Archive for the 'birth parents' Category


Some of the Best Words Ever

Yesterday I opened my e-mail to find these words: “Dear _______ family, attached is a letter and photos from J’s birth family.” In my book those are some of the best words ever!

This is the second letter and set of photos we’ve received from the family, coming just a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of the first letter we received. This letter included more personal information, which was wonderful.

After almost a year, we’d begun to wonder if we’d receive another letter. But based on this letter, it seems the relationship is going to continue. Since J is young he doesn’t really understand the significance of this. But I know someday he will treasure the information and photos he’s receiving.

We didn’t start out thinking that we’d have a semi-open adoption. In the beginning it was really intimidating to think about. It was hard to talk about another family and another mother; it was awkward and not natural. But we began talking with J about his Korean family from the first week home. By the time he was old enough to be to really understand these conversations, they were totally natural to us.

Now that J’s beginning to process adoption and what it means, I’m so thankful we followed the approach we did. He’s completely comfortable telling me he misses his Korean mom and wondering aloud if someday he’ll live in Korea. And those statements don’t faze me or make me question his love for us. I roll with it and encourage him to tell us whatever he’s thinking.

We hope that someday in the next couple of years we’ll be able to meet J’s Korean family. We want these connections to be there because who knows what the future holds. Then as J grows he can decide what to do with the connections.


Dreaming a World: Korean birth mothers tell their stories

I just finished reading Dreaming a World, edited by Sangsoon Han, which is a follow-up to I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. I read the first book while we were waiting for our son to come home, and it moved me to tears. Dreaming a World has just been published by Yeong & Yeong Book Co.

This book is equally good; in fact, I think I might have liked Dreaming a World a little better than the first book. Looking at the situation from an American prospective, it’s hard to understand the prejudice and discrimination that an unwed mother and her child face in Korea. This book brought to light those difficulties. Many of the stories are more recent, and each birth mother letter/story is followed by an update by the book’s editor, who is the director of Ae Ran Won (a home for unwed mothers in Seoul). Since after reading each story you feel like you know the woman, it was nice to read an update and see how they were progressing.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is that not all of the birth mothers whose stories were printed chose adoption, and a couple of the stories involved domestic adoption (within Korea). It was interesting to read the stories of the women who chose to parent and see an open adoption in Korea, which is rare.

One stories that really touch me was a young woman who went into labor but was refused delivery at two hospitals because she was alone (no husband or parents). Even when a friend and her mother came to serve as her guardian, one hospital refused to deliver the baby because the guardians must be relatives.

Another theme  I saw in many of the stories was that the birth mothers chose international adoption mainly to have a more open relationship with the adoptive families. Several of the birth mothers stated that since there is a prejudice against adoption in Korea, they felt that a domestic adoption would be close with little to no hope of receiving updates on the child or getting to meet the child in the future. International adoption, they felt, would afford them a chance to receive updates, photos, and meet at some point. The thought of meeting their children spurred the birth mothers on to better their lives, even in the face of hardships.

No matter which choice the mother made, each agonized over doing what would be best. Some felt parenting would be a selfish act since children without fathers have a difficult time in Korea. Others decided to face the hardships head on in hopes of someday being a part of changing attitudes in the country. Each woman loved her child and made the decision she felt was best for her and for her child.

Someday I’ll have my son read Dreaming a World and I Wish for You a Beautiful Life. Both books are great resources in helping Korean adoptees understand the role society’s attitudes play in adoption placement.


A Precious Gift

What a week it’s been in our household (and it’s only Wednesday)! Since this is an adoption blog, I won’t go into details but it’s safe to say that changes are on the horizon for our family. Changes that we’ve been hoping for and praying about for a couple of years now.

On top of news we received about upcoming changes, yesterday we received a very precious gift–photos and a letter from our son’s birth family.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that just a few months ago I blogged about the frustration of trying to establish contact with the birth family in an international adoption (“First Families” entry, October 2009). We’ve actually been trying since we were in Korea three and half years ago picking up our son.

For two years we sent letters and photos not knowing if the birth family was receiving them. Finally we learned that the birth family had checked the file. It was progress and inspired me to sent photos and letters on a regular and frequent basis.

Then yesterday we received an e-mail from our agency that contained both a letter and photos from the birth family. We were floored! It’s one of those things you hope for but aren’t sure you’ll ever receive. Our son was excited to see photos of his Korean family. He’s quite the artist these days so today he had to draw pictures for them that we could send drawings with our next letter.

As I said in my previous post, I realize that for some it’s controversial for adoptive parents to establish contact with the birth family. I’ve been of the opinion that what’s not established now, but may well be lost forever. The story of our son’s placement is somewhat different, and because of what it is, we’ve thought all along that having this connection early would be important for him as he grows. If communication continues between our families, as we hope it will, our son will certainly be able to end that contact if he wants to when he’s older. It is his family and that will be his choice.

But in the meantime we hope that now his Korean family is more real to him. Early on he understood who his foster family was because we had photos of them. But it’s been hard for him to comprehend a family that he hasn’t been able to see at all. Hopefully as he grows and has questions, he’ll be able to find the answers.

Yeah, it’s just a letter and some photos. But honestly it’s probably the best e-mail I’ve ever received!


Adoption Oversimplified

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile but after a recent discussion of the topic and reading another blogger’s take, I decided to let it out. The discussion centered around birth mothers, the role they play in the lives of our children, and how we portray these women to our children.

Are they saints for making such a “brave, loving, selfless” decision? Are they uncaring for giving away part of themselves? Or was the decision even theirs to begin with? Did someone convince or coerce them into making this decision saying it would be best?

There seems to be two opposing sides when it comes to adoption. I’ve heard a lot of adult adoptees essentially say that if there weren’t white Americans wanting to adopt (and no poverty and there were social programs to assist families), there would be no need for adoption. It’s supply and demand they say, and adoption brings in huge amounts of money for the country sending its children away.

On the other hand, a large number of adoptive parents feel that adoption is a win-win situation for all involved–birth mother doesn’t want to parent her child, we want a child, child gets a home, it’s all good.

I feel that both sides have oversimplified the topic. Like everything about adoption, there just aren’t easy answers.

Even if there were no parents waiting for children, I believe there would be some women who would chose to place their children for adoption. Some women become pregnant and don’t want to have an abortion, yet don’t want to parent the child either. Even without coercion, I believe these women would exist and for them the best option would be to place their child for adoption.

Many anti-adoption advocates (for lack of a better term) seem to believe that every child is better off with his biological parents. But I don’t think that’s the case. If it were, why do we have children who are abused or neglected by their biological parents? The fact is sometimes mothers keep their children for selfish reasons. I’ve personally seen some instances where this is the case. Keeping the child is more about being a means to an end (getting financial support, for example) than it is about loving the child and wanting to parent him in a loving and nurturing home. Would that child be better off being placed for a adoption where he could grow up in a home where he is loved and nurtured? I would say probably.

Yet, on the flip side, adoption isn’t the perfect answer either. It’s not a win-win situation for everyone. It’s a solution that will have a lifetime of consequences for everyone involved. To believe otherwise is to live in the “adoption fantasy” I talked about in a previous post. Even if that child is loved and nurtured in his adoptive home, his birth family is part of him and he’ll likely wonder and question the decision that was made.

Each adoption story is different so generalities hardly apply. For some women in certain cultures making an adoption plan for their child might be a “brave and selfless” act of love. Given the attitudes and circumstances she and the child would face, maybe she feels like she’s making the most chose. In another instance, maybe placing the child is a selfish act meant to avoid the consequences and hard decisions that come with parenting a child.

And I know that sometimes there’s more involved than just the birth mother’s decision. Since becoming an adoptive parent, I’ve learned more about coercion, unethical practices, and even child trafficking that can be a part of adoption, especially international adoption.

I don’t believe we should turn a blind-eye to the situations that exist, especially in other countries, that lead to some adoption placements. In fact, it turns my stomach to see large religious agencies and churches proclaiming adoption to be the way we can help. I would rather see these large groups find an in-country association or ministry where money or other donations could be sent to keep families intact, instead of believing the children are better off with us.

But also don’t believe that there would be no children placed for adoption, even if we “cured” all the aliments that lead to placement. Even with all of its consequences, I believe that adoption is the best option for some birth mothers.

So I guess I’m saying that in general, birth mothers shouldn’t be either vilified or pronounced saints. Nor should adoption been seen as the cruelest option that’s out there or as the savior to kids who need homes. I feel that each family has to look at it’s story and be honest about what it entails. After all, we were never promised that issues in our lives would be simple.


First Families

First families. It can be a polarizing topic within the adoption community. Just in my little world I know family with an open international adoption and another family that is completely uncomfortable with the thought of first parents. As the experts will tell you, whether or not you as adoptive parents want to acknowledge the existence of first parents, they are still very present in the minds of most adoptees.

I’ve always thought of us as partners with our son’s first parents. They did what they could, and we picked up when they couldn’t do anymore. We’ve never felt threatened by our son’s first family. We’ve talked to him about them since he came home. At first it was a little awkward–you the mom talking about another mom–but now it’s easy and comfortable to mention them.

And J’s now talking about them pretty often, which is nice to see. We want him to be able to talk with us about his feelings and be open about his thoughts, knowing he isn’t hurting us by thinking about them.

I wish we’d known that open international adoptions were possible. We would have pursued it from the beginning. But we didn’t know. Our son’s family history is complex, so while we were in Korea we began adovating for more than is normally allowed, yet I wish we’d done more.

For the last year, I’ve been writing letters to agencies and the family (through the agencies) in hopes of establishing open communication. So far I haven’t had any luck. It’s frustrating not knowing if my letters are even arriving in Korea, and if they are, is the agency editing things out? Does the family understand that we want to communicate with them, to share our son’s life with them, and to share their lives with him? We have some information from the agency indicating that the family is interested in communicating. Yet, so far the communication has been one sided.

I hate that something I feel is so important for my son is completely at the mercy of others. Others who I have no way of communicating with face to face (our U.S. agency is in another state).

I know that my pursuing this in itself is a somewhat controversial. Some adult adoptees believe the search should be left for the adoptee to do. I defend our decision with the argument that very few people know our whole story, and those who do understand why we feel making the connections now is so important.

Interestingly, as I work on this for our family, I came across a blog recently that encouraged adoptive parents to search for first families for their children. Harlow’s Monkey quoted another blogger in this post answering a question posted by a prospective adoptive parent. (The links on Harlow’s Monkey’s blog can lead you through the blog trail of this one.) For international adoption, Atlasien said one thing adoptive parents can do is “work to establish contact with your child’s biological family.”

Some readers questioned this stance in the comments section for this post on Harlow’s Monkey. So in the comments section Atlasien went on to explain, “searching in international adoption is so hard, if you wait, you are just increasing that chances that people will move away, get sick and die, lose paperwork, and so on. By waiting, you are passively removing choice from your child. But you are not removing a choice if you search for your child when they are younger… the adoptee always has the choice, when they become an adult, to STOP contact. And stopping contact is a lot easier than starting it.” If you read all of the comments you’ll see that Jae Ran of Harlow’s Monkey agreed, noting of course that many adoptees feel the search should be theirs.

I’ve read so many stories from adult adoptees about missing the opportunities to make those connections by a year or a few months because the person holding the information had died or moved. That’s why we feel it’s important for us to start the process. I wish more agencies understood the importance and made it easier to connect birth families and adoptive families who are open to communication.


Orphan–By Technical Definition Only

I’ve been contemplating this post for a couple of weeks now and decided it needed to be said. I was recently reading the blog of an adoptive family who referred to their adopted child as an “orphan” and now that the child has an adoptive family as “an orphan no more.” And it bothered me.

Let me say that I know nothing about this child’s background; maybe this child is an orphan in the true sense of the word. But for many of us with children adopted internationally, our children were only orphans in the technical/legal use of the word.

Random House Webster’s defines orphan as “1. a child who has lost both parents or, less commonly, one parent through death. 2. a young animal that is without its mother. 3. a person or thing that is without protective affiliation, sponsorship, etc. 4. (esp. in word processing) the first line of a paragraph when it appears alone at the bottom of a printed page.”

Most children who are available for adoption both domestically and internationally have not lost one or both parents to death. So it seems wrong to me to call them orphans. To do so seems to ignore the parents who gave them life.

I know that some adoptive parents fear the first parents. The adoptive parents want to be the only parents. And some decide to adopt internationally to avoid having to deal with birth parents.

But no matter how much an adoptive parent ignores the fact that the first parents exist, it seems they may be very present in the minds of the child. And why not? In a world where everyone points out how much little Jimmy looks like Dad or Sue has Mom’s eyes, wouldn’t an adopted child wonder who they look like? Or where they got their athletic ability?

Whether or not we would have contact with birth parents didn’t factor into our decision to adopt or from where. But now that I’m educating myself on adoption and it’s impact on a child’s whole life, I wish we’d pushed for an open adoption. I see our birth parents more partners, both striving for the goal of giving our son the best life he can have. His first mom gave him a start. Now is our time to be a part of his life. But someday he may want his first parents to be a part of his life again too. I hope if and when that time comes that I don’t feel any jealousy or competition. Because our son isn’t and truly never was an orphan.


Sharing Motherhood

As all of you know, Mother’s Day in the U.S. was yesterday. It’s a bittersweet holiday for me. I’m so thankful that I get to be the mother to this amazing little boy who is full of energy, who is full of charm, and who’s smile lights up a room.

But it’s never far from my mind that I get to be his mother because someone else couldn’t be. I don’t know J’s birthmother, but I’m sure there is a lot of her in him. His athletic ability alone is a testimony to the athletic tae kwon do instructor who gave birth to him.

I know a lot of adoptive moms feel territorial about their kids; many are offended when others refer to the birthmom and the “real” mom. Somehow I’ve escaped that, which is amazing since in general I seem to be a territorial-type person. I see me and J’s Korean mommy as partners–we both have and will continue to play important roles in his life.

We’ve talked to J about his Korean family since shortly after he came home. Even before he was talking, I would sit and talk to him about his Korean mommy and wonder out loud who gave him his beautiful chocolate brown eyes. In the beginning it was uncomfortable, but now I’ve been doing it for so long that it seems natural.

Right now he’s just beginning to understand that he has another family that lives in Korea. He’s Korean mommy often shows up in his imaginary family (we have three imaginary brothers who all have families and homes of their own). Sometimes his Korean dad is part of the imaginary activity too. I encourage this talk since I believe it’s how he’s beginning to process his family history. Just in the last month and half has he become interested in hearing his story. But now if I tell it any differently from how I usually do, he’ll point it out (Mom, tell me how Mrs. XXX was so sad when I left her house).

I hope our openness about his Korean family will help him feel that it’s normal and natural to love both families. I pray that he’ll never think he has to choose between families, which seems to me to be essentially choosing between parts of himself.

So today my thoughts go out to a Korean family who gave my son life and contributed so much to who he is today.

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