Thursday, July 15, 2010

Guest Blogger: Matt Cleary

This is the last of our guest bloggers on the topic of adoption.  Matt is our friend and brother-in-law. He was adopted as an infant. He is married to Tara's little sister Tina and they have two sons and recently their daughter joined them through adoption.

The Cleary Family of five have experienced all three parts of the adoption triangle. Matt is adopted.  Tina lovingly placed a baby for adoption many years ago.  Matt and Tina have adopted transracially/internationally.  It has been helpful to Troy and I to have them to check our thoughts with and talk through things.  We are incredibly concerned that we treat our children's first-mothers with respect. Because of things we learned from Matt and Tina we have always made photos and contact an option for the birth-moms. (And yes I know some birth-moms are not safe enough to share info with but respecting them is still a loving thing to do.) We asked Matt to speak honestly about his thoughts on adoption.

For the sake of back-ground, Matt was adopted by a same-race family in the 70's and it was a closed adoption. It is good for those of us that have adopted or are considering it to hear the voices and experiences of others, the more we understand the experiences of others, the more sensitive we become.


Adoption is a challenging concept that has evolved over the years.  For the most part, I like where the evolution has taken us.  We have gone from a culture that was hush-hush about adoption to one that writes books (and blogs) about the topic hoping to make all sides more comfortable with the process. 

I was adopted.  I was "given up" for adoption when I was a baby and adopted into my "adoptive" family when I was about a month old.  I put those words in quotes because they are words that are thrown around a lot, but they also have a tremendous psychological impact on the adopted child.   We need to carefully choose our words.  Given up, real family, adoptive family, etc all have an impact on a young child.  Is this not my real family?  If not, then who is?  These are questions that young children will ask themselves.

I think one of the most challenging concepts of adoption is the explaining to a child why they were given away.  We give old clothes away, we give to charity, and we give advice.  The concept of being given up or given away was always a challenging one for me.  Was something wrong with me?  Can I be given back if this family doesn't like me or if I do something wrong?  The challenge is for the adoptive parents.  Saying 'it was for the best' does not make it so.  Saying that 'your mom loved you so much she wanted something better for you' is better, but still difficult for a child to understand.  This is probably the most vital thing a parent can do for their adoptive child:  Learn and talk about why they are in that family.  ('BTW, God wanted us to adopt' doesn't work either).  Remember, you're explaining it to a child, not your friends at work.

There is a lot that I have to say about adoption, but I really want to focus on the concept of abandonment. Abandonment is a powerful feeling that needs to be dealt with.  The feeling of being abandoned is a feeling I had as long as I can remember.  It is a horrible feeling.  It is a feeling of worthlessness.  It is a feeling of being unwanted.  It is a feeling of being lost, even though you are in the midst of your family.  Nothing looks familiar as you look around.  When the going gets tough, you're left to wonder what another life would have been like.  Its always wondering if you're being treated differently because you aren't their "real" kids.  I always felt as if there was something missing in my life. (The long version of the story would include a not so pleasant reunion with my birth-mom and the realization that what I was missing was Jesus). 

As an adopted child, we hear the comments, "you look so much like your dad" or "you have your mom's smile."  We nod our heads not knowing what to say.  When I was a little bit older and unruly, I would sometimes counter with, "well, that's odd -because I was adopted."  Sometimes I got satisfaction in making others squirm.  Adopted children need to be emotionally equipped to deal with comments like this.  The best way I can describe the feeling of the way an adopted child feels is that of an identity crisis.  Who do I look like?  Why am I good at sports?  I so wanted to identify with someone.  This is where families can create identities.  I loved Tara and Troy's 'gotcha day/adoption day parties' for Isaac and Hope and Phoebe.  What a tremendous way to identify with the situation. 

I'm sure there are other people who were adopted that have a different story, but this is some of my story.  Identity and abandonment are two major issues that need to be addressed as children are growing up.  This will help and equip them to deal with the emotions involved in being an adopted child.


Kathrin said...

Thanks for sharing.

Llama Momma said...

Great post, Matt!

Thank you for sharing from your heart. I'm also a birthmom. My birthson is almost 20 now. I hope I can sit down across from him someday and tell him the whole truth about his adoption. Grace.

Barbara said...

Tremendously helpful and concise. You've left me thinking as an adoptive mom. Thank-you.

Carrie said...

Thank you for this post.

All my life I have wanted to adopt. As a kid/teen it always felt fairy-tale-ish; it would be perfect and beautiful. The older I get the more scared I feel about making sure any children I adopt are taken care of and loved and assured they are wanted and loved.

Thanks for showing me a piece of the puzzle.

kb said...

How would you address the issue of abandonment in a situation where you know nothing about the birthparents (and the child most likely never will either)?

Brazenlilly said...

Excellent, insightful post. I know you're wrapping up your guest bloggers, but I'd love a quick reference list of any books that you (Cleary's or Livesays or anyone else) have found helpful. Or if you could just keep having good guest posts for the next several years, that would also work. ;)

Shauna said...

Thank you!!! I want to do what is best by my adopted son but lack real tools so thank you for this! Can you give more suggestions to help with Identity? We know nothing about the birth mom or family.

MP said...

Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective. Can you give us adoptive folks some ideas on what you would like to have been told? How can we talk about or explain the adoption in words that you would have understood and would rather have heard?
What would have helped you with your identity? I know only little about bio mom (open adoption..planning to keep a relationship if bio Mom manages that)and nothing about dad. What do you suggest?

Carissa said...

As an adoptive parent, I thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts on abandonment and identity. I have much to learn and your perspective is helpful! May God bless you!

Terri said...

Adoptive Families magazine has a wonderful free website, and every issue is jam-packed with thoughtful articles with similiar themes to what has been shared in the Livesay blog lately. I am an adoptive mom of a child of another race and have found it extremely valuable.

Terri Urban

triplehmoms said...

We have an open adoption with my oldest daughter's adoption but are separated geographically (us in TX and the birthfamily in Guatemala). Having this contact for this daughter has given her such a "grounding" and identity. For my youngest daughter, we do not have an open adoption--yet--but I see us moving in that direction. She is ready for it now, I think, after seeing the openness with her sister's family.

I don't know if it makes a difference (and I would be curious as to Matt's thoughts), but we haven't used the terms "given away." We use the terms "made an adoption plan." My daughters know enough about the adoption process in Guatemala (we have one more adoption underway right now) to know that the birthmom has to participate in the process. She has to help with the plan. Any thoughts on this wording?

Anonymous said...

Some of the most powerful words I have ever heard were from my birth father when I was 35 years old. He simply said, "I abandoned you, I am so sorry." Until those words were spoken I did not understand the conflict within me. It's a deep feeling of being alone even when the room is full of people you love and that love you. It impacts every part of your world. I am a follower of Christ and up until that point HE had healed many wounds in my heart. These words helped to heal many more. I know I am not in the majority and most people will never hear these words from a birth parent. But I wish to pass them on to those that need to hear. "I abandoned you, I am so sorry." Michele Raines

Anonymous said...

We have been part of an open adoption this year. The circumstances of which have been heartbreaking. We would have raised this precious baby, but the mother absolutely would not consider it. Each month we wait for the updates and are tying to prepare for the end of the year when we will only receive courtesy notices three times a year. What I would share is that God in His mercy is sovereign over each life. Have mercy toward the birth parents. Without God's grace and forgiveness we would not have made it through this year of unmerciful judgement by the hearts of fellow Christians. Our sin brought us to these circumstances, but God's grace allowed this precious one to come through it and into the home of another.

If you are a birth parent, God's peace be with you. You are loved so much by Your Heavenly Father.