Tuesday, April 16, 2019

5 Things Your Adoption Agency Probably Didn't Tell You

Our adoption education wasn't great.  I'll be honest.

I thought the agency we had chosen would enlighten us.  Prepare us.  Give us Adoption 101.

But I was wrong.  

ALL of our education initially came from our determination to self-educate.  We met with families who had adopted, we read books, and we talked (a lot) about adoption.  Then came the experience of being parents.  As the years went on, more and more resources became available to us (thankfully!).

Unfortunately, to this day, when I share information about adoption, too many current and hopeful adoptive mamas are shocked at what I share.  And I wonder, why didn't their agency tell them this???



So today, I want to share with you five things I've learned that adoption agencies aren't regularly sharing:

1:  Open adoption is really freaking complicated.

Open adoption is often advertised by adoption professionals as a win-win-win (for the adoptive parents, adoptee, and birth family).  Everyone knows how the other is doing, there's ongoing communication, and the mystery of adoption is nearly eradicated.  It's perfect, right? 

Or maybe, you're feeling totally opposite.  You are terrified of open adoption because of what your agency HAS told you.  It sounds good, maybe even too good to be true, and you're not having it.

Well, open adoption, like everything in adoption, is complex.  There's nothing easy about it.   Yes, it can be beneficial,

2:  Cute babies of color become threatening in the eyes of society as they get older.

Adoption agency websites and brochures feature a diverse "cast" of babies, but the melanin-rich baby that society "oohs" and "ahhs" over today, is the preteen, teen, or young adult subject to America's racism tomorrow.  Even kids as young as toddlers can experience racism, such as the time my two-year-old son was called a "cute little thug" but an acquaintance. 




You need to be prepared to parent kids of color for the long-haul, which means a commitment to for a lifetime.

3:  Some adoptees will experience and express trauma.

Even babies adopted at birth can experience trauma, including if a birth mother had a challenging pregnancy from stress, substance usage, health struggles, etc.   Some adoptees state that the separation they experienced from their biological families (yes, even at birth) has caused them to feel broken, hurt, angry, and confused for much of their lives (or, it's surfaced in certain seasons, such as when they had a child themselves).   You can read some posts by adoptee Michelle Madrid-Branch here and here.

This is why many of us in the adoption community are pro adoption-education and pro attachment-parenting.  These two things, we believe, are vital to our children's well-being.  I highly recommend that parents read this book on attachment and trauma in the adoptee.  Because the more you know, the more you are able to help your child!  I also recommend this book written by an adoptee directly to those of us who adopt children.

4:  You must tell your child early and often that he or she was adopted.

I see posts regularly where a mom-by-adoption asks, "When should I tell my child that he's adopted?"

DAY ONE. 

Adoption should be a continual conversation in your home, not a one time talk or a big reveal.

Pray for your children's birth families nightly (and aloud), have photos of them in books or in frames, and have books about adoption for your child.  As the child gets older, you can consider an adoption support group for adoptees and an adoption-competent therapist. 

5:  You might experience post-adoption depression.

Many adoptive parents focus on the struggles a birth parent has after placing a child for adoption:  and rightfully so.   But what agencies don't always tell parents is that if you adopt, you can experience post-adoption struggles, including adoption. 

There's only one book on the subject, and I'll be honest, it's quite text-bookish.  This is why I wrote this relateable, conversational post on post-adoption depression.  I was floored by the number of comments and messages I receive from people sharing their stories of post-adoption depression. 

If you are hoping to embark on an adoption journey, get started with this guide.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Best Affirming Picture Books for Black Children

It's time.

Time for what?

It's time for you to add to your children's book collection!  

As I've shared in the past, it's very important for our children of color to see themselves and their Blackness be affirmed.  The world works really, really hard to tear our children down, so we work even harder to build them up! 

One of the best ways to do this is to have books in your home that tell your children that they matter.  That they can be the star of the show.  That they are magical and wonderful.   



Today, we're excited to share with you our top ten favorite children's picture books that affirm Black children.  If you click on the book image, you can read reviews and purchase if you wish:


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

To My Children I Adopted: I'm Sorry for the Mistakes I Made


It was in those earliest, sacred days that I failed my children the most.  

With our first child, strangers would take a peak in our stroller or baby carrier.  Their eyes would suddenly grow wide and they'd say, "Oh!"

They weren't expecting a child with smooth brown skin, deep brown-black eyes, and the tiniest afro.  

Then they would ask.  They would ALWAYS ask.  "Is she yours?"  "Are you a foster parent?"  "Why didn't you have your own kids?"  "Why did her real mom give her away?"  "Why didn't you adopt a white child?"  "What country is she from?" 

You know the questions.

And I'd tell those nosy strangers too much.  I'd entertain their nosiness and withstand their interrogations.  

I think part of it was my drive to be friendly.  I had a lot of experience in customer service before becoming a college teacher.  Talking to people is just what I did, and sometimes, I was talking to educate them.  My personality (I am my father's daughter) to conjure up an enthusiastic conversation with any willing person was doing more harm than good when it came to being a parent-by-adoption. 

We had been warned.  My cousins, parents-by-transracial-adoption, told us, "Once you put something 'out there,' you can never take it back."  We listened to them attentively and thankfully, but we didn't always remember their words when in the heart of a situation.  

It wasn't that I didn't respect my child's privacy or love their birth families.  It was BECAUSE I loved being a mommy to my little girl so much and was so honored to have been chosen by their birth families that I over-shared, in order to shed light on the beauty of adoption and my newfound motherhood.   

Later, of course, I learned that my children's stories were THEIRS and not MINE, and just because I shared in that story didn't mean I 100% owned it.  Ultimately, my story is mine, their story is theirs, with a lot of overlap.   

There were times I didn't speak up when a stranger would fondle my kids' hair.  Or the time a family friend said that my toddler loved to dance because it was, after all, "in her."  There were times I didn't correct people who used incorrect terminology or brought a racial tone to a conversation.  

There is one situation in particular that I am still dwelling on.  It happened about a year-and-a-half ago.  To this day, it's almost too painful to acknowledge.   Perhaps you have one of those, too?  

Granted, with experiences come lessons, and with lessons comes courage to do what is right.   

I know this.  

But oftentimes it's hard to forgive ourselves for those earlier mistakes, especially when they come back to bite us.  

And guess what?  Failure doesn't have a term limit.  It just crops up in new ways.  

There are still times I don't do the right thing.   I'm too dumbfounded to speak in certain situations that catch me off-guard, even when it's a question I've been asked for a decade.  There's been times I've been too annoyed or apprehensive to talk about adoption, too.  Sometimes it could be I'm having a bad day, or I'm just overwhelmed with parenting four kids, or I'm not in a "peopley" mood.   And I worry my children will interpret that as "mommy doesn't like me" or "adoption isn't OK."  

Like many women, I was raised to be polite, to feel too much guilt, and to always consider "the other" in the conversation when forming my words.  Being a "strong" and "direct" woman doesn't come easily to many of us.  We don't want to appear angry or "bitchy."   We would sometimes rather be humiliated than rude.  

Women are supposed to be warm, welcoming, and willing.

Unselfish.  

Gentle.

Nurturing.

Considerate.

Submissive.

Complacent. 

But our kids need us.  They need us to pause and consider our words, because like it or not, we do represent adoption to the world.  Some of us represent multiracial families.  But, above all, we are our children's protectors and guides.  And we owe it to them to be our best and model the right ways to engage with others. 

Our kids also need us to forgive ourselves, to not dwell on past mistakes, but instead, learn from them and do better next time.   They see us fumble, but they also see us rise when we choose forgiveness.  And that matters.  Because we're teaching our kids what to do when they make mistakes, any mistakes.  

I am sorry, deeply, for the ways I have failed my children.  I am also sorry to myself, for not letting go of these mistakes after learning from them.  

And with each passing day, I work to reject the "musts" of womanhood and replace them with the attributes that make me who I REALLY am and who I want to be. 

Authentic.

Relentless.

Committed.

Empathetic.

Determined.  

Wise.

Steadfast.

And most of all?

Forgiving.

---




The reason I wrote The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption?  To give you the book I wish I would have had twelve years ago.  I pray that it educates you, inspires you, and prevents you from making the mistakes I made early on.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

8 Must-Have Items For Your Child's Home Sensory Gym

Sensory Processing Disorder is a challenge for parents and is something many of us in the adoption community struggle with.   I've shared many times about having a child with SPD including the phrases that we use and some of our hacks


When we bought our current home, one of our favorite features was the unfinished basement.  This may surprise some, since finished basements are highly sought after.  After all, basements are expensive to finish, so having it already taken care of is a a perk.

However, we saw the large, blank canvas as an opportunity to create the space our children needed vs. a space someone else decided was best.   

We added a few things:  a bathroom and a stage.   (Yes, a stage, because there was a weird, unused space under the stairs.  It was easy:  a platform covered with clearanced-out faux wood flooring, curtains, and clearnaced out lanterns hanging above for ambiance.)  

But the rest?  The rest is just one big open space.

Once our child was diagnosed with SPD and we began to understand the child's needs (and reject the stereotypes and misunderstandings), we began to convert the toy-disaster space to a sensory gym.   




The space not only serves our child with SPD, but all of our kids and many of their friends.  

Don't think you need to build your sensory space all at once.  Quality sensory equipment for growing kids can be pricey.  Create a list of what your child's needs are and what budget you'd like to stick to.  




Here are the must haves:

1:  A trampoline.

Whether you go with a larger one like we have (we have tall ceilings) or a mini for kids (or an exercise trampoline for adults, which accommodates bigger kids), a trampoline is a must-have!  My kids love piling themselves, large balls, and giant stuffed animals into the trampoline for the ultimate sensory experience!     

2:  A gymnastics mat.

It's portable, sturdy, and versatile!  My kids fold up their mat into a square or triangle as a tunnel for climbing thorough/hiding in or use it as intended, for gymnastics.   

3:  Light cages.

Protect bulbs from shattering by covering your lights.  We love these because they are simple and inexpensive.   SAFETY FIRST, ya'll!  

4:  A swing.

Our swing is over carpet (leftover from various projects and pieced together over the concrete floor) and hangs from the steel beam that holds up our house.  It accommodates hundreds of pounds (perfect for multiple kids or an adult and child).  You do have to purchase the hanging equipment separately.

5:  Peanut balls.

We had an old, large exercise ball, but when I discovered these peanut balls, I knew they'd be a great addition to our sensory space!  They're great for rolling around on!  

6:  Ride-on toys.

Our basement space has a lot of concrete flooring, which is perfect for ride-on toys!  The Radio Flyer Ziggle is by far the best ride-on toy for my child with SPD.  It spins (or not) and requires a lot of of "wiggle" from the child in order to move.  We are asked ALL the time about this toy, and friends love trying it out.   Our other favorite is a plasma car.  We own FOUR of them (some bought used from local swap sites).  

7:  A slide.

Despite my big kids being...big, they still climb up and down the little slide we've had for years!  They like going down on their stomachs, hanging downward/reclining on it, and helping their baby sister down it.  

8:  Balance toys.

My kids LOVE the Teeter Popper (it's a sensory seeker's dream come true) and the Spooner Board.  Both need to be used on a solid floor.  

Other things we have in our sensory space include:

-a giant wall mirror.  We got this free from someone on a local swap site.  The kids LOVE watching themselves dance.

-dress up.  We've accumulated many dress-up pieces over the years from Halloween, hand-me-downs, and birthday gifts.  If you have a preschooler, we are big fans of the Melissa and Doug costumes.  They are very well made, easy for a child to self-dress, and come with several accessories!  

-a radio, of course!  My kids love taking our old I-touch downstairs and choosing music to blast!  

-blue walls.  We decided to have drywall hung and painted the walls a medium blue.  This is much more inviting than the previously gray concrete walls.  Choosing a color that is happy but not over or under stimulating was important to us!  

-construction cones, which are fun for setting up obstacle courses for ride-on toys.

In the future:

-We'd like to add a "rock wall" and a large cushion below.  For now, our kids just climb the support poles and slide down them.  

No, thanks:

-we decided NOT to do a ball pit of any kind.  Sure, it can be fun, until all the balls are all over the basement, and your child refuses to pick them up.  We just didn't want that many pieces everywhere.

For more on SPD, adoptees, and meeting the needs of kids with different needs, check out these favorite books (click on the cover to learn more): 



And you can check out our favorite children's picture books on belonging, acceptance, and difference here.  


Do you have a space you can convert as a sensory area?  What items are on your must-have list?  



Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Adoption Ethics: What It Means, and Why It Matters

Many who are new to adoption or who are choosing to embark on another adoption journey have asked me, what does "adoption ethics" mean?  How can someone have an ethical adoption?  Why is an ethical adoption so important?

I cover this topic extensively in my latest book, and in fact, ethics is the central theme and foundation on which everything I write is built upon.  

Today, I break down for you what each letter of ETHICS stands for in adoption.  



E : empathy

Empathy is absolutely crucial!  Can you put yourself in the shoes of another, feeling their pain and joy, validating their feelings, and supporting their choices?

Empathy can be complicated when you're trying to empathize with your child's birth parents or expectant parents with whom you are matched with.  It's easy to judge their choices and circumstances from your lens of privilege.  I know you might have just winced at that.  But listen, if you're in a place to adopt a child, you are privileged.  Period.  You, as the hopeful adoptive parent, also hold a lot of power.  These this combination of power and privilege, puts you in a place where you are more vulnerable to be tempted to render judgement.  




You'll not only need to be empathetic to your child's birth parents, but to your child. You CANNOT parent an adoptee in a healthy manner without empathy.

How do you develop empathy?  That's a GREAT question.  The following parts of this post should help you.

T:  timing

You've probably heard "timing is everything," and I would agree that timing is VERY important. 

The thing is, not every adoption opportunity is for you.  Not every path is going to lead you to a placement of a child.  And you MUST be OK with this.  You have to decide that ethics is most important:  not a quick or easy placement of a child.  

Timing means slowing down and considering, is this ethical or not?  Timing means praying.  Timing means that even if something takes a long time, that's OK. Timing means sometimes things happen very quickly, and you have to be as prepared a possible.

H:  healthy boundaries

When I went to counseling after my breast cancer surgery, the therapist taught me something important:  boundaries are gifts. 

We tend to look at boundaries as barriers, as rudeness, or as avoidance.  But the truth is, healthy boundaries make for great relationships! 

You have to know where you stand and then stand that ground, even when your "feelings" are telling you otherwise.  The thing is, ethics isn't about feelings.  It's about a standard, an understanding, a foundation.  You need to lead with ETHICS, not fleeting feelings regarding circumstances and situations.  

There's no one-size-fits-all for healthy boundaries between members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents).  There's a lot to consider.  But a relationship without boundaries is very likely to fail.  

Healthy boundaries make expectations very clear.  A lack of boundaries means there will inevitably be confusion, resentment, and miscommunication.

I:  information

You cannot make ethical decisions without being informed. It's really important to get educated on the specific aspects of adoption.  Great resources include articles, blogs, research studies, conferences, documentaries.  But mostly, I've found face to face conversations with adoption triad members to be the most beneficial (a "village").  Being part of an adoption support group is one way to be able to have safe face to face conversations.   

C: commitment

Adoption isn't just a one time event when the judge declares the finalization.  Adoption is a life-long journey that requires commitment from you as the parent.  It means you're always willing to learn more and new information and apply that to your parenting.  It means being committed to parenting an adoptee (and how to go about doing that).  It means following through on your promises to your child's birth family.   And it also means committing to taking care of yourself so you can be the best parent possible to your child.  

S:  sacredness

Sacredness refers to your recognition and respect for your child's adoption story.  Yes, the story involves you.  But the story isn't about you.   Your child's story is THEIR story.  This means you don't tell it to every random who asks about it.  This means you don't post all your child's business on social media to be "consumed" by those casually scrolling.  This means you speak wisely and intentionally about adoption without compromising your child's privacy.  This means you also respect your child's birth family by not airing their "dirty laundry" (meaning, you aren't handing out information and you sure aren't doing so with an air of judgement about their situation).   



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The 5 Questions Hopeful Adoptive Moms Ask Me the Most

FAQs.  

I'm on year #13 of being part of the adoption community.  When a hopeful adoptive mom learns I've had quite a bit of experience, I'm often asked one (or more) of these five questions.

What I tell these women first is that what I experience will not be what you experience.  Every adoption journey is unique.  But I know what they want:  a sense of security, a source of knowledge, and a voice that says, "I get where you are, sister." 



1:  How long did you wait?

We waited the longest during our first adoption journey:  14 months.  During that time we probably had 15 profile showings.  Interestingly, almost all our showings were for white baby boys.   Then, on a balmy November, while painting our kitchen, we got THE call.  A baby girl already born.  

Our second adoption journey was quite different. We assumed we would wait a long time, perhaps even longer than our first time, because we were no longer a childless couple.  But we were wrong.  On our very FIRST day of waiting, we were chosen for a baby girl already born.

Our third adoption journey, we assumed, again, that we would wait longer because we already had two children.  Within two months, we were matched, and then within another two months, placed with our son.  

We waited four years to adopt again, and we were matched BEFORE we officially started waiting, got a homestudy done, and waited four months for our daughter to be born. 

It might seem, on the surface, that we've had an easy road.  But as I've shared previously, we had four "failed" adoptions



2:  How do you choose an agency? 

This is a BIG question, one I cover in my latest book and in several blog posts, including this one on Christian adoption agencies.  I encourage people to read these.  My #1 piece of advice is to choose wisely and not on numbers (stats of the agency placing babies).  We were very fortunate to find small, ethical adoption agencies that were affordable.  I am a big advocate of using an agency vs. trying to find a placement on your own, mostly because going rogue can lead you to be scammed or to engage in an unethical situation.

*I do not recommend agencies.  Because of the turn over in staff, policies, and laws, it's my policy not to make recommendations to families.  Rather, I offer advice on how to CHOOSE an agency. 

3:  What does an open adoption look like?

Open adoption is different for every relationship.  For us, our open adoptions include:  snail mail, texts, FaceTime calls, e-mails, and visits.   Open adoption is NOT easy or simple; it requires a lot of work, commitment, and flexibility.  You also need empathy and grace in order for the open adoption to be successful.  And there are certainly times the adoption should not be open (or wide open).   We believe open adoption, when healthy, can be great for adoptees.  

4:  How could you afford to adopt?  

We used small, ethical, affordable adoption agencies.  We did not choose to fundraise for our adoptions, though I do encourage families who choose to fundraise to do so graciously and appropriately.   Many families apply for grants as well as fundraise.  I cover fundraising in my new book.  Preview:  my #1 tip?  Don't be tacky.  It's not cute.  

5:  Why did we adopted transracially? 

For the first year of our first adoption wait, we were open to a white child.  It was a rather thoughtless decision.  After a year of waiting, we decided to get educated on transracial adoption.  Once we spent many months researching, reading, and talking, we felt that adopting transracially would be a possibility for us.  I write extensively about being a multiracial family (the joys and challenges).  Race absolutely matters!   Adopting transracially is not a decision one should make lightly.   

And despite our family standing out, we are a real, regular family.  

If you're an experienced mama-by-adoption, what are you asked often by those new to adoption?  If you're a new, waiting parent-to-be, what do you want to know more about?  Hit me up on Facebook or Insta and share/ask away! 




Tuesday, March 5, 2019

When Your Adoptee Asks You the Hard Adoption Questions

"Why can't I see my birth mom?"

This was the moment.  The moment when your child looks at you with large, brown eyes and wants to know, right then and there, the answer to a soul-sinking question.

And you, the mom-by-adoption, are the one responsible for answering it.  And you know, you KNOW, that you how respond matters.  It matters a lot.  

In this moment, your heart is pounding, your breath becomes shallow, and your mind races.  

What will you say?  What will you do?



Have you been here before?  

Your question may have been different:  Why didn't my birth dad want me?  How much was my adoption?  Why did my birth mom keep my sister but not me?  There might be questions about rape or abortion or drugs or special needs. 

The question itself carries so much weight.  And behind it, you know there is so much, starting with the precious human being who didn't have a choice in being adopted.  



You might want to sugarcoat your response.  Maybe "pretty it up."  But you know that's not right or healthy.  Yet you want to spare the feelings of the precious child who is asking something big and important.  Perhaps the answer is beyond the child's maturity and understanding, yet the child was intuitive enough to ask. 

First, please know, you should be thankful.  Yes, I said thankful.

Your child trusted you enough to ask.  Your child was brave enough to ask.  These count for something.  These might count for everything.  

Second, you have the honor of being your child's chosen parent.  Someone chose you:  a birth parent or a social worker or a judge.  Someone decided you were worthy of carrying the title of Mom.  

So what should you do in this precious moment where time both stands still and speeds up?   When your child is looking at you with imploring, hopeful eyes?  

You tell the truth, steeped in empathy.  

Perhaps you don't know the answer.  Say so.  But offer to help your child search, when the time is right, for the answer.  If possible.

Perhaps the answer is beyond your child's ability to comprehend.  Then tell your child, I have the answer, and I will give it to you when you're older.

Perhaps the answer is OK to give now.  Do so.  

Put a gentle hand on your baby, look into his or her eyes, and respond.  Ask how the child feels about what you said.  And then respond with empathy:

-Yes, that's sad, isn't it?

-Yes, that's really difficult to hear.

-Yes, this is hurtful.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

However your child feels, that is the right way.  And you empathize with that.

Don't make excuses.  Don't avoid.  Don't tamper.  Don't stutter.  Don't embellish. 

Just speak the truth.  

And then be there for your child.  Be the mommy.  Be the steady, secure, serene figure on whom your child can lean upon, continue to trust, and return to time and time again. 

You can do this.  It's not only your job, mama.  It's your sacred honor.