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.

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!

Adoption Quotes

In honor of National Adoption Month, I compiled a number of adoption-related quotes to use on my Facebook page. I love quotes, so in the event that some of you appreciate them as well, I thought I would share them with you. Enjoy!

*****

“If there is one thing motherhood has taught me, it is the fact that part of being a parent is experiencing heartache and knowing that you would endure it a million times over because your child is worth it. That’s how I feel about adoption. The system isn’t perfect, parents aren’t perfect, and children aren’t perfect, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop finding forever families for children and teens and it doesn’t mean that we should stop believing in the good things adoption has to offer.”—Christina Romo

*

“If a child is born and raised in a home that is loving and nurturing, where there is complete truth about who we are, you can’t give a child any greater place from which to fly.”—Amanda Bearse

*

“Adoption is not about finding children for families, it’s about finding families for children.”—Joyce Maguire Pavao

*

“How does it feel to be adopted? How does it feel to lose your birth parents, your medical history, your culture? As an adoptee, I experienced tremendous losses at a very early age. There is a void in my life that no amount of love or family could ever fill. Adoption gave me an amazing family who loves and supports me. My family gave me a place to call home. I will never say that I am “grateful” for having been adopted, because that means being grateful for the losses I have experienced, but I will say that I wholeheartedly believe in adoption.”—Christina Romo

*

“You are with your family because they are meant to be your family. Family is not based upon biological makeup alone. There are plenty of blood relatives who don’t get along. In fact, I probably get along better with my family than some of my friends (who are not adopted) do. Family is about love, and adopted children should be confident that their adoptive mother is their ‘real’ mother and their adoptive father is their ‘real’ father. The same goes for siblings.” —Adoptee, 17 years old

*

“Love is not a cure-all for an adoptee, but it’s a great place to start.”Christina Romo

*

 “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”—Oprah Winfrey

*

“There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.”—The National Adoption Center

*

“The adoption journey doesn’t end when your adopted child is finally in your arms. The journey is one that never ends. It is a journey filled with joy and it is a journey filled with heartache. It’s the realization of one dream and the loss of another. But, is adoption worth it? Absolutely.”—Christina Romo

*

“However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.”—Valerie Harper

*

“Adoption was a bumpy ride — very bumpy. But, God, was it worth the fight.”—Mariska Hargitay

*

“Though your child has experienced a tremendous loss, it is important to remember that, while we may have our unique needs and challenges, adoptees are not broken and should be loved, cared for, and treated as whole beings.”—Christina Romo

*

“Time and experience have taught me a priceless lesson: Any child you take for your own becomes your own if you give of yourself to that child. I have born two children and had seven others by adoption, and they are all my children, equally beloved and precious.”—Dale Evans

*

“Adoptive Mom? I am a Mom. I need no other label or prefix.”—Joanne Greco

*

“I really dislike hearing parents call their bio kids ‘my child’ and their adopted kids ‘my adopted child’. Children who were adopted are your children, too, and need no qualifiers.”—Christina Romo

*

“Adoptive Mom? I am a Mom. I need no other label or prefix.”—Joanne Greco

*

“Four Adoption Terms Defined

Natural child: Any child who is not artificial.
Real parent:  Any parent who is not imaginary.
Your own child: Any child who is not someone else’s child.
Adopted child:  A natural child, with a real parent, who is all my own.”—Pat Johnston

*

“People ask me, ‘What about gay adoptions? Interracial? Single parent?’ I say, ‘Hey, fine, as long as it works for the child and the family is responsible.’ My big stand is this: Every child deserves a home and love. Period.”—Dave Thomas

*

“They may not have my eyes, they may not have my smile, but they have all my heart.”—Unknown

*

“My birth mother brought me into this world, but it was my adoptive parents who gave me life.”—Christina Romo

*

“Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”—The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE

*

“Being adopted is having an abundant life, and more importantly knowing you are wanted.”—Sandy, age 17

*

“It has been said that adoption is more like a marriage than a birth: two (or more) individuals, each with their own unique mix of needs, patterns, and genetic history, coming together with love, hope, and commitment for a joint future. You become a family not because you share the same genes, but because you share love for each other.” —Joan McNamara

*

“Adoption has the dimension of connection-not only to your own tribe, but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties and family. It is a larger embrace. By adopting, we stretch past our immediate circles and, by reaching out, find an unexpected sense of belonging with others.”—Isabella Rossellini

*

“I think adoption is a blessing all around when it’s done right.”—Hugh Jackman

*

This isn’t really a quote, but being that today is my dad’s birthday, I wanted to post something to honor him. This is an excerpt of my blog entry, “What My Parents Did Right”. I have never been more proud of my parents than I am whenever I remember this conversation with my dad. I am so proud to be my parents’ daughter!

“When I think about what my parents did right, my thoughts go directly to a conversation I had with my dad years ago. I was nearing the end of my college years, and I was heavily into the notion of “saving the world”. My dad and I had just finished running an errand, and we were sitting in his car in my parents’ garage, finishing our conversation. The subject somehow switched to adoption, and my naïve, younger self told him that my husband and I wanted to adopt someday so we could give a child a chance at a better life. I had always assumed that was my parents’ reason for adopting, and I was shocked, at the time, by his response. He told me that he and my mom adopted my sister and me for “purely selfish reasons”. He went on to tell me that they adopted us solely because they wanted to add to their family and chose to do so through adoption. My “save the world” self didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I now look back on that conversation and could not be more proud of my parents. They went into adoption for all the right reasons. For them, it was never about “saving” a child—it was always about forming their family.”—Christina Romo

*

“When she looks in the mirror, we want our daughter to know herself. It’s hard to face the world when you don’t know where your face came from.”—Adoptive Parent

*

“By choice, we have become a family, first in our hearts, and finally in breath and being.”—Richard Fischer

*

“Love isn’t enough in adoption, but it certainly makes a difference. Tell me every day that I am loved—especially on the days when I am not particularly lovable.”—Christina Romo

*

“Parenting is a gift and a privilege.  Adoption has healed my heart, and renewed my faith.  Each day, I am inspired to be the best parent I can, by the simple fact that our children’s birthmothers and God have entrusted them to us.” —Sherra Buckley

*

“Needing to connect to one’s biology is so instinctive, that people when meeting your adoptive child will tell you, “Oh, look! She has your smile” or “Look, he has your beautiful hair,” knowing full well that there is no biological connection, but sensing the importance that your child needs to know that they look like someone.”—Adoptive Parent

*

“We must work tirelessly to make sure that every boy and girl in America who is up for adoption has a family waiting to reach him or her…This is a season of miracles, and perhaps there is no greater miracle than finding a loving home for a child who needs one.”—Bill Clinton

*

“Giving birth does not make a mother…Placing a child for adoption does not make her less of one.”—Unknown

*

“We look at adoption as a very sacred exchange. It was not done lightly on either side. I would dedicate my life to this child.”—Jamie Lee Curtis

*

“Our adoption journey will never end, and no matter how bumpy the road may be and regardless of where it may lead, the fact that we traveled this road together, will make all the difference.”—Christina Romo

Exploring the Great Divide in Adoption: Why You’re Not That Different

When I started working in the adoption world, it quickly became evident that there was a division between parents who have adopted internationally, domestically, and from foster care, as well as between the agencies and organizations providing support to them. This observation was further evidenced by one of the evaluations I received from the conference I co-presented at this past summer.

I presented a session that explored loss in adoption and its effect on relationships with one of my good friends and colleagues who adopted from foster care. The adoptive parent who wrote the evaluation stated that he would have preferred to hear the material from someone who was adopted from foster care. Considering the fact that I work for an organization whose main focus is on finding forever families for children in care, it wasn’t a huge surprise to encounter someone with this mindset. This comment really stuck with me, not in a negative way, but because I have had difficulties understanding why there must be such a dramatic division between adoptive parents, regardless of where their adopted child is from. I want to explore this division by just skimming the surface and attempting to make the argument that adoptive parents aren’t as different from each other as they have come to believe.

International (or Intercountry) Adoption

Historically, international adoption has been somewhat glamorized in the sense that there has been a long-standing belief that families spend tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to adopt “perfect” or “exotic” children from overseas. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna have even made international adoption somewhat fashionable. There is also a belief that parents who adopt internationally have a “pie-in-the-sky” view of adoption and are naïve in thinking that their children will be perfect because of the money they spent to adopt them.

Those involved with domestic and foster care adoption sometimes harbor animosity towards those who adopt internationally because of the hundreds of thousands of kids who need forever families here in the U.S. The fact of the matter is that there are kids all over the world who need families. When I was adopted, Koreans simply did not adopt outside of their bloodline, and it was something that was frowned upon. Being that I was a girl and not a baby, my chances of finding a family domestically were slim-to-none. I spent a year in foster care prior to my adoption, and my belief is that, had I not been adopted internationally, I most likely would have aged out of care.

Most of the internationally adoptive parents I have encountered adopt from other countries because 1) they want to add to their family, and 2) because they are aware that there are children everywhere—not just in the U.S.—who need families.  I have also spoken with a number of parents who choose to adopt internationally because of the overwhelming fear of the birth parents wanting their children back. While there are absolutely some very naïve internationally adoptive parents out there (as with any population of parent), a majority of my interactions have been with parents who are actually quite savvy and have a greater understanding of the issues than they are given credit for.

Most internationally adoptive parents are actually at a disadvantage due to full disclosure issues. A number of children available for adoption overseas either have little or no accompanying information (familial, medical, etc.), or the information they do have has been falsified or doctored. And some countries allow outgoing adoptions of only children with special needs.

An issue that a number of internationally adoptive parents encounter is the lack of post-adoption services. While there are many resources and support groups in the U.S. for adoptive parents, a number of them do not provide services to parents who have adopted internationally. The main reason behind the lack of services is that a number of the organizations and support groups available are funded through county, state, and federal grants that prohibit them from providing services to parents who have not adopted domestically.

I have also witnessed the “you-made-your-bed-now-lie-in-it” mentality projected towards parents who have adopted internationally. In the foster care adoption world, there can be a stigma attached to spending tens of thousands of dollars on adopting children from overseas. The belief is that if parents can spend that much on adopting a child, then they must also have the resources to fund the services to meet their child’s needs. The truth is, most internationally adoptive parents are middle class and a number of them have been able to adopt through grants and with the generous support of their friends, family, and community.

Domestic Adoption

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often those seeking infants to adopt. Historically, private domestic adoption was often done in secret, as there was a great stigma attached to the inability to bear one’s own children. You will often hear of adoptees who were adopted a number of years ago and found out about it very late in life, or they always knew and were not allowed to talk about it.

Private domestic adopters are parents who are more likely than the internationally or foster care adoptive parents to experience the potential heartbreak of being matched with a child whose birth mother changes her mind and decides to keep the child. The laws vary by state, but most states allow a period of time before an adoption can be finalized (it could be a number of days or months) in which an expectant parent can revoke their consent to adopt. State laws also acknowledge the birth father, in that he is allowed to seek custody of the child even after the adoption has been finalized if, for some reason, he never knowingly consented to the termination of his parental rights.

Parents who adopt domestically through private agencies are often viewed in a similar light as parents who adopt internationally. One of the noticeable differences is that they don’t have the added stigma of not having adopted a child from the U.S.

Foster Care Adoption

Due to the nature of the organization I work for, a majority of the interactions I have are with parents who have adopted from foster care and the agencies and organizations that support them. Currently, there are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., and over 100,000 are available for adoption, meaning the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated. Many of the children and teens available for adoption have spent a considerable amount of time in foster care and have experienced multiple placements. A number of these children and teens have special needs. When a child or teen is labeled “special needs”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have behavioral or physical limitations. Special needs can also refer to a child who is older, a child of color, or a child who is part of a sibling group who wants to be adopted together.

Parents who adopt from foster care do so in an effort to grow their family (as with any adoptive parent) and because they see the overwhelming need to find forever families for the children and teens in the U.S. While there are some initial costs involved with adopting from foster care, they are not nearly as great as those involved with adopting internationally or through private domestic adoption. The resources and supports are more readily available in the U.S. for parents who have adopted from foster care and for their children. Parents of children with considerable behavioral, physical, and medical special needs will often receive a monthly adoption subsidy to help offset some of the costs involved with meeting their child’s needs. These adoption assistance payments are generally very minimal and, while they are helpful to those who receive them, they often cover only a small fraction of the ongoing expenses involved with meeting the needs of these children.

Why You’re Not That Different

There are many reasons why adoptive parents are not that different, but a few of the main reasons are listed below:

  1. Loss. At the core of all adoption is loss. Every adopted child has experienced loss, regardless of where they were adopted from. The loss of one child is not necessarily greater or more relevant simply because they were adopted from foster care as opposed to internationally. It doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t work that way. The same goes for adoptive parents. All parents have their unique reasons for forming their family through adoption. All adoptive parents experience the loss of not having given birth to their child—it affects some more than others—but the loss is there. There are moments of pain and moments of happiness in all forms of adoption. The journey may have started differently, but every journey has its trials and tribulations. It is important for adoptive parents to understand that, while the adoption journeys are different, similar issues are prevalent in all forms of adoption.
  1. Core issues in adoption. There are 7 core issues in adoption—Loss, Rejection, Guilt/Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy & Relationships, and Control/Gains (Silverstein, D. & Roszia, S, 1982.) Parenting a child is not easy, and parenting an adopted child can be even more difficult! Most adoptive parents will experience at least some of these core issues at some point during their adoption journey. Some of these issues can be overwhelming, and the need for support in coping with these issues is critical.
  1. The need for resources and support. All adoptive parents need resources and support to help them along their journey. Questions arise at various points throughout a parent’s adoption journey. All adoptive parents need support from people who have been there—from people who understand.
  1. Identity. Adoption changes families, and it can change the way society views your family, especially those who adopt transracially and transculturally. Your traditions will most likely change to embrace your child’s race and culture. The people with whom you associate may change. These changes have the potential to be overwhelming, and the need for support and education will be great.

The pain of one adoptive parent should not be viewed as more significant or relevant than another. Rather than focusing only on the things that set you apart from other adoptive parents, focus on the similarities that can be used in supporting each other. I have seen the power of parent-to-parent support. I have seen the difference it can make when an adoptive parent who previously felt isolated and alone realizes that there are other parents who understand and are going through similar situations. Remember to rally around each other and celebrate the differences, but celebrate the things that unify you as well. You’ll find that you will feel much less isolated, and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn from adoptive parents you may not have previously turned to for support!