Thursday, November 17, 2011

Open Adoption Blogger Interview Project - November 2011

Adoption Bloggers Interview Project 2011

I have never done an online interview project before.  But for someone who loves to get to know people, this project was amazing.   I signed on for the Open Adoption Blogger Interview Project sponsored by Heather at Production Not Reproduction and let me tell you, it was great!

I was matched with a mom who blogs at Sheeps Eating Me.  Sheeps Eating Me and her partner are parenting two children with special needs who they adopted through domestic adoptions.  One was infant adoption, the other adoption through the foster care system.

Sheeps Eating Me is beautifully flawed, just like all of us and I love how she is honest and forthright.  She is also committed to open adoption, even from the foster care system. 

Parents who are committed to open adoption are all heroes in my eyes.

Below are the questions I posed to Sheeps Eating Me and her answers.  All of you who read my blog know I am wordy, so I apologize in advance for the length of our interview. 

I also have highlighted a couple of things that she said that I found incredibly profound.  I just love her approach to adoption.  It overjoys my heart to see a mother who really gets the spirit of open adoption.

I was struck by the following paragraph in one of your posts…

“I suddenly understood that I could never get in the way of my own children having that experience*. I didn’t know yet how I was going to get out of the way (6 years later I’m still learning that) but I was very clear that I would support my children in whatever way they needed to get to see that they smiled just like their own mother.”

*referencing that while sitting across the table from her mother, Sheeps Eating Me realized that they share the same smile

You state that you aren’t sure how you were going to ‘get out of the way’ so your child(ren) could know their own mother.  Two parts of that are intriguing to me.  First, the getting out of the way idea.  And secondly, that you call your son’s birthmother his mother. 

Do you find that you still have to make conscious decisions and/or be deliberate to have your son ‘know’ his birthfamily, or has time made this easier with the building of relationships?

While I think the flow of the relationship is much more natural than it was a few years ago, my son is young enough - and we live far enough away - that we have to be pretty deliberate about making sure he knows his family. We talk about them all the time, and try to make a point of doing it often outside of the context of adoption. So he'll sing a song, and then I'll say "You have a great singing voice. You must have gotten that from Mommy C. - she's a great singer." I hope as he gets older that he'll be able to take more of the initiative, but for now it still needs quite a bit of facilitation. Since we adopted my daughter through foster care a year and a half ago, we have slowly started to open the relationship with her family, and she's young enough that I don't think she's quite getting it yet. My hope is that eventually they will each have independent relationships with their families and I'll be able to take on the role of supporting those relationships in whatever way makes sense.

How do you refer to the children’s birth parents?  Are you uncomfortable calling them ‘his mother’ or ‘his grandparents’?

Our congregation has a slogan that reads "say what you mean and mean what you say." We've used that to be very deliberate about what we call all the people involved, and decided that, in talking with our children, there was no need to use names to distinguish legal vs biological relationships. So we talk with our children about how lucky they are to have 3 moms - their Mamadee, their Mama, and Mommy C. or Mommy J. (depending on which of our kids we're talking to).
Sometimes people ask if our children get confused by this, but usually it's the adults who are confused. For the kids, it's just more people around to love them.

I have an exceptionally close relationship with my ex-husband’s first wife.  It developed while I was married to him. During that time she and I became close friends.  We realized that we both loved the same children.  She loved my kids just as I loved hers. 

I found that there was no rivalry about who was the ‘real mom’ because she and I both trusted the other to support each other.  We knew that no matter whose physical custody the child was in, we both would make parenting decisions based on the best for the child. 
I never felt like she was resentful of me as the step-mother because I was good about preserving the role of mother for her.  While I parented her children (and loved them like my own), I knew she was their mother and I respected her role that way.  (I hope that all makes sense.  It is a bit wordy and awkward.) 

I think I would say we learned a mutual respect for each other and the unique role we each had in the lives of the children we were raising.

I know that adoption is not like step parenting, as the child is not being parented by the biological parent.  But I firmly believe there are similarities when it comes to respect and unique roles we each have in the life of the child.  With that said…

Do you think that since your children have two mothers in their immediate household it is easier for you to embrace the birthmothers of your children, as you can see how each mother brings something different and unique to the child?

Yes!  Every couple has to work out their roles in a co-parenting relationship, and when there are 2 moms involved, there are some unique aspects of this. So when there are 3 moms there are ways in which it can feel like an extension of that same process.  We are 3 very different people, and while I wouldn't want to speak for my son's Mommy C., I can say that both my partner and I have been very aware of the different things the 3 of us bring to our son.

One thing my daughter shares with her mother is that they are both Deaf. While we have and will continue to do everything we can to make sure she grows up feeling part of the Deaf community, we will always be supportive allies - I hope that she'll be able to connect with her mother as someone who shares this really significant piece of her lives. This isn't something we could ever give her.

I loved your post about mourning the loss of an idea of what your life or future would have looked like.  I find myself having to rewrite my history all the time.  And it is very painful some times.
My greatest area of mourning is for the relationship I envision having with my daughter vs. the reality of what is.  The following statement from you blog hit me like a ton of bricks.

“I’m trying to forgive myself for mourning, even when it seems pointless. I had a story in my head, and I can’t just let go of it all at once.

I want to learn how to let myself mourn and see the real stuff at the same time.”

I would guess that adoptive parents, even those who do not have a child with special needs, probably deal with the loss of how they thought their family would be created.  Even you stated in your blog that you just assumed you would give birth to your first child and adopt subsequent children.  You had to process that you would not give birth but would instead create a family through adoption alone.

After years of having to practice mourning and moving forward at the same time (so as not to miss the beauty of today), have you found that it gets easier or is grieving the ‘what could have been’ still just as hard today?

I am still such a work in process on this one, but yes, it gets easier. As far as adoption goes, once in a while I think about what it might be like to have a child who looks like me, but honestly I have these two lovely streaks of energy moving through my house and my life all day long and I can't possibly imagine loving another being more than I love these two. Any of those fantasies are just passing thoughts. It took me about 2 weeks of real soul-searching before I was able to let go of the fantasy of giving birth to my first child - so that was not a terribly hard one for me, though I know it is for many people.

In terms of parenting children with special needs, it does feel different. I admit that every time one of my children runs up against a new obstacle, I wish their lives were easier. And there are many times, like when we're fighting with a school system over services, when I wish our lives were easier too. This is definitely a place where the grieving is harder for me to let go of - which is kind of ironic, given that we were actually looking for a Deaf child for our second adoption. I was shocked a few months after her placement to realize that I was mourning, because I had walked into the situation with - I thought - my eyes wide open.

Do you think that adoptive parents have to do this mourning and moving on more than biological parents just based on the nature of adoption?  If so, is there any advice you would give a prospective adoptive parent to prepare them for this?

I would certainly think that's the case for folks who have dealt with infertility, but not having been through that process I can't really speak to that. One thing I can say about this, having talked with a number of friends who have turned to adoption after infertility, is: you really need to be okay with parenting a child you have no biological connection to. If you're still holding out a secret (or not-so-secret) hope that you'll get and stay pregnant, it's hard to muster the emotional energy you need for an adoption process without getting resentful. There's a real difference between turning whole-heartedly to something that was not your plan A and turning to something as a second choice. You don't ever want your child to feel like they were your second choice.
In terms of open adoption, I think coming to an acceptance of the fact that you will never be your child's only family is really critical. You don't even have to understand everything that means before you adopt (I can't imagine how you would), but I think understanding that different parents play different roles in your child's life, and that this doesn't threaten YOUR connection to your child, is tremendously helpful.

You reference how you worry that the last visit you had with your son’s biological family might be the last, so you want to capture every detail of it to share with him.  Your statements and actions indicate that you believe that maintaining your children’s biological relationships is critical to your children’s wellbeing.  You even mention that you worry that some day it could suddenly end.  Obviously you are irrationally committed to open adoption.

Why do you believe that open adoption is so important to for your children?

I DO feel like maintaining these relationships is critical to my children's well-being, though I want to be clear that I believe that the *spirit* of openness when a truly open relationship is not possible is also important. Throughout adolescence and as an adult, I've been constantly learning new things about different family members that teach me more about myself and help me feel rooted. When my son developed a rash after someone gave him shrimp, the first thing we did was call his mom, who reported that she gets the same rash when she eats shellfish. And when we met my daughter's aunts, they told us that, like my daughter, they all refuse to wear their hearing aids. Of course adoptees can have a similar experience with their adoptive families, since it's not all about nature, but nurture is only part of the story too. Everyone should be able to know who they are and where they came from. 

Even beyond that, my wife and I have talked for years about the day when one of our children asks why they're not with their biological family, and we can say "let's call them and talk with them about it." We can talk a blue streak about how much their families love them and why they didn't "keep" them, but I want our children to be able to hear it from their own parents. They deserve that.

Do you have boundaries, spoken or unspoken, that you know would cause you to discontinue maintaining a relationship with their birth families?  If so, what would those be?

Safety is the obvious one. My daughter, unlike my son, was removed from her family's care by the foster care system, so we were (and still are) very cautious in our approach to ensure that we were not opening the door to anything unsafe. But given the relationship we've slowly developed with her mom over the past year (on Facebook), we don't have any reason to think that there are safety concerns.

I think when they're little it's easy to tell what's safe. As they get older - particularly if they develop more independent relationships with their families, I imagine it will get a lot harder to ascertain what is safe, and of course we won't have our fingers in every detail the way we do now.

It's very difficult to imagine other reasons to end my children's relationships with any family members by birth or adoption.

This is by far my favorite entry that I have read from your blog.  I firmly believe these words and thoughts should be shared with every adoptive family.  You encapsulate so well how open adoption is a lifelong commitment.  The good and the bad.  We all must hang in there.  For the sake of our children, we cannot throw in the towel.  I love these statements…
“The director of the adoption agency said to us: “It’s a long life.” Meaning, in open adoption, things can change. Hang in there. Wait it out.

They feel like family. It hasn’t always been easy to navigate, and there have been times when we couldn’t reach them, times when we went a few months without contact. But for five years, they’ve hung in, and we’ve hung in, and we’ve stopped worrying that they’ll disappear.

We’ve all stopped being afraid of each other. This relationship that I was terrified of in theory – before we did our home study, before we knew anyone living open adoption, before we laid eyes on the people who made us parents – is one of the most gratifying ones I’ve ever had.”

I love what you wrote here "for the sake of our children we can't throw in the towel." It's almost like an in-law relationship, in that you may adore them, you may hate them, but for better or worse someone you would give your life for came from them. So you make it work because it isn't about you.


kate said...

This is an amazing post. I've read a lot of these interviews today- and done them myself!- but I love how you presented this whole conversation. Really wonderful job. Thank you. -kate

Lori Lavender Luz said...

I love that you two were paired together.

Yes to all the highlighted passages and more.

Well done, LisaAnne and H!

Lorraine Dusky said...

Hi: I just found your blog because of your message I got through FB which I also just noticed for some reason. Keep up the good work for all the others who will find succor and support here. Giving away a child to adoption is the most profound loss any woman can experience; death is actually easier because it is possible to move on. Yet move on we must.

Lorraine from First Mother Forum

Anonymous said...

Loved the interview. She has an amazing view of adoption!!

Loved your with "Sheeps Eating Me" as well, your answers were so honest and real. As always, love your blog!

Kelly said...

Great interviews on both sides. So honest.

Monika said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Monika said...

I follow sheeps on Twitter as well as on her blog and I love the way your interview worked out. I love that she got paired with you. Awesome interview! (And I LOVE the question you asked her about the fact that she's in a same sex relationship possibly affecting in a positive way the way they view their kids' bio families.)

t said...

Relatively new reader here. I've read a bit of her blog and was so heartened!!! She gets it. I'll have to take a look at her blog to see her interview with you. Thanks for your great interview questions!

Adoption Services said...

Great share friend. I have read all your post here and found it interesting to read. In fact i was able to take note all of the valuable information i was gathered. Thanks