By Meika Rouda
I heard a story on the radio the other day that made me cry. It was on StoryCorps, an amazing program of personal stories, recorded and archived through the Library of Congress. It is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind and is open to the general public for free. This particular story was a father being interviewed by his ten-year-old daughter. She was asking him about what made him decide to adopt a child.
“I want to tell you something. You have absolutely changed my life. The most interesting thing for me was the idea of the Red Thread. In Chinese adoptions and in the Chinese culture the Red Thread means that we are, with our souls, connected to a specific person. And we got you. And I am so pleased that you’re part of my life. I just love you so much.”
I had never heard about the red thread before. It is such a simple idea that I know every adopted parent would agree with. We are bound in a predetermined sense with our children, adopted or not. When you adopt a child, it does feel like a soul connection. A connection so strong and so much larger than yourself, it feels destined. It also truly simplifies the complex reasons for adoption, that sometimes people can’t get pregnant while other people may not be able to parent at a certain time in their lives. Adoption is complex, but when I am explaining to my five-year-old why he was adopted, I think the red thread is a beautiful metaphor for the invisible link we feel with our children. While I don’t want to oversimplify it, I know there is plenty of time in the future to discuss the details and feelings of his adoption. For now, while he is five, there is the red thread.
By Meika Rouda
As an adoptee, I never felt like an outcast until I started attending adoption conferences. It seems silly that I, an adoptee and adopted parent, would feel like an outcast; I am intrinsically ingrained within the topic of adoption. But when I attend these conferences, I am chastised for not seeking out my birthmother and having a “reunion” with her. I have friends who haven’t spoken to one of their parents for years but no one is on their back for a “reunion”. I am even more judged for not having an open adoption or communication with my children’s birthparents. I am neither for nor against open communication, it just didn’t work out that way in our adoptions.
So, I just got an email announcing a new adoption conference called “Adoption: A Lifelong Journey”. I was immediately put off. Why does adoption have to be a lifelong journey? It sounds awful, like a condition one suffers from. Again I feel myself, alone, beating my own drum, saying “Get Over It. Adoption is natural in many ways and has been in almost every culture since the beginning of time.” I realize some adoptees have had difficulty with their adoptions, never felt one within their adopted families and yearned for their biological mother. I know this can be very real, it just isn’t real for everyone and the idea that it is, that all adoptees will have a lifelong journeyis not true. Everyone I know is on a lifelong journey, whether adopted or not. And to quote George Bernard Shaw, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
The journey part is one thing but then the conference really took a turn for the worse when they described the breakout sessions including choosing the right school for your adopted child. What? How is it any different to choose a school for a child who is adopted than for one who is not? Apparently this session focuses on how to tell if a school will be “adoption friendly”. I don’t think adopted children are any different than any other child and should never be made to feel that way. In my son’s public school classroom, there are, coincidentally, four adopted children, almost a quarter of the class. It would seem to be an “adoption friendly” school but frankly it is just the local public school down the street from our house in the suburbs.
I know these conferences have good intentions, but I think they miss many of the potential issues in adoption by not addressing all sides. I have offered several times to talk on one of the panels, to provide a different and positive view on adoption but the organizers have always declined. I guess I don’t fit the mold. Talking about adoption and the positive effects it can have on a person and a family just isn’t as interesting as choosing a school for your adopted child. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to my lifelong journey and pick up my son from his adoption friendly school.
By Meika Rouda
Lately I have been posed with the Do I mention my kids were adopted or not? quandry. I was at the dentist the other day and my hygienist who I have been seeing for the past few years was looking a little round in the belly. She is a little younger than me, smiley, always cheerful and I wanted to ask “are you pregnant?” but knew better. Maybe she had a huge lunch? Isn’t that what the celebs complain about when Star magazine says they are pregnant but really they just had a bowl of pasta and are bloated? Anyway, while my mouth was hanging open, I noticed the engagement ring on her finger and managed to say “You are engaged; congrats!” She smiled and said “and I’m having a baby in May.” She rubbed her belly. “I noticed you were a little rounder but didn’t want to say anything just in case.” She laughed. “I have had the strangest cravings! Licorice, something I don’t even like usually, I just can’t get enough. It is so strange. I feel like my body has been invaded.” She is talking to me while poking at my gums. I can’t say anything because I have a suction tube in my mouth so she continues. “And apples, this baby, oh he is a boy, he just loves apples. How were your pregnancies? Did you have any strange cravings?” This is when I have to think, do I just say “my pregnancies were easy”? (which they were since I never was pregnant). It is a half-ish truth but evades the issues. Or do I just say “I never was pregnant, we adopted both of our kids.” As is my tendency, I went with the latter. She looked at me and said “Oh- I forgot, you told me that before. So you did have easy pregnancies then!” And then inevitably the conversation switched from pregnancy to adoption. How long it took. How she knows a friend who has been waiting forever for a baby. How she knows someone who adopted form China. I wish we could just talk about pregnancy and not worry about that fact that I didn’t give birth. It isn’t a delicate subject to me but I can’t really explain that to my hygienist.
Later that same day I was at school picking up my son who I have mentioned before is tiny. As he was playing with another boy from his class on the playground, the boy’s mom said to me “he is so strong for being so small.” Kaden has mastered the monkey bars even though he is the size of a 3-year-old. It is amazing to watch him. “Yes, he is.” She turned to me and said “Well, you and Chris are tall so he will have had a growth spurt. At least you don’t have to worry.” Then of course I just had to pipe in and say “Actually, he may be small. Both of our kids were adopted and his birth mom was only 4’11″. ” She looks at me wide eyed and I realize she is shocked. It just never occurred to her that he was adopted and why should it? I didn’t mean to be so forthcoming; it is just the truth and I know my son will be in school with these kids for the next eight years so why not be straight up? Plus if I am coy about adoption that makes me feel like there is something to be ashamed of and I don’t feel that way. I feel like it is something to share and celebrate. So I am going to tell. Even if it makes people uncomfortable, that is their issue not mine.
By: Lauren Jankowski
Not that long ago, I was reviewing some work and got distracted by a common element that turns up in just about every story I’ve written: separated siblings. It struck me because although this was completely unintentional, it clearly reflects an important, but still unknown, part of my life.
As I’ve previously written, I’m an adopted child. Unlike some other adoptees, I’ve chosen to forgo any kind of contact or reunion with my biological relations. To put it simply, I want nothing to do with them. This decision is due to a discovery that could have possibly affected my health and was undisclosed for purely selfish reasons.
Still, there is one biological relative of mine that remains shrouded in mystery: my older half-sister. All my life, I’ve known this person has existed, but other than that, I haven’t the faintest clue about her. The extent of my knowledge is that we share the same biological mother, she was given up for adoption through the same agency as I, and a few years back she was experiencing health problems. Being the naturally curious individual that I am, I’ve spent most of my life wondering about her. What kind of person is she? Does she know about me? Is she anything like me?
Perhaps, not surprisingly, this wondering plays out in my work quite often. Very few of my characters are only children. The ones that have siblings are often separated from them, usually due to forces and circumstances outside of their control. I’ve written a fair amount of stories that revolve around one sibling’s search for another, most often from the older sibling’s point of view. That’s interesting to me because technically, I play two roles in life. Among my adoptive family, the one I know as my own, I am the older sister. However, in my biological family, the alien backdrop, I am the younger half-sister. So am I writing from the mystery half-sister’s theoretical point of view or from my own?
Occasionally, I’ve found myself running Internet searches using a couple key terms and phrases. Sadly, since I don’t have that much information, these always prove fruitless. Does she run the same searches? Or does she share my distaste for our despicable biological relatives? Perhaps we’re both afraid of the same thing: that our mystery sibling is the apple that didn’t fall far from the genetic tree. Then again, maybe she is completely unaware of my existence. This seems to be the most likely scenario.
I don’t know whether I’ll ever look for her. I don’t think it’s very likely I ever will. I started to once, but then discovered the metaphorical skeletons that populate our biological family closet. That has soured me on the whole idea of any kind of reunion with anyone even remotely connected with that past of which I want no part.
I’ve come to accept that the lack of closure on this part of my past will likely continue to manifest in stories and dreams. Perhaps that’s another reason I’m reluctant to search. I don’t want to lose that last bit of mystery in my life, which can be a great driving force, creativity-wise.
By Natalie Sullivan
Our child is crying and she’s holding him the wrong way. He’s only two weeks old, but already we know that he doesn’t like to be held on his back like a baby. This is the first time she has had the chance to hold him, and she’s holding him the way she can only guess he might want to be held. For my husband and me, it’s our last time visiting with our son’s birth mother before we leave the state with our newborn son to head home many long miles away. It’s the last item on our “to do” list and her first and only precious time with her son.
Sitting in the Santa-Fe inspired lobby of our agency, I realize it’s the most uncomfortable couch I’ve ever sat on. My arms, filled for the past two weeks with our seven-pound child, now sit uselessly in my lap, with my hands neatly folded in front of me like I’m at my first job interview. My urge to reach out to my son is overwhelming, but it wouldn’t be right. We feel so awkward at this moment, even though we’re so intimately linked. My husband and I smile like proud parents as we tell his mother what our child has been doing in the past two weeks. Our child -hers and ours.
She pats him so differently than I do and bounces him faster than I do to try and soothe him, but I can’t bring myself to tell her what he’s used to. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, but my husband and I agree, with a wordless glance, that it’s not our place to end her only visit with her son. At a moment where mother and son stare deeply into each other’s eyes, I snap a picture to help him remember, and so that she- and I- will never forget.
I call her his mama, and she calls me the same as she finally passes him back to me. I lean over in her direction, using my voice for his, the way people do with babies and pets. “Tell Mama you love her,” I say, meaning her and not me. We fail to escape the brand of awkwardness as we pose for a group shot- me holding our son and his mother leaning in to the two relative strangers who will share a lifetime with her child.
As we sit in the desert-themed room, I want nothing more than to scoop up my child and head for home. Now, when it is time to leave, my heart starts to ache and the idea of her never holding her child again becomes too much to bear. We hug her. We tell her we will take care of him. We love you, we say. You are our family now. And then we leave, carrying this beloved child into our eagerly awaited future together and out of her life forever.
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.
Feature Article for The Next Family
By: Mark Hagland
My name is Mark. I am 51 years old. (GULP!) I am a member of the first wave of Korean adoptees. I came to the U.S. in 1961 at the age of eight months and was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by parents of Norwegian and German ethnic heritage. I’ve been very active in the KAAN Conference, an annual conference focused on Korean adoption. KAAN is truly unique, and over time its leaders (among which I am now one) are looking to expand its scope to include those outside just Korean adoption. (Certainly, anyone with interest or involvement in transracial and/or international adoption is very welcome.) Our annual conference this year will be held in Albany, New York in July. So there’s one slice —my Korean adoptee slice.
Here are a few more:
I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and, after receiving my B.A. in English, came to Chicago to get my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. I’ve been a professional journalist since 1982 and in the health care publishing field for 23 years as a reporter, editor, author, and speaker. Journalist -another slice!
I came out as a gay man while a freshman in college, and have been socially open for a number of years. I’m blessed to have a wonderful life-partner of over 26 years. Another slice!
Eleven years ago, I volunteered to be a co-parent with a female, unmarried friend. I now have a wonderful ten-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother. Another slice!
In choosing to become a parent, which has been one of the great blessings in my life, I knew that my identity as a gay man would change, and it absolutely did. Nearly two years ago, I became involved in a wonderful group called Gay Dads Chicago, and have gotten to know a number of other gay dads locally. But even in that group, I’m in an extreme minority with regard to the way in which I became a father. Most in the group married, had children, and discovered they were gay later on. Which basically describes how things have worked out for me my whole life: I’ve always been the only asterisked person in any group I’ve been in.
Certainly, growing up as an Asian-American, transracial adoptee in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin of the 1960s and 1970s was a marginalizing experience, despite having wonderful parents and a loving family. As I like to say, I grew up feeling like a Martian and then when I finally became part of the huge actively participating Korean adoptee and transracial adoptee community at age 40, it was like happening upon a convention of Martians in spaceships!
So… how many Asian-Americans do you know who are partnered gay men, biological fathers, Korean adoptees, and journalists, all rolled into one? Sometimes I feel as though I have more prisms going than a world-class crystal paperweight collection. And it can get very confusing for many people, because they keep getting reminded (hopefully gently) as they get to know me how complex my identities and perspectives are. It reminds me of a comment I read in an interview in an LGBT newspaper years ago. An African-American gay activist was being interviewed about her sense of identity; she was black, female, and gay. And she was asked, which are you first? Black, female, or lesbian? And naturally, she said, well, it’s not like I can go out my door and leave any one of my identities behind! That’s exactly how I feel, too, of course. Being Asian, being an Asian-American, being an adult transracial adoptee, being a gay man, being a parent—they are all me!
There is a richness in having so many prisms through which one sees the world. Often, being the only person of color in a gay male gathering, or the only gay person among an Asian group, or the only parent among a gay social gathering, or the only gay person among a bunch of parents, or the only adoptee among a gathering of adoptive parents (and on and on) offers me unique perspectives.
Isn’t that part of what makes life so rich, anyway—that we can all share our individual experiences with one another, and be made the richer for doing so, and for our mutual support?
By Jessica O’Dwyer
Most days, my six-year-old son, Mateo, takes the bus to his suburban California kindergarten, but sometimes we drive, so we can read together in the classroom before school begins. I’ll chat with the other mothers on the playground as we watch our kids jump and run, their bodies radiating energy and happiness.
In a sea of mostly blond heads and peach arms and legs, Mateo’s black hair and light brown Latino skin stand out. I’m white, and so is my husband, but in our home, the contrast in color doesn’t seem so pronounced. It’s out here in the world, at school, even in diverse California, that Mateo and his sister say they often feel different.
On a recent morning, the excitement among the children was especially high. The teacher’s oldest daughter was pregnant, due to deliver any minute. I knew this because all week Mateo had been telling me, “Mrs. Spindler is about to become a grandma!” Our conversations on the subject provided me the opportunity to review the details of his family tree: He was born in another mommy’s tummy, in Guatemala, and my husband and I adopted him when he was six months old. And, according to the social worker’s report we received with his adoption file, Mateo’s birthmother lives with his biological grandma in a town three hours east of Guatemala City. But even that information is suspect. A few months ago, I hired a Guatemalan searcher to find Mateo’s birthmom. The lady who answered the door when the searcher knocked said no one lived there who had that name.
My own family tree, and that of Mrs. Spindler and her daughter, seems simple by comparison. As Mateo and his pals filed into the classroom, Mrs. Spindler filled us in on the latest developments in her daughter’s seemingly endless labor. Suddenly, her cell phone rang. “Oh, oh, oh!” Mrs. Spindler turned in a circle as she flipped open her phone. “It might be news!”
Another false alarm.
I settled into a small plastic chair. Mateo walked over to his cubby to pull out his book box, and then he did something he had not done in a long time. He crawled into my lap and snuggled into me like an infant. Never one to suck his fingers, he stuck his right thumb into his mouth and whimpered. My boy wanted to be held.
Chatter about birth stories swirled among the grownups in the classroom—”During my first pregnancy…” “She was 10 pounds, 11 ounces!” “And then the doctor said twins”—and I remembered the arrival of my own nieces and nephews. For a few breathless moments, the world stopped: It’s a girl! It’s a boy! He’s got the same eyes-hair-nose-chin. She’s gorgeous!
I hugged Mateo tight, and he clung to me. As we rocked back and forth, our breaths deep and in sync, I wondered about Mateo’s birth. One of the few irrefutable facts I know about his life is that, before he was born, his biological mother made her decision to give him up. I imagine that, in order to separate, she had to distance herself from her son. No calls to a grandma waiting on the other end of a cell phone line. No announcements sent to aunties and uncles and far-flung kin.
Did Mateo’s mother count his fingers and toes?
I reached into my pocket for a tissue and blinked away a few sharp tears. Through some miracle, Mateo had found his way to my husband and me, to his sister, Olivia, to our family. Forever, I am Mateo’s mother and he is my son. Our extended family and friends rejoiced at his arrival.
But I am reminded that, as with all children who are adopted, Mateo’s story started before I met him. His prologue is one I may never know.
When Mateo was born, did anyone celebrate? Please tell me yes.
Jessica O’Dwyer is the author of “Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir”, published in November 2010 by Seal Press. This essay was previously published in “Adoptive Families” magazine.
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 Lisa Regula Meyer
I, like a lot of people, grew up knowing non-traditional families of many sorts. Some were built through foster-to-adoption, some were non-parent guardians (some of own cousins were raised by our grandparents), step-families, international adoptions, single parents, the list goes on. It’s just how life works, right? I never really thought of these families as different, or the kids as anything other than normal, because in my world they were, and looking back, I feel fortunate to have known that diversity. Needless to say, the families that I knew were families where the story about the child’s creation was open and talked about. It wasn’t until I met a good friend’s family that I thought about how the formation of one’s identity might be altered based on the choices of their parents, and it wasn’t until then that I considered the privilege of knowing one’s own story.
Before I met my friend’s father, he had already explained that his dad was adopted. I was fine with the situation, and didn’t think anything of it, and it wouldn’t be until well over a year of knowing D that I would fully understand what that meant for him. Slowly, the story came out, first about his birth and adoption, and later about his lived experience of the process. D’s family is Scottish, and he’s proud of that heritage. His story let me truly appreciate how far we’ve come in family building and children’s rights, and where we can still improve.
D was adopted when he was three, and had spent most of his life in an orphanage before then. He remembers vague bits of this time, he remembers being called “Danny,” he has the teddy bear that he remembers clinging to, he remembers feeling different from his sister- their parents’ biological child. He wasn’t told until he was an adult that he was in fact adopted, and wasn’t told by his parents, but rather his sister. His parents had maintained that he was theirs the entire time.
Once he did find out the truth, and that his feelings had been correct, he set out on a hunt to find his biological parents. D built up a fantasy of his biological parents- good parents from good families, true love, unfortunate circumstances, regret, and wishing that they hadn’t let go of him. Sometimes his stories even included his family trying to come back for him. He had his stories, but he wanted the truth, and for adoptions done in the late ‘50’s and later, closed adoptions were the norm, and records were shoddy at best.
After loads of work, D eventually got some information, and found out his truth. He found out that he had been born with syphilis. That his mother had been a prostitute. That he had two other siblings, both with different fathers than his. All of this sent him into a tailspin, not for lack of wanting to know his background, but for the huge difference in what he had expected and what was reality.
I don’t write all of this to say don’t adopt, or don’t do a closed adoption, or anything else in the negative. I write all this to say be careful and be honest, whether you go through surrogacy, adoption, donor gametes, or donor embryos. I also write all this to remind us all that it’s not what created a family that matters, but the fact that a family was created. Remove the stigma, don’t judge others for having a different family make-up, and recognize that the one thing that builds all families is love. Love is the defining characteristic of a family; the rest is just the details.