Friday, September 20, 2013

The "A" Word - Mindshift Necessary

Let's take a break from all the gym and fitness talk and talk about a subject that weighs on my heart every single day.


I didn't expect this journey to be the greatest challenge to my courage that I've had to date, but it certainly has. Beyond being a divorcee, beyond becoming submariner's wife, beyond relocating, beyond flying solo, beyond any amount of height of jumped on a box or weight lifted, this has truly redefined 'courage' to me. I know it's completely mind-boggling to most when I say that it doesn't really matter to me if I ever have biological children. If it happens, it happens. I'm not burning for the whole pregnancy deal. We're building our family no matter what. And we're adopting. Just as some women have always known they'd have bio kids, as soon as I started entertaining parenthood, I knew I'd adopt. I guess I'm wired differently.

People ask a LOT of questions. Honestly, I don't mind the questions. In fact, I appreciate questions, because it shows an effort to fully understand the process and the people who choose to get involved in the adoption world. As an adoptee, I don't mind talking about it one bit. As an adopting parent, I stay open about it. I'm pretty skilled at fielding questions that are well intentioned (like, "How much will your kids cost if you go international?"as if I'm just dialing up Amazon and ordering a kid 'Made in China' or something, or "Why don't you just go IVF?" as if that's an easy process for a woman or somehow a more 'legitmate' way to build a family rather than embracing kids who are already in the world in dire need of a place to call 'home' and someone to love, guide, and believe in them). 

I've got kind, friendly answers to all of these questions down pat and I don't take offense to the questions.

See, I'd rather people ask questions and show a willingness to understand than jump to conclusions.

Ignorance is not bliss. It's just ignorance.
Now, in defense of those who jump to conclusions - we all jump to conclusions in life. We can't help it. It's part of our protective instincts to evaluate our surroundings (and those who inhabit it) for threats and assets. It's a basic need for survival.  So I get where it comes from.

But I ran into a situation last week that just infuriated me. I can't stand when the ignorance of people about family dynamics make them treat adoption (and, by association, adoptees) as 2nd class citizens. As if creating a family through adoption somehow makes it 'less' of a family. Just because I wasn't my birth parents or my adoptive parents 'Plan A' when it came to family planning... well, you've heard the saying, "Man plans and God laughs," right? What's ment to be as a way of working out.
Little Me, Dad, Brother and a couple of herding dogs in Australia.  If I was never adopted, this picture may never have happened.
So let me ask the biologically related families out there.

Do you love your family members ONLY because you have genetics in common?
Everyone has an opinion about adoption.

So without further ado, you my dear readers (ye brave, ye few) are getting the answers to some of the strong opinions I've been exposed to this last year as we're challenged to adopt.

"White people shouldn't adopt black children. It'll be too hard and you can't possibly understand what it's like to grow up black." - You're right. I don't know what it's like to grow up 'black'. Or Asian, or German, or Mexican, or fill-in-the-ethnicity-that-isn't-on-my-mixed-family-tree-here. The stark color difference seems to just call more attention to families adopting kids with darker skin tones. I only know what it's like to grow up. I know that it's hard. I know that people can be mean. I know that I'll need to ask for help from people who do understand the culture my child comes from better than I do, no matter what that nationality is. Just because a child is a similar skin tone to mine doesn't mean that's any different.  More often than not, these kids (who are in an orphanage or foster care by no fault of their own) will either age out of the system and be left to their own devices, or worse, die from conditions in orphanages across the seas.
So you're saying death or not having a place to go home to are better options than having a loving place to call 'home' even if it's filled with people who don't look like you?
If you have a better solution, I'm all ears.

"Don't adopt overseas! There are SO many kids here who need good homes!" - You're right. There are lots of kids here who need loving homes. Anyone who has been part of a family knows that the bonds are an invisible, guttural tie that binds. Sometimes that guttural feeling crosses streets, blocks, and states. Other times, it crosses oceans.
Brother, Mom, and Little Me. We don't look alike, but it doesn't matter.
"Adopt an infant! The earlier the better! Then you'll get a blank slate and someone who isn't 'damaged.'" Let me spell this out for you. Adoption is a thing born of trauma. There is no way around it. Infants have emotions. In fact, their emotions are completely unguarded and untempered by reason, since they don't have that skill set yet. They don't understand why they are being surrendered or who these strangers gazing lovingly down at them are, be they foster parent, orphanage worker, or adoptive parent. No child is a 'blank slate' ever. With an older child, you can communicate and explain things, and help them reason through things. With an infant, you still have to do that- just later in the game.
Teenage Me. There are some kids out there who have never walked a dog - because they are 'too old' to have a family...
"But you'll miss all those firsts if you adopt older! First steps! First words!" True, there are some 'firsts' that adoptive parents of beyond-infant-age kids don't get. But they get different 'firsts'. The thing is, adoption, like any kind of parenting, isn't really about the parent. It's about the kids. So, if we adopt an older kid, we'll get firsts like - the first genuinely unguarded hug, the first "I love you" that comes genuinely and easily, the first time they ask for help with a problem they are having because they now know they can rely on their parents for help for the first time. Those are just as much worth celebrating, if not even more.

On a personal level, I got a very small taste of this one when I was in a relationship with a single dad. I still recall clearly the day his youngest gave me a hug and said she loved me. I remember the first time his son got a kiss on the cheek from me and turned bright red, smiling from ear to ear. I remember the first time his oldest confided in me about a problem she was having. Each of those experiences were treasured moments in my past - and I still send up prayers for those kids often, despite the fact that it would have been unhealthy for me to be an ongoing presence in their lives. They deserve the chance to bond with a step-mother that is a better match for their father than I was.

Little me - a Christmas with a treasured friend from my childhood. There are kids this age who have never known this kind of joy... because they are 'too old' to be adopted - at 5 years old.
"But Older kids have a history or might have special needs! They could be really screwed up! Doesn't that scare you?" Sure! EVERY parent is scared on some level. It's normal. Even with biological children, you can't protect them from the world entirely. Bad things sometimes happen and our job (as parents) is to make sure we give them coping mechanisms to deal with what the world dishes out and teach them to reach for their dreams. Now, granted, few would choose a child with special needs over a healthy child. Honestly, there are some special needs that I'm not (at this moment) able to deal with, but there are some I know deep down I can figure out. (And you find me an adult who doesn't have a single special need, and I'll lay money that person doesn't have a pulse.) Rememberno child is in the system by fault of their own. Yes, some may have medical/mental needs that their parents couldn't attend to and that's why they were taken away/given up. Some may have had adults that failed them in their lives. Whatever the reason, these kids have experienced loss on a level most people don't see until they become adult-orphans (when their parents pass away). Trust may not come easily to some. It might come too easily because all they want is love. Life doesn't come with guarantees. But that's okay. Trust is something that can grow and can be learned over time. If this sounds like something you'd say (or have said), I challenge you with this one, "What age do you stop needing hearts to call home?" Sure, as a 30 something, I don't depend on my parents for the everyday things, but anyone that has ever lost a parent can tell you that you never stop needing or wanting a loving parent's influence in your life.

"What if you can't bond with them?"  I don't believe in 'return to sender' labels. I believe in building connections where you can and letting time (and consistency) do it's job. We'll find some common ground, no matter how small, and build on that. We'll take our time making sure we find a match that fits with us. Parenting isn't about what you can get. It's about what you can give.
My Brother and Little Me, feeding orphaned lambs on a ranch in Australia. I wouldn't have had my brother if he wasn't adopted as well. We're not biologically related.
 It doesn't matter.
"But isn't adoption expensive?" Actually, there are a LOT of grants and options out there. Adoption through foster care in our state is about $2500 per adoption (not per child since you're paying fees for the services, not a price tag for a child). There are LOTS of ways to raise money for adoption. There is a fabulous book out there, Adopt Without Debt, that has some great ideas for raising money. Like anything in life, you save up for it, or you finance it. It's like anything else. You figure it out if it's important enough to you. You cut corners. You hold garage sales. You change your vacation expectations. And think about it this way, if you're willing to finance a car or a house that is purely a 'thing' that will be part of your everyday life for 6-30 years, why wouldn't you be willing to do what's necessary to bring your child/children home?

In closing -   Adoption is NOT for everyone. I respect that completely. A bad match can do more harm than good.  In fact, in the US, adoption has fallen by 68% over the last 8 years, which is 24% steeper than the rest of the world. The number of children living without families is on the rise all over the world.
Just as IVF or surrogacy or even parenthood is not for everyone.

As an adoptee that got matched with the right family for me, I have seen first hand the kind of healing that happens when adoption works. It's never been about what my brother and I can do for our parents. It's always been about what our parents could do. They changed their lives to change ours because they wanted a family. Adoption is a practice as old as time. As long as there have been orphans, there has been adoption. We see it in nature, and we see it in our world. Nearly 3% of the US population is adopted, but over a million kids around the world are still awaiting homes. Many of them with aren't infants. But, like I said, there is never an age a child doesn't need a place to call home, someone to believe in them, and someone to take the risk of caring. 

So, I ask you, dear readers -
Do you love your family members ONLY because you have genetics in common?

Or is that the LEAST of the reasons why you love your family?
My Sailor, Dad, Me, Brother, and Mom.
There is one thing that everyone seems to agree on though - Children belong in families. No matter what those 'families' look like.

*Special thanks to My Sailor for his encouragement in helping me hit 'publish'. Best team mate ever.*


  1. Jay - every time I read something you have written, regardless of the topic, I am amazed. Love the pictures, love the thoughts you have put down here. I have an adopted nephew and another adopted niece. They are just part of the family and I am grateful that God put them in my life to love!

  2. What a very emotional/moving post Jay. I'm in tears and always grateful for you pouring your heart into everything you do. You have such an amazing heart with so much love to give.