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 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.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dear Sugar: 10 Things Every Parent by Adoption Has Heard

Dear Sugar:

If you've adopted already, you've likely heard some or all of these questions and statements...about 1000x!

1:  Why didn't you have your own kids?  

2:  Why did his mom put him up for adoption?

3:  Are your kids real siblings

4:  Now that you've adopted, I bet you'll get pregnant!  

5:  Were her parents young?

6:  I adopted a cat last year!  Isn't it so rewarding?  

7:  Isn't adoption really expensive?  

8:  Are you the nanny? 

9:  I've always wanted to adopt, but then I had my own kids.  

10: God bless you for giving a child in need a home.

Where do you stand on responding to such questions and statements?  How do you respond?  Let's chat on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dear Sugar: Jamie Ivey, on Adoption, Race, Nosy Strangers, and Doing It All

Dear Sugar,

I'm just a *tad* obsessed with today's guest.  Jamie Ivey is a mom-by-adoption and birth, a speaker and writer, a podcast hostess (with the mostest---couldn't help myself!), wife, and woman of faith.  Her commitment to hospitality, loving Jesus and people, and empowering fellow women is incredibly inspiring.  Let's get at it:     

Rachel:  GIRL!  You do so many things.  You have a fabulous podcast called The Happy Hour, you write, you speak, you travel, and you host incredible female-empowering events.  Oh, and you're a wife and mom by birth and adoption.  Many of us are like you in that we have a career, a family, and passions and talents.  And we feel SO much pressure to do it all.   Do you have a secret you can share with us?  I mean really, how do you do it:  keep up with your kids, keep your marriage hot, and still pursue your career?   

Jamie:  I’m most certain that there’s no secret sauce to doing it all. In fact, I’m also most certain that there is no such thing as doing it all! A few years ago I took an inventory of all the things I was saying yes to, and it was overwhelming. I was saying yes to lots of things, but not doing any of them well. I decided then that for the next year I would only say yes to things that were under 4 certain categories. It was a great indicator of how sometimes we have to say no to things so that we can do well the things we do say yes to.

I’m also intentional with the things that matter the most to me – my people. I will always choose a family night at home over a PTA meeting. I will always choose a date night with my man over an early bedtime. I will always choose watching my kids do their thing at school over a girl’s night out. So in reality I don’t do it all, I just really try and focus on the things that matter to me.

The myth is that anyone can do it all. There’s no such thing. I always say that when I’m mothering my kids, or out on a date tending to my marriage I am not working in that moment. When I’m on the road working, or at an event for my podcast I’m not mothering in that moment. Whatever moment I’m in, I focus on doing that the best that I can. Most days from 4-9 it’s all about mothering, and from 8-3 all about working. (Key word there is “most” – I’m still learning this too friends!)

Rachel:  At least once a week, a random stranger stops me and my four babies in the store, at the park, etc. to ask a question about adoption.  Your family's story, like mine, includes transracial adoption, and transracial adoption is not only obvious, but also fascinating to the public.  Now that your children are older, do they answer strangers' questions?  Do they prefer you answer?  How do you handle the occasional interrogation?  What do you think families new to adoption should consider before responding to strangers?  (Like, what do you wish you knew THEN that you know now?)   

Jamie:  When my kids were younger I used to take offense to any question about how my family looked different. Now I am much more interested in sharing the beauty of our family than being offended these days. Most people don’t ask questions in front of my kids anymore since they realize that my kids are old enough to answer. As a family we talk about these questions as they come towards me, and even role play some in how to answer questions that might come from friends and their parents.

My advice to parents who are just beginning this journey into their family that is formed different than most families, and looks different than those around you, is to always look for ways that you can speak positive messages about your family and educate while doing so. For example, when someone asks me if I know my kids real mom I simply answer this way, Oh yes, we do know his birth mom, and have a great relationship with her. You see, I didn’t make them feel stupid, and I didn’t get offended when they assumed I wasn’t his real mom, but yet I answered in a positive way, and educated the person along the way. 

Rachel:  When I was onThe Happy Hour podcast, we talked about raising our kids and their privacy, especially for adoptees.  Now that your kids are a bit older, what do you see as the pros and cons of sharing your children with the world via social media: either a story, a picture, or both?  What rules or guidelines do you have in place so that you are respectful of your kids while still being open with your readers?

Jamie:  When my kids were younger I shared all the stories – potty training, first rides on a train, sick in the middle of the night, first day of kindergarten, all of the things! Now that my kids are older and have an opinion on such things I share a lot less with the world. Most times if you see a photo of one of my kids on social media, I have asked them if I could share that photo and/or that particular story. Sharing my family with the world has been such a positive thing. It’s a great way for people to see a normal family that just looks different than they may be used to. It helps people see adoption in a positive light as well.  I now look at things through this lens – would it be okay for my kids to see this photo of them, or read this caption about them in 10 years? If it’s a no, then I don’t post. If it’s a yes, then go right ahead.

Rachel:  Let's talk about being a woman of faith and today's political and racial climate.  Personally, and I know some of my readers feel the same, I feel stuck and frustrated. There are so many people who are not WOKE to the realities people of color, women, immigrants, people with special needs, etc. face.  And sadly, many of those who turn a blind eye are fellow Christians who are in positions of political power.  Because of this, I think many who aren't Christians tend to turn away from even considering the redemptive love of Jesus.  Those of us who GET IT are working extra hard to show the world that we DO care and that ALL people matter to Jesus.  Where do you stand on this?  What insight or encouragement can you offer those who are WOKE women of faith and are struggling today? 

For all of you women that are WOKE, keep it up! I think one of the biggest hinderances we can feel is that our reach isn’t big enough, or our influence isn’t wide enough, or our followers aren’t grand enough and therefore we won’t make a difference with what we are saying. I say that is a lie. For many generations before us they made huge impacts with the gospel and the love of Jesus and not a one of them had an Instagram account, or email list of thousands.

We need to be women who are tending to the people that God has put in front of us. For most of us, that’s the people in our homes – whether that be children, parents, or roommates. For some of us, it’s the online community that listens to our voice, and for the even less of us, it’s the audiences that listen to our voices at events.

The lie that will soften your voice is that no one is listening to you. Friends, you have people listening to you, so tell them what you know to be truth about the gospel and God’s love for them. Then they will tell and the ripple effect will be massive.

Don’t let the lie of “I have no one listening” to cause you to be ineffective. God has given you a voice, use it for his truths, and speak those to the people around you.

Rachel:  You have a book coming out in January.  Can you give us a sneak preview?  (I cannot wait to read it, and I don't even know what it's about!)  What can we expect from a book by Jamie Ivey?  

Jamie:  Ah, yes my book! It still seems super surreal to type those words – my book. IF YOU ONLY KNEW releases in January of 2018 and I’m beyond excited to share this story with anyone that will read it! For many years, I was scared and ashamed to admit how much I had struggled in the past. I made bad choices, turned my back on God, and then when I finally gave my life to Him, I worried that I was too much of a mess to be used by Him. Finally, I began believing what He said about me, and it changed my whole life. That’s what this book is about!

I’m excited about this message, and it is humbling that I get to put a book out with my words inside of it and my name on the cover. I still think I’ll believe it when I see it on the shelves of the bookstore! So, go buy it so I know it’s really happening!! ;)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: Your Burning Open Adoption Questions

Dear Sugar,

Today's focus is on open adoption.  We have four children, all of whom have open adoptions with their birth families.  Each relationship is different, each experience is different, each dynamic is different.  Now, let's get to those questions!  

Photo of one of my kiddos kissing her bio brother on the cheek, many years ago.  So precious! 
Q:  Our child's birth parents have cancelled several visits last-minute, and I'm tired, frustrated, and confused.  What do we do about this?

A:  I believe in keeping your promises, but I also believe that your #1 job is to protect your child. With that said, if the cancellations are disruptive to your child (emotionally), perhaps it's time to stop scheduling visits for a season.  However, a difficult season is not your permission slip to bail on the relationship.  

Q:  We're getting ready to begin our adoption journey, and we don't know what to promise in terms of openness.  I mean, we haven't even met our future child or his/her family yet!  Our agency is pushing us toward more openness, but we just aren't sure. 

A:  I believe in short-term promises.  Meaning, don't promise a visit once a year until the child is eighteen.  Why?  Because the CHILD will eventually have (and should have) say so in the openness. Now, I believe in a COMMITMENT to open adoption, but I don't believe in making concrete guarantees beyond the short-term.  I also believe in letting the relationship develop organically and over time.

Q:  What does open adoption require of the parents? 

A:  Grace, empathy, honesty, flexibility, and commitment.  Open adoption is NOT easy; it has both its joys and challenges.  Open adoption is an ARC and not a marathon.   Also, open adoption isn't for every person and every adoption.  That's OK.  Just because open adoption is popular (and pushed upon birth and adoptive families by adoption agencies and attorneys), doesn't mean it is the correct avenue for every person.    

Q:  Doesn't open adoption confuse the child?

A:  Not in my experience.  Lots of kids have family dynamics that aren't the "norm" (a mom, a dad, who are married, and bio siblings, all living under the same roof), and it's not confusing as long as parents are open and honest.  There are some great children's books that explain family dynamics which can help you explain to your child what his or her family is like.   

Q:  I think we should choose open adoption, my partner doesn't.  How do we decide what to do? 

A:  I think it's SO difficult to say what's best when have yet to meet your future child and his or her family.  Choosing open adoption before adopting is almost like that TV show Married at First Sight.  You make a life-long promise to someone who is a stranger?  That said, I do think your job right now is to get educated.   If you sign up for my e-newsletter, you'll be sent a free e-book that explains why education is critical!   Learn all you can about open adoption prior to adopting so when you are presented the opportunity to adopt a child, you can make your decisions out of education and not ignorance.   

What are your thoughts on open adoption?  Let's chat on Facebook. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Michelle Madrid-Branch, Adoptee, Mom-by-Adoption, and Author

Dear Sugar:

One of my favorite people in the adoption community is Michelle Madrid-Branch. She's an international adoptee, a mom-by-adoption, and an author, among other things.  I have learned so much from her, and I think you will to!  

Rachel: Michelle, you have a dual connection to adoption.  You're an adoptee and you're a mom-by-adoption.  How has each connection helped you define and understand adoption?  

As an adoptee, adoption has defined so much of who I am as a person. From my earliest beginnings, I have lived within the skin of being an international adoptee. I've journeyed to uncover the truths of my own adoption in order to become whole. As a mom-by-adoption, I've been able to understand the deep blessing of delivering a child in this way. Both experiences have aided me in understanding the profound gain and profound grief of adoption, and I've learned three key lessons: 

Adoption is not a one-sided experience. It impacts everyone involved. Open and honest communication is so very essential. Expect differing perspectives. Respect them all. 

Grief is real for the adoptee. I didn't grieve out-loud for much of my growing up years. I kept my emotions hidden inside because I was afraid. Love seemed conditional on my being a happy, perfect adopted girl. As beautiful as adoption can be, there is an ocean of grief involved. That grief must be safely explored, heard and validated. 

Identity is the adoptee's to claim. An adoptee deserves to claim their true identity, and not one that is imposed upon them. Plain and simple, support adoptees in their journey to know who they are, on their terms and in their time. 

Rachel:  Your social media and your blog seem to be deeply rooted in honesty and joy.  Can you tell me what your main goal or purpose is when you write a book or blog post? What do you want the world to know about adoption? 

Michelle:  I want the world to understand that the adoption community has much to share. We are resilient, inclusive, proud, and no longer willing to stand in the shadows. I want the world to understand that there is a love that knows no borders and that adoption is the living, breathing blueprint of this kind of love. I want the world to understand that honesty is healing. And, that joy is possible — no matter what life has thrown in your path. Your story is your power. Use it well. 

Rachel:  For those who are hoping to adopt, what is one piece of advice, encouragement, or wisdom you can provide based on your experiences?

Michelle:  When they ask about their adoption, stop everything and focus on them. Don't brush it off, don't let the moment slip away. Adoptees of all ages need to feel seen and heard. 

Rachel:  What are three things you are loving right now? 

Michelle:  1) I'm an equestrian. I ride english saddle and enjoy jumping in the arena. My horse, Sir Cadbury, teaches me so much about balance and being in the moment. It's a beautiful gift!

2) Along that note, I feel really blessed that my 7-year old daughter is an equestrian, too. Nothing fills me with more joy than when we are together in the arena. 

3) Laughter! We are a family that laughs...a lot. I love the sounds of our laughter. I'll never stop loving that!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: A Letter to My Boobs During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Today I'm sharing my very recent journey.

Dear Boobs:

Ali Cummins Photography
I used to want you so bad.  It started in the third grade.  I heard a few girls on the playground gushing over a girl named Jessica.  Why?  They caught a glimpse of, wait for it....a bra strap.  Jessica was one of the cool girls with naturally gorgeous blonde hair (long and flowy, like a Disney princess), an on-trend wardrobe, and now, developing breasts. 

Around this same time, Judy Blume’s book Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret was becoming increasingly popular among girls my age, especially the section where the protagonist did a pectoral exercise while chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.”   

Boobs were it. If a girl possessed breasts (no matter how small), she possessed prestige, admiration, and maturity:  three things I desperately strived for. 

The next year at my January birthday party, my mom was creative.  Though it was frigid outside, we had a beach-themed party.   My friends and I wore our swimsuits, we had a cake that looked like an island, we made seashell necklaces, and we listened to my dad’s Beach Boys records.   

Before I headed down the carpeted steps to greet my first guest, I folded the swimsuit's shelf-bra liner up a few times to create (I thought) the appearance of curves.  Of course instead it just looked like wadded-up fabric (which was exactly what it was). 

Despite my efforts, even insisting that my mom buy me a lacy, pearl embellished training bra at JCPenney, long before I needed one, you refused to make your debut until I was well into the eighth grade.  Even then, you were nothing impressive.  I was long, lean, and awkward with zero athletic ability.  And you started to emerge (and it took all of high school for this cycle to be complete), my desire for you was replaced with the next milestone:  starting my period.   I didn’t appreciate you as I should have, even when I went from an A cup to a (pushing it) B cup.  

You managed to look OK enough through college and even in my Maggie Sottero two-piece wedding dress.  The corset top still required sewed-in push up pads, but you showed up well enough.   For four years, I enjoyed married life with confidence in my body, eventually joining a gym and relishing in building muscle while gossiping with girlfriends and half-assing it in step class. 

During this season, I found a breast lump, and persisted on having it examined and later extracted.  It was nothing but a non-cancerous mass.  At the time I was terrified, but I managed to handle it and move on.  

Then 2004 happened.  I was in graduate school, teaching writing to college freshman (who were just four years younger than me), and ended up getting a weird stomach virus.  That's a long story, but a year-and-half later, after over twenty medical appointments with five medical professionals, I wound up in the ER in Diabetic Ketoacidosis.  I finally had a diagnoses:  type 1 diabetes.   I was very fortunate to be alive.

I then began gaining back all the weight (and then some) that I had lost when my body went toxic.   Gaining weight meant gaining something I never really had before:  breasts!  Like real ones that looked ah-mazing in V-neck tops and swimsuit tops.  Diabetes sucked, but at least I got a few perks, including C-cup breasts.  

After the diabetes diagnosis, that's when I knew we would adopt.  My body had been through hell.  I wasn't willing to risk going down that path again, nor was I going to put a baby through that.   Adoption was the right choice for us.  

We had two children through adoption by 2011 when another knot appeared.  Another surgery, biopsy, and declaration that though it was a mass, it wasn’t cancerous.   In the clear.     

Breast ultrasounds and examinations by doctors became my norm.   I came to not only expect extra steps to be taken, but for the news to be good.   I almost felt like a professional.   Here I had experienced not only two breast lumps but a traumatic diagnosis and incredible survival story.   Surely I had enough things go wrong that from then on, everything would go right.   How could it not?

Six more years, two more children.  One of whom I had a nursing relationship with.   

Then this April...I figured my "extremely dense breasts" were throwing me another curve ball.  I figured the new lump was normal.  It wasn't.  

Breast cancer does not discriminate.  It does not care what color someone's skin is, how old she is, or even her history.  It does not care if someone has all or none of the "risk factors" we women hear so much about.  

It chose me.  It appeared, swiftly and angerly.  I do not know why.  I have been over it a thousand times.  Was it something I did?  Is it just because my body is whacked out?  Is it just the fact that one in eight women get breast cancer, and I was that "one"?  Why?  Why me?   Why after one disease did a second one arrive?

I could have preserved you, I was told.  I could have chosen a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation.  But there was a possibility that I'd need to later do a mastectomy anyway.  That the cancer would come back, sneakily, in the opposite breast.  

I had a choice, certainly, but my goal was to give myself the best chance of not only survival, but for a life with less anxiety and doubt.  I needed peace, reassurance, and odds in my favor.  

So I chose to let you go. 

I gave you some good, hard looks.  I committed you to memory.   I hugged my kids and my husband a little tighter against you.   I realized you were JUST boobs but you were still boobs:  your importance and status instilled in me since childhood.  

On the day of my surgery, I was both nervous and confident.  I could do this.  I could do anything in Christ who gives me strength.  This wasn't an ending, but a second-chance, a powerful beginning.  

It's been a long month-and-a-half since the surgery.  I look down at you.  You are new and foreign, different and present, artificial and yet MINE.  You were purchased and chosen.  You are strange.

I do not regret my decision to bid the original you farewell.  It was the right and best choice.  Recovery has been tumultuous, a never-ending roller coaster of physical and emotional and mental and spiritual ups and downs.  And I have a feeling that recovery isn't just a season of physical healing, but a forever-state of remembering and considering.  Losing you left me scarred, physically and emotionally.  

But losing you also meant potentially saving my life.

I am sorry we couldn't be together forever, or at least longer. I miss you, though I'll be honest that most days I don't think too much about you.   My personality of "go big or go home" helped me decide to tell you goodbye and move forward.

I know I'll never be completely over you.  Cancer changes a person, inevitably and irrevocably.   Not having you is a constant reminder of what was, but I refuse to live steeped in regret and shame.  

My journey has been one of learning and listening.  Every time bad news arrived, I felt a new wave of spiritual warfare come over me.  But this time when I was told that having cancer meant possibly saying goodbye to you, I thought to myself, this isn't my first rodeo.  I've faced hard and scary times before, and every time I emerged victorious, stronger, and more confident.  

Cancer disrupted my life.  But it didn't defeat me.  My story, my journey, it continues.  And I have you to both blame and thank.   I have memories and a future.  I have hope.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Dr. John DeGarmo, Foster Care Expert

Dear Sugar:

Let's just say this upfront.  I absolutely admire and respect foster parents.  They have one of the toughest jobs: advocating for children, (sometimes) fighting a broken system, and dealing with ever-changing rules and plans. That's why today, I wanted to bring you some foster care wisdom from Dr. John DeGarmo, a foster parent and fostering advocate.  

Rachel:  Dr. John, you seem to do it ALL!   So my first question for you is, why?  Why make it your mission to educate others on foster care and adoption?  

Dr. John:  Before I was a foster parent, I held many of the same misconceptions that most in society have about all things foster care today.  Indeed, as the media continues to focus on the many negative stories about foster care, foster parents, and children in foster care, these misconceptions and negative stereotypes only increase.  I feel called to not only help children in foster care and foster parents, but also to help general society better understand the foster care system, as well as the many challenges children in care face on a daily basis, in a better fashion.

Rachel:  You and your wife have fostered many children.  I'm sure one thing you hear often (I do!) is that some people claim they could "never foster" because it would just be too hard.  I know some foster parents find this offensive.  I'd love to know how you respond when someone says this to you.  

Dr. John:  My response is this; “That’s a good thing. It is supposed to hurt. My heart is supposed to break! These children need me to hurt for them. To be sure, children in foster care need stability and they need security. Yet, what they need the most is to be loved. As foster parents, we might the first adults who have ever loved the child in a healthy and unconditional fashion. Sadly, for some children, we may be the only adults who will ever love the child in this fashion, in an unconditional manner. So, when the child leaves our home and our family, our hearts should break. We should experience feelings of grief and loss. After all, we have given all of our hearts and love to a child in need.  Oh, and I do cry each time these children leave my home. I do grieve, as my heart is indeed broken. 

Rachel:  What are three things you would tell any person considering becoming a foster parent?  

Dr. John:  Before becoming a foster parent, one must determine if one's spouse/partner also wishes to care for children in need in the home.  If both in a relationship are not in agreement, marriages can be destroyed. Second, one must determine if she has a strong support system of some kind. Whether it is a church, family members, work mates, friends, or neighbors, foster parents need to surround themselves with people who will help and support them.  Finally, be aware that foster parenting can be exhausting, and may lead to emotional burn out.  It is important to take time for oneself as a foster parent as you care for children in need.

Rachel:  Oftentimes, I hear those who wish to adopt express that they'll "just go through the system" because it's a "cheaper" way to become a parent vs. adopting an infant domestically though an adoption agency.   This deeply troubles me because they clearly do not understand the goal of foster care and the trauma that many children in care have been through.   How do you respond to those who just want to adopt as quickly and cheaply as possible?   

Dr. John:  When a child is placed into foster care, the initial goal is to have the child reunified with his birth parents, or a member of his biological family. To be sure, the initial intent of placing a child into care is that the placement be a temporary, with reunification the main objective. Yet, there are those instances when reunification is not possible, and the child is placed through the court system for adoption. There are several reasons why a foster child might be placed up for adoption.  First, the custody rights of the birth parents are voluntarily terminated; secondly, the custody rights of the birth parents are terminated by a court order; and third, the child is up for adoption due to the death of birth parents. 

Rachel: Finish this sentence:  Being a foster parent means ______.

Dr. John: Being a foster parent for me has created a sense of urgency within me to make a difference in the lives of those in need.