow. While I’m curious about her birth parents, I feel confident my ignorance in this area doesn’t really make a difference in terms of how I parent. 

The past doesn’t always dictate the future. The truth is, NO parent knows what’s in store for their child. When it comes to health, wealth, employment, relationships, etc., even birth history only gets you so far. 

If I knew, for instance, that she had a tall birth mom with diabetes and a birth dad who was athletic and good at math, but suffered from allergies, would it change anything? Not at all. 

In response to any illness, I will always get my daughter the best medical care I can provide as it’s needed. Whether you birthed your child, adopted him or her knowing birth history or entered into a blind adoption, you would do the same. 

As I write this, my little angel is strumming her new guitar. She flips back and forth between the two songs she knows the words to: “Let It Go” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Never mind, that Christmas is months away. Never mind, that it sounds like, well, a seven year old who picked up a guitar for the first time. 

I’m not thinking about whether she comes from a musically-inclined birth line, instead I’m thinking it may be time for guitar lessons. 

Regardless of what I DON’T know, I watch in awe as she grows and blossoms into the darling young lady that she is, with little thought to her genetics. 

Maybe the reason her past is seemingly insignificant is because I feel in large part, both of our lives truly started when we came together. 

This is what I DO know about her birth parents: 

I know she was loved enough that they wanted her to have an opportunity at a better life. 

I’ve read varying estimates that range between two million and 18 million homeless children in India.  These are not the ones in orphanages, but rather street kids who wander around and are easy prey for pimps and all kinds of criminals. Wrap your mind around that. 

Millions of children.  

My daughter’s birth parents are to be applauded for making an incredible sacrifice.  They wanted to guarantee her a shot at a better life, even if it meant giving her up. 

Isn’t that the most important thing to know?

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Adoption, Fate, Faith, SingleMoms

Adoption and Hair

“Mommy, I want to get my hair cut short like yours.”

That sweet, beautiful statement from my daughter, 7, is far more complicated than it sounds.

My daughter has been saying this for awhile now and I’ve continually resisted. While I’m flattered that she wants to be like me, this could be the beginning of a lifelong, love-hate relationship with her hair that many of us women struggle with.

I have flashbacks of getting bad haircuts as a kid, being called a boy and trying to pull the hair out of my head to make it grow faster.

My daughter’s hair is currently just a few inches above her elbows. It’s thick, straight and shiny, the type of hair I’ve always dreamed of having while instead I’ve struggled with curly, coarse locks. The idea of chopping it off to around chin length makes me shudder.

As superficial as it sounds, hair is an inevitable topic that comes to play with adoption. Before I was matched with my daughter, I was briefly on a waiting list for a baby from Ethiopia. Some form of cultural sensitivity training is a common requirement with interracial adoptions. Like many of the classes required for adoption, you go in assuming you don’t need them, but inevitably leave feeling enlightened and grateful for the experience.

Prospective parents are often offered classes on how to style African American hair, if that’s something they are unfamiliar with.

I had to smile during a first season episode of “This Is Us” when Mandy Moore’s character was at a pool with her adopted black son when she was approached by a kind, African American woman who offered help with how to take care of his hair. Moore beautifully conveyed her character’s feelings of confusion, borderline resentment, followed by ultimate gratitude for the advice.

New adoptive moms can relate. Any ignorance is particularly frustrating when the desire is so strong to establish that bond and show the new love in your life that Mommy knows best about how to take care of her little one. That’s not always the case, especially when it comes to something like cross cultural hair care.

That scene was set a couple of decades ago, before there was such an emphasis on cultural sensitivity training and hair care classes for adoptive parents were common.

Although I was prepared to go in that direction, hair was not a major focus during my adoption prep, as I soon learned my daughter was in India.

When I was cleared to pick her up at her orphanage, she was four years old… and to my surprise, she had hardly any hair.

I learned that’s the case with most children at orphanages in India. Overworked caretakers shave the heads of all the kids. In addition to making life easier, another main reason is because lice is so prevalent and the lack of hair obviously prevents it from spreading.

After my daughter came home, she lived with her crew cut style for awhile and then had the inevitable growing out phase, which seemed to drag on forever. She never complained about it, but I couldn’t wait for her hair to get longer.

Flash forward to three and half years later and she has the most luscious locks you’ve ever seen. Strangers in stores stop me to compliment her shine. No products necessary. One of my favorite things to do is to brush and style her hair. She is truly my living doll and I get to play dress up with her.

Now this: “Mommy, I want to get my hair cut short like yours.”

This tugs at my heart so deeply because I know the sentiment behind it. My daughter is desperately searching for similarities between us. It’s not always easy to look differently than your adopted child. I don’t even notice our skin color- as far as I’m concerned we are connected through our hearts- but other kids do notice superficial differences…. and then my daughter does, too.

I always tell her she has the most beautiful brown skin I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t matter because it’s different than her mommy’s. She hears other kids being told they resemble their parents. A seemingly innocent question from a peer can trigger a sore spot.

So with that mind, how can I ever NOT agree to allow her to flatter me by trying to replicate my haircut? Yet… I can’t imagine cutting off and discarding that beautiful hair.

I asked her today, “How would you like to donate your hair to people who don’t have any?”

She looked confused and replied, “You mean, like Uncle Don?”

Nope, not my bald brother.

“There are kids who are sick and lost their hair,” I explained. “They would be so happy to get a wig made out of your gorgeous hair.”

Her eyes lit up. The idea of helping sick kids is now almost as appealing as looking more like her mother.

I love my sweet girl more than I can ever express.

Time to make a hair appointment.

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For information about hair donation: http://www.locksoflove.org

To see my other posts about adoption: http://www.suddenlysinglemomblog.com

 

 

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