Category Archives: Adoptive parenting

Half-breed

What do Cher, President Obama and adoptees have in common?

This earworm was on the radio the other day and made me think of all three.

Half breed. That’s all I ever heard.
Half breed. How I learned to hate the word.
Half breed. She’s no good, they warned.
Both sides were against me since the day I was born.

I felt sorry for the subject of Cher’s song (this was before I saw the size of her waist and the length of her legs on the video — not mustering up much pity for those traits). Must be awful to claim parts of two cultures but to not have them claim you back.

I noticed the same about Barack Obama during the 2008 election. Wikipedia says his mother was “of mostly English ancestry” and that his father was from Kenya. I’m not the first to bring up the fact that some people consider him black (“the country’s first black president”) and others consider him not black enough. While he has claims on multiple heritages, those groups don’t necessarily fully claim him.

Sadly, sometimes a half + a half a whole.

For both Cher’s character and for Barack Obama, their two halves had trouble existing in harmony with the world at large, in being fully claimed by either of their sides.

Which can also happen with adoptees. I asked my friend Torrejon, who grew up in a closed adoption, about this idea of halves, and she had this to say about adoptee math.

I think it was BJ Lifton who said that adoptees are “betwixt and between” two worlds like Peter Pan.  I always hated Peter Pan, maybe that is why.   Other people compare being adopted to having one foot on each side of a road.  I don’t think of it like either of those analogies.  I’ve got both feet on both sides of the road at the same time.  I’m not half here and half there…I’m fully both places at the same time.  It is counter-intuitive and impossible.  Have you ever heard the expression:  “Half is something I want no part of”?  It is sort of like that.  And the Romani gypsies that I know will tell you that they are Spanish and Romani…not half and half…both things.  Those two terms are not mutually exclusive nor inclusive.  Not 1+1=0…but rather 1+1=1…adoptee math.  However, I do think adoptees can end up with a 0 if they are divided into exclusive halves:  ½ + ½ = 0

Whatever analogy or model I try to come up with, (haven’t yet found a perfect one) I always test it against my own kids and me.  For instance, I’ve got two kids.  I’m not half a mother to one, and half a mother to the other; I’m a full mother to both of them.  That doesn’t mean I’m two halves…or two people.  I’m simply a mom with two kids.  So, by extension, I prefer to think of myself as existing fully in my two families.  By the way, I don’t presume to speak for others…we’ve all got our own ideas about how to think about this.

Don’t you love how she reverses the generations to make her point? By splitting the parent between the children we can see the ridiculousness of splitting the child between the parents.

The key for adoptive parents, then, is this: how can we ensure that 1+1 = 1, like the Romani gypsy and not ½ + ½ = 0, like Cher and the President? One reason I advocate so strongly for openness is that I believe it provides a way for an adopted child to experience the first formula. Openness helps two halves become whole by having both families — birth and adoptive — fully claim the person.

Your thoughts?

 

7 points about the birth mom conversations

Recently my son opened up to me asking questions about his birth mom and I responded as best I could. The first two posts in this series simply recounted the conversations. In this third and last post, I offer commentary about the dialog between my son and me and about the comments the posts generated.

adoption heart1. Know what it was; know what it wasn’t. The questions Reed asked and the things he said in his wondering about Michele didn’t hurt me at all (other than the fact that he was hurting). Why? BECAUSE NONE OF IT WAS ABOUT ME. This knowing is what enables me to be fully present for my children during such times. This point is key for adoptive parents to get — deep down in our bones. This was about my son and his innermost feelings. He will have them whether or not I am comfortable with him having them. The question is, can he trust me to feel them on the outside of himself?

2. Become impervious. Allow, encourage, enable your kids to feel their feelings about their birth families, and do it imperviously, as you do when discussing other hurts they might have that also have nothing to do with you: a broken toy, being spurned by a friend, not making the team. The feelings about birth parents are likely more intense, but they are no more about you than these other scenarios are. The questions and wondering about the birth family are not about you and therefore take away nothing from you. Take yourself out of the equation and it all becomes so much simpler.

3. The myth of strength. I am not any stronger than any other parents. It’s just that I get, deep in my bones, #1 above.

4. Don’t dread having these conversations with your child because, hey, see #1. And decide to enjoy rather than endure these moments of adoptive parenting. Opening your heart sets you up for success much better than will gritting your teeth.

5. Don’t dread your child having these feelings, either. If your child doesn’t ever encounter these emotions, great. If they DO, however, why psych yourself (and your child) out ahead of time? Besides, why would you want to deprive your child of all the soul-deepening and self-knowledge that comes from having feelings, which we label as  “good” or “bad”, but can simply be guideposts for how to live?

Do not ever be afraid of your child feeling her  feelings; fear only her NOT feeling her feelings or getting stuck in them. Help your child keep the emotions in motion. It’s the repression and stagnancy that cause problems.

6. Get to know. How did  I figure out #1? By listening to adult adoptees. AndiAndy, Jeni, Amanda, Lost Daughters, Torrejon, others. Don’t internalize everything you read but do listen for gems that will help you understand what may one day be felt by your child, as well as the underlying reasons.

7. Don’t underestimate the strength of your child. A wise school teacher tells me that a child will rise or fall to the level of expectation you set. Notice the strength of my son in these two conversations. He has all that within him. I just held the expectation that he would tap it.

If your child’s story has some difficult components to it, then when you do talk about the hard stuff, envelop him in love and be open to deep wisdom. Also, see the strength and resilience of your child. He needs to see you reflect those traits he already has back to him.

And if you have any further notion that I am “special” in a way that you’re not, please read my Hotel Rwanda post. Anyone strong enough to survive infertility and the adoption process and to undertake parenting is able to rise to adoptive parenting moments like these.

Don’t you tell me otherwise.

Processing adoption: Conversation with my son, part 2

In part one, I told how my still-and-deep-water son was churning some adoption stuff, and how he trusted me to do it with him. I am honored.

~~~~~

Reed and I were running errands the next day. Tessa stayed home with Daddy to build the first fire of the season. Brrrr….it had gotten chilly!

Bedtime and car time are conducive to touchy subject talk because of the non-confrontational positioning. In the car Reed and I were not face to face, and I knew it was a good time to try to get back into the emotional space we’d been in the night before.

“So remember last night? We were talking about the moment when you became our son. You seemed sad. Do you want to talk about that?”

“I dunno. It’s just that I was sad for Michele. No one wants to give away their baby.”

“That’s so right. It was very hard for Michele to do that. But what about you? What do you suppose that moment felt like for you?”

adoption heartNow some would be content to leave this stone unturned, that not everything has to be dealt with. But my view is that what lies dormant affects us unconsciously. And what is brought to the surface can be felt, examined, and released. My hope is that if my son can become aware of his emotions and motivations at age 8, maybe they won’t get buried over the decades and erupt for him massively later in life. I want to give my children a head start on living mindfully, consciously.

These lofty goals don’t mean, however, that he was ready to feel the emotions from the moment when he was placed in my arms, from his birth mother’s.

“I think I had a poopy diaper and I wanted it changed,” he laughed a jittery laugh.

“You’re silly,” I said and laughed with him, giving him space and not filling the silence that followed.

Soon he continued, “I probably wanted milk. I had gotten milk from my mom and now I wanted milk from my new mom.” We both sat with that. A few blocks passed in silence.

“You know,” I resumed, “that moment when I became your mom was such a strange time. Everyone in the room was feeling something very intensely. For Michele, it was one of the saddest and hardest days of her life. For Daddy and Tessa and me, it was one of the happiest. Isn’t that strange?”

“Yeah. I’m sad for Michele. No one wants to give away their baby.” He repeated this, trying on his first mom’s feelings.

“That’s so very true. Especially a baby as wonderful as you, Reed.”

“Mom, do her children ever ask about me?” Reed has a younger brother and sister who visited us last year.

“I would imagine they ask about you, or they will when they are old enough to understand.”

“But what if they don’t know about me? What if she doesn’t tell them?”

“I’m sure she’s not hiding you. After all, they’ve been to our house once and hopefully they’ll come again. I think she’s very proud of the young man you’re becoming. She keeps up with you on my Facebook page, you know.”

“Mom. Would you adopt another baby?”

“We don’t have plans to do that. Is that something you’d like?”

“Yeah,” he said, thinking. “I want to know what it felt like for Tessa when I joined the family. And what it’s going to feel like for Dominic [his cousin] when Aunt Tami’s baby is born.”

I suspect this is also because he has missed out on the big brother experience with Michele’s two parented children and AJ’s new baby daughter.

“I’m not sure that’s likely to happen. You’ll get to be the big cousin to Tami’s baby.”

“NOT cousin. I want to be the big brother to a baby.”

“I’m sorry, Reed.”

We had arrived at our destination.

Which was not an adoption agency.

~~~~~

Later that night I pulled down a small item from the very top of Reed’s bookshelf. It was a brilliant little present to me, to us, from myself of 2003.

Right before I had headed to the Entrustment Ceremony to meet and bring home our son, I had the flash of insight to bring a spiral notebook/journal I’d had lying around. I asked Michele after the ceremony to write a page or so to Reed, to tell her what was in her heart for him that day, what her hopes were for him.

I, too, put my thoughts down in that notebook frequently in those early days, and I recruited Roger, my parents, Grandma Lisa, and everyone who attended his first several birthday parties (we used to do it up big with all our friends — our once a year bash) to write words of love to my son. There are now a couple of dozen pages of people just loving on Reed over the years, until about 2006, when we moved and the book got put away.

At bedtime, Reed was able to read the time-capsule message from his birth mom. He slept with that notebook that night.

~~~~~

Soon I’ll add some reflective thought to these two conversations. You are invited to come back for the final part of this series.