Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dear Sugar: On Saying Goodbye to Adopting

Dear Sugar:

We planned to have at least two children, though we knew it would likely be more.  When our first daughter was two, we decided to adopt again.  We wanted her to have a sibling, and wow, did it happen quickly!  Then when our second child turned two, we decided it was time to adopt a third time.  We were matched quickly, and our son was born a few months later.  

I was ready to adopt again when my son was two, but my husband was hesitant.   He felt our family may have been complete.  Why rock the boat?  We certainly already had our hands full (something we hear VERY often) with three children under the age of six.   We were tired and happy.   But I pressed him.  I couldn't shake the feeling that our baby was out there...somewhere.

For a year-and-a-half, we discussed adopting again.  I was on board, my husband not so much.  I pressed (as I do), and he resisted (as he does).   Marriage, right?  I would bring up adopting again constantly.   

When our son was three-and-a-half, my husband said we could try to adopt one more child.   I couldn't believe my ears!   Before he could change his mind, I started calling agencies.   The agency we had used for our previous three adoptions had many waiting families, but our social worker suggested a different agency.    I gave that social worker a call, and immediately learned that they were open to accepting families.   Shortly after, we were matched with a baby due five months later.  

Each adoption journey has its own challenges and joys.  But every adoption is predictably bittersweet.  So was the case with our fourth adoption.   For the first time, I fell in love with a baby who wasn't mine.  This made our most recent adoption our most challenging.  

Now we're a family of six.   Yes, our hands are even more full, as are our hearts.   We love our big, beautiful crew.   But there is this impending sense of doom and relief:  that this last adoption may have been our LAST adoption.   

Endings are hard, but an ending also yields to a new beginning.   To be "settled" into a place where we are complete is quite appealing. Hopping off the adoption roller coaster, one we've been on for a decade (a decade!) is tempting.  Incredibly tempting.

But I cannot help but feel dread and sadness with each outfit my baby girl outgrows.   Each milestone she accomplishes.   Is she really my last baby?   

I mean really.  How in the world will I miss having social workers in my house?  Court dates?  Phone calls with the lawyer?   Trips to the social security administration office?   To be free from scrutiny and home visits and paperwork---how divine would that be?

I don't want to "call it."  I'm not ready to.   I can't bring myself to say we're finished building our family.  I hold on to a glimmer of hope (and fantasy) that God will surprise us with another child (or two).  I justify that we have a nice, big, beautiful home with plenty of room for more.  I could get one of those monster vans (ahem, buses) to drive my family around town.     

Or I can settle in, snuggling on the sofa with four children draped over me, popcorn crunching between teeth, and giggles and shushes (because it's NEVER quiet enough to actually hear a movie around here).   I can stop thinking "what if" and "maybe" and just relish in NOW and HERE and FINALLY.

I don't know that I can be finished.  And I don't know if I cannot.   

Anyone else feeling uncertain?  Lost?  Relieved?  Scared?   How do you get off the coaster, when all you've ever known is riding it?   

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dear Sugar: Should You Announce An Adoption Match?

-Me and my hubs at our 4th child's gender reveal photo shoot.  This was the first time we did a photo announcement, including the gender of the baby we were matched with.  -

Dear Sugar,

Today I'm tackling a question many of you have asked:  Should I announce an adoption match?

One year ago this month, we were matched with an expectant couple due in September.   This was our longest match, and I was a mess.  In fact, I did the thing I said I would never do.  I fell in love with a baby who wasn't mine.  

This wasn't our first rodeo.  After all, we had already adopted three children.  But the fourth adoption was particularly challenging, mostly because the match seemed endless.  And I had already told God: no out-of-state matches, no long matches.  I want easy-peasy.  Got it?

Get that, Sugar?  I told God.  Then God laughed.   Amen?   Moving on.

With our first two adoptions, we didn't tell anyone we were matched (with babies already born) until after we went to court.   Call it not wanting to jinx anything or just being very very respectful of the biological families...but we didn't.   

With our third, we had about two-and-a-half month match.  We told our families and close friends. We let them know the baby was a boy.   And then we went nuts.  Everyone wanted to know the name, had a hard time keeping their mouths shut.  Their anticipation only added to my anticipation.  And when I say anticipation, I meant anxiety.  

With our fourth baby, we did tell our family and close friends.  The match was long, and keeping the match a secret was nearly impossible, especially after we told our children what was going on.   Plus, we're really big on "no secrets" in terms of our kids' safety and well-being.   We even did a gender reveal photo shoot (see pic above).  

There is no right or wrong to telling others that you're matched, but I will say these are lines I think an ethical, hopeful parent shouldn't cross:

-calling the baby yours.  The baby isn't yours.  The pregnancy isn't yours.  The baby is a possibility and a hope.  

-calling the baby's mother "our" birth mother.  The baby's mother is the baby's mother, not a birth mother (if and until she places).   And the "our" is just weird.  She's not YOUR birth mother or mother. She's the baby's.  The baby is hers.   

-claiming any sort of control over the mother's life or pregnancy.   You might be invited to an ultrasound, to be part of the baby's birth, etc., but you are not in control.  The reins aren't yours to hold.

-respecting your possible-future-child's privacy, starting now.  Keep the private, private.  Whatever you put "out there" in terms of information about your (possible) child's birth family can never be taken back.     Remember my motto:  don't hand out a child's story like a grandma hands out cookies!  

-having a baby shower specific to the baby you are matched with.  Don't get bibs with the baby's name monogrammed on them, for example.  It's ok to be excited, but there is no guarantee of placement, no matter how certain and convinced you're told the expectant mother is.  

Of course, each situation is very different, and there aren't any definites in terms of feelings and the closeness of the relationships. But there are ethical boundaries to keep in mind, something I've written about here and elsewhere.   

Balance isn't easy, and I've been totally transparent with you about that.  But you must strive for ethics, always.  Adopting isn't about how quickly and easily you can become a mom.  It's about the child and the relationship you will forever have (whether distant or tight-knit) with his or her first parent(s).  

No amount of announcing (or not) guarantees the placement will happen.  So I urge you to move forward with grace.  If you are matched, proceed with caution and the utmost respect for the expectant parent(s)---which, essentially, is the utmost respect for the child.   Be excited, but be ever-mindful that you are not yet mom.   Fall in love, as I did, with the one who isn't yours, knowing that if the match results in a placement, you loved with reckless abandon while still respecting each person.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: To the Hopeful Adoptive Mom Who Is Scared of Open Adoption

Dear Sugar:

I was once the woman who didn't want an open adoption with her child's birth family.

When we got the initial pile o' paperwork from our social worker, we swiftly marked "semi open adoption" and moved on.   We just didn't want the messiness of visits and what to call birth mom and shared moments with the child.  I didn't want to be under a microscope, and I was under no illusions that an open adoption relationship would be all happy-happy.  

In essence, I didn't want the vulnerability.  

Everyone comes to adoption via some sort of event or situation. Most of the time, this "sort" is one of heartbreak, or oftentimes, a series of heartbreaks.  The idea of putting our hearts on the line AGAIN and waiting for someone to shatter it, tamper with it, or toy with it is simply unbearable.

So we try to protect ourselves in any way we can.   

Sugar, here's the deal.   It's not about us.  

What you check on that list is of the utmost importance.

I do not think you should throw open the door to open adoption because "everyone else is doing it."  I don't think you should do it because you think it'll get you a baby faster.   I don't think you should consider open adoption because you think it'll be this perfect sunshine-rainbows-glitter situation where you and the birth mom will be besties foreva...perhaps complete with matching lotus tats.

Open adoption is very, very hard.  It is bittersweet on repeat.   It requires continual effort, education, and empathy.   It is nothing short of exhausting. 

And every phone call, visit, text, e-mail, Facetime call, feeling, thought, and ounce of energy is worth it.  

I want you to say "yes" because you know it's what is good for your child.  I want you to say "yes" because you know what open adoption is, and you accept it for face-value.  I want you to say "yes" to open adoption even though you know it means work--for life.   I want you to say "yes" out of education and not ignorance.  

I've written extensively on this topic, and hopefully my authenticity has shown.   I want to give you a balanced, honest perspective and experience to consider.  I want you to know I've been where you are:  scared, confused, uncertain, leery, skeptical, anxious.   

Sugar, those tough feelings do not begin and end with the placement of a baby into your loving arms. Adoption is challenging, parenting is challenging, and parenting an adoptee is a combination and culmination of beautiful challenges.  These challenges will happen whether or not you have openness.     

Challenges are opportunities.   Run to them, not away from them.

Don't pass up the opportunity for openness if it's healthy and possible, don't deny the experience to your child, don't cower in a corner or wallflower during the dance.  Instead, learn.   Listen.   And with those two things, you might just have a bit of luck.  


For further reading on open adoption, consider... (click on image or link to learn more):  

Do Open Adoption Big

"Aren't You Scared Their Birthparents Will Try to Take Them Back?"

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dear Sugar: Finding a Mentor For Your Adoptee

Dear Sugar:

One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is this:  how did you find a mentor for your child?   

I talked about mentoring on NPR and MSNBC, and I've mentioned it several other times throughout the past several years, but today I want to break down the mentoring process for you so that you might successfully be able to find a mentor for your own child.   

First, why find a mentor for your child?

Mentors provide children who were adopted with support, love, encouragement, and empathy.   The mentor should match your child's needs and personality, as well as your family values.  For example, when we first decided to find a mentor for our two daughters, we wanted a Black, Christian, female mentor, college-age with a strong sense of confidence, as well as someone who was driven.  

Of course, keep in mind that your six-month-old probably doesn't need a mentor.   You will know when your child is ready.  There is no set age or life stage.   My girls were four and two when they first had a mentor.   It helped that I had two girls who did everything together, so having them both be mentored just made sense for our family. My son, who is currently four, doesn't have a mentor yet due to his needs.    

HOWEVER, just because your child may not be ready for a mentor, it doesn't mean you get a pass!  Your child needs racial role models/racial mirrors in their lives.   As I discuss in my first (and most popular) book on transracial adoption and parenting, you need to do everything you can to surround your children with people who look like them.   Babysitters, doctors, neighbors, friends, hair stylists, etc. 

What does a mentor do?

A mentor is an extension of your family and spends one-on-one time with the child.   Our girls' mentors (they are now working with a second mentor) have taken them to the park, to the local children's museum, or played with them here in our home.   The mentor doesn't sit them down to purposefully instill values in them via lectures or "talks," but instead is there, guiding, encouraging, loving.   A mentor demonstrates what a strong, Black female is, in the case of our daughters.  

I should note, it was very important to us to find a mentor who would be in our girls' life for a significant time period. Relationships take time to build, and in the case of some adoptees, having someone come and go isn't healthy.   

What are your guidelines?  

I think you need to go into finding a mentor for your child with well-established, purposeful guidelines.  Make a list (check it twice).   There are things you must consider.  Does your child have special needs, and who can best meet those needs?   Does your child prefer someone who enjoys outdoor activities?   What are your family values?  (As I mentioned, we would only work with a Christian mentor, because that is an important value to our family.) What about your child's personality?  For me, I have an extrovert-introvert and an introvert, and I needed someone to mentor my girls who could push them when they needed to be pushed, but be cool with them being themselves.   

How do you find and select a mentor?  

I used to work at a university, so I called a contact I had there and asked for help finding a mentor. Of course, you don't need a personal connection to call your local college.   You just need the conviction and courage to start making calls!   Other places to consider calling:  local high schools (if you are ok with a younger mentor), organizations, your local library, houses of worship, etc.   

I had a list of qualities I wanted in a mentor, and I shared this with my contact.  I was quite up front with her, that I was a white woman, my girls are Black, and I was looking for someone to be a racial role model and long-term mentor to my daughters.    

We had about eight young women express interest (yes, eight!!!), so we conducted interviews in our home.  They were informal, and my girls were present.   We talked to each young woman, asking why they were interested, what their availability was like, how long they planned to live in the area, what their major in college was, etc. Important:  We also asked what their understanding of adoption was, any connections they had with/to adoption, etc.  And we asked, what do you want to know about adoption? We then narrowed it down until we found THE one.

Now, I will tell you, initially we chose two mentors.  One of them was great during the interview:  energetic, ambitious, strong.  But on the very first day she mentored my girls, they were in our home playing downstairs.  The mentor came up and said to me, "So, do they ever watch movies?"   We never had her come back over again.  She wasn't in it for the right reasons and obviously couldn't handle my girls' energy level and excitement.   This turned out to be a blessing, because the other mentor was a perfect match for my daughters:  mentoring them for THREE years!       

The second mentor is someone we'd met through friends.  

Safety first.  

One question I've been asked is about background checks.   It's always tricky to meet someone new and have them gradually take on the responsibility of mentoring your child.   We decided to ask each candidate:  would you be open to a background check?   If they hesitated (which none of them did), that would have been a red flag for us.   Of course, not all "bad people" are going to have issues passing a background check!  And sometimes people have a past that is hardly concerning despite what a "check" says.  Thus, the background check wasn't our sole "check."    

Another thing you can do is ask for references, and then check them! 

Have some of the mentoring sessions (especially the first few) in your home where you can observe.  

And always, always make sure that you have had talks with your children about their bodies, safety, stranger awareness, and NO keeping secrets (ever!).  In fact, we tell our children secrets are NEVER allowed, because a secret covers up something bad.   

You also need to establish your social media guidelines with your child's mentor.  Since we do not post public photos of our children, we made this clear to the mentor.   

Of course, social media can be your best friend.  Look up the candidates on social media outlets:  Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook.   You can use your state's public court records too.   
Should you pay your child's mentor?

Listen, I taught college students for eight years, and they are generally broke.  (As was I during my first three years of college: working three jobs to pay my tuition.)  We offered, up front, to pay the mentor an hourly rate.   Usually our girls were with their mentor for two hours, every-other-week, usually on a Saturday afternoon.   

I think if you're going to pay your mentor, you need to be clear what the "job" duties are.  It was important to us that the mentor not be a babysitter.   Though yes, the job required supervising our girls.  But we made sure we packed a backpack full of essentials (such as snacks and jackets) and met somewhere where their sole focus could be having fun together.   

Some mentors may be interested in racking up volunteer hours, which is fine if that's the arrangement you make.  

I'm asked, how much should you pay your child's mentor?  I feel like "you get what you pay for" in any case where someone is caring for your child.   I would either offer what you're willing to pay and see what the response is, or ask the mentor how much she/he believes is a fair, hourly rate.  Take into consideration if he/she has to travel to get to you, the mentor's age (college students should be paid more than high school students), etc.   Also, consider if you're having the mentor transport your child somewhere (using his/her own car and gas money) and what they do together (of course, you will pay for those things like admission to a museum, dinner out, etc. in addition to paying the mentor the hourly rate).  

Getting started.

As I mentioned before, have the first few mentoring sessions in your home, or you could go to a park. You sit and read a book while the mentor and child play together.   Also, be sure to check in with the mentor and ask if he/she needs anything, as well as check in with your child.   Let the mentor know things about your child:  personality, preferences, even his/her Love Language.  Talk about discipline and if you're a fan of The Connected Child like we are, how you deal with conflict, struggles, etc. with the child.   

A mentor is not...

-a replacement for the parents or birth parents
-a babysitter
-the sole racial role model/racial mirror in your child's life

How does a mentor benefit the entire family?

Having a mentor for our girls has become a beautiful thing for our whole family.  When I've needed support (especially in a situation or question involving race), I call the mentor.  And when the mentor has needed support (usually because she's living away from home or is having an issue at school), we are there for her.  It's a mutually beneficial relationship.   Our girls' mentors have attended family parties with us, holiday gatherings, etc.  And we've attended events with them, such as a graduation. We're gearing up to travel to Chicago to attend our girls' first mentor's wedding!   

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dear Sugar: 8 Favorite Baby Products that Moms By Adoption Need

Dear Sugar:

This post is for those of you waiting for your baby.  If you're anything like I was, you want to be prepared.  You want to buy things for the baby who will go from "the" baby to YOUR baby.   But the choices?  So overwhelming, yes?  

After adopting four times, I've got you covered!   Today I'm sharing with you my favorite products in the hopes that they bring you sweet baby dreams.   If you click on the photo, you'll be taken to Amazon to read reviews, learn more about the product, and purchase.  

1:  Glass bottles.

I know what you're thinking? What is this, Rach, 1900?   But I love, love our glass bottles.  They are incredibly sturdy (we have NEVER BROKEN one) and simple.  I loathe complicated bottles.  Who has time to wash 4000 bottle parts?  Plus, all the little bottle pieces mean the potential for mold and bacteria---gross!   These bottles can be used with the Dr. Brown nipples (which come in various flow options depending on your baby's needs:  preemie, slow, medium, and fast).   Dishwasher safe.  And can be used for baby after baby!   

2:  Adoption friendly baby books.

Most baby books start by asking for details about the pregnancy...which doesn't work when you don't have a pregnancy. But luckily there are two baby books on the market that are specifically for families who adopt!  Yay!  

3:  Baby carrier. 

I cannot survive without my baby carrier!   With four kids, I need my hands free while keeping my baby close.  There are so many benefits to baby-wearing!  Now, there are gobs of carriers---but I'm a Tula fan all the way!  Mostly because it offers good back and shoulder support.  Cheaper carriers just cannot compare.  And Tula carriers often resell for the same or more than what you originally paid!     

4:  Teething necklace.

I love, love my bright and bold necklace:  it's pretty and soothes my baby's gums.    

5:  Baby doll.  

Nothing is sweeter than a baby holding a baby!   And again, I love finding dolls that look like my children.  This is one of my favorite products, because you get six baby dolls (three different skin tones, boy and girl).  The outfits are interchangeable, and I love the "basket" they come in.  

6:  Skin and hair products.  

If you plan to adopt transracially, I highly recommend getting some natural and healthy products in advance.   For my baby girl, I'm love the Curls hair product.  It smells like cake batter and contains healthy ingredients.  For more on our hair and skin routines, check out my previous (and extensive) post.   

7:  Satin crib sheet.

I put off buying one of these for a long time, because they're expensive and plain.  But it's been a game-changer!  Any other sheet has my baby's hair rubbing right out.  A satin sheet means no more hair loss!   

8:   Encouragement for you.

Last, but not least, is the adoption book I co-authored with my friend Madeleine.  I put this on my top 8 list because mamas, you need to take care of YOU.  By doing so, you can best take care of your baby.   Plus, having a book on-hand gives you something to read while you're rocking your sweet baby to sleep.

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: On Mother's Day, Adoption, Waiting, and Hope

Dear Sugar,

It's the eve of Mother's Day weekend.   I know the two words---Mother's Day---will greet each of you with a different reaction. 

Perhaps you're celebrating this day for the first time since adopting. Perhaps it's ANOTHER Mother's Day in which you aren't yet someone's mom.  Perhaps you're the mother of a large, beautiful family through adoption.    

No matter where you are, I want to offer you a virtual cup of hot tea and a hug.  

I have been the mom-in-waiting.  I have been the mom-in-mourning.  I have been the mom-in-rejoicing.  I have been the mom-in-anticipating. 

This week, I've been working really hard to bring you hope, no matter where you are on your journey.   Here's some of the things I've been up to.  Find what applies to you.   I pray my words bring you exactly what you need as we begin this holiday weekend. Click on the topic that speaks to your heart to be taken to the full post:

On Mother's Day without yet being a mother:  Waiting for motherhood on Mother’s Day always felt fragile, anxiety-inducing, and depressing. There was truly no way to ease the heartache. Struggling while standing by for “the call” that will change your world is difficult, to say the least, but it is an unavoidable part of the journey.

On waiting for your first Mother's Day:  Every Mother’s Day, I remember the many times I sat in my isolation, anger, and jealousy. I remember the many women today who are sitting in my yesterday.If you are her, I see you, I know you, and I am cheering for you. I don’t know how or when, but your motherhood is coming. Hold on just a little longer.

On being a "great" mom:  Though I am not a great mom because I chose to adopt, I am a great mom because I was chosen. 

Waiting for your child and making the right choices TODAY: As you wait for your child, I implore you to think beyond the now. I know you’re tired of waiting.  I know the road has been long and bumpy.  I know you’re disappointed, exhausted, and disheartened. I know because I have been there.   But you know what a good mom or dad does?  A good mom or dad doesn’t just consider the path at their feet.  No.   A good parent considers the future.  All the tomorrows.   And makes the best choices he or she can for the well-being of their child’s forever.

I hope you will let your feelings release.  I hope you will care for yourself on the holiday that brings about mixed emotions and hard reminders.   I hope you will dance with faith.  I hope your wait ends soon.   I hope your heart heals. I hope you have strength and courage. 

I truly believe Mother's Day is for us all, no matter where we are on our journey.   


As you wait for your baby, or as you parent your new little one, you will find the encouragement you need to keep going in the book I co-authored with Madeleine Melcher.   Between us, we have seven children, many different adoption experiences (Madeleine is an adoptee) and opinions, and a common held faith in Jesus.   Our book offers you 52 chapters, arranged alphabetically by topic, journaling space, and thought-provoking questions.   -Click on the book graphic to learn more-

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dear Sugar: Family Diversity Children's Picture Books

Dear Sugar,

Over the years, we've added children's picture books featuring diversity in families to our home library.   Our hope as parents is that between the real-life examples all around us (we are friends with many, many multiracial families, fellow families-by-adoption, etc.), in addition to the many wonderful books, our children understand that families come in many forms:  and all of these forms are beautiful!  

Here are our favorite children's picture books focusing on the diversity in families.  Click on the image to learn more:

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links