Tuesday, September 10, 2019

To the Hopeful Adoptive Mom Who Has Ever Wondered Who She Is

Hey, Mama-to-Be.

Or is that right?




Have you ever wondered, as you wait to adopt, who you are? I know I mulled over that very question over the course of a decade and four adoption journeys.



Who are you? 

Are you an expectant mom? A Hopeful Adoptive Parent, known as a HAP in adoption circles? Are you a mom-to-be? 

You have all these conflicting feelings. You are excited, nervous, terrified, anxious, joyful, impatient, and elated. One minute you are certain the call (you know, THE call) will come any moment. The next minute, you are desolate, certain you will never become someone's mother.

Then you're picking out baby names. Then you cry. A lot. You obsess over the other hopeful parent adoption profiles online, comparing yourself to them. Then you decide you need to re-do your profile book ASAP. But then you don't. 

You need reassurance. You need to be left alone. 

You have the heart of a mother, but you don't have a child in your arms. You've been preparing a room for the child you have yet to meet. 

Who are you?

You have a what-if, maybe-baby. You have no idea when he or she will arrive. What he or she will look like. You may not know the child's race or level of special needs. 

You're preparing for everything and anything. It's confusing, tumultuous, and uncertain. You're on a journey with no map, no rest stop, and no finish line.

Who are you? 

You have a thousand questions. You wonder about having a baby shower. You might be curious about adoptive breastfeeding. You browse stores for tiny clothing--but when you think about purchasing, you feel guilty and scared.

You are so tired of the inquiries asking if you've "heard anything." Because you are so desperate to be able to say "yes," but you cannot. Because you haven't heard anything except the racing thoughts in your own mind.

Who are you? 

You're tired of getting baby shower and gender reveal party invites. There are adorable babies everywhere. Literally. Around every single corner. You wonder, when is it my turn? Where is my baby?

You question everything that's led you to adoption. Perhaps that's infertility, or disease, or miscarriage, or disability. You wonder, why? Why me? And, why not me?




Who are you?

You experience jealousy. You feel overlooked. You feel thankful that adoption is an option to build your family. You feel angry at yourself for feeling jealous and overlooked. 

You pray for your future child and his or her expectant parents. You pray for yourself: for peace, patience, and wisdom. You pray for grace, for all. 

Who are you?

You are a REM, sister. A Real Expecting Mom. (I cover that, in detail, here.)

You are allowed to have feelings. Conflicting feelings, big feelings, strange feelings. 

You are allowed to need help. Go to counseling, meet with your adoption support group, speak openly with your partner, family, and friends. Seek solace in your online adoption community.

You are allowed to ask questions. Questions yield answers that prepare you for motherhood-by-adoption.

You are allowed to be authentic. To anticipate.

You are allowed to grieve the failed adoptions.

You are allowed to fall in love with a baby who isn't yours.

Waiting to adopt is exhausting, trying, and scary. It's part of the journey. There is no way around it. 




You will feel and experience a lot in these days, weeks, months, and years of waiting. But remember, every single day you wait, as a REM, is a day closer to motherhood.

---

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

10 Things You Must Do If Your Child Is In the IEP or 504 Evaluation Process

Many of you are in the midst of having your child evaluated for an IEP or 504 right now. And I feel your pain. I've had the same "sweat and tears" many times. 

First, you know your child has something going on. Maybe multiple somethings. That alone is stressful, exhausting, disheartening, and confusing. The last thing any of us want is for our kids to suffer.

Second, the evaluation process is overwhelming. It's all new territory for many parents.



Our introduction into the world of 504s and IEPs started with adoption. Before we completed a fourth homestudy, we were required to take a class through DCFS (our state child and family services department). The only class available at the time was called "Educational Rights and Responsibilities." 

I readily admit, my attitude was absolutely terrible. I didn't want to sit through an all-day, Saturday class, learning about a topic I had zero interest in. 

But as the minutes and hours went on, and we learned all about special education services in our state, I began to perk up. By the time the class wrapped up, we were first in line to talk to the instructor. Because we had a child who seemed like these services might be appropriate. 

I've learned a lot, through research and experience, since the day we took that class. And I'm here to share that experience with you, hoping to make your journey a little less terrifying. In fact, I want you to be confident.




1: Get (and keep) everything in writing.


It's important to keep a running-record of the process. This includes any official documents, any e-mails between you and school staff, etc. Keep every single paper that comes home from school: from the nurse, homework, tests, notes from the teacher, etc. The more you have in writing, the better. You can refer back to these documents as needed, as well as have a collection of evidence (if things go south). It's also OK to ask for things in writing. One of the best tips I ever got from our educational advocate (see #5) was to follow up with in-person conversations via an e-mail, stating everything discussed and asking if there's anything they'd like to add or change to that conversation. (Now you have info in writing!)


2:  Audio record the meetings.


Give your child's team a heads up that you will be audio-recording the meeting. You can then go back and listen to the meeting again, catching what you missed. Again, this is also to your benefit. If things don't go well, the audio recordings can serve as proof of what happened.



3: Be assertive.


After reading #1 and #2, you might think I'm asking you to be aggressive, but that's not the case. When you're trying to find out if your child qualifies for a 504 or IEP, you must be assertive. You are your child's #1 advocate. This is not the time to be timid, uncertain, or polite. Of course, I'm not telling you to be a jerk. But you also need to become Mama Bear.


4: Keep a log of events.


This is something I wish I would have done from day #1. Create a Word document and then log everything. E-mail communication, a meeting or conference, a paper your child brought home, your child's grades, any incidents from school, etc. Log it all.  Is it time consuming? Yes. But it's not nearly as time consuming as trying to do it retroactively. 


5: Find an educational advocate.


Some states have FREE (yes, free) educational advocates that work on behalf of the parent or child. some will attend meetings with you, while others will communicate with you via phone and e-mail. They help you understand the process, your rights and responsibilities as a parent (and member of your child's educational team), and overall, feel supported. 



6: Seek support from experienced parents.


Other parents can be one of your best sources of information and support. Of course, you want to protect your child's story and struggles; however, you also need to work to be as educated as possible. You want the best possible outcome for your child.


7: Know your rights and responsibilities.


You should be given a document from your district explaining policies and procedures and your rights and responsibilities. And yes, it can be mind boggling. That's why you need other parents (#6) and an educational advocate (#5) to help you understand your rights and responsibilities. For example, you don't have to sign an agreement IN a meeting. There are allowances for time for you to consider the proposed outcome after a 504 or IEP meeting.


8: Be prepared.


Go into every interaction prepared. Have a list of questions or discussion points. Take copies of documents. And know your rights and responsibilities (#7) so you can ask for what you're entitled to.


9: Take a support person.


Meetings can be extremely overwhelming. They are fast-paced (talk about a time crunch!). Don't underestimate the power of discussing your child. You are IN this for your baby---which means your emotions can overpower your critical thinking at times. Having a support person with you is your right as a parent--and it can be helpful when you're discussing the meeting outcome afterward. 



10: Remember: you know your child best.


Yes, our kids can be different at school versus at home. However, a special need is a special need. You cannot ask too many questions. You cannot ask for too many explanations. You need to fully understand what's being proposed, evaluated, and considered.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Michelle Madrid-Branch Answers Your Parenting Adoptee Situations

She's back!

I'm so excited to have adoptee, mom-by-adoption and birth, and truth-teller Michelle Madrid-Branch here today. She's offering some heartfelt, experienced advice on what adoptive parents should do in certain situations they encounter with their adoptees.


And after you read, check out Michelle's brand new children's adoption book: Coco and Olive. You can also catch some riveting adoption essays over at the Quilt of Life and listen to her podcast.

Situation: An adoptee is questioned/made fun of by his/her peers for being in an adoptive multi-racial family.


MMB: This happened to my daughter just about three years ago. She was in 1st grade when another student told her that it was “awful” that she was adopted and that her “real” parents had left her. After speaking with my daughter, I went directly to the school principal. Not in anger, but out of concern. I saw this as an opportunity for awareness and education. The principal had both my daughter and her classmate to his office where he explained the heart of adoption and the beauty of family from all kinds of places and all different situations (multi-racial / multi-cultural). Each child also got to listen to the other as they shared their hearts and their feelings about what had occurred. There was forgiving and hugging. I then spoke to the mother of my daughter’s classmate. She cried on the phone. I told her that all was forgiven. I stressed how much we love her child and that the growth displayed in both our children far outweighed the moment that initiated it all. My daughter, through this hard moment, grew a stronger voice and a deeper awareness for adoption advocacy. She was only in 1st grade, but her wisdom was beyond her years. I learned in this moment, the power and importance of community. Young adoptees need to feel safe to express their feelings: at home, at school, and all points in between. Communication is key. This is a community-wide effort as we raise children who live within the skin of adoption, and within adoptive multi-racial, multi-cultural families. My biggest piece of advice: stay calm and look for the education opportunity. Make sure your child is okay and be the example of how to move through difficult conversations with empathy and grace. 


Situation: An adoptee is triggered by a particular adoption-themed (or simply an adoption topic that comes up in) book or movie.


MMB: This question triggers a distinct memory in me of being in my home country of Great Britain and taking my then five-year old son to a stage performance of The Lion King, in London’s West End. Ian (now 14) had been asking to see the live musical for quite some time. We were delighting in the performance when a song between Mufasa and Simba ignited a strong emotional response in my little boy. He started to cry from the deepest place within him. I gently picked him up and carried him into a quiet area of the theatre's lobby. I said, “Ian, can you tell me what you’re feeling, son?” He shook his head, no. “Ian, I am going to hold you in my arms and I want you to know that you are safe to cry as long as you need to. I love you. And, I love all those you are crying for inside of yourself, even if you cannot speak their names. They are with you and within you, son. And, it’s okay to feel and to cry. I’m not leaving. And, I’m proud of your incredible, sensitive heart.” I held Ian and let him move through what was obvious grief triggered by a song between a father and son in The Lion King. Adoptees will be triggered by so many things that they experience in the world. What’s most important is that they are heard and that we make the effort to understand, so that every adoptee can feel understood. My biggest piece of advice: you won’t always be able to foresee the things that may trigger an emotional response in your child-of-adoption. Just be ready to respond when the reaction occurs. Don’t make your child feel guilty, or ashamed, or bad for feeling what needs to be felt. Just listen. Hold them. And, let them know that you’ll always be there. 


Situation: An adoptee asks that parents refer to the child by the child’s BIRTH name vs. their current/legal name.


MMB: I have intimate experience with this question. My legal name is Michelle. It was the name given to me upon my adoption. My BIRTH name was JuliΓ© Dawn. Many times, growing up, I mourned my birth name. It was as if a part of me had been erased—taken without my consent. I never went back to JuliΓ© Dawn, but I did take back part of my birth father’s surname of Madrid. It was a legal change that, I’m sure, my adoptive parents struggled to understand. For me, it was liberating. It was done out of love for myself and the burning desire to live in my truth. My biggest piece of advice: I urge parents-by-adoption to listen and hear their children if they ask to be referred to by their birth name. Don’t take this personal. It’s not a rejection of you as their parent, or a diminishing of the love they hold for you. Have open and honest conversation and be transparent with each other. It’s my belief that keeping a child’s birth name (along with adding an adoptive name, if you choose) is a healthy approach. I’ve done that with both of my children: I’ve kept their birth names and woven in their adoptive names. I’d be happy and honored to refer to them in any way they feel is best for them. If you, as parent, know your child's birth name—and if you would like to add an adoptive name—please be ready to be open and receptive if your child decides that their birth name feels more “like home” to them. This is about identity. Truth-in-identity, for every adoptee, should be celebrated and embraced—always. 




Situation: An adoptee wants to refer to his/her bio parents as “mom” or “dad” and no longer by their first name or “birth mom” / “birth dad.”


MMB: My first thought in answering this very real and possible situation is to begin with a question: Why has it been acceptable (even encouraged) to use the term "birth mom / birth dad" but unacceptable (even discouraged) to say "adoptive mom / adoptive dad?" No judgment, but this is worthy of real, honest contemplation. I can only speak for myself here, as an adoptee, who has grappled with these terms over the course of my life. There seem to be so many rules that can keep the adoptee from finding his/her own sense of peace within his/her own adoption story. What each adoptee feels comfortable calling a first parent, should be a decision for the adoptee. Every adoptee should feel safe and secure in communicating this comfort level with the adults in their lives. As I coach adult adoptees, today, along the path toward healing, I often witness them struggling with finding a balance between the two worlds that they live in: biology and biography. It’s a struggle, all too often, rooted in guilt. We can help relieve this guilt by giving adoptees the permission to fully claim their stories, even down to the names of those within their stories. Please hear me when I say that birth mom and birth dad ARE mom and dad, and they have names. As an adoptee, referring to my birth mum as “mum,” felt right. She carried me in her womb and gave me life. She is and will always be my very first mother—no matter the circumstance that caused us to part. I don’t hold her in a higher place or with more love than my adoptive mother—my “mom.” I value my mothers equally. For me to lessen either of their value, in my eyes, would be akin to lessening my own sense of self-value. My biggest piece of advice: if the adoptee in your life desires to call a birth mom / birth dad by their first name, or by mom and dad—please, don’t make fists where open hands and open hearts should reside. In other words, don’t fight. Work to understand. Take ego out of the equation and let love rule. 

---

Say hello to Michelle on Facebook, Twitter, and Insta (whichever is your fave to use!) And catch me on Facebook, Twitter, and Insta, too!



Thanks to Michelle for the incredible book review of The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption! ^^^

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Multiracial Adoptive Family's Back-to-School Guide

I cannot believe our summer break is wrapping up, and my kids are headed back-to-school! Did your summer fly by like ours did? And how in the world is your back-to-school prep going? 







πŸ¦„ float. ☀️ hat. Summer life = good life. πŸ’™ If you would have told me 13 years ago that at my lowest low, in the ICU fighting for my life, that my future would hold four precious kids whom I was chosen to be their mom, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you would have told me I would be a WAHM, writing and speaking about adoption, race, faith, motherhood, and health, I would have laughed. If you would have told me that after adopting a fourth child, I’d have a mastectomy while my baby was still an infant, I would have been horrified. πŸ’™ God can turn things around in a split second. He has for me, time and time again. πŸ’™ What was your second chance? πŸ‘‡πŸ½πŸ‘‡πŸΎπŸ‘‡πŸΏ . . . #type1diabetes #breastcancersurvivor #secondchances #faithoverfear #whitesugarbrownsugar #adoption #multiracialfamily #chosen #summerbreak #summer #bigfamilylife #mom #writer #adoption #melaninpoppin #thursdaymotivation #throwbackthursday #thursdaythoughts
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This time of year always brings about anxiety and excitement for both parents and kids. For us, big changes are coming this year! Make sure to check in with me on Facebook and Instagram, where I'll share what's going on!

So, here we are. A fresh year. And if you're like me, your mind is going non-stop about all the details (school supplies, forms, adjustments) and the big issues that we're ALWAYS facing. Here's some of the issues multiracial and adoptive families are concerned with, and what we can do about them:




1: Connection.


It's so, so, so important for our kids to feel loved and secure. This, of course, stems from connection and attachment. When we understand concepts from The Connected Child and The Whole Brain Child (two of my favorite books!), we rightfully worry how connection is going to play out at school for our children. 

What do we do when our kids aren't with us? First, I think we work hard to connect with our kids before school and after school. We give them our eyes, ears, arms, and hearts. A family dinner or snack (no screens) can go a long way. Bedtime with cuddle and stories can also be helpful. And on the weekends, schedule one-on-one dates with your children. I'm also a big-believer in not over-scheduling children. Often, less is more, especially during the dreaded back-to-school adjustment period.

As far as while your children are at school. I have lots of friends who are educators. I believe that informing your child's teacher of your child's love language, "currency" (what motivates him/her), and a general description of your child's needs (trauma background?) can be helpful. Teachers have told me that more information is GOOD. They can't work with what they do not know! And check-in with the teacher often.


2: Names.


Giving teachers grace is important. They are overworked and underpaid. However, it's really important that they, in a timely manner, get our kids' names right. Your child should not have to shorten or alter their name in any way to make it "easier" for others. And no, not all Black kids look alike, so stop mixing them up!

Teach your child to respectfully correct people who mispronounce their name. The sooner they speak up, the better! 


3: Family projects.


Whether it's a basic biology lesson on how eye color or blood type is determined, or it's a project pertaining to one's family tree, race/ethnicity, or a timeline project, projects involving family can be complicated, hurtful, and humiliating for some kids.

If a project like this comes up, speak up. You can even share this article on why such family projects are problematic for adoptees (though not limited to adoptees). It is possible your child can alter the assignment to fit his/her situation; however, not all kids can or are comfortable doing so.  

Work with your child to see what he/she would prefer you do (or don't do) should an assignment or project come up this year.


4: Race.


Let's just get one thing straight right now. Colorblindness isn't real. Therefore, it does no one any good to live in some universe where we pretend it is. It's especially important that our children are seen for who they are. Celebrated and acknowledged.  

Teachers need to see race. They need to be inclusive. Conversations need to happen. 

I always like to donate items to my kids' classrooms that promote diversity. These include multicultural crayons, markers, or colored pencils, skin tone bandages, skin tone paper, and of course, books. You can offer to read to your child's class, choosing a diverse book or two. 


5: Adoption.


Yes, I tell my children's teachers that my kids were adopted. I also share about open adoption (because my kids will talk about their birth families). Lastly, I encourage teachers to ask me questions. This is a great adoption book to gift your child's teacher.

Do I share intimate, private details? Absolutely not. But I want to open the lines of communication, partnering with my child's teacher. Because adoption is an important part of my child's life. 

How do you share? Well, you can write an e-mail or have an in-person convo. You can also check-in mid-year to see how things are going. Donate adoption books the the classroom if your child is OK with it.