By: Meika Rouda
I found my birthmom on Google the other day. It was not the first time I had Googled her but it was the first time anything came up. It was her wedding announcement published in a Pittsburgh paper 35 years ago, a few years after I had been born and given up for adoption.
The more I looked the more I discovered, including the names of her four children – my half siblings. So I Googled them and found their profiles on Facebook, their smiling faces posing with friends, their eyes the same as mine. I realized I could “friend” them and wondered what it would feel like to get an invitation from someone you don’t know but who looks like you. I was pretty sure I was a secret to them.
A few search results later, I found my birthmom’s current address and phone number, learned the name of the school where she was a French teacher for 10 years, and her income for the tax year 1998. I discovered the address of every house she had lived in for the past two decades, how much she and her husband paid for their current home as well as a real estate photo of its exterior: a white stucco two-story on the banks of the Savannah, Georgia river. The house was plain, neat, and modest –the type of house that doesn’t want to be noticed.
Several years ago I had considered hiring a private investigator to find this very house, to find my birth mom. I wanted to tell her that she had done the right thing giving me up, that I was fine, very loved by my parents and know her decision was the right one for her and also for me. That I felt she was brave and selfless and honorable and that I am grateful to her. That I hoped she had gone on to finish college, get married, and start a family of her own when she was ready. That I had hoped she was not living with regret. But I didn’t hire the detective, I can’t remember why.
And now I don’t need the detective. I had just exposed the majority of her life in one 10-minute Google binge. It was the first time in my life that she became a very real person with a job, a family, a home –and not some romantic character whose narrative I had composed in my mind. She became someone I could know.
I imagined her in her house on the Savannah river, sitting on a faded plaid sofa, watching an old movie on TV or maybe reading a favorite book in French. The photos of her smiling children lining the beige walls, maybe she had grandchildren or maybe she had a dog by her side like I do. I could dial her number right now and interrupt her reading or her movie watching and introduce myself and maybe there would be silence, maybe there would be tears, maybe it was a call she had been waiting for or maybe it was a call she was dreading would come.
Her phone number started to pulsate on my computer screen, the numbers weaving in and out, calling to me like sirens. My cell phone sat ominously by my side waiting for me to seize my fate. But my hands stayed still on my lap, folded, relaxed, resigned. The moment contacting her became easy, possible, just a phone call away, was the moment I knew I wouldn’t contact her. We would never have the conversation I had always imagined; it became obvious to me that we just didn’t need to.
By: Stacy Clark
I am a 44-year-old mother of two daughters. One daughter shares my genes, reflects my blue eyes and wheat-colored hair (though I pay for my golden highlights now). The other exquisitely Asian daughter was adopted from China and shares my heart. When our family, which includes my blue-eyed husband from Connecticut, goes out and about in our suburban Florida neighborhood, we cause ripples in the ordinary. Ours is an adoptive, biological, multicultural, biracial family—and it shows.
Or something like that. The truth is, we may look visibly different, but we are a family same as any. Our family did not set out to represent any label. I’m not even sure what those terms really mean. But the truth also is, our family embodies a uniqueness that never ceases to surprise, sometimes sadden, and often delight us.
Not long ago we had one of those multicultural family moments. My daughter, Hanna, and I sat at the coffee table doing her first-grade homework. One of the assignments was to write down where her ancestors are from, if known. Hanna tapped her pencil in thought, her straight black hair falling over her face. While I wondered which ancestors she’d choose, Hanna was working out how to spell China.
“Oh, wait, I know how to spell China,” she said. “It’s on my lunchbox… even on my underwear! Look!” Hanna squirmed around, tugging the panties out of her jeans.
For the record, the panties were from Thailand. But we found that the lunchbox, a pair of socks and a toy guitar were Made in China. “Just like me!” Hanna squealed.
Technically Hanna was “made” in China. This is what we were told: Our daughter was born in a village in a southeastern province of China on a winter night. By the next morning, she was found outside the gates of a social welfare institute. She was taken in, given a name meaning “winter mushroom”, and placed into foster care, until my husband, older daughter, and I came along nine and a half months later.
Suddenly, in adopting this baby girl, our family of three Caucasians became four Americans —one of whom is also Asian. We are one family now made of two races and two cultures. She became a part of our world, but we also became a part of hers. Now we think about things we hadn’t before, such as where we buy our underwear.
In the months after we brought our daughter home from China, our family evoked glances and whispers whenever we went places together. The four of us were like a walking poster family for international adoption. Honestly, I did not mind. I was so sleep-deprived and fluent in baby talk then, I appreciated the adult conversation.
Besides, people were usually polite, always kind, and occasionally told us stories about their children who had been adopted, too. More than once a teary-eyed woman tapped me on the shoulder at the grocery store wanting to know about my adoption experience, usually because she was considering adopting a child herself. The markedly visible differences between Hanna and me gave rise to some beautiful conversations —and I hope some even more beautiful mother-child relationships.
Either the glances have faded, or I have stopped noticing, because I often forget there is anything unusual about our family. These days, some six years after adopting our daughter from China, our everyday lives are much like any family living in our palm-lined neighborhood about an hour inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Our kids go to school and theater, dance class and piano lessons, riding the minivan shuttle up and down the main boulevard. Like the other moms, I drive my kids to and fro, racing upstairs to my office to work while they’re in school. Months will go by while I am making lunches and meeting deadlines and trying to be a somewhat balanced, mostly showered human being. Then, a school assignment about a “Family Tree” or a whispered question at the club pool will remind me how different we are.
“Is she your mom?” a child will ask Hanna. “How come she does not look like you?” Or Kathryn, the daughter who does look like me, will introduce her little sister, and the person’s face will wrinkle in confusion. Sometimes people will say, “Who is her real mom?” and I will cringe and breathe. It’s in a moment like this I will pull out those terms “birthmother” and “adoptive mother” that I otherwise don’t like so much. They beat the alternative: being Kathryn’s “real” mother and Hanna’s “unreal” one.
Anyone who has adopted a child, or knows someone who has, surely knows there is nothing unreal about being an adoptive parent. We give real hugs and put real Band-Aids on real skinned knees. Our love and worry for our children is as real as it gets. On the other hand, there are some real differences, too.
I wish I could tell those women who tapped my shoulder in the grocery store all I have learned about being a biological and adoptive mother in a multicultural, biracial family of four. It sounds ridiculous, even to me. Yet, strip the cumbersome labels away and it’s who I am.
All I wanted to do was have a second child. When I ended up adopting her from another country, I entered another world. Unwittingly, I became an ambassador to this new place and a translator of these odd terms that now describe my family. I know about things now such as an adjustment period (translate to three months’ of hair-raising crying –mostly Hanna, some me) and the attachment process (beginning in a moonlit moment when Hanna stopped crying and, instead of straining away, nuzzled close). Now, along with birthdays and Christmas and the Fourth of July, I celebrate occasions such as “Gotcha Day” and Chinese New Year. I have made moon cakes and Chinese lanterns, and a million mistakes.
I never know quite how to respond when people say awkward or insensitive things to me about adoption. Even innocent things such as, Hanna is “lucky” to have been adopted. I know who the lucky one is (me) and about the sad layers of unluckiness surrounding Hanna’s birth and abandonment. Sometimes I’m patient and brilliant, but often I say nothing right or everything wrong.
I am in lifelong boot camp training for parenthood and learning as I go.
On the fly, I have explained to a three-year-old why my eyes are sky blue and hers are chocolate brown. I’ve told a four-year-old why she was born in another mother’s tummy. I’ve looked a five-year-old deep in her brown eyes and said I understand your sense of longing for a woman you have not seen since birth. I once tried to explain to a six-year-old, “No I did not buy you in China.” And when I inadvertently said she was priceless, she shouted, “They had a price list?!” Oh yes. I’ve held the hand of a seven-year-old tightly as she told me her face is round and the other kids at school have oval faces. And, I know the harder conversations are still to come.
Nope, I never expected how different life would be after adopting a child from the other side of the skies. Going in, having birthed a child and raised her for seven years, I thought I knew something about parenting. Adopting a second child taught me how much I would never know.
Maybe because I have both a birthed a child and adopted one, I can see how much biological and adoptive parenting is exactly alike, and not at all the same. Issues arise when parenting. Sometimes I can tell what is adoption-related and what is just a kid thing. Sometimes I can’t. One thing I am absolutely sure of from this dual vantage point is this: though I may love each child differently, there is no difference in how much I love my children.
I also know I would not have my different kind of family be any other way. Different also means not the same. I remember my husband and I trying to explain who we were in an interview during the adoption process. We are not the same people we were back then. We are far more giving and open-minded, loving and patient and real than we had ever thought. Likewise, our daughter Kathryn had to surrender her only-child status to a disarmingly adorable Asian sister and along the way deepened her generosity and compassion.
That’s the thing about becoming something out of the ordinary. By standing apart, we can look back and see how much we have changed. By embracing differences in race and culture in our family, we can look out and see the world newly. Still, we do not see ourselves as multicultural, adoptive or different. We’re just us.
Once, a year or so ago, I asked Hanna to describe our family. She said it better than I ever could. “That’s easy, Mommy. We are group of people who love each other.”
Stacy Clark is a writer and mother of two daughters, by birth and adoption. She writes on The Yin and the Yang: Life After International Adoption and blogs about life in an adoptive family at This Side of the Skies.
By Meika Rouda
I got that call the other day, the one mothers hate to get, the one from the director of the school saying “Nothing urgent, your son is fine but do give me a call, there is something I would like to discuss with you.” This isn’t good. She isn’t calling to say what an amazing child you have, she is calling because your son did something inappropriate and it is worth bringing to your attention. I called her back and she told me what happened. She was calm and didn’t think it was a big deal, she knows my son well, but she thought it a good idea for me to know so I could talk to him about it at home.
Apparently during nap time, my son told a girl new to his class to “go pee in your bed.” There was no touching or anything physical just a mention of a bad idea. He is known to be full of bad ideas, like this one, usually to do with urine or flushing things like Barbies down the toilet. He told another friend to pee all over his sister’s bed and, well, the boy did it. Or another friend to pee on the slide at the park -again, the boy did it. My son never participates in the act of course, he just tells other people to do things they shouldn’t. I have spoken to him about it several times but he is mischievous and apparently likes to see what he can get his friends to do. I don’t know how I feel about this trait but I think he is just testing boundaries and seeing what he can and can’t get away with.
So he had this suggestion for the new girl who was upset by his request. So upset that she didn’t nap, avoided my son all day and told her mom after school who called the teacher and the director of the school. I don’t think my son is a bully but I am not sure. I think because he was so late to potty train, he has anxiety about his body functions (especially before nap) and was probably seeing if this girl wet the bed then he wouldn’t worry if he did.
Anyway, this girl was very, very upset and when I tried to talk to my son about what had happened -how we don’t ask other people to do things with their bodies, especially when they say they don’t want to -he just shut down and said ” I don’t want to talk about it.”
I know he was talked to at school and probably rehashing what had happened wasn’t what he wanted to do but I was hoping to get to the root of why he asked the girl to do this. Was it because he needed to go to the bathroom before nap but didn’t want to ask the teacher? Did he just want to see if she would do it? Did he wet his bed? But when I brought it up again, he told me the teacher had already talked to him and he didn’t want to talk about it.
So when does something like this, which I think was innocent testing, become bullying? When the intention is to hurt someone or force them to do something they don’t want to as opposed to bringing up a bad idea and letting them decide to do it or not? Is it if there is a threat involved? Does bullying start this young, at age 4? I am really hoping this isn’t a continuous theme, that the more comfortable my son is with his own body functions and using the potty, this issue will go away but maybe it won’t. Maybe it will be something else. How do we manage bullies, especially if you love and adore them and know they are good kids who just happen to have bad ideas sometimes?
By: Meika Rouda
I always hated that saying, that what you dislike in others is what you see in yourself. But while I was on vacation last week I was confronted with exactly that.
I was at a pool in Lake Tahoe with my kids and my dad. It is the pool my dad was a life guard at sixty years ago (when he was in high school) and we return every summer so he can take a swim and reminiscence. There is a kiddie pool and my kids jumped in as soon as we got there, wading in the two-foot deep water and playing with a girl who was already swimming in the pool. The girl was named Olive and she was the same age as my son but was more interested in playing with my toddler daughter. Olive gave Asha a swim floaty and was happily chatting and showing us her floppy dog paddle. Her mother came by to tell her she had five minutes left before they had to go. The mother was my age, stylish and pretty and looked like someone I would know. Olive was delightful and my kids and I were enjoying her company. She was outgoing, funny, and friendly. A great kid. Her mother finished packing up and came over again to warn Olive that there were “two minutes left.” Olive protested, she didn’t want to leave, but her mother ignored her and put her baby brother in the stroller along with their bag. Olive continued to swim so I said calmly, “Olive, I think your mom is ready to go, maybe you should get out of the pool. We are going to leave soon too.” She just looked at me and kept swimming. Olive’s mom started to walk toward us and lost her patience along the way from the chaise lounge to the kiddie pool. Her gait became quick and agitated, her face puckered with annoyance. I recognized that face immediately, it was the face of someone on the verge. “OLIVE” she yelled “NOW”. “No Mom, I don’t want to go.” Olive kept swimming. And that is when her mom lost it .
“OLIVE GET OUT OF THE POOL NOW!” she screamed. It made me uncomfortable, like I was witnessing a private moment in a very public space. My kids stopped swimming and stared at Olive’s mom.
“I MEAN IT! I WILL NEVER TAKE YOU TO THE POOL AGAIN-EVER!” Her voice was getting louder, I felt embarrassed for her. This was definitely not her best moment. I wondered if she would look back on the day and feel some sadness at her behavior. Now everyone at the pool was looking at her but she didn’t seem to notice or if she did, she didn’t care. Her hands were on her hips, she was in a stand-off with Olive.
She then bent down and got into the pool fully clothed, walking toward Olive, her black terry cloth dress skimming the water. She grabbed Olive’s arm and yanked her out of the pool as she continued to scream “YOU WILL NEVER GO TO THE POOL AGAIN!” Olive was crying hysterically. She smacked Olive on the butt and Olive wailed. It was a scene. I felt bad for Olive and I felt bad for her mom.
I know what it is like to try and wrangle two kids to leave somewhere when they don’t want to. Often I am the mom at the park thinking up ways to make leaving fun. “I’ll race you to the car!” or up the ante with incentive to make it easier -”We can make cookies when we get home!” But it can be frustrating, especially when you get into a power struggle. I have learned, by being the mom who has yelled and screamed and been utterly furious that my child(ren) won’t listen, LISTEN! that once I get into the power struggle realm, it is over, I always lose, even if I get my way, I still lose because I have gotten to an ugly place where I don’t like myself as a parent. Where I am yelling at a four-year-old who really doesn’t understand why I am so mad and just wants to continue playing. Most of the time, my yelling is confined to the house; I have yet to have a huge public outburst (thankfully) but when I watched Olive’s mom, I did see myself and I didn’t like it. Olive didn’t deserve that much anger just for wanting to swim and have fun, just as my kids don’t deserve it when I lose it on them for not brushing their teeth, when I asked them five time- FIVE TIMES!!
But seeing that interaction did give me a chance to reflect. I never feel good after I yell at my kids, no one does. But now when I get that feeling, of complete frustration, when I am on the verge, I am going to take a breath and remember Olive and her mom and what losing it on a four-year-old looks like.
By: Meika Rouda
I have been trying to talk to my 4-year-old about adoption. Any time we see a pregnant woman I point her out and say “that mommy is pregnant with a baby. You were once a baby in someone’s belly too but it wasn’t my belly it was Shannon’s belly…” I briefly explain how Shannon wanted him to come and live with us and that is how I became his mommy. Usually my son just stares at me and doesn’t respond. He shows no interest. But the other day I brought it up again, this time in reference to airplane travel. My husband and I were going on a trip and I was telling my son early to help him prepare for our absence. “Mommy and Daddy are going on a trip. Remember when we went on the airplane to pick up your sister..” and on I went about the pregnant other mommy who carried his sister and wanted her to come live with us so that is how Asha became a part of our family. I keep it simple, basic, just the facts.
This time he had questions. “Did you come and pick me up too?” “Yes” I answered, “You grew in Shannon’s belly and then when you were born Daddy and I flew on the airplane to pick you up.”
Kaden thought for awhile and then said “I don’t want to grow in Shannon’s belly. I want to grow in Daddy’s belly.”
I didn’t know how to respond so I said, “Daddies can’t have babies but if Daddy could grow you in his belly he would.”
I wasn’t sure if this was true, I never asked my husband if he were able to be pregnant and give birth would he but I felt confident that in the context of this conversation, it was safe to say he would. And that was that. Kaden went back to singing a song and looking out the window. Conversation over.
I often struggle with talking to my kids about adoption. It is ironic since I grew up knowing I was adopted and it never seemed to be a big deal in my family. But this was the first time Kaden actually acknowledged something about birth, about being born, about how families become families. I know this is all about keeping the lines of communication open and not having any secrets and when he is ready to ask questions he will but birth is very abstract to a 4 year old. The fact that he recognizes that he grew somewhere that wasn’t my belly (or his daddy’s) feels like a breakthrough. Maybe next time he will have questions about Shannon or why he didn’t grow in my belly but for now I am happy that at least the notion of adoption is out there and not something to be afraid of talking about. Since we are not in contact with the birthmothers directly, I also need to prepare myself for the idea that my children may feel differently about their adoptions than I did. They may want to contact their birth families. And that will be their choice but I know this is the first of many conversations I will have them about where they came from and how we became a family, grown in Daddy’s belly or not.
By: Meika Rouda
I really want to volunteer my time to a nonprofit that I like but something on the homepage is stopping me. The organization is dedicated to helping birthmothers after they place children for adoption. It provides mentoring, scholarships for education, and counseling in a community environment. It is a place for birthmothers to talk to one another and get emotional and financial support. It is an amazing group and I believe in it 100%. I think often about my daughter’s birthmother and how she was 18 when she decided to place my daughter. She wanted to go to college, to live a life before she became a parent. My own birthmother wanted the same thing when she, a 19-year-old, placed me and returned to college. Both women would have benefited greatly from an organization like the one I would like to volunteer with and I would to work there in order to honor them and the brave decisions they made.
But what is stopping me is a quote on the home page from a birthmother who says “When I am talking to another birth mom, I’m not a birth mom, I’m a mom. We don’t have to put a title on it. I can say ‘Oh my son did this or my daughter did this ‘and I can just be a mom. There are no stipulations on it, there’s no stigma. We can just be moms.”
This freaks me out. What do you mean you can just be moms? I find this confusing, as I do a lot about open adoption. It sounds like this birth mom is taking a lot of credit for mothering the child she placed. I don’t agree with this. The adoptive mom is the mom, she is the one who is there for the child everyday. I don’t know why this organization, which is very popular and has a tremendous reputation, would condone this and put this quote on the homepage. Is this what the birth moms are sitting around talking about? It seems the idea is for them to have the resources and support to move on with their lives after placing a child. I recognize that placing a child is a difficult decision and very hard for some birthmothers to get over, but if this organization’s main mission is to help birthmothers take care of themselves post placement, I find this quote on the homepage misleading. It is very off putting to me and sounds like this birthmother needs a lot more counseling than what she is getting.
Am I wrong? To the birth moms out there, I would love to hear your opinion about how you view yourself in your child’s life. Do you consider yourself a birth mom, a mom, an extended family member? And should I join an organization that fosters a philosophy I may not agree with?
Placing a child for adoption is emotional and difficult and I hope there are more organizations out there than this one that provide post placement assistance for birthmothers. Retreats, counseling, financial aid, and tuition. Yes, 100%. But I think it is dangerous thinking for birthmothers to be sitting around talking about the children they placed like they’re the ones mothering them. It is a different job and one that adoptive moms should get the credit for.
By: Meika Rouda
“How many of you are adopted?” the keynote speaker asked. I raised my hand. The auditorium was packed with people. Who were they? I wondered. Social workers, adoptees, adoptive families, birthmothers? All of the above. “How many of you have adopted children?” I raised my hand again. The woman next to me, a petite blonde in her late twenties wearing uncomfortable business attire turned to me and said “well you are sure in this aren’t you?” I smiled at her. “How many of you are birthmothers?” The woman next to me raised her hand. She had also raised her hand as an adoptee. I found it fascinating that she was an adoptee and a birth mom. She found it fascinating I was an adoptee and an adoptive mom with no biological children of my own.
Last weekend I attended my first adoption conference. I went there expecting to feel like an outsider, the girl who doesn’t want to know her birthmother, the one who isn’t in touch with her children’s biological families. I ended up finding a lot of people there who felt underrepresented. There were several adoptive fathers who I spoke to that were offended that the common idea is that men are the ones who have to be convinced to adopt when that wasn’t their story at all. They had to convince their wives! These were men who didn’t care about passing on their DNA but had to wait for their wives to come around before they could adopt. This was the norm for them, but not the norm for the data.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “The data says…” People love to rely on data. But where does this data come from? Where do they find the people to interview, to do case studies on? There is a lot of data that state it’s better for a child to know their birthparents. To have a concise story with mementos about their birth family. The idea of this makes my skin crawl and I can’t say exactly why. I guess because it feels so unnatural to me. One of the seminars I attended was about how to talk to your child if you have no contact with your child’s birthmother. Most of the people in the seminar had International Adoptions, situations where it was impossible to know who the birthmother was. Their baby was left in a park in China and taken to an orphanage. They wanted to know how to make that story into something positive. “You can tell them that their birthmother left them somewhere that she knew they would be found quickly. That she waited in the bushes in the park to make sure the baby was picked up by the adoption agency. That she wanted a good life for the baby.” It is nice to create a story for the adoptee although at some point, the girl is going to learn about the Chinese government’s one child per couple law and the fact that girls are not valued in that country which led to her being left in the park.
The seminar leader continued coaching the parent. “And usually these women leave a memento with the child, a piece of cloth or a coin. If they did, make sure you give that to your child. Adoptees cherish mementos from their birthmother. ”
Say what? I have no mementos from my birthmother. Oh, actually I do, I have the correspondence she wrote to the attorney handling my adoption. I suppose it is nice to have these letters but do I cherish them? No. I don’t even know where they are. I think in a box maybe in my garage. What is the memento supposed to represent? That they cared for me?
Another group of the underrepresented were birthmothers who don’t want contact with the children they have placed. These were young women, not older ones who may have suffered the “primal wound” or placed babies unwillingly. These young women feel badly that they don’t want contact because the data says… You get what I am saying.
My main takeaway from the conference was that each adoption is different just as each person is different. Just because I don’t want to know my birthmother or birth family, doesn’t make me wrong or make my experience any less valuable than those who are in touch with their birth families and benefit from that. There really is no right or wrong in adoption except of course secrecy and lies which is harmful in any situation, not just adoption. I admit that there was a point during the day that I was sure I would reach out to my children’s birthmothers. That I would keep tabs on them and make sure they were doing well so I could update my kids on their status. The data had convinced me that this would be good for them. But it feels uncomfortable for me. Should I put my feelings aside to do what the data shows is positive for my kids? I decided at the end of the day not to. To just keep their information for my kids for if/when they want to contact them. That is part of their story, not mine. That should be their choice, not mine.
To me the important part is having access to information. To be able to have the choice to be in touch for all parties involved in the triad. It is their choice and the option is there but I don’t think I need to refer to my son’s birthmother as “Mommy Shannon” in order for him to have a good sense of self and strong identity. She is not someone who is a constant in his life at this moment. I know what the data says and I know what my heart and experience say too.
I wanted to talk to the woman who sat next to me at the conference. I wanted to find out her story, how she came to place a child, whether she was in touch with her own birthmother. It felt good to be in a room with other people who have stories either like mine or different from mine but that we are all touched by how powerful adoption is. The woman left before I could talk to her but as I saw her exit the building. I felt a kinship with her. Our stories may be different but our feelings about adoption being a positive experience are the same.
By: Meika Rouda
As an adoptive parent I really want to feel that nurture is the dominant influence in a child’s personality. I already know that my kids aren’t going to look like me and that doesn’t bother me, but I do want to know that I matter, a lot, in helping form who they are. I know from my own experience that I am me –very different from my parents (probably from nature) but also very much like them –that nurture is a big part of me. Sometimes I watch my son and I wonder, does he like to dance because my husband loves to dance and we have dance parties in our living room? Or does Kaden love to dance because that is just who he is, part of the personality he was born with? Is it both?
I know a woman who, like me, was adopted at birth. She is a very vivacious, bon vivant, red head who is an amazing singer. We have had several discussions about adoption and the nature vs. nurture debate. She grew up in Maine, as an only child in a lovely family with two very loving and adoring parents. But she never felt like she belonged in that family. Her parents were reserved, quiet, shy, not the theatrical, red-headed chantreuse Gigi was. Her desire was to find her biological mother, to find out who she really was, to find where she “belonged”. It was difficult for her because Maine’s birth records were sealed and she didn’t have much information about her birthmom. She hired an investigator but didn’t have any luck.
Last month I saw Gigi after a few years and we had a chance to catch up. She told me that she had finally found her birthmother. Maine had opened the birth records up and she was able to locate her birthmom and meet her. It turns out her birthmom was a nurse at the hospital where she was born and placed for adoption. That she had also placed a boy for adoption a few years before, a full brother of Gigi’s and that her birth father had been a country singer. The pieces were coming together for Gigi and she loved the fact that she wasn’t alone; she had a full brother. And he too was a singer!
As Gigi spent time on the phone with her brother and birthmother, she started to realize how different she was from them. Her brother had grown up in a working class, blue-collar family, while Gigi grew up in a very liberal, white-collar family. Her brother was a little rough around the edges while Gigi was educated and refined. As she was navigating her relationship with her brother, who was overjoyed to be reunited with her, her relationship with her birthmother became difficult. Her birthmother was well meaning but then she started to ask more from Gigi than she was willing to give.
As Gigi finished telling me the story of finding her birthmom, she said the most striking thing of all, that finding her birthmother had brought her so much closer to her adopted parents. How close she felt to them now that she knew her birthmother and brother. That she felt so lucky to have grown up where she did with open, loving parents who supported her artistic endeavors even if they didn’t understand them. That she feels like she truly knows now where she belongs.
I know my kids will be their own individual and perfect selves, a mixture of nature and nurture and life experience, but my biggest hope is that they always know where they belong. And that they keep on dancing…
By: Stacy Clark
A couple of summers ago, my daughter Hanna attended a weekly art class here in our suburban Florida neighborhood. Picture a master-planned community with meandering tree-lined boulevards and tidy homes tucked within stone-walled villages, named after places in England. While there are families of different races and cultures sprinkled about, the majority of our neighbors are white. The thing is Hanna is not. She was adopted into our little corner of Americana from her birthplace in China before she was a year old.
As Hanna’s mom, I am sensitive to making sure Hanna has friends and role models that share her race and heritage. (I’ve read and been told this will help her develop a positive self image.) I am not always successful, but often lucky.
Take art class for example. On a Sunday morning, I drove Hanna a couple villages over to the home where the class was being held. An Asian woman peeked out the front door and waved us in. Other parents arrived with kids in tow, also Asian, specifically Chinese. This is great I thought while stumbling over the slippers the host quietly set behind me after I removed my shoes in the foyer. We came to art class because Hanna loves art, but the Chinese culture was a real bonus. Even the art teacher was Chinese.
The only one not Chinese was me.
As a blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian woman growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, I’ve always been a part of the majority culture. Mostly, my culture has been like water to a fish, unnoticeable to me. They were as nice as could be, these mothers and fathers with the wide smiles who gathered at the door speaking in rapid Mandarin. Yet suddenly I was the stranger in a strange land.
I was the bright, white bulb in an otherwise elegantly nuanced room. Rapidly I sought clues on how to behave. Should I take off my shoes? Do I wear the slippers? Do I stay for class or leave? Next time do I ring the bell or walk in?
Since it was Hanna’s first class, I accompanied her to the upstairs art room. I sat behind her observing the joy, affinity and boisterous synchronicity of the children and adults all around us as the students got settled and class ensued.
That old ditty from Sesame Street ran singsong through my head. One of these things is not like the other things, not like the other things… Of course, I was not alike. Aside from looking different and not speaking the language, I did not understand the intonations, mannerisms, social dynamics and niceties so effortlessly passing between these families, who shared a common culture.
But here was the real surprise. Hanna was not like the other ones either. Oh she looked like all the adorable boys and girls with dark hair and deep brown eyes holding pastels in their hands. Yet, Hanna was a “fish out of water,” too.
Hanna eyed the teacher, swiped her pastel across the page leaving color in its wake. She studied, erased, swiped again. Right then, I realized the obvious: Hanna may look like the girls beside her, but her mannerisms mimicked mine. It was safe to infer that the way she relates to others, the values she holds, the standards of behavior she follows, have also largely been learned from me.
While Hanna was born in China and presumably has Chinese birthparents, she is being raised by an American family and in the American culture. We adopted her, but she has been daily adopting our attributes and perspectives.
I could take Hanna to Chinese cultural festivals and Mandarin lessons, buy her Chinese CDs, books and Nintendo games—all of which I have done—but Hanna would never be “Chinese” the way the children in the art room were.
I left the art class that summer day feeling self-conscious, somewhat defeated and oddly relieved. No matter how I tried, I’d never be able to give Hanna a true “culturally Chinese” upbringing. I called a friend.
“I am so not Chinese,” I sighed.
“I could have told you that, Blondie,” she laughed, but understood.
This was one of those challenges of being a multicultural family that I had heard about during the adoption process. You could say Hanna is like any kid in our neighborhood, and it would be true, and not true. Art class vividly revealed the cultural gap into which Hanna could fall—somewhere between Chinese and American. Where in there would she find her sense of belonging?
The art class turned out to be a good thing for Hanna, but also for me. She gleaned art and culture; I gained new understanding. Even though everyone was nice, I felt uncomfortable and out of place around so many people “not like me.” I had a glimpse of what my daughter may now or someday feel as an Asian girl surrounded by Caucasians, or as a child born in China and raised in America. Standing out in a world where we want to belong is no easy thing.
Hanna is seven. She knows the story of her birth and adoption and is proud of her Chinese heritage, but is only beginning to understand why it all matters to her. For now, I pull on the threads of her origins and weave them into her American life as best I can. I buy Chinese flashcards and make moon cakes and keep an eye out for cultural experiences. I stumble into art classes and trip gratefully over a culture so foreign to me, yet so a part of my daughter.
Still, I know my actions are stopgaps in a sense, efforts to keep the sparks of her heritage alive until Hanna is ready to discover and embrace her identity however she chooses. In the end, it is Hanna who must bridge any distance between where she came from, how she was raised and the life she will lead.
Stacy Clark, a mother via birth and adoption, is a contributing writer for The Next Family. She also writes The Yin and the Yang on http://www.Adoptivefamiliescircle.com and blogs about life in a multicultural, adoptive family at http://www.thissideoftheskies.blogspot.com.
By: Meika Rouda
While my son and daughter both happen to be white like my husband and me, we don’t look anything alike. When my son was born, I would take him to the park near our home in San Francisco and the Hispanic nannies would take a look at me and then my blonde-haired, green-eyed son and greet me with a warm “Hola, buenas dias,” and ask me questions about my charge. I admit, I did look like his nanny, and when I proclaimed “Soy la mama” they would smile and walk away with a curt smile on their faces like “yeah lady, whatever.”
So when people look at my daughter, who is very fair skinned with blue eyes and red hair and then look at me with my monochromatic cocoa coloring they inevitably ask, “Where did she get the red hair?” Sometimes I just smile and laugh and blow off the question, but sometimes I jump into my whole story. “Oh, she was adopted! Her birth mom actually had red hair so I hope it stays, but her birth dad had brown hair so it might turn…” They look at me blankly like, “whoa, I didn’t expect that.”
I am guilty of revealing too much information –more than I want to admit. I never know when I will launch into TMI about adoption; it surprises even me. It isn’t predictable like oh the person asking is a woman and I am sure she wants to hear all about our adoptions. Instead it is totally random, like a bout of Tourette’s. The reactions I get are also unpredictable. Some people love to hear the story and tell me about people they know who are adopted or who have adopted children. Others feel awkward and try to change the topic quickly. If a conversation gets going on adoption, I usually drop the double whammy and tell them I was adopted, too. That tends to be more than they can take. The conversation usually slides after that and I realize that people don’t really feel comfortable talking about adoption. It still feels a bit taboo, like there is some stigma attached and the feeling that this is not the way things are supposed to be creeps out like a thorn. When I tell people we chose adoption over IVF, it is difficult for them to understand. “Don’t you want to be pregnant? Don’t you want a child that looks like you?” they ask, incredulous. And the truth is: No, not really. I wanted to be a mother and that word to me means more than getting pregnant and giving birth. How that child came into my life, whether it was naturally or through a surrogate, IVF, or adoption didn’t matter to me. Nor does it matter what my children looked like. All that mattered is that they arrived safely and from that day forward, I became a mom and we became a family.
I have to admit that when people look at my figure and then say, “You have a four month old?! Wow! You look absolutely amazing!” I just take the compliment and smile. I figure, why not? Oops, am I sharing TMI again?