Today I (Bethany) attended our Maryland agency's annual day-long conference for prospective and current adoptive parents, adoptees, birthparents, adoption professionals, and really anyone interested in adoption. (Dan was out of town on a retreat that had been scheduled first.) I attended last year's conference, too, and was really impressed again! We feel blessed to have an agency that provides such quality education for everyone in the adoption "constellation" (a term I learned today, meaning everyone affected by adoption in some way). It was nice to have a chance to learn more about adoption and related issues, and to take some time to reflect on the complex relationships that result from it.
Here are ten new things that I learned:
From the keynote speaker Alison Larkin, author of The English American (who was hilarious):
1. All parents need to parent the child they have, not the one they might wish to have. While this applies to every parent, adoptive parents in particular need to recognize that their child may have strikingly different interests, personality, etc. than them, rooted in their biological heritage, and celebrate those differences.
2. Adoptees often try to protect everyone - they don't want to hurt their adoptive parents by showing interest in their birthparents, and they want to protect their birthparents from hurt, too, and make sure they are okay.
3. Adoptees often struggle with trust issues deeply rooted in their early experience of not being raised by the parents they are born to. The speaker talked about her difficulty of trusting men, and her disinclination to have children, which she identified as connected with being adopted and feeling abandoned (even while not having ill will toward her birthparents). There's a happy ending, though: she met her birthparents and felt a lot of peace about knowing her origins in a deeper way. That also gave her confidence to marry and she and her husband had two children.
Also, I loved this quote the author closed with, from Jane Austen's Emma: "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about you more." (in regard to her adoptive parents - she got choked up and so did I)
From a panel about "connection" with birthparents, adoptees, and adoptive parents:
4. Adoption stories are powerful and moving! I was very touched by the speakers' stories of placing a child for adoption and later reuniting (or not) - two "pairs" of birthmoms and daughters spoke together - and by the adoptive parents' work to build relationships with their children's birth families. Everyone's story was so unique and yet had similar themes of love, loss and (in the happier stories) healing brought by openness and healthy relationships between the adoptive and birth families. It all made me wonder so much about what our story will be like in the end.
5. Birthmothers and birthfathers are incredibly courageous and generous. The two birthmothers who spoke made their decision wholly thinking about their children's future, even though it was so hard to say goodbye.
6. Birthfathers are often the forgotten member of the adoption community. Their rights vary from state to state, but often they are either voluntarily not involved or involuntarily excluded from the birthmother's decision to place a child. The birthfather who spoke talked about the pain of seeing his daughter in the hospital after her birth and then not since then. My heart went out to him.
From a workshop on family dynamics after bringing an adoptive child home:
(This one ended up being about older child adoption, but was still interesting.)
7. Loss is part of both the adoptee's and the adoptive parents' story. For the parents, this includes loss of the dream or vision they had of parenting and what it would be like. Maybe (like us) that vision had included biological children who look like us, have similar traits, etc. Good parenting requires grieving that dream in order to live in the present moment with this child, not a fake dream child. A parent's unresolved grief or sense of loss can get in the way of attaching to a child and responding to his or her needs.
8. Adopted children need to know they belong to the family. This can be done by hanging family pictures in the house, letting them decorate their room, etc. A sense of truly belonging is so important, especially for older children who may have lived in several homes.
From a keynote by Sarah Saffian, author of the novel Ithaka:
9. Therapeutic writing can be really helpful for those affected by adoption or in the adoption process. I am keeping this in mind and would like to try it! She suggested writing a letter to your future child, or to their birthparents. Pretty sure I would get through only a few words before the tears started flowing...!
10. She read a powerful section from her memoir Ithaka, which is about being "found" by her birthparents as a young adult and gradually developing a relationship with them. In Ithaka, she describes two origin stories, one about being adopted and the other about born, in that order since she was conscious first of being adopted and only later (after meeting her birthparents) did she really think about the earlier birth origin. Anyway - the excerpt she read was a creative exercise in speaking as the child in her mother's womb and how it felt first not to be noticed, then to be a source of anxiety for her mother, then to be born, have some time with her mother, and then after her mother left and she was alone in the hospital nursery, "I look around for her but everyone is a stranger." Wow - powerful. A good reminder that even people adopted at birth experience a serious separation from the only people they've known, especially the mother who carried them in her womb.
Overall, it was a great and enriching day! I felt re-motivated about our path to adoption. Both Dan and I are feeling impatient (*understatement) and are so hoping that we adopt soon!! It helps to go to events like this where we can continue to get more educated and prepared. At the end of the day, it's not about us. It's about being the best parents we can be to a little one in need of a home and a family. We pray for that day to arrive and continue to trust in God's timing.