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Joy and Sorrow and Heart Transplants

09/26/2013

 The anniversary of Ali joining our family and some recent news I got about her biological mother has stirred up a lot of sadness in me. I’m keenly aware that Alianna is my daughter because she was taken from another mother. September 21, 2011—day that I look back to and reflect on with joy and gratitude is a day that another woman’s heart was deeply wounded…not for the first time and not for the last time. I cry for her because I know what she is missing out on and I can’t imagine the pain of loss after loss.

It seems to be hard for others “on the outside” to understand why I have such sadness about this. Yes, she made mistakes and losing her child(ren) was a consequence. Yes, she released her to us and gave us her blessing. Yes, life is good for us and Ali doesn’t exhibit any signs of trauma or loss. But this woman who I barely know will forever be important to me and honored as such. We have a unique bond as two mothers to the same little girl. She carried for nine months, gave birth to, loved and did her best to care for my daughter for the first two months of her life. That’s a reality that will never be erased or replaced by adoption. Ali had a mom before me—her first mom—and I love and bless her for the gifts she gave to Ali of life, love, beauty.

The best analogy I can conjure for how this feels is to imagine a heart transplant. In the movie Return to Me, the main character Grace is painfully aware that she received a new heart because another woman died. She and her family gained because another family lost. That’s how it goes with adoption. Most of our family and friends only see the benefit to us but we also see the damage done to her original family. So, it is with heavy hearts that we celebrated this past weekend. Saturday we celebrated being a family but Sunday we spent time talking about Ali’s first mom, reflecting on events of the past two years and praying for her.

(Face covered and identity concealed for her privacy.)

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The first picture I have of me with Ali:

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I felt a little funny about this “mommy adores me” shirt that came to our home with Ali until I realized how much her biological mommy AND I (her foster mommy at the time) both adored her. She was the most content and happy baby I’ve ever seen.

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I doubt that Ali’s first mom will ever see this post but just in case you do read this one day:

We will never forget about you. We will include you when we tell Ali the story of how she became part of our family and we will show her photos of you. We always speak about you with respect and dignity. We won’t lie to Ali about the realities of you and her and the part of your lives that was spent together and when she’s ready and old enough to understand we will answer every question we’re able to answer. We think about you and pray for you all the time. We love you.

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A Year Ago

01/03/2013

At the end of December 2011, just a few days before Christmas, Jason, Ali and I celebrated the new property we had just purchased.

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Earlier that day, we were at the juvenile courthouse accepting Ali’s birth mom’s surrender of her parental rights to us. We took the photo below afterward while we waited for some paperwork. It’s a dark and crappy picture and it’s a bittersweet reality, too. We were thankful she was willing to do it because it made our process to adopt Ali smoother, but it was also very painful for her. She’s a tough woman but she couldn’t hide her tears as the judge asked her if she was absolutely sure this is what she wanted to do. She was positive it was the best thing for Ali. But it was like watching a chunk of her heart get torn out before our eyes. I wanted to give her a big hug afterward, to thank her again, but she ran out quickly when her part was over and I haven’t seen her since then.

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She had my phone number and sent a text a few days after Christmas last year but that was the last I’ve heard from her. Apparently she lost her phone at some point. I’m thankful that we’ve been able to maintain some communication with some of Ali’s other biological family members but it pains me that we’ve lost contact with her first mom. I’m thankful for the time we did get to spend with her and for the pictures we have.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year since all of that happened. Perhaps because we were living in transition for 10 months between homes, it feels like it was just a short time ago. When I look back at that chubby little baby with slick, straight hair and barely able to sit up on her own, it feels like it was so long ago! She’s changed tremendously since then. I wish I could let her first mom see how much she’s grown and how she’s running all around and talking up a storm. I wish she could see her outgoing personality and her toughness (which I’m sure Ali inherited from her). I wish I could hug her and thank her again for giving us her blessing to raise this beautiful little girl that she birthed.


Adoption Terminology

08/07/2012

Adoption has it’s own language. There are labels and terms for key players that are important for explaining who is who in the process. Adoptive families can be offended or insulted when the wrong terms are used, so its valuable to understand these labels if you have someone in your life who is affected by adoption. There are from my experience and opinion so take it for what’s worth:

Adoption Terms
mom/mother
– the child’s mom, from the point of adoption/placement onward

adoptive mom – the child’s mom, from the point of adoption onward (no need to use the distinction “adoptive” unless you’re talking about the biological mom also and there is a need to clarify who is who)

birth mom / bio mom / bmom / natural mom – the woman who carried the child in utero and gave birth to the child

real mom – both the adoptive mom and the birth mom are real moms

(apply the same rules for dad/father, adoptive dad, birth dad / bio dad / bdad / natural dad, etc.)

child – a person who is not an adult yet

child who is adopted – no such thing; it’s like saying a “child who is born”; the tenses don’t match

child who was adopted – child who was adopted (this label only needs mentioned when it’s truly relevant), it’s past tense

adopted child – there is no need to introduce a child as an “adopted child”; just a child. don’t single out the child who was adopted. it’s like saying “this is my C-section child” and “this is my vaginal birth child.”

forever family – the child’s family, from the point of adoption/placement onward

biological family – the people who share the child’s biology

sisters and brothers / siblings – children raised by the same forever parents

Jason and I really try not to be offended when someones calls one of us or one of Precious’ family members the wrong term. It’s rarely, if ever, done maliciously and usually a gentle eduction or reminder about the right terms is all that’s needed. When I hear someone say “Precious’ mom” I automatically assume the person is talking about me. I’m Precious’s mom today, yesterday, tomorrow, everyday since September 21, 2011 until eternity. I am Precious’ mom. When someone refers Precious’ birth mom as “Precious’ mom,” it catches me off guard more than it offends me. And, it makes me thankful that Precious doesn’t understand the implications of that yet, because it could be really confusing to her. She calls me mama. She knows me as her mom. We want her to know about her birth mom but I want her to be confident that I am and always will be her mom.

Jason and I have been careful to refer to Precious’ biological half-siblings as her biological half-siblings, because that’s what they are. I realize it is much easier to just say “sister” or “brother,” but we’re making that distinction from the beginning knowing that it’s likely we’ll have other children someday. Those other children will be Precious’ sisters and brothers, the kids she shares parents with, grows up with, spends her days and evenings with, fights for the bathroom with, celebrates birthdays and holidays with, goes on family vacations with, etc. When we’re with her biological half-siblings, I don’t mind calling them sisters and brothers but I want to help her understand, as she gets older, the difference between people who share your biology and people who share your parents.

We talk openly with Precious about her adoption. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and I hope she’ll be proud of her story. She’s not old enough to dialogue about it yet but we practice telling her all about her adoption so it’s a normal part of our lives and something she’ll come to understand more and more as she gets older.

If you’d like to read more on the topic of adoption terms and how it can negatively affect a child when the wrong terms are used, check out this post by Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan: parents, please educate your kids about adoption so mine don’t have to

I’ll be back tomorrow with Foster Care Terminology.