Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Matthew Paul Turner, the Man Behind the Children's Book That Everyone Is Talking About


Dear Sugar:

It's more than just a bedtime book.  It's more than just an "awwww" moment.  When God Made You by Matthew Paul Turner is everything that's been missing in children's literature until now.   And if you haven't gotten on the bandwagon, well, today is the day.   Meet Matthew.  And I double dog dare you not to order the book after you learn how incredibly special it is.



Rachel:  Tell me about you and your family.

Matthew:  Well, my wife is Jessica Turner, one of the most talented, hardest working, and smartest people I know. In addition to working as social media director at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, she’s also a successful blogger/writer. And she’s an incredible speaker. Jessica and I have been married for almost 13 years. We have three amazing kids—Elias (he’s 9 and loves soccer, Star Wars, and almost any board game), Adeline (she’s 6 and adores soccer, art, dance, and anything that is predominantly shaded in pink and purple), and Ezra (he’ll be 3 at the end of December. He loves music and books and right now is realizing how much power he wields being the youngest, loudest, and funniest person in our home). We live in Nashville, Tennessee, which we love.

Rachel:  You wrote WHEN GOD MADE YOU, and holy moly!  I've seen some big names (Amy Grant, Jen Hatmaker) telling the world how awesome your book is, I saw it on Target.com and Amazon (which to us moms is a big deal, because Target and Amazon are where it's at!), and my friends in the adoption community are talking about it on social media.  Everyone loves, wants, and needs this book for their little ones.  What inspired you to write the book, and how are you handling the success?  

Matthew: Initially, my desire to write a kids book was because I found so many picture books about God to be cumbersome and often not all that inspiring. And so, when I started writing When God Made You, my goal was to create a book that offered kids of all ages a celebration of who God created them to be, a book that reminded kids who they are and how God sees them and delights in them.

The response has been overwhelming. I’ve been grateful to have had so many wonderful people not only endorse the book but also share it with their friends and fans. I’ve truly blown away by the letters and emails I’ve received and am grateful that the book offers people the light and hope that I felt while writing it.

Rachel:  I'm very vocal about #represenationmatters, and I'm absolutely thrilled that the protagonist in the book is a Black girl.   As you know, I'm parenting four Black children, three of whom are girls, and though we are seeing more representation in children's media, there certainly isn't enough.  My children yearn to see themselves (brown skin, brown eyes, curly black hair) reflected in toys, book characters, etc.  And you did this.  Your protagonist has brown skin, brown eyes, and cornrowed hair.  She's this talented, quirky, expression, melanin-poppin Black girl full of joy.  Please tell me how the decision was made to make your main character a Black girl, and what has the reader response been to this decision? 

Matthew:  Though I was fully aware that children’s literature lacked representation of children of color—especially in books about faith and God—and was thrilled when I first learned that When God Made You would feature a brown-skinned little girl, I can’t take credit for the decision. In fact, it wasn’t even a decision—this was/is the little girl who David Catrow drew/created and it was simply that—his expression for how to communicate my words. Nobody sat down and said “we want this or want that…” We wanted David to create and illustrate the book according to his inspired point of view.

I’ve loved hearing from people of varied races, telling me how thrilled they are that the little girl in my book is a person of color. I’ve been humbled by the response, mostly because I don’t know what it’s like to walk into a bookstore and not see my children’s faces represented in some fashion on the covers of literature. So I’m happy that the little girl in When God Made You speaks to so many people, for a multitude of reasons.

Rachel:  The book celebrates children for who they are, for who God made them to be.  The book is for any and every child, with lines like "So be you-fully you-a show-stopping revue.  Live your life in full color, every tint, every hue."  As a dad, what does it mean to you to produce a book like this one, and what do your kids think about it?  

Matthew:  My kids love the book, especially my 2 youngest kids, Adeline and Ezra. Adeline practically has the book memorized. So that’s been so beautiful to watch. As I wrote the book, I was certainly thinking about what I wanted my kids to know about God’s story, about what I wanted them to know about how God sees them and what God desires for them. And for so long, for many people, God has represented what you can’t do or what you can’t be—and as well all know, God was ever meant to be limited by our prejudices or opinions… I wrote this book for every family who uses the name of God, that it would become for them words of encouragement that they can speak over their kids like a prayer. So, it’s been amazing to not only hear beautiful stories from strangers about what my books has meant to them and their little ones, but it’s also been cool to see some of those narratives also realized in my own home!

Rachel:  When is your next book coming out?  (I know, how presumptuous!) And if it's far enough along in the process, what's the focus?

Matthew:  When God Made Light is releasing in February 2018. It’s actually a re-illustrated, re-edited version of the very children’s book I wrote and self published. I just saw the finished artwork. And once again, I’m just blown away. And grateful. 

Sugars, pop over to Instagram this week!   I'm giving away a cool prize pack, including one copy of When God Made You.  



Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dear Sugar: Is It OK to Be Grateful for Adoption?


Dear Sugar,

Grateful is one of those words we hear often during the holiday season, especially around this month when we celebrate "Thanks"giving.  

We know that thankfulness and gratefulness have a messy relationship with adoption.  We don't want our children, adoptees, to feel that they MUST be grateful for being adopted by us.  Even though society tells them (via all the random strangers at the grocery store) that they are "so lucky" to have "such great parents."  We have to combat this, constantly, and remind others that WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES.

But what about us, as the parents-by-adoption?  Are we allowed to feel grateful for being chosen to parent our children?  Are we allowed to thank God that our paths crossed with the (then) expectant parents who decided we were qualified to parent our kids?  

First, we parents are allowed to have feelings.  Just because we are parents-by-adoption, it doesn't mean we are immune to being human.   It's not the feelings we have that matter most, I argue, but what we do with them.  Obviously you shouldn't use your feelings to project onto your child how he or she should feel.  You embrace them as an individual and see where their journey takes them, supporting that.   

Second, if are you in the camp of being grateful, I want you to know that you aren't alone.  Being grateful for the OPPORTUNITY to parent our children is very common among parents-by-adoption. Am I grateful for the circumstances in which led their biological families to consider and choose adoption?  No.  Am I thankful that in those circumstances, they had the option to choose adoption?  Yes.  Am I thankful for the blessing of parenting my children?  Absolutely.   

Finally, we need to support our children, the adoptees, in their own feelings.  My friend Madeleine wrote this incredible book.  As an adoptee, she spends every page addressing the parent-by-adoption, offering advice and encouragement.  Do you know one thing she talks about in the book?  Being thankful for her parents and the life that she's had so far.  But this isn't just her attitude about adoption:  she lives her life steeped in gratitude.  But if you have a child who struggles with adoption, that's OK.  Because if you're an ethical, educated parent, you are going to embrace whatever comes your child's way, and you are going to help him or her navigate.  

Like anything in adoption, the answers are often complex and bittersweet.  Being grateful is not an exception.   But also like anything in adoption, you can respond to real feelings with grace, with education, with yes, gratefulness.   


What are you grateful for this month?  Let's chat on Facebook.   


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dear Sugar: Adoptive Breastfeeding, An Interview With Expert Alyssa Schnell

Dear Sugar:

Adoptive breastfeeding is one of today's hottest adoption topics, both because of its mystery and controversy.  So today, in my continued commitment to National Adoption Month and providing you with a myriad of voices and resources, I'm introducing you to Alyssa Schnell, an adoptive breastfeeding expert. 

Alyssa is the author of Breastfeeding Without Birthing , co-creator of the podcast Breastfeeding Outside the Box, and is a mom of three breastfed children, two by birth and one by adoption.  She offers a wealth of information to those interested in learning more about breastfeeding the babies they didn't birth.  

On a personal note, Alyssa has been a tremendous support person to me over the past several years, especially as I navigated my own adoptive breastfeeding journey.  You can read more about my experience here and here.  I also discuss the option of adoptive breastfeeding in my newest book, The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption.  I also had the opportunity to appear alongside Alyssa in a Huff Post Live video on the subject of adoptive breastfeeding.  


Rachel:  Alyssa, why was it important for you to write Breastfeeding Without Birthing?  


Alyssa:  When I was expecting my daughter by adoption, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed her.  I scoured everywhere I could find – books, internet, journal articles - for comprehensive up-to-date information on how I could do this.  Nothing fit the bill.  The most helpful resource was actually a book written for mothers who had had breast reduction surgery.  I didn’t want other prospective adoptive or intended parents interested in breastfeeding to have the same experience, or to simply to give up on the idea because they could not obtain adequate information and support.  I wanted to be able to provide them and their health care providers with a single, up-to-date, comprehensive resource that adoptive and intended parents could use to help them successfully nurse their babies.  I think that Breastfeeding Without Birthing does that.

Rachel:  In a nutshell, if a hopeful mom (by adoption) wants to have a nursing relationship with the child, what are the options?  (Of course, they can learn more in your book and via your podcast.)  

Alyssa:  Many people assume that in order to have a nursing relationship between a parent and a child, the nursing parent must produce a full supply of milk.  While some adoptive parents do produce plenty of milk for their babies, most of the time adoptive nursing looks a little bit different.  The adoptive parent can nurse with an at-breast supplementer (a tiny feeding tube that leads to the nipple delivering supplemental milk or formula to the baby) if she is making some, a little, or no milk at all.  Another option may be to bottle-feed baby for nutrition and comfort nurse at the breast.  Comfort nursing does not require production of milk, although not all babies will be interested in this.

If a (prospective) adoptive parent wants to bring in milk for her baby(-to-be) – and as noted above this is optional – she can induce lactation (if she has never been pregnant before) or relactate (if she has been pregnant before).  This typically involves using a breast pump, nursing, and potentially taking medications and/or herbs.  It is not an easy process, but with the support of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) educated in inducing lactation and relactation, it can be extremely rewarding.

Rachel:  I have noticed an increasing interest in hopeful mom's wanting to learn more about adoptive breastfeeding, yet I've also noted some backlash from the adoption community who say adoptive nursing is unnatural and offensive.  As someone who is obviously a breastfeeding advocate (and a mom of an adoptee), what do you think of the criticism and how have you responded to it, if at all? 

Alyssa:  Breastfeeding in general is a very personal choice that parents need to make based on accurate information and their own circumstances, needs, and values.  And that choice is especially tricky in special circumstances such as adoption.  There is research in peer-reviewed professional journals supporting the emotional benefits to the baby of breastfeeding in adoption.  There is also research in peer-reviewed professional journals showing that the composition of the milk from a parent who has induced lactation or relactated is comparable to that of a birthing parent.  That is the information piece.  Then parents need to look deep into their hearts to decide if breastfeeding feels right for them.  For those parents for whom the answer is “Yes!” we are there for them.

After much thoughtful deliberation and consideration, we have decided not to allow voices of hostility or opposition on our webpage.  The purpose of our social media platforms is not to debate whether certain people should or should not breastfeed their babies, but to provide information, encouragement and support in a safe environment to those who wish to breastfeed and to the professionals who support them.

Rachel:  You co-host a podcast called Breastfeeding Outside the Box.  What can listeners expect from listening in?  

Alyssa:  Our podcast is for both parents and professionals wanting to learn more about breastfeeding in “outside the box” situations like adoption.  We interview parents who have breastfed outside the box, including many adoptive parents.  They share their stories which are always really inspiring!  We also interview health care professionals with specific expertise that may be helpful to parents breastfeeding in less common circumstances.  Professionals discuss specific tools and techniques that can be used to support successful breastfeeding in challenging situations. 

Rachel:  What do you think the future of adoptive nursing looks like?  Do you think more and more parents-by-adoption will choose to nurse?  

Alyssa:  Right now, when I tell people that I nursed by baby my adoption they almost invariably say, “You can do that?!” I think that will change and is changing.  More and more people are aware that adoptive nursing is an option.  And I certainly hope that as a result of the work we are doing, more and more families will feel successful in their experiences with adoptive nursing.




Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dear Sugar: The Three Places Where It's Challenging to be a Mom-By-Adoption

Dear Sugar:

I'm not one to complain much.  Well, except to my husband.   (Lucky him.)  Generally speaking, I'm a SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP kind of girl.  I take more of an activist approach. Something not-so-great happens, and I write about it. Then that spreads, getting the message out that saying or doing a certain thing isn't cool.    

If you're already a parent-by-adoption, you've probably encountered at least one of these situations when it's challenging to be the "adoptive" parent.   

1:  The medical office.  

First, health history forms.  Those can get tricky.  Many parents-by-adoption don't have a complete health history on their kiddos, a reliable health history, or some don't have health history at all.  This of course leads you to explain that your child was adopted.   It's not a secret or anything to be ashamed of, but it can open the door to irrelevant questions and undesired judgments.  

Here are some for-real things that happened to us at medical appointments:

-"So you're foster mom?"  No.  "Um, adoptive mom?"  No.  Just mom.  "Well I have to put something on this form..."  

-"I'm going to finish registering your daughter for her tonsillectomy.  I need to see your papers."  What papers? "Adoption papers."I don't carry those with me.  She's my child.  We have the same last name and she's on my insurance card.  "Your doctor might need to see those papers."  Her doctor knows she's my daughter, and she was adopted at five days old.  I don't carry around any papers.   

-"Are you going to tell your girls their adopted?" (They were sitting RIGHT next to me.)  

We've had stuff like this happen so many times that I wrote an entire blog post to medical professionals that got some STRONG reactions from the adoption community.  

2:  The mommy get-together.

There's a Mommy Club that we moms-by-adoption simply aren't a part of.  The Club emerges when conversations turn away from the basics (names of children, ages, funny stories, quirks, developmental milestones) an to the moms:  childbirth, breastfeeding, who the child looks like, etc.  Usually these do not bother me, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood.  No one likes feeling left out, isolated, or othered.  Though most mommies are perfectly nice, supportive, kind, encouraging people, their mommy-boasting can get under our skin, reminding us that we are different.  

3:  The school. 

The school presents similar problems to the medical office.  Forms and school projects can be particularly unnerving.  School projects involving family trees, timelines (like draw and label five significant events from your life), and family photos can present extra challenges for kids and their parents.  Some schools even present forms to parents asking if the parent is a biological parent, guardian, foster parent, or adoptive parent, even asking similar things about the child, outright asking on the form, "Adopted?" Of course, some information is relevant.   

Oftentimes, all of these awkward-uncomfortable-frustrating situations occur due to lack of education.  This is not be excusing people who are rude and intrusive.  There's a difference between ignorance and nosiness.   

I want you to know that the longer you are a parent, the more confidence you will gain.  (I packed my education and experiences into my latest book:  for you!)  You'll have tried-and-true responses to some of these situations.  And if you feel so inclined, especially in situations where the problems involve someone who will have a long-standing relationship with your child (say his/her doctor or teacher), provide education.   Books, blog posts, articles.  And finally, remember to ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS do what is best for your child, the adoptee.  



Those who are truly good people will take Angelou's truth to heart: that they're trying their best, but after learning, they do better next time.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Dear Sugar: Honoring National Adoption Month with Heather Avis

Dear Sugar,

Foster care. Transracial adoption. Special needs.  Open adoption.  

These are just a few of things author Heather Avis explores in her book The Lucky Few. I couldn't put this book down! The best way I can describe it?  Refreshing. She doesn't hold back, sharing her experiences with her readers in a humble, authentic tone that has you tearing up one minute and laughing out loud the next.  

In honor of National Adoption Month, allow me to introduce you to Heather and her beautiful family:

Rachel:  What do others need to know about you? 

Heather: My family is made up of my husband Josh, my self and our three kids Macyn (9), Truly (6), and August (3). Josh and I have been married for 15 years and we are still crazy about one another! We adopted all three of our children and all of them were born in California, which is where we live. All three came home as babies and our son we got to bring home from the hospital at three days old. Our eldest and youngest have Down syndrome and our middle daughter is a different race than we are. We love to adventure and spend time with our friends and family. We always have something going. Doing life well and fully with others is important to us. It seriously does take a village!

Rachel:  Your book title is the first thing that caught my eye and lured me into buying it!  So often those of us who adopt are told how lucky our kids are to have us as their parents.  We are often regarded as saviors and superheroes.  But truly, we, the parents, are the lucky ones.  So tell me, why did you title your book "The Lucky Few"?   And what does "luck" have to do with adoption?  

Heather:  The lucky few is the idea that not many of us have a loved one with Down syndrome and not many of us answer the call to adopt, but those of us who do are few and very lucky! I think luck may have everything and nothing to do with adoption. I think piecing a family together in such a way really has a piece of luck about it. For example, my eldest's birth parents were born in Armenia and made their way to California long before she was born, and my middle daughter's birthmother was born in Guatemala and made her way to California long before my daughter was born and here they are as sisters. It's really kind magical. 

Rachel: Like you, when we initially decided to adopt, we held onto misconceptions, stereotypes (about adoption), and self-preservation.  We wanted "quick and easy."  But adoption is anything but "quick and easy," isn't it?  For my readers who are considering adoption, what do you want them to know that you wish you would have known when you started your journey? 

Heather:  I think this is almost a trick question ;). I've found the reality of life is we can't know what we don't know and we have to experience something to actually know it. So while there are lots of things I want to tell people considering adoption, things such as: be open to sooo much more than you already are; and birth families are a gift if you can have one; and let go of every single expectation you have ever had about becoming a parent; and it's going to be so freaking difficult; and it's going to be so freaking worthy no matter how difficult; and don't give up no matter what, the reality people can hear it but can't fully know it if they don't experience it. 

Rachel:  You chose to adopt two children with special needs.  I know that this scares a lot of people (and it scared you also initially, as you share in the book!).  One of my adoption mottos that I share with my readers is "make decisions out of education, not out of ignorance."  But special needs is a great unknown, no matter how well prepared and educated you are.  What gets you through the dark days, the confusion, the fear, the uncertainty?   And what is it REALLY like to parent children with special needs?  

Heather:  When we were deciding whether or not to adopt our daughter with Down syndrome I kept thinking, "I could give birth to exactly who she is." The truth is, we have very little control over who our kids are, adopted or not. If I was pregnant with a child with Down syndrome I would not have said no to her, so why would I say no to adopting a child with Down syndrome? Education is for sure helpful but there is no amount of learning or studying that can marry a mama's heart to her child's. And at the end of the day my kids with Down syndrome are my kids, and that's really all that matters. Any mama can tell you when your kid is your kid nothing else seems to matter. The truth is, when we brought our eldest daughter home we realized Down syndrome is a gift and that is ultimately what lead us to adopt a second child with Down syndrome. When I answer the question, "What's it really like to parent a child with special needs?" the people asking need to recognize I don't know any differently so for me, it's pretty "normal". There are some extras, such as weekly therapies for development and growth and so many additional doctor's appointments, most during the first couple years, but really, raising a child with Down syndrome is like raising a child. Parenthood is no joke, special needs or not! I also say the most difficult part of raising a child with Down sender has little to do with Down syndrome and everything to do with to world in which we live. The majority of systems in place are set up for people who do not have special needs. The world has yet to figure out to to create a space for people with Down syndrome to be exactly who they are and to be successful as that person. Currently my most difficult aspect of raising a child with Ds is the school systems and every other system in place. My kids are gold, the systems not so much. 

Rachel:  What's next for you and your family?  Will you adopt again?  Write another book?  

Heather:  We DO NOT plan on adopting again. We are at capacity and totally content. We think our family is done growing. That being said, when we set out towards parenthood  we never thought we'd adopt at all, and especially not children with DS. So we know God knows best and we are always ready to step where He calls us. Hopefully that won't be towards another kid! But if it is, we'll step up for sure. Also, if someone were to hand me a brand new baby most likely I'm taking that kid! And I am currently working on my second book. Writing up a proposal and hopefully getting it picked up by a publisher. So we'll see!!!

Want to connect with Heather?  Start with her Instagram, Macy Makes My Day, which has over 110,000 followers!  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Dear Sugar: 5 Questions to Ask When Making Parenting Decisions After an Adoption

Dear Sugar:

Is it OK to breastfeed or comfort nurse a baby I adopt? What about vaccinations?  Preschool or childcare?  Circumcision? Naming?  Attachment parenting?  Diapering?  

Becoming a parent for the first time is overwhelming, but becoming a parent via adoption puts on a whole extra level of pressure, expectations, and dilemmas.   I talk about Super Parent Syndrome in my first book: the idea that since you're a mom-by-adoption, you need to live up to it (says society, says relatives and friends, says birth family, says yourself and your partner).   But the truth is, you really are JUST a parent:  you'll have your strengths and faults, and living to impress others will leave you deflated and discouraged.  

I want to encourage you, when facing a parenting decision, not to make your choice out of guilt, suspicion, guessing, projecting, or to impress others.  Instead, ask yourself these five questions, and you'll most likely arrive at what is right.

The five questions to ask, in no particular order, and why they matter are:

1:  What did you and the birth family agree to (if anything)?  

I'm a big believer in keeping your promises.  Trust is EVERYTHING to a healthy relationship. Whether you have an ongoing, open adoption with the birth family or not, you need to think about what you agreed to when you did have communication.  Remember, you were chosen by the birth family for a reason.   Perhaps some of that reason was rooted in what you and the birth family agreed to.  This question is not just about your obligation to the birth family, but to your child, who was placed with you.  Your choices today have a forever impact on tomorrow.   

2:  What does THIS baby, in THIS situation, need most?  

Adoption and parenting is never one-size-fits all.  What does your child need in the situation he or she is in?  You likely have a good idea what the answer is.  Now you just have to have, as I talk about in my new book, the courage and conviction to do the right thing for your child:  because that's what a good mom does!  

3:  What did you promise the birth family?

Perhaps you never met the birth family, but you made a series of promises in your profile book or letter you wrote to them.   What did you promise?  Even if your promises were more broad, say "I promise to be a warm and thoughtful mom," that's a promise to consider when making day-to-day parenting choices.  Now I'm not saying this to burden you: meaning, I'm not telling you to live under a sea of guilt and uncertainty for your entire parenting journey.  I am, however, reminding you of the magnitude of promises:  they matter.  

4:  What do the experts recommend?

In some situations, you need to do your research.  Now, this can be incredibly overwhelming and confusing.   And of course, "experts" is subjective.  Some consider fellow (but more experienced) moms to be the experts.  Some consider the highly educated (say, a pediatrician) to be the expert.  It really depends on the question you are asking.  But it's rare that a question needs an immediate answer, a situation needs an immediate decision.  Take your time and find out what's best for YOUR child.  



5:  What is your mommy-gut telling you?  

I know it's really hard sometimes, as a new mom (especially by adoption, where the expectations are HIGH), to find out what is RIGHT.   But instead of pressuring yourself to make the "right choice," how about slowing down, refocusing, and asking yourself, "What is my mommy-gut telling me?" You were chosen to parent your child.  You have the responsibility to be still and listen to your God-given mommy instinct.  It's likely you already know the answer to your question of "what should I do?" 

Sugar, I believe in you (I tell you this time and time again in my new book).  I know that you're working your mommy-butt off to do the right things, in the right ways, in the right time.   I am here to encourage you!   

What choice are you facing right now?  Which of these questions is helping you make that decision?  Let's chat on Facebook!  



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dear Sugar: Author Lori Holden on Open Adoption

Dear Sugar:

I've known Lori Holden for a few years now, and when her book released, I was absolutely thrilled.  Why?  Because there are very, very few books on the subject of open adoption, yet if you've been in the adoption community for any amount of time you know that open adoption is a hot topic.  In fact, many adoption professionals require that the hopeful parents they work with are serious about being part of an open adoption.  And that's when some of the problems come in.  Can we really expect newbies to commit to openness when they have no clue what an open adoption REALLY means and requires?   

I wanted to ask Lori some of the questions I'm hearing from the adoption community.  Her responses offer all of us the insight we need to make informed decisions and remain committed to what's best for our children.   

Rachel:  Lori, let's get right to it.  Define open adoption for my readers.  

Lori:  People tend to think "open adoption" means contact, but I believe there is a better measure we should be using. Over the years I've found that openness -- another way of saying mindfulness --  is the real key to keeping our parenting decisions focused on our children. Openness often leads to a desire to make contact work in people who start out closed to the idea but are able to untangle their emotions about contact.

Contact invites complexity. Openness, which I define as dealing with What Is, helps us deal with all that complexity in a mindful way. And I'm talking about not just with our child's birth parents, but also with our child. When we are more more mindful, we are able to respond rather than react when adoption issues arise. We can then choose our words and actions in an intentional way rather than resort to a knee-jerk reaction that stems from our own fear, insecurity, or hurt place.
Example: If you get triggered when your son says, "I'm not cleaning my room! You're not even my real mom!" -- well, then, that kiddo can use your own trigger against you. Before you know it, you're in a shouting match with someone half your size. "I AM TOO YOUR MOM! LOOK AT ALL I DO FOR YOU!" Your child has knocked you off your game and there is now distance between you and the child you want to be close to most of all.

But if you're already aware that you had such a hot button and have disarmed it within you, instead you have an opportunity for connection and exploration. "Ah, Sweetie. Nice try. No matter who your mom is, your room needs to be picked up. Would you like me to help you or would you prefer to do it yourself?" You take advantage of this opening to build trust and focus instead on your son's hot spots. Was this really about a Real Mom or about avoiding a chore? "Hey. While we're putting these toys away, would you like to talk about what makes a person real? I wonder if you're thinking about your birth mom. [silence]."

Rachel:  What does a hopeful person or couple need to know before agreeing to be part of an open adoption?

Lori: Two things.

A. Practice discernment when it comes to boundaries. It's just as misguided to have no boundaries at all as it is to have overly restrictive boundaries. The Great Wall of China and a barbed wire fence are not very discerning. They say "We're gonna keep our things on our side and your things on your side."

Instead, we want a more functional filter, a way to let in the benefits to the child and protect her from harm, the way a screen door allows in a breeze but keeps out mosquitoes. (No, I am not equating first parents with mosquitoes, but rather with behaviors that need to be negotiated by any two people in an ongoing relationship.)
In short, we should set and patrol our boundaries more like this...

than like this...


At each decision point about contact, be mindful of what issues you yourself may be dealing with. Some common ones in adoption (open or otherwise) are insecurity about not being the only mom or dad, fear of losing the child to the birth parents one day, or jealousy of the special connection the child has with birth parents. Resolve your own stuff so that your child doesn't have to navigate yours on top of her own. Discern between actual safety/security issues that may affect your child, and issues that are more your own. With this discernment, you can choose your words and action in a way that best serves, rather than react from your unhealed places. (We all have those, by the way.)



B. It's not in anyone's best interest to turn their child's birth parents into supplicants. There needs to be an ongoing  respect for the people who brought your child into existence -- even if you think they don't quite deserve your respect. They did what you didn't/couldn't do; you do what they couldn't do. In a well-functioning relationship there's an evenness, a balance of worth, a recognition of inherent value not for what the first parents do but for who they are. Your child's first parents, their origins.


Rachel:  As you know, we have four open adoptions.  Our decade of experience has taught us that open adoption is beautifully complex.  How would you describe it? 

Lori:  Open adoption is such a union of opposites. Over time it's easy and hard; broken and whole; hurting and loving; good and bad, happy and sad, defeating and triumphant, connective and disconnective, and countless other polarities.

Rachel:  Finish this thought.  Open adoption is not for ____. 

Lori:  ...wimps.  

Rachel:  Oh my goodness.  I couldn't agree more!  
  
Alright, up next. Open adoption:  what is the future like?  We've moved from completely closed adoptions (during the Baby Scoop Era), to many semi-open (pictures and letters sent through the agency, for example), to many, many open adoptions.   Will adoptions continue to be more and more open, or do you see the pendulum swinging the other way (semi-open) again?  

Lori:  I see three stages in the evolution of modern adoption.

Stage 1. Closed Era: No contact, no tools to deal with What Actually Happened, which included a childectomy, a grafting onto a family tree, a complete change of mother -- all big things that no one was supposed to notice. Let's just all pretend parenting by adoption is no different than parenting by biology.

Deal with? We won't have anything to deal with!
Stage 2. Open Adoption Era: Go forth and have contact! Nevermind that it is, at times, really hard because relationships in general are complex, but go figure this out and let us know how it goes for you!

For decades we've been trying to navigate contact, but the only tool we had to deal with the complexity that contact brings is a door. We open the door to all that complexity and we are too easily prone to closing it when things get tough.

So much to deal with on top of regular parenting! That open door has forced us to deal with so much, and we just don't know how. I just wanna shut the damn door already!
Stage 3. Openness in Adoption Era: We're taking advantage of this additional tool that helps us deal with all the complexity that comes from (a) being human; (b) being in a relationship with another human; and (c) being in relationship with another human over time. And that tool, the thing that helps us deal with What Is, is openness. Whereas a door is open or shut, openness helps us deal in all the varying hues that living in adoption brings. We become more and more aware of our inner dialog, triggers, motivations.

Still so much to deal with, but we're actually dealing. Sometimes I'm dealing with my own fears and insecurities. Sometimes I'm dealing with how we relate with each other and with the child we both love. Sometimes I'm dealing with competing needs among my child, their birth family, and myself. Sometimes I am dealing with Hard Things and there are no easy answers.But never do we Not Deal at All and simply smush things down, layer upon layer. That's where dysfunction and the need to self-numb arise -- for the son/daughter as well for the grown ups. To keep us all as emotionally healthy as possible, we aim to deal in What Is and model this for our child so that they are well-equipped to deal with What Is, too.

Lori Holden writes from Denver at LavenderLuz.com. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is on required/suggested reading lists at adoption agencies across the country. Follow her at her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.