Friday, October 03, 2008

Adoption Stuff

Recently Kyle and Owen have been talking a lot about things related to adoption. We seem to go through phases with this, as I'm sure all adoptive families do. For stretches of time it rarely, if ever, even comes up. And then we have periods of time when it is bubbling up to the surface a lot. Right now we're in one of those. Our motto with kids' information has always been to give them age-appropriate information if/when they ask for it, but to carefully only answer the questions they are asking and restrain ourselves as much as possible from pushing it further. The idea being that they'll ask what they want to know; they'll ask what they are ready to know. This approach of ours is common, I think. Anyway, we try to stick to this 'information approach' and it has worked for us so far (in many realms, not just adoption). Lately, though, K & O have begun to not just ask questions, but to make statements that we feel compelled to respond to with information. We're comfortable with this, but it is new. And it is not always easy to know how much information to give them. Perhaps it is their age (4 years + 4 months old), perhaps it is the start of school (new questions arising in their now more complex social worlds), perhaps it is all just coincidental... it doesn't matter-- but they are, for sure, thinking about adoption stuff now that they definitely were not thinking about even a month or two ago.

I know with no uncertainty that Braydon and I are well-educated and knowledgeable adoptive parents. We are very confident in that. This is true for me especially because I tend to be the one who actually does all the research -- and I do a lot of research. But Braydon and I communicate intensively on this stuff and I always give him the 'cliff notes' version of all I've learned/read/heard/figured out (i.e., over glasses of wine I tell him everything I know). I think we're relatively well-prepared for much of what is ahead as far as our boys' adoption questions and confusions go. But I have to say, no matter how prepared you are, some of this stuff is just absolutely astonishing. It is one thing to hear the stories from other adoptive parents or to study the research literature or to read adoptees' biographies, etc., etc., etc. It is quite another thing to sit there, face to face with your own child, and experience this stuff. Right now the form this is taking is this: I'm looking at my precious sweet boys, they're looking back at me, and they're saying things that --yes, should be to be expected-- but stun and astonish me nonetheless. It is common (if not the norm) for adoptees to question the permanence of their families. It is common (if not the norm) for adoptees to fantasize about their birthparents. It is common (if not the norm) for adoptees to wonder about their history. But still, despite my intellectual understanding of all this, I continually find myself dumbfounded and wondering, 'How do these thoughts even enter their minds?' Just three examples (of many) from recent days~~~

A few nights ago I was getting Owen ready for bed. He was being his silly self and he was saying, "I want to be a girl! Then I would pee on the potty sitting down!" Then he'd giggle and pretend to pee on the potty sitting down, etc. Typical Owen. But then his tone suddenly took a dramatic turn. Sitting face-to-face with me in the bathroom he looked me right in the eyes and said, "When you send me back to Haiti I will tell my birthmother that I want to be borned again but as a girl next time. That's what I'm going to say to my birthmother when you send me back to Haiti." Huge gulp. What? "Send me back to Haiti?" How on earth did he even come up with this phrase, let alone this thought?? It is stunning. And you just can't be prepared for that. No matter how prepared you are, it just hits you like a ton of bricks. A ton of bricks.

A couple of days ago we were outside playing in the backyard on a beautiful sunny day. Out of the blue Kyle says, "When I was borned that was my birthday." I said, "Yes!" Then he said, "When I was borned I was not here. I don't know who caught me. I wanted to be borned from my mommy but I wasn't. It was my birthmother. And it was so, so scary. It was dark and me and Owen were in there. And you didn't come for me mommy. You didn't. You took too long." O.k., Oh. My. God. Again, a ton of bricks. I don't care how much you know about this stuff, when it is your kid, and they're saying it right to you, it is astonishing. Just astonishing. Awhile later, as he was running off to the trampoline, he looked back at me over his shoulder and shouted out: "Am I in this family forever? Or no?" Of course I shouted back, "Yes! Forever! Forever and ever and ever!" He stopped, turned back to face me, looked at me, and said, "So, are you my mommy forever and ever? Or will I have to have another mommy?" It doesn't matter how many millions of times we've assured them of these things. Their questions still remain. Their uncertainty seems to be forever in tact. You try to convince yourself that the good thing is (the proof that you're doing a good job is) that he's verbalizing this stuff to you. You try to tell yourself that its all good because it reveals that he's able to put this stuff out there to you. He trusts you to say it to you. You say this to yourself, but you can't help but feel totally flabbergasted. How could he even question the permanence of my mothering? How?

The day before yesterday, on the drive home from school, the boys were talking excitedly about how we were going to feed Meera her first taste of "baby rice" that evening. Owen says, "When we were babies we didn't drink breastmilk. We drank formula. Formula from bottles. We liked bottles. But when we were first borned we drank breastmilk from our birthmother's breasts. Yup! We did! We drank breastmilk from our birthmother's breasts! When we were first borned babies in Haiti." I couldn't leave it there. I felt it would be wrong to let him get that belief cemented into his mind, because then I'd have to burst his bubble down the road which would probably be even more painful than bursting it now. "Sweetie," I said, "baby, you never drank breastmilk. Your birthmother gave birth to you and then you went straight to the orphanage. In the orphanage they gave you formula in bottles. And then Mommy and Papi came to get you. And we fed you bottles too. You never drank breastmilk from your birthmother's breasts." Looking at me through the rear view mirror he responded with, "Yup! We drank breastmilk from our birthmother's breasts! When we were first borned in Haiti! When we were with our birthmother!" "O.k.," I said, "we can pretend that is real." That was the best I could do. Because no matter how much I know it is all about him, I would be lying if I were to say that I didn't have a lump in my throat, secretly wishing that I could have "borned" him, secretly wishing that I could have given him what he sees me giving his sister. Knowing that his questions and confusions and fantasies are healthy and normal and right, but secretly wishing that I could whisk them all away so that his tiny heart and tiny mind wouldn't have to be encumbered by all of this history. And secretly astonished, yet again, by the complexities of adoption.


stephanie garcia said...

It's so interesting that you mention this because my sister shared with me a similar comment that my daughter made to her this week about her birthmother while my husband and I were visiting our boys in Haiti. Indeed you do have to wonder what "triggers" the comments even though you know that they will come!

Anonymous said...

Why does it matter if Kyle believes that he was given breast milk by his birthmother? There are facts and there are facts, some facts are your facts, and some are his facts. This just seems like an area where the two of you could have different facts and it would not make a psychological difference if you each had different facts. It may be comforting to him to believe this "fact" so I would be inclined to leave it alone. it is serving an important purpose for him right now.

SC said...

Thank you for giving confirmation and insight. Thank you Thank you!

Anonymous said...

With our little guy (5 years old -- home from Haiti at 1 year) we have always talked about how we will visit and see birthmom, etc. but didn't realize just how we WORDED it -- we were saying "we're going to take you back to Haiti when you're older to see your birthmom and go to the beach, etc." Oops!!! He thought we were going "take him back" to leave him there! We of course assured him it over and over that it will be a vacation "like Myrtle Beach" where we will all stay in a hotel then all come back home together forever.

Rachel said...

I'm de-lurking :)

THANK YOU for writing this post! My husband and I are currently adopting our first child from the Philippines and I love reading your blog. Thank you for writing about this, because I often wonder what it's going to be like after Ezekiel is home and older, and he starts asking us about adoption stuff. This was a phenomenal post to read.

Thanks for always being so honest and detailed. Your blog rocks.

Heather said...

The reason it matters to us what Owen believes about his life history (including whether or not he was breastfed by his birthmother) is this: because we adopted *infants*, it is entirely up to us to teach them their own life story and to give them their history. Nobody else is going to do that for them-- it is all on us. That is a huge burden for an adoptive parent to carry. They were too young to remember virtually anything about life prior to us (at least, definitely too young to remember consciously). You're right: there are facts. The facts that K & O are receiving are, at least at this young age, coming entirely from us. It is important to us that they get the correct facts; that they learn their true life history; that we are honest with them in teaching them about their past. We believe that being truthful now, whenever possible, will help us in the long run-- even if at times it is painful. I think it is absolutely fine for us to pretend or imagine or fantasize about Owen being breastfed. But I do not think it is o.k. for us to tell him (or, by being silent, implying to him) things that are untrue about his history. Because of some of our specific adoption circumstances (that I'm not willing to share on the blog and that we don't make public about our boys' histories), and because I am anticipating further rounds of questions and conversations about "adoption stuff" over the coming years with our boys, we are careful to teach them the truth as we teach them about their roots.
Thanks for reading,

T and T Livesay said...

Hi H and B-

This is the age that Isaac really started having lots of questions and needing more reassurance ... it sounds so familiar to me. You are so right that it still stuns when they say such profound things and the loss they have suffered cannot be underestimated ... Hope has never been nearly as insecure (if that is even the right word) or concerned about her story ... don't know if that makes her healthier -- unhealthy -- or just not ready yet. It is complicated stuff for sure though!

Jen said...

I totally agree with you, why lie to make the truth easier. If the boys were not breastfed it makes no sense to lie to them and tell them they were. Their history or at least what you have of it is precious and theirs and should not be altered to make parenting easier. Good for you guys.

Little guy home almost three months!

Mark and Sarah said...

I can't thank you enough for this post. I have a lump in my throat reading it, but it is so important as an adoptive mama to know what lies ahead. I want to be ready. Your stories are like a lighthouse. Thank you so much for sharing.

The Jensens said...

Hello. I have recently come across your blog when I was searching google for transracial adoption and wanted to say "hi" and let you know that I'm a reader. My husband and I have been talking a lot about adopting so it's fun to read yours and other adoptive parents blogs. My heart goes out to you on posts like this. I wonder how I would deal with questions/comments like these and I guess that's what were discussing and deciding right now. Anyways, thanks for putting yourself "out there" in the bloggy universe and being a mentor for people like us. :)

Anonymous said...

The boys comments and queries seem pretty on target to me. I was separated from my family and later adopted and my a-mother was forever trying to answer questions about my mother and identity.

As far as breatfeeding goes, I see it as the boys wanting a connection to their mother, which would validate hers and their existence. They know you didn't give birth to them, and of course want to know who did. I don't see anything wrong with saying, there's a chance your mother breastfed you. Were these boys taken right from the womb - meaning their mother didn't even hold them?

Do you know her name or how to get a hold of her? Maybe she did breastfeed them. Hopefully K & O can reunite with their mother sooner than later.

Kathrin said...

Dear Heather and Braydon!
Please keep in mind, that I live in Germany. Why don't you lez the boys have a tast of brest milk? Even from the brest. I don't think there is anything wirde about it. I tried to brest feed my girl but she only likes bottles.
All the best.

Kathrin said...

Dear Heather and Braydon!
Please keep in mind, that I live in Germany. Why don't you lez the boys have a tast of brest milk? Even from the brest. I don't think there is anything wirde about it. I tried to brest feed my girl but she only likes bottles.
All the best.

Malia'sMama said...

Bless you guys! I know these kinds of questions are coming for me soon, too! As for Kathrin's comment- you know what? That might be an idea, depending on your comfort level!

Laura said...

Thanks again for being so honest and writing your thoughts so beautifully! My daughter is 2 1/2 and right now I feel like we are in a bubble! I know that the questions will come soon and I appreciate hearing about how you are handling it!

Heather said...

Kathrin & Malia's Mama --
Been there, done that! ;)

AdoptAuthor said...

The boys you are parenting are no doubt extremely bright and precocious! And you are - as you said very well read.

I would however, offer you to be more open-minded and not doubt the validity of what you are being told. How do you know for an absolute fact they were not nuzzled at their mother's breast immediately after birth?

It is fine for you to give them more than facts and information...and even assurances. But, be mindful that there are many feelings arising that no children of this age have words for. Giving them words and "permission" to express their FEELINGS is just as important - if not far more so - than providing them with facts (like you were taken to an orphanage). That's cold. Of course, he rejected it!

Have you ever, when either of them bring up these topics said anything like:

"I sense that you miss Haiti and your birthmother."

"Do you feel sad?"

"How does it make you feel to think of your birthmother?"

Seems to me all your book learn' didn’t really prepare for the nitty-gritty and that you are not prepared to handle the truth: that these children suffer from extremely strong feelings of rejection and abandonment! They have suffered a TRAUMATIC loss - of their parents, family, kin, and culture!

Imagine yourself waking up in a foreign country where no one in your immediate household looked anything like you!

Have you ever asked them: "Do you wonder what your birthmother and other family members look like?" "Would you like to find them someday?"

Sounds to me like instead of researching in books, you need some counseling to help YOU deal with your fears of dealing with these very deep issues.

How does it make YOU fee when they ask these questions? How do you deal with your anxiety and feelings of inadequacy? Perhaps you are feeling some guilt that you weren’t able to breastfeed them, or do not want to image the closeness of that unique special relationship having occurred between them and their mother. And it is just such a "memory" that they desperately need to have. To believe she did love them and care for them and did not just reject them because of "them" - because they were unlovable - the REAL inner turmoil of every adoptee.

Until you deal - honestly - with your fears and can you begin to really help them deal with their very real fears of being rejected until then, thy will keep asking, and you assurances are sounding hollow to these very intuitive children.

I think you are far too concerned with FACTS! Life is not about facts. It is about feelings, emotions. As their parent, your job is to soothe their fears and help them grow to be secure adults...not be an encyclopedia of facts. Facts never helped anyone's self-esteem!

Besides - they may know more than you think they do! If that is the case and you keep insisting they are wrong - they will grow to learn to mistrust you.

Trust THEM! Listen to THEM! And listen not to just to their questions - but to what they are NOT saying as well! It sounds like it is very important for YOU to believe they did not breastfeed.

I hope next time they ask you can say in all honesty: "I don't know. I wasn't there. But I am sure she wanted to and did if she could" "Do you remember that?! Is that a happy memory for you? Then I am happy for you!"

Anonymous said...

His "memories"/beliefs are precious, why destroy them?

You are telling him that he is wrong. That you don't believe him..and that his mother didn't do what she most likely DID! Wouldn't any midwife delivering her babies have handed them to her to suckle?I doubt they have dry-up meds there.

Your "facts" invalidate" him - and validating our kids, to me as a mother, is our most imporant job.

Jen said...

None of us know the story of how K and O came into this world and yet many of you seem to want to give advice on what could have happened. Maybe their mother died during the birth of the babies, maybe it was not a peaceful and loving moment, if that was the case there was certainly no time or desire to allow the boys to nurse. Telling them that they were may make it more difficult later on to give more details as to their actual birth and the situation surrounding it.

Their story is held private by their parents which is absolutely the right thing to do. It is K and O's story, one for them to tell.

I find the comment about the parents needing therapy quite comical. It is fairly obvious that these boys are thriving under the care of two very educated, loving, and well meaning parents.

Heza Hekele said...

I think you handling it all beautifully, from what I have read; and it sounds like they are going through all the proper and healthy stages for adoptees/blendees (mixed families) when they are coming to grasp and appreciate their unique histories.

Thank you for sharing.

It is comforting to hear similar stories to the experiences my bioological son and bonus kids have started to go through with grasping our uniquely blended family and mouring the loss of the former "father".

Kristi said...

Thank you for this post. Especially thank you for being so candid about how you answered these tough questions. Reading all the books in the world won't prepare you for the moment that your baby looks you in the eye and asks these hard questions. My little brother is adopted and has also asked some hard questions and to this day says some things that really just hit my parents in the gut.

I really appreciated your answer to the breastfeeding question. I couldn't agree more that to withhold the truth or to lie would do unnecessary harm in the future.

I respect that you don't share all of your boys history with the public and trust that you make the best decisions for your boys and your family.

Thank you for the information that you do share because it has made me think about things I just wouldn't have before and I think by reading about it - I will be a better prepared parent for my Haitian cutie!

T and T Livesay said...

I think maybe a large majority of anonymous commentors do not know what child birth in Haiti looks like. Most women here are discouraged from nursing ... not encouraged ... and midwife??? not 80% of the population. The vast majority of women give birth alone in a hut here -- all of that aside -- if you want to be critical of how Heather and Braydon chose to handle this -- you could at least have the nuts to use your (real) name. Seriously. said...

I happen to think it's fantastic that you share these things, Heather, and that you share your reactions. As someone who plans to adopt, but is not adopted, I have learned so much from you and your boys. I've never had to wonder about my family history, my permanency in my family, whether my mother loved me, why my parents don't look like me, etc. It is so important to be prepared for these situations and to do what is best.

The people leaving gross comments aren't your sons' parents. You need to raise them the best way you know how. It must be doubly hard to first have to go through this experience with your boys and then to get criticized by those who don't know your whole story. You are right to not allow the boys to hold onto a falsehood, even if it would make them feel better for now. It would only be worse later, when they learn the truth about their birth.

I think you do a great job of explaining things simply and age-appropriately to your boys. It is important to strike a balance between explaining things to them but also reassuring them. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to hear Kyle ask you if he was in your family forever. It breaks my heart to even think about how much those boys have been through in their little lives.

Know that there are many of us who think you are doing a fantastic job as a parent and as a person. I can't think of how many times I've told my fiance the latest K&O story, or that the boys were wearing tutus, or that you had them eating vagina lollipops, or that you told them that when they grow up they can have a penis and a vagina, or that they might fall in love with a man or a woman.

I think your kind of radical parenting is the best kind.

Anonymous said...

What some negative or critical posters fail to realize is that with Haitian adoptions many/most families KNOW their birthmothers/birthfamilies -- have names, addresses if applicable, and often long term contact after the adoption IF that is what the birthparent wishes -- much like U.S. adoptions nowadays in terms of openness of information. Heather and Braydon choose to keep the boys' histories private on this blog because that type of information belongs to their boys and not the public, but you shouldn't assume that they do not know their birthmother, and many things about her and their every moment of their first days of life -- in most Haitian adoptions that type of detailed info is commonplace. The boys should not be told a fairy tale, they should learn their true story in the loving arms of Heather and Braydon who OBVIOUSLY help them to feel loved and secure and supported (any regular reader of this blog will know this). These boys are going through a very natural stage of beginning to understand their lives and their feelings -- as all adopted children do. Heather and Braydon -- thank you for sharing these moments for all the adoptive families and children out there who will have these moments of their own -- and who should not feel ashamed of their feelings and should not feel need to hide their feelings.

Tracy R said...

Bravo Heather, for speaking the truth to your child and for putting it out here for other adoptive parents to read.
We have an open adoption and so, my twin daughters know their birthfamily and we try to visit with them every year, and we still get questions/comments like this. My children have insisted that they grew in my tummy, that my husband cut their cords and that they spent time in the hospital room with us. We tell them that this isn't what happened and they continue to insist and I will then use pretty much what you said, about it being okay to pretend that it's true, and I'll sometimes even tell them, but that their birthmom and birthdad did all that stuff (I use their real names) for them as a very important part of bringing them into this world and then picked us to parent them, etc. etc. etc. It's the truth.
I personally am fine with the white lies of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, but when children are adopted, I think it's very important to tell them the truth if you know what happened to them at birth and until they came home to you. You just have to tell them because that is the part of them that is real, and will, eventually be the part that connects them to their race and their culture and their history, as well as yours. The truth is the bridge between the two families, so, even though it is painful for them, and painful for you to have to tell them, it's the best way to love your children.
Any pain or trauma or issues they may have with the way they came into this world, and the facts of their adoption can only be made worse with lies.
So, carry on parenting your children in a way that continues to make them feel comfortable enough to share these feelings with you, and confident that you will always tell them the truth.
Tracy (sorry so long!)

gloria said...

Wow... I am truly amazed by the insensitivity and arrogance of some of these anonymous bloggers.
I hope that you are not deterred by them and keep on telling your story in whatever way and to whatever depth you feel is right for your family. As a parent of an adopted child too young to ask these questions yet, I find it interesting to read these posts. I'm sure I will face similar questions ,as we also have two bio children.

Cheers, Gloria

Candis said...

Oh man, am I on the late train here. I only just read this blog this evening. I have a question for all the presumptuous Holier-than-Thou posters for this entry. WTF? I don't believe Heather was soliciting your advice. She is sharing her and her family's lives, with us. That is what we call a gift. If you don't like it, don't read it, or be gracious and keep your counsel.


This Mama said...

I love your honesty with your children and the benefit is evident in your very close relationship. Your boys are learning trust and security through your both being very real with them.

I am sorry people can be so mean hearted and can take away a bit of you joy in recording these memories, or cast a bit of internal doubt or make you feel hesitant to post.

I came across your blog a year and a half ago and it has been a joy to read your life's journey. Thank-you also for your honesty with us (your readers) as well.


Chapter Two Manmi said...

It's just sad that people so quickly judge others. I often say adoption is beauty and pain (complex). We are a family because my children had to experience the pain of being separated from their family of birth. They came home older and know much about their own histories. We'd never lie to them about it--not at age 4 or age 11. Truth is always better than lies. Bravo for working so hard to give it to your boys carefully and with so much forethought.

Cheryl said...

Dear Braydon and Heather, thank you for being honest with your kids and with us. Our two youngest kids, adopted over four years ago from Haiti, have very different stories about their birth families and how they came to be at an orphanage. We, too, are giving only as much information at a time as needed until we feel they can handle their birth story.

Like Tara, our son questions his permanence with our family more than our daughter does. It is heartbreaking but yet opens up another opportunity for us to reassure him of our 'forever-ness'.

Please keep blogging and just let the hurtful comments roll off your back. They obviously don't understand and are not adoptive parents themselves.


Robin said...


A mama knows what her babies need.

You are a great, beautiful and inspirational mother.


manaallamano said...

As a AP to a wee Haitian who rules my world I LOVE reading about your kids-I think how you're answering their questions is perfect. Reading about the "going back and forever " comments made me cry-I wish my girl would not have to wonder these things, but she is most likely going too---and its SO hard and scary to answer! Your sharing is such a huge help to all up mamas (and papas) Thanks you for your honesty, it truly helps so many of us!!!!

Holli said...

From the moment I started reading this blog I was hooked- Not because the cuteness splashed all over it:) but because I knew you were a well educated AP! We Adoptive Families need each other!
PLEASE never let the anonymous people make you stop. There are so much more of us AF and others(anonymous included!) that will and have learned from your family.

riversnake said...

As an adoptive mother with a beautiful 4 week old baby boy adopted domestically, I am SO thankful for your open honesty. I love reading your blog for the fun stuff and the tough stuff. It is great to see how you guys handle the tough stuff and also to know that other adoptive parents have similar challenges and fears to our own. Your blog is an awesome resource for AP! Thank you so much!!

Wife to the Rockstar said...

I am sorry anon has been so vicious. I too have been attacked on my blog. Adoption is a senstive topic. And until someone has been an adoptive parent, they cannot understand all of the many things that come along with it.

I think it is wonderful you are sharing all of this. Think how many adoptive parents can relate to this or how many who are going to be adoptive parents will be more prepared because of it.

I tunred off anon comments on my bloggy. :)

insanemommy said...

Oh, Heather I'm sitting here crying. I'm not there yet, but I know it's just a matter of time. I'm with you. We have to tell the story as it pertains to their life story. Not something made up or fabricated. Good for you for being true. My girls constantly amaze me with their their questions and comments. No amount of research prepares you for what to expect. Nothing...... Hugs always. You're awesome.

Narda said...

Wow. "Adoptauthor" is really self righteous and judgemental. Anyone who has read this blog to any depth knows that you have asked yourself those questions and more. Keep on keeping on.

Adopting1Soon said...

Wow, your post took my breath away with it's honesty, your feelings, the boys comments and anxieties. I hope to soon be a mom, and I'm reading all I can on adoption and trans racial adoption and internatioanl adoption, which led me to your blog, among many others as well. Thank you, thank you for being so open. When reading all this stuff, I can easily slip into "Oh, I'll know how to handle that" and then reading this post makes me realize that no matter how well prepared I think I am, there will be times when I don't know what to say, and don't know what the *right* thing to do is.

kate.m.v. said...

Thank you for writing so thoughtfully and thus sharing how you thoughtfully are raising your children - adoption is an issue that needs to be discussed (as an adoptee - I cannot imagine how I would feel I was wasn't told I was adopted (although it would be pretty hard not to, since it was a trans-racial adoption!). My parents like you both often had conversations while I was growing up about my adoption - initiated by myself and my brother or by my mum and like you do - conveyed in an age appropriate manner. Also my mum and I often had conversations/coaching pep talk about what I should say to people who would ask nosey/inquisitive questions. And how I had the right to steer the conversation rather than allowing others to "fillet" me. I hope you will still be blogging when your children are teenagers because for a while there was a time when I felt so alone and misunderstood - and I am finally realising why I felt that way and in fact many others (adopted and children from immigrant families and Third Culture Kids) go through the same identity issues I face on a daily basis.
Best wishes,