Image

Adoption, Sex, and the Pursuit of Love: Why Adoptive Parents Need to Talk to Their Kids About Sex

As parents, we spend our kids’ entire childhood focusing on loving them, supporting them, meeting their needs, helping to shape their identities, and instilling in them the values and morals we hope they will carry with them throughout their lives. It can be difficult to wrap our minds and our hearts around the fact that our kids are growing with each passing year, and that there may come a time when they won’t need us in the same ways we have grown so accustomed to throughout the years.

Parenthood is not an easy journey by any means, and we often spend a lot of it not really knowing what the heck we are doing! We work diligently to prepare our kids for living their lives in a way that feels right and successful for them, and many of us pride ourselves in doing so. However, there is one important issue that will likely arise for our kids as they grow and mature—an issue that many parents don’t feel comfortable even thinking about in the context of their kids, much less talking about or preparing them for. If you haven’t already guessed it—yes, that issue is sex. Aaaand, yes, I am going there.

Are you ready for this? I, honestly, don’t know that I am either, but here goes.

Sex. It is a completely natural thing, right? Our bodies consist of organs and glands and other complex biological parts and processes—the makeup and mechanics of which I am not going to even pretend to know about—that all make sex possible. It can be a way for us to connect with a partner; it can be a way for some of us to grow our families; and it can help to fulfill a variety of our emotional, psychological, physical, and biological needs. So, why is it so difficult for us to talk about with our kids, and why is it important for parents to have those discussions—especially with kids who have been adopted?

Why is it so difficult to talk about?

While sex is completely natural and something that a number of us have experienced ourselves, historically, it has been something deemed inappropriate to talk openly about. For many, it is an experience that is shared with another person in the privacy of our homes and behind closed doors or other places that can help protect us from exposing our most intimate selves to the world. It is within those experiences that we can open ourselves up to being vulnerable, to connecting emotionally and physically with a partner, and allowing ourselves to feel somewhat free and uninhibited.

For those of us who have experienced it, we all have our own memories of when it first happened, with whom we shared the experience, where it happened, etc. Some of us were ready for it to happen, and some of us were not. For some, the first experience was as positive as a first time can be—for others, it was an experience we wish we could forget. Regardless of how, when, where, or with whom it happened—I think it is safe to say that most of us will agree that our first time had an effect on us and likely changed us in some way.

Many people believe they are ready for sex when it first happens, and many are subsequently surprised to discover how unprepared they actually were. While the physical aspect of a person’s first time is important and may make for some truly memorable moments, more often than not, it will be the emotional aspect of it all that they will carry with them for a long time after the fact and may have a profound impact on their future sexual experiences.

An important part of being a parent is protecting our kids from anything that may cause harm to them or to others. Regardless of whether our first experiences were positive or something we would rather forget, it can be difficult to think of our kids as being ready for something as mature and intimate and life-changing as sex. Sex can be a wonderful experience, but we are all well aware that it can also be extremely harmful—both physically and emotionally. As parents, we want to protect our kids from things like sexually transmitted diseases, early pregnancy, sexual violence and abuse, and the other potential physically harmful or consequential aftermaths of sex. And, we want and need to do our best to help protect them from the emotional and psychological implications of it as well.

As parents, it is overwhelming and a little heart-wrenching to think of our kids as ever being ready for or interested in having sex, but we would be doing ourselves and our kids a great disservice by living in denial about the fact that it will happen someday—whether we are ready for it or not.

Why it is important to talk about sex with your child who has been adopted?

It has taken a long time and a lot of introspection for me to get to this place, but I will fully admit that before I met my husband and became a mom, my understanding of and beliefs about love were extremely distorted and convoluted. When I experienced the trauma of losing my birth mother, my brain responded to that trauma and loss by wiring itself to view the world in a different way. Whereas most infants and toddlers who maintain their connections with their birth mothers feel safe and loved and cherished, my perspective of the world was based on the belief that people who love me will always leave me. With that as the foundation upon which I approached my life and every experience and relationship within it, I subsequently formed an understanding and belief that love always comes at a cost and that I had to give something in order to receive it. I had the choice to either spend my life running from love or fighting for it, and I chose to fight for it.

In other words, I spent my life believing that love was something that I had to be in constant fear of losing.

I have spent a vast majority of my life not knowing my worth and not having the ability within myself to believe in or embrace my value in this world. Knowing that my birth mother made the decision to not keep me in her life—to not have a relationship with me at all—made it really difficult to shape my identity and form a belief about my own worth in a positive or self-loving way. In terms of my physical being, I viewed it as something to hate. As a young girl, I often wondered if my birth mother would have loved me if I had been beautiful. I grew up in the shadow of my gorgeous, tall, and popular sister—who also happened to be adopted—and I spent most of my childhood believing that the kids in school didn’t like me and teased me because I wasn’t pretty enough…because I didn’t look like them. I never learned or believed that my body was something that was worth protecting—it was simply the shell of me that existed only to contain all of the emptiness and broken pieces of who I was inside.

Having attended a private, Catholic school during my formative years, I was pretty sheltered from many realities of the world. The only extent of my sex education consisted of the abstinence-only message I received during grade school. Before high school, I knew nothing about condoms or birth control pills and I knew very little about STDs and teen pregnancy—only that they were bad and they were consequences of having sex before marriage. Attending a public high school certainly changed all of that for me in the sense that I became much more aware of the world around me, but I had also reached that period in my life where I believed myself to be invincible—as many teenagers do—and that everything that happened to other girls would never happen to me.

I started dating a guy from a different school (because I was super cool like that) during my junior year of high school. After years of feeling painfully invisible while watching my friends experience the countless and very dramatic ups and downs of their relationships, it felt amazing to finally have someone in my life who saw me as beautiful and someone worth getting to know on a different level. It was the first time in my life where I felt loved by someone who wasn’t my family, and the euphoria of it all was exciting and a little addicting in a way. We dated for several months before we reached the point of being “ready”. For me, losing my virginity to him became a way of holding onto someone I felt was slipping away. I remember very little about it beyond feeling guilty, empty, and somewhat lost after it happened.

The relationship ended, and I began my battle with severe depression and anxiety shortly thereafter. At the time, I didn’t realize how devastating it would be to experience the loss of that relationship. I didn’t realize how empty I would feel and how much I would miss feeling wanted and seen and loved by someone other than my family. After that relationship ended, I found myself craving those feelings of being needed and wanted and seen and loved. It became almost like a drug to me and I was reckless and stupid and thoughtless in my pursuit to find someone or something to fill the void the loss of that first relationship had created within me. As a result of the choices I made, I became pregnant during my senior year of high school. Due to severe stress, extreme and rapid weight loss, and a number of other factors, it eventually became medically necessary for me to terminate the pregnancy.

I never believed any of it would happen to me—but it did.

As I look back on the period of my life between high school and when I met my husband—knowing what I know now—I truly believe that a number of the choices I made were done so in pursuit of something to fill the void created by the losses I have experienced in my life. I often hear people say that having a biological connection to someone doesn’t matter—but it does. It can mean the world to someone who has never had that type of connection in their life. I love my family more than anything and my parents provided me with a really good life, but I still fantasized as a young girl about life with my birth mother—my birth family. There was a subconscious craving within me for that biological connection to someone…anyone. That need and desire for a biological connection was fulfilled when I gave birth to my oldest son. There are no words that could ever express what it felt like to hold him in my arms and to finally look into the face of someone with whom I shared a resemblance—someone who shared my DNA.

That moment of becoming a mom was profound and life-changing beyond measure. Not only did he fill a void within me—his very existence gave my life purpose and meaning. I always dreamed of becoming a mom, and I remember promising him the world in that moment of first meeting him. He provided me with an opportunity to love someone unconditionally and to feel some of that love in return.

The desire to create a family or a life you feel you never had is a common theme among children, teens, and adults who have experienced foster care or adoption. Young people who have had very little in life to call their own—along with a distorted sense of self worth—may develop a belief that their body is the only thing of value they have to give, rather than seeing it as something worth protecting. This may lead them to search for love and connection anywhere they think they might find it, which can involve potentially risky and reckless behaviors.

Tips for talking with your child or teen about sex

As a mom of tween and teen boys, I am not an expert on talking to kids about sex, nor would I ever claim to be. However, I strongly believe in talking to kids about it and starting at an early age and in age-appropriate ways. Due to some experiences in my own life and what I have learned in my work as a volunteer sexual violence crisis counselor throughout the past 11 years, it has always been important to my husband and me to talk to our kids about sex and relationships. Included on the list below are suggestions and some of the ways in which we have attempted to help prepare our sons for their future relationships:

  • Starting early. We started having the “good touch, bad touch” talk with our oldest son when he was around 3 or 4. At this point, he knew the concept of right vs. wrong and had an awareness of his body to the extent that we could talk with him on a very basic level about which body parts were inappropriate for other people to see or touch, who is allowed to see those body parts, and in what context would it be appropriate for them to do so (i.e., his pediatrician while doing a check-up exam at an appointment—and only when Mama and Papa are in the room, etc.). These discussions usually occurred during bath time.
  • “No” means “no”, and “stop” means “stop”. This is a message we have tried to instill in our sons in various ways throughout the years, starting from when they were very young (around 3 or 4 years old). For example, if we were having a tickling match, the moment someone said “stop”, we would be hands-off—everyone would stop, and we were done. Now that the boys are older (they are now 11 and 14), they do know what sexual violence is and they understand the importance of respecting their partner, their partner’s body, and their partner’s right to say “no” or “stop” at any time and at any point during their relationship.
  • Teaching respect and acceptance. Respect for themselves and for others is something we have always worked to instill in our sons. This has included discussions of the right to say no to things like sex, peer pressure, etc., and the right to make decisions for themselves, regardless of what others may think. We talk regularly about embracing diversity and everything that makes us unique and treating all people with respect and kindness. These discussions include topics of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.
  • Talking openly about love and relationships. Both of the boys have each had their first girlfriends (and, yes, my head did explode when that happened!), and we have used those opportunities to talk about things like what love is and what love isn’t, what it means to love and respect your partner, the ups and downs of relationships, what it means to be in love with someone, what an equal partnership should look like, etc. Because they are at an age where they can easily be embarrassed when talking about girlfriends, we try to do so in a way that is respectful, lighthearted (but not teasing), doesn’t make a big deal out of it, and doesn’t shame or embarrass them for choosing to be in a relationship. My husband and I have also made it a point to show our sons what love and a healthy relationship can look like. We share in responsibilities as a family. My husband and I are affectionate towards each other (in appropriate ways), and we don’t attempt to hide it from the boys. We screw up. We argue. We break down. We get back up. We apologize to each other and to our sons (because parents get it wrong and need to apologize, too). We support each other in our decisions and we back each other up as parents and as partners. We work through our issues together whenever possible, and we try to support each other through all of the ups and downs of life.
  • Talking about sex. The boys have known about sex for a while, through friends at school and from what we have discussed with them at home. We started talking to them about sex a couple of years ago, and we tried to keep the initial discussion pretty lighthearted. (Let’s just say it may or may not have included one of us singing part of the chorus of “2 Become 1” by the Spice Girls.) It has always been important for my husband and me to not stigmatize sex or make it feel shameful to our sons or something they need to hide from us or be embarrassed about. They know it is something that is completely natural and an experience that people who are in love can choose to share with each other. We have talked about the importance of waiting until they and their partners are ready. Both of the boys have expressed interest in girls, but they are well aware of the fact that we will love and support them regardless of who they choose to love. They know about the importance of protecting themselves and their partners when they have sex. We have also discussed pregnancy and the importance of accountability and helping to raise and support their child, should they become fathers before they have found a life partner. I am sure there will be many more discussions about sex, sexual safety, and related issues, but we are thankful to have reached a point with the boys where talking about it feels fairly normal for all of us (something we have been known to do over a plate of spaghetti at dinner). As a general rule, we try to keep things pretty light in our home, because that is what works for our family. It has always been important for us to avoid fear-based, judgmental, or shaming language or tactics when talking about sex with our sons. Rather than focusing the discussions on what we feel is morally right or wrong, we attempt to keep the focus primarily on the physical and emotional safety of our sons and their future partners. Whether we like it or not, the decision of whether or not to have sex and when they feel ready to do so will ultimately be up to our sons and their future partners. It is inevitable and we have always felt that it is our job as their parents not to shame them or judge them or put the fear of God in them with regard to sex—the best thing we can do for them and for their future partners is to prepare them so that they are able to make safe, responsible, respectful, mature, loving, and informed decisions when they each choose to take that step in life.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and what has worked for my family won’t necessarily work for yours. In fact, the purpose of this post was only to encourage you to talk to your kids about sex and, whenever possible, to do so in an open, honest, loving, and nonjudgmental way. I also hoped to share that talking with your kids about sex doesn’t have to be mortifying or embarrassing or cringe-inducing for you or for your kids.

In my opinion, the absolute best example of “The Talk” that I have ever seen was on Friday Night Lights in the season 3 episode titled, “The Giving Tree”. The conversation takes place between Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) and her daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden), after Tami learns that her daughter is sexually active. One of the many things I love most about the conversation Tami has with her daughter is that, even though she already knows that her daughter is having sex, she approaches the conversation in an unassuming and non-accusatory way. She doesn’t focus on what she feels is morally right or wrong and she doesn’t shame her daughter for the choices she has made—her primary focus is on the physical and emotional safety of her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend. I also really loved that Tami makes sure her daughter knows that she has the right to say no at any time and that, if the relationship doesn’t work out, she should not feel obligated to have sex with any of her future partners. She also encourages her daughter to be open to talking with her about anything—even something as difficult to talk about as sex. It is so good that I am going to conclude this post with a transcript of the conversation. I hope you will find it as helpful and thought-provoking as I have and be able to draw inspiration from it for conversations with your own children.

TAMI: So, um, do you love Matt?

JULIE: I love Matt.

TAMI: Does he love you?

JULIE: Matt loves me.

TAMI: He does… And, what about birth control?

JULIE: Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.

TAMI: Hun, that’s the conversation.

JULIE: Yes, we’re using birth control.

TAMI: What kind specifically?

JULIE: Condoms…we’re using condoms.

TAMI: Do you know how to use them properly?

JULIE: Yes, I know how to use them.

TAMI: You know you have to use them every time, because you know sometimes boys try to tell you—

JULIE: Yes, Matt’s really good about it.

TAMI: And, you know, just because you’re having sex this one time, doesn’t mean that you have to all the time. And, you know if it ever feels like he’s taking you for granted, or you’re not enjoying it, you can stop anytime… And, if you ever break up with Matt, it’s not like you have to have sex with the next boy necessarily. [Starts to tear up.]

JULIE: Why are you crying?

TAMI: Because I wanted you to wait. But, that’s just because I want to protect you because I love you, and I want to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you. And, I always want you to always be able to talk to me, even if it’s about something so hard like this.

JULIE: I didn’t want to disappoint you.

[Tami shakes head and hugs Julie.]

Dear Subway Station Baby

I will never know the truth of what happened when I was abandoned in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea over 30 years ago. I struggle often with recognizing my value and my worth in this world. I have often wondered about the people who saw me and heard my cries, but chose to do nothing. I wonder if it would have made a difference in my perception of my worth and my view of the world had someone shown me love and compassion in that moment when I truly needed it the most. This letter is written from the perspective of that one person who saw me that day and has lived with the guilt of making that fateful decision to walk away.

*****

Dear Subway Station Baby:

I don’t know your name. I don’t know if you survived or where you ended up in the world. I don’t know anything about you, but I will never forget your face.

I saw the fear and confusion and grief in your eyes when you watched as the only life you knew walked away and left you behind to face the world alone. I saw you crying out in loneliness and despair, yearning for the familiar embrace you knew in your heart you would never feel again. I watched as you began to build the walls to protect the broken pieces of your heart as the world turned its back on you. My heart broke with yours the moment you realized how little you were valued…how little you seemed to matter to the world. I saw as you tucked away those feelings of worthlessness and grief, vowing to carry them with you always…not yet knowing the profound impact those feelings would have on the entire trajectory of your life and how they would shape the very foundation of the woman you would become.

I watched you shrink away as you began to fear the world…as you realized that even the people who were supposed to love you couldn’t be trusted. I watched you grow quiet as your cries went unheard. I watched as you fought to hold onto some semblance of hope…as you fought against the forces that attempted to harden your heart. I watched as you struggled to continue shining your light as the darkness surrounded you.

Would your life have somehow been different had I taken you in my arms the moment I saw you? Would you have been able to see the world in a different light had I comforted you when I heard your cries? Would you have built the walls around your heart if I had protected you…if I had somehow made you feel safe? Would the broken pieces of your heart have formed a stronger bond had you felt the warmth of my embrace and listened as I told you how much you were loved…how much you were wanted? Would you have lived your life believing in your worth if I had held you and told you how much you mattered to this world? Would you have held onto hope if I had told you that you were brought into this world for a reason…that your life had meaning and purpose? Would you have learned to be kind to yourself had I shown you compassion and kindness when you needed it the most?

I know I don’t deserve to know what became of you, but I want you to know that your cries have haunted me since that day I chose myself over you. I was in a rush to go nowhere, and I couldn’t be bothered with wasting a minute of my time on comforting your cries…on making sure you were safe. I chose to turn my back on you in your darkest hour. I know I don’t deserve to say these words to you, but I need to find a way to bring you comfort and a way to forgive myself, even if this is 30+ years too late. I will never forgive myself if I don’t tell you what I have always wished I had done for you…the comforting and loving words I wish I had shared with you that day.

I remember watching in horror as she held you close one last time, kissing your tiny cheeks, and hurrying away, barely able to breathe or see through her tears. She ran as quickly as her legs would allow, knowing she wouldn’t have the strength to leave you if she saw your sweet face again. As I turned my attention back to you, I saw that you had bruises around your eyes and your face had become red and swollen from the intensity of your cries. In that moment, I chose to turn my back on you…I chose to do nothing. I often think back on that moment with heartbreaking regret.

I chose to run away from you when I should have run towards you. I wish I had held you in my arms and comforted your cries. I wish I had shielded you from the cold, harsh realities of the world and told you that everything would be okay. I wish I had looked at your sweet face, riddled with bruises and stained with tears, and told you how beautiful you were. I wish I had told you that you would never be alone and that you were safe. I wish I had held you close to my heart and told you how cherished and loved you were. I wish I had been there to hold the tiny pieces of your heart together as the world fell apart around you. I wish I had held your tiny hand and told you how much you mattered to the world…how much you mattered to me. I wish I had reminded you of your worth as you grieved the loss of everything you once knew. I wish I had fought beside you as life tried to take away your hope…as the darkness tried to steal your light. Though I didn’t know you, I wish I had told you in that moment of my hopes and dreams for you…I wish I had given you something to hold onto in that moment when you lost everything. I wish I had been strong enough to show you that, while some people in your life will leave you, there will always be someone who will choose to stay.

I wasn’t the one who left you, but I made the choice to do nothing at a moment in your life when even the smallest ounce of compassion could have made a world of difference for you. I failed you in that moment, and I will carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life. I will always regret never telling you how much you mattered or taking the time to show you that your life had value. I will always regret depriving you of the opportunity to know your true worth when you needed to be reminded of it the most. I will always regret doing nothing.

I failed to show you how much you mattered to me that day, but I need you to know that even though I don’t know your name, you have made a profound impact on my heart and in my life. I need you to know that I have carried your tiny footprints on my heart ever since that day…ever since that moment when I chose to walk away.

Signed With Deep Regret,

The One Who Walked Away

 

“The Spoon Theory” and Understanding Trauma

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and as someone with a chronic autoimmune disease, I never thought of The Spoon Theory as anything but a metaphor for what it was like to live with an illness. I have been trying to find ways to better understand the traumatic experiences in my life, the trauma that people I work with have experienced, and what it is like to live with someone who has experienced trauma. I reread this the other day—with the experience of trauma in mind—and I really think this is helpful in gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to live with trauma.

The basic premise of The Spoon Theory is that everyone starts each day with a certain number of spoons. For most people, they are able to get through their morning routines without depleting their supply of spoons. However, for people who live with chronic illness, the weight of traumatic experiences, mental illness, etc., the act of simply getting out of bed and completing each step in their morning routine can feel extremely laborious and can cause the rapid depletion of their supply of spoons. If you have used up half of your spoons before even getting the kids off to school or before you have even made the drive to work, it is a struggle to figure out what you can realistically handle throughout the rest of the day. If you have meetings all day, you may not have the energy to make dinner when you get home. If you happen to have enough spoons to make dinner, you may not have any spoons left to clean up from dinner. You may not have enough spoons to make sure the kids get their baths that evening. Every decision you make and every battle you choose each day can make a monumental difference. The same goes for children who have experienced trauma. The rough mornings weigh on them as much as they weigh on us as parents. They may not have put their dishes in the sink, but they got out of bed and they are on their way to school, and some days, that has to be enough. When they have a day when they are really feeling the effects of the trauma they have experienced, they may not have the energy to verbalize what is going on with them and they may end up acting out, or say hurtful things, and really struggle with regulating themselves and controlling their impulses more so than usual. Every parent has days where they just can’t do it, and that’s okay. It makes us human. It’s important to also understand that kids have those days, too. They need to know that it’s okay to not be okay.

If you have some time, please take a few minutes to read The Spoon Theory with your experiences and your child’s experiences in mind. It may offer you really great and life-changing insight into what you, your child, and your family is going through. And, don’t forget that there are numerous communities of people—online and in-person—who have experienced foster care and adoption who understand and may have extra spoons to offer you—especially on the days when life is overwhelming and you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

The Importance of Learning with an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When I started working in the adoption world over 8 years ago, I was in a very different place in my life. I was a young wife and mother of a toddler and an infant, and I had never allowed myself to explore what it truly meant to be an adoptee. In my years of working in the field of adoption, I have had the opportunity to do a lot of introspection, to grow my passion for something that I live and breathe, and to grow in my understanding of the complexities of child welfare and adoption. The one thing I have found the most fulfilling has been learning from parents, youth, and young adults who have experienced foster care and/or adoption.

I have seen adoptive families struggle due to the lack of resources and support. I have heard stories of parents who are unable to sleep at night because their child is threatening to kill them and have already caused them great harm. I have heard from parents who share of the heartbreak of learning that their child perpetrated on another child in their family. I have heard stories of parents who have driven all over the state to find help for their child only to be disbelieved or turned away due to the lack of funding and resources. Too many families are struggling, and these issues are seen across the board—especially in foster care and international adoption.

Because I have not been in their shoes, I cannot fully speak to the thoughts, feelings, or struggles of adoptive parents. But, I can say that I have learned a great deal from them, and I feel that what I have learned has truly enriched my work and my understanding of the impact that the adoption journey can have on parents and families. Just as I know it can be difficult to hear adoptee perspectives, it can be equally as difficult to hear from adoptive parents. While I have heard parents say many wonderful things about their children, I have also heard parents talk about wanting to give up. I have heard them talk about not being able to understand their children. I have heard some say that they wish they had never adopted. These are incredibly difficult messages to hear—especially for someone who struggles with issues of loss and abandonment—but they are messages that I feel I NEED to hear.

I realize that it is easy to develop the impression from what I have shared through my blog that parents aren’t doing enough or that they are clueless. While this may absolutely be true for some parents, the fact of the matter is that I have seen parents fight with every fiber of their being for their children, and I have seen the incredible struggles that a number of parents have endured throughout their adoption journeys. I have seen parents who are eager to learn and want so much to understand their children who were not born to them—a number of whom have experienced a great deal of loss and trauma in their lives.

I won’t ever speak for other adoptees who are sharing their voices, as I can only speak for myself. I am not someone who shares her story to blame or shame anyone. I have a great respect for most adoptive parents—mainly because I have seen the impact this journey can have on them as well. When I share my story and the lessons I have learned through working in the adoption world, I do so in an effort to inform, inspire, and encourage parents to grow in their understanding of their children and what their children may experience at some point throughout their adoption journeys.

I was never good at expressing how I felt as a child—mainly due to the respect and love I had for my parents and the overwhelming fear I had of losing them if I said something wrong or misbehaved. This was the way I was wired and the way in which I viewed the world, but it vastly differed from the reality of the life my parents had provided for me. By sharing my journey, I hope to inspire parents to have open conversations with their children and provide their children with the opportunities to safely share their thoughts on being adopted and allow them to grieve their losses and not minimize what they are feeling.

This journey was never meant to be easy, but I want to share that there IS hope. I want to encourage you to celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they may be. I want to encourage you to keep learning and keep your minds and hearts open to the messages being shared—even when it hurts to do so. I want to encourage you to laugh and find joy in this journey—even when it feels like you have lost yourself and any morsel of hope you once had. It is okay to seek support from other parents and to seek help when needed. I urge you to not feel as though you are failing your child. Your willingness to open your mind and your heart to the perspectives of other members of the adoption triad in an effort to gain a better understanding of what your child might be going through may truly make a world of difference for your family.

The Anatomy of a Journey Shared

When I started working in the adoption world a number of years ago, a good friend and mentor forewarned me of the possibility that my adoption issues might come to the surface as a result of the work. At that point, I had not yet developed an understanding of the issues, and refused to allow myself to view any aspect of my adoption journey in a negative light. Of course, I was more than aware of the struggles I had faced as a child and the hell I had put my family through as a teenager and young adult, but had long since come to terms with the fact that all of those things happened simply because I was “a bad person with lots of issues”.

The idea to start blogging stemmed from an overwhelming need to tell my story—to tell my truth. My adoption issues had, indeed, hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was in dire need of a way to productively deal with those issues. Writing had always been a passion of mine, so it only seemed natural to use writing as my chosen outlet. My hope was, by sharing my story and my experiences, that I might be able to reach adoptive parents and potentially help them gain a better understanding of their children. I had also hoped to connect with other adoptees in the process.

My first post written specifically for my blog was “Loss” (the other two posts had been written months prior). I experienced a number of flashbacks as I allowed myself to remember what it felt like to be a child who had been abandoned and adopted. I allowed myself to feel the loss and the fear of abandonment and the grief. I allowed myself to shed the tears I had held back for so many years. I cried for that child who had been so loved but never felt worthy of that love. I cried for that child who had always felt so much but understood so little. As I began to write, the words seemingly poured out of my fingers so quickly that it felt as though the story had been waiting for years to be shared. I remember the feeling of my heart beating out of my chest as I proceeded to share that first post.

Each time I posted to my blog, I went through a very painful—yet liberating—process of allowing the repressed memories to come to the surface and allowing myself to verbalize the pain, the grief, the heartache, the anger, and every other bottled up emotion I could possibly feel with regard to how I came to be adopted. Many a tear was shed as I poured my heart and soul into sharing my journey. While sharing my story was extremely cathartic for me, the primary goal was always to help adoptive parents gain a better understanding of their children and the issues they may face along their adoption journeys.

Sharing one’s thoughts in a public manner is certainly not without its highs and lows. This blog has provided me the opportunities to connect with some really amazing members of the adoption triad, workers, and others touched by adoption—opportunities this introverted adoptee would not otherwise have had. Opposition has always been expected, and has most definitely been delivered in a variety of ways. Words can absolutely cut like a knife, so I can’t say it hasn’t stung a little and I certainly can’t say it hasn’t left me brokenhearted at times—especially when it involves something I have poured my heart and soul into doing. I didn’t make the choice to share my story because I thought it would be a fun or easy. I made the choice to do so because I felt it was the right thing for me to do. Though they may not always be easy to hear, those collective dissonant voices are an essential part of the adoption conversation. Knowing the complexities of adoption, it would be unreasonable for me to expect that we would all feel the same way about our adoption experiences.

The decision to take a break came at a point when blogging started to feel more like an obligation—rather than something that happened organically. I wanted to spend more quality time with my family and really step back to take care of myself and focus on some very necessary changes I needed to make in my life. While I truly missed blogging, that break was the first time in months where I truly felt like I could breathe, as it felt so incredibly liberating to not think about my adoption journey 24/7.

As I contemplate gradually easing back into the blogging world, I feel the need to share this to encourage an understanding of what truly goes into writing and maintaining such a deeply personal blog. I have shared on this blog my heart, my soul, and my very raw emotions. Not only have I shared my story—I have also shared bits and pieces of my family’s story—as they have always been such an integral part of my life. They didn’t ask to have that very personal information about our family shared with the world, but they have supported my decision to do so. I am sure there have been posts that have surprised, hurt, and angered them, and I know it has not been easy for them to support me through this process. But, they have never waivered in their love and support for me, because they understand how much it means to be able to share my journey with you and speak my truth.

As you read about my adoption journey, I ask that you attempt to do so with an open mind and an open heart. I hope you will continue to feel compelled to share your experiences, your opinions, and your thoughts (the good, the bad, and the indifferent) on the various stories and topics shared here. I want to thank you all for your time and incredible support. Though my posts will continue to be sporadic for a while, my hope is that you will continue to join me on this journey with a greater understanding of what it truly means to share my story with you.

An Adoptee’s Perspective: 15 Things Transracially Adoptive Parents Need to Know

1. Race and culture matter. My race and culture of origin are integral to my identity and will always be a part of me. Regardless of how much society claims to be colorblind, I will always be characterized and labeled by the color of my skin. Because I do not look like you, it is important for you to show me—through your words and actions—that being different is okay.

2. As a transracial family, our lives will change in ways we could never imagine. Be prepared that the perception of our family will completely change…as will our views of the world.

3. Honoring my race and culture of origin should not just be something that our family does on special occasions. It should be an integral part of our everyday lives as well. A few ways in which you can honor my race and culture on a daily basis are displaying photos or pieces of artwork that reflect my culture and ethnicity in our home, cooking ethnic meals, incorporating words from my native language into our everyday conversations, and reading cultural bedtime stories. Normalizing our efforts to honor my race and culture will make me feel a little less different and will help foster pride in who I am.

4. Prepare yourself for the possibility that your relationships with friends, family members, and others may drastically change due to prejudices you (and they!) never knew they had. You may need to examine who the people are in our lives and whether or not having them around will be more beneficial or detrimental to our family.

5. I should not be used as the bridge into my racial or cultural communities of origin—it is your responsibility to be that bridge for me. As a transracially adoptive parent, it is imperative that you provide opportunities for me to learn about and grow my connections with my racial and cultural communities of origin.

6. Nobody is expecting you to be the perfect transracially adoptive parent, and you absolutely cannot do it alone. It truly takes a village to raise a child who has been adopted transracially. It is important to accept the things you do not know about my race and culture of origin. Rather than seeing that lack of knowledge as a shortcoming or failure, try to view it as an opportunity to learn with me. Use every opportunity possible to involve our entire family when learning about my race and culture of origin. In doing so, you will be forming a stronger bond with me and helping me feel like an important part of our family.

7. Know that there will be times when you will need to step out of your comfort zone to provide me with the opportunities I need to learn about my race and culture. Spending time in places where YOU are the minority should be an integral part of being a transracially adoptive parent. Interacting with and forming relationships with people who look like ME, but don’t look or act the way YOU do, is an absolute must. Remember that my journey takes me outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. I need for you to be willing to take a walk in my shoes and weather those storms with me.

8. If we do not live in a diverse area, and are financially able to do so, you may want to consider moving to an area that is more ethnically and culturally diverse, or an area that reflects my racial and cultural identity. If we are unable to relocate, or if we have significant ties (work, family, etc.) to the community in which we currently live—it may be necessary to drive an hour or two (or more!) to provide me with the opportunities to interact with and learn from people who look like me. It is imperative that you make every effort possible to provide me with these experiences.

9. Though on vastly differing levels, privilege exists within every racial and cultural community. Transracial adoption can be unique in the sense that it can provide people with differing levels of privilege within their racial and cultural communities the opportunity to occasionally see the world through the eyes of someone with racial and cultural experiences very different than their own. As a result of this privilege, a certain level of racism and prejudice exists in all communities. One important thing to keep in mind is that your level of privilege changes within your racial and cultural community when you are not with me. I, however, do not have that luxury, as your community will always view me as different, and my level of privilege within that community will always be different than yours.

10. Even though it is the PC thing to say, we do not live in a colorblind world—we live in a color aware world. While most people are accepting of different races, there are people who view the world differently and have very ignorant and close-minded beliefs when it comes to race. It is inevitable that I will experience racism at some point in my life, and it is important that I know how to handle those situations. By externalizing racism, you are teaching me that racism isn’t about me—it is about the ignorance of others who do not understand.

11. Remember that I am learning how to tell my story from you. I am learning how to deal with racism and prejudice from you. While you absolutely need to do what you can to protect me from potentially racist situations, it is also important to occasionally answer the questions about my race—if you feel it is safe to do so. These situations can sometimes become opportunities for others to help instill in me a great sense of racial and cultural pride.

12. Know that my racial and/or cultural identity may change at some point in my life. There may be times in which I will reject the racial identity you are working so hard to develop. It is important for you to lay the groundwork for me, but also allow me to explore and develop my racial identity in my own way. There are so many things that are out of my control when it comes to adoption. One thing I can—and should be allowed to claim ownership of—is my racial identity.

13. The greatest amount of scrutiny I will experience will most likely be from members of my own racial and cultural communities. Being rejected by members of my racial and cultural communities is one of the most painful forms of rejection one could ever experience. There is a great likelihood that I will be told that I am not “Black enough” or “Asian enough” at some point in my life. I should not have to prove that I belong or feel that I am less than by members of my racial and cultural communities. There are many losses in adoption, but the loss of my racial and cultural identity is one that can and should be avoided at all costs.

14. It is important to take great care in not losing yourself in the process when honoring my race and culture. While you won’t necessarily be able to teach me about my culture, you can and should teach me about yours. As a multicultural child, I will have so much more to offer the world.

15. Transracial parenting is not easy. There will be struggles and there will be triumphs. Do the best you can with the resources you have available to you, and never lose sight of your goal of raising me with racial and cultural pride. Every effort you make to honor my racial and cultural identity will make a difference in my life, and you will be surprised with how much you will learn about yourself and others along the way!

Guest Blogger Series: Dawn Hayden ~ Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption

When Dawn contacted me earlier this year in response to my call for guest bloggers, I was excited about the opportunity to work with her on her story. I have to say that I am a huge fan of her humor and sarcasm! Dawn is an amazing person who is so full of life and love for her husband and children, and it is an absolute pleasure to share her story with you!

~ Christina

******

“Fertility, Infertility, and Adoption”

I never wanted children growing up—mainly due to all of the babysitting jobs I had. I sometimes think I cursed myself into making my body unable to reproduce. The doctors told me I would never be able to have children of my own, but I’m sure he never had a patient like me!

By the time I turned 30, I was overwhelmed with the urge to become a mother. Miraculously, I became pregnant! The baby’s father and I were so excited and quickly started planning for our baby. We picked out names, colors for our baby’s room, etc. The excitement diminished as quickly as it started when, at my second appointment, the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat and I was told that I would inevitably miscarry. A part of me died inside that day. Unless you’ve been through it, one can never imagine the pain and heartache that consumes a mother when she loses a baby she was never able to meet.

My relationship was not able to survive the loss, but I would soon discover that it was a blessing in disguise. When I met the man I call my best friend, I learned to live again, and life was really good. We married in 2001 and began the process of trying to conceive. We endured eight IUI treatments and two years of longing for a child that slipped further from our reality with each failed IUI treatment. One day, our fertility specialist recommended that we try IVF. It sounded wonderful, but the fact that it costs $12,000 for one cycle (with no guarantees), we knew that it wasn’t for us.

At this point, we decided to look into adoption. Determined to become a mother, I knew immediately that we were meant to grow our family this way. My husband, on the other hand, took some convincing! After countless discussions and a lot of tears, we started on the road to adopting a child from China.

We found a small agency in our state and completed seemingly endless amounts of paperwork. The day we had to go to our local police station to be fingerprinted was a really difficult day for me. Up to this point, we had people writing letters about our character, we had every cupboard in our house inspected, and had to endure strangers making decisions and judgments about whether or not we should be allowed to be parents to a child who needed a family. We had been through so much, but the experience of having to walk into the police station, amidst pictures of criminals and missing persons posters really upset me. Having to get police clearance to become a parent when women all over the world were giving birth to children every day without ever seeing the inside of a police station was humiliating and heartbreaking. It made me feel like I wasn’t a whole person—like I was a failure as a woman because I couldn’t bring a baby into this world.

We went through the process and created a dossier that was sent to China. My husband and I are both Caucasian, but we were really drawn to China as the country from which we wanted to adopt. We knew our limitations of what we felt we could handle as parents, and felt we had made the right decision. When we received our referral in June of 2004, we were given two weeks to get ready and make arrangements to welcome our child into our home. I was going to be a mommy for the first time in my life!

We traveled to China with a wonderful group of people—5 other families in all. We quickly bonded with the other soon-to-be parents, as we were all embarking on the journey to meet our children. The 24-hour flight was arduous at best, but knowing that we were hours from meeting our daughter kept me going. Our daughter was almost ours!

After four hours of rest following our flight, we boarded a small, incredibly hot bus and drove ten miles to the Nanchang Civil Affairs offices. It was now July and unbearably hot in China.

Knowing our daughter was in the building, my feet couldn’t move fast enough! I could hear babies crying, and felt the tears running down my face. We were told to listen for our child’s Chinese name—a name I had memorized a million times over and imprinted on my heart. The moment we heard our daughter’s name—Xing Quanying—time stood still. Her nanny placed her in my arms. She was crying due to the heat, the long bus ride to the Civil Affairs Office, and from fear of not knowing who we were.

The moment my little Chloe was placed in my arms, the part of me that died all those years ago awakened and I felt more alive than ever before. I thanked God for finally giving us our daughter. She was everything I imagined and so much more. I thanked God for my infertility, as those struggles led us to our daughter—a daughter who was always meant to be ours.

I pray for my daughter’s birth mother often—this woman living halfway around the world who gave me back my soul with her incredible sacrifice. I will always have empathy for her, and will think of her often. I pray that she is at peace with the decision she made that has forever changed our lives. My daughter will always be a part of her, and she will always be a part of our lives and in our hearts.

Hayden Pictures

******

Dawn and her husband, Michael, adopted their two beautiful daughters, Chloe (9) and Mahri (6) from China in 2003 and 2006. Chloe and Mahri attend Chinese Immersion School and are both at the top of their class! Dawn is thankful for the infertility struggles that brought Chloe and Mahri into her life!