Monday, November 01, 2010

National Adoption Month: Honoring First Families

November is National Adoption Month.

Creation Groans from Christian Alliance for Orphans on Vimeo.

In July, friends wrote and shared these posts on the topic:

To Adopt or not to Adopt (Christine Moers)
A Vision Test - Transracial Adoption (Amie Sexton)
Hindsight - More on Transracial Adoption (Amie Sexton)
Adoption thoughts - (Kristen Howerton)
Our post from July  (T & T)

Adoption is not the only answer to the enormous orphan crisis; it is one piece of a the large puzzle.

There are multiple ways to engage and respond: Read this for ideas.

In recent months we've been reading a few blogs written by adult adoptees. Their feelings and experiences can often teach us how to be better parents, whether we agree or disagree with their opinions. 

It is clear that as a society we've learned a lot about adoption and the loss involved over the last 30+ years.  People don't typically keep adoption a secret like they might have years ago. Open adoption is becoming more common. Hopefully we're recognizing more and more that being open and honest and allowing our children to feel things without fear of anything other than acceptance and understanding is important.  It seems like a lot more adoptive parents are going into adoption without the fairy-tale heroic ideas of what it means to adopt.

Our Haitian kids will always (as long as their moms are alive and desire it) have a relationship with their first moms.  We recognize this is not possible for everyone. We were honestly very nervous about it at first, but only because we were insecure and did not know for certain how that would feel.  Risking relationship with them has been a beautiful thing for our kids, their first moms, and us. Even though there are some uncomfortable things about it, we want our kids to know that they are free to love these women with whom they are so deeply connected without threatening or damaging us.

Troy and I recently shared our thoughts about honoring first families at a conference we attended. (Full disclosure: we are advocates of open adoption whenever it is possible.) It has troubled us to learn that some adoptive parents don't speak of their children's mothers with respect and love. We've heard people say, "But her mother abandoned her" or "His mother was an addict". While all of that could be true we humbly submit there are some other truths to consider.

Consider N's story. N. lives among the poorest women in the world.  She daily struggles to figure out how to feed herself and her five children. She has been taken advantage of numerous times and is without support of family or friends. One day, desperate for food, N. sells herself for a dollar or two in order to provide food for her hungry children.  Six weeks later N. learns she is pregnant.  Twelve weeks after that N. tests positive for HIV.  Twenty-two weeks later she gives birth. Because she is desperately poor and the father of the baby not only gave her a son, he gave her AIDS; she places the baby for adoption.

What should this little boy grow up hearing about his first mother?

In a world that is totally broken and corrupt there is no way to understand the social, cultural, and economic structures that lead (and sometimes force) a woman to "abandon" her child.  It is naive to think that a woman with choices and support would walk up to a train station and leave her kid there with no other information. If Haiti has taught us anything, it is that things are rarely as they appear to be. Dozens of things we cannot see or understand from our cultural perspective are in play - and some of them are grievously unjust.  Even if you only know that your adopted child was left somewhere by their first mother, you can find a way to speak lovingly about her. Doing that will only serve to make your child feel more secure.

Have you ever met a recovering addict?  They are almost always totally new people transformed and being redeemed.  Imagine if for 20 years any time the topic of your child's first mother came up you said, "Yes but she was high on drugs. She is addicted and has problems" -  what if your child's entire identity was built on thinking his or her mother was some sort of loser - would that be helpful? - and - can you be sure that the first mom has not been cleaned up and restored?  Is it fair to label a person for life with something they struggled with for a time?  Even if you are certain your adopted child was born to an addict, you can find a way to speak lovingly about her. Doing that will only serve to make your child feel more secure. She should be given the opportunity to change. Our words about her shouldn't taint the chance and hope of a future relationship between your child and their biological parent.

Even when children are removed from abusive homes and placed into the system, they won't be helped by hearing from their foster or adoptive parents how horrible their mother or father was/is.  There are ways to be truthful and honest without constantly speaking only negatively about a child's first family.

If you think about it, when any of us have a conflict with our parents or are upset we might say, "My dad ticks me off. What a jerk he was to me",  but if someone else walks up and says "Your dad is such a _____"  - we are instantly very protective.  We are bound to want to defend our own flesh and blood because we are a part of them.

Many years ago one of my best friends placed her daughter for adoption. She did it out of sacrificial love. At the time she was struggling with substance abuse and unresolved trauma and she made the difficult decision to place her child.   I learned a lot from watching the effects the adoptive family's choices had on her and her grief over the years and it is mostly because of what I learned that we have sought relationships with Isaac, Hope, and Phoebe's mothers. As a parent I want everything I say and do to build my children up and to model the love of their Heavenly Father for them. Honoring their mother is one of the ways I can do that.

I don't believe any mother in the universe gives up her child without pain.  I strongly believe that as an adoptive parent it is my job, my obligation-  to love, honor, and pray for the first mothers of my children. 

I hope and pray that November 2010, National Adoption Month, will serve to bring more awareness to the orphan crisis. I hope awareness moves us to action. Adoption is one of the ways we can respond - and we believe it can be a redemptive and beautiful thing.  Along with that, though - we hope it brings awareness to the women in this world that are mothers who have lost their children, women that have been under supported and even exploited. They have suffered and they need our respect, support, love, and prayers.