As many of you know, I am a birth mom. I’ve written about my story here. This year, I am honored to participate in the Adoption Bloggers Interview Project. The Adoption Interview project pairs people involved with adoption from every angle and has them interview each other. I was surprised and happy that all my sisters joined me in the project and answered some great questions about their thoughts about adoption.
Here is how it works. I was paired with the lovely Natalie, who has a beautiful five year old daughter named Hannah. Natalie is a adoptive parent, and she blogs at Adopting the Spectrum. If you head on over to her blog, you can read her interview with all of the Sweet Ridge Sisters talking about adoption. Here is the interview that I did with Natalie.
Please describe your relationship with Hannah’s birthparents. How often are you in contact? How do you interact when you are communicating? Has it changed significantly over the past several years?
I would say we have an excellent relationship with both of Hannah’s birthparents although they are both very different type relationships. Mike, Hannah’s birthfather, is less involved by his choice, but we still stay in contact. He moves frequently and often changes both land line and cell phone numbers so most often we have to wait for him to contact us. When we lived in Indiana, which is where Hannah was born and he used to live as well, he called us quite a bit and often invited us to his sporting events (he used to play semi pro football and now races dirt bikes). He would also spontaneously call us up when his work brought him into our town and would stop by if we were home. For some people I think that would be a problem, but for us it was great. We were thankful for all the contact we could get. Now that we’ve moved twice across the country in the past two and half years we haven’t seen him at all in that time. I send pictures whenever I’ve heard from him recently and am sure of his address and I always enjoy talking to him on the phone to find out what he is up to. If Hannah is around or awake when he calls she talks to him too although she’s not as comfortable with him as she is with her birth. It seems like the majority of our relationship with Mike is simply about keeping the door open and making sure he has a way to contact us since we are more stable as far as address and phone than he is. He contacts us when he wants and knows that we’ll always stop what we are doing to chat. He recently got a facebook account so occasionally I find him on there and we can chat which is nice. I think this may be a way to contact him more reliably when we’ve found out his phone is disconnected or his address is no longer current. It might take awhile, but eventually he’ll check his page and see that we’ve been trying to contact. At least that’s what I hope will happen!
With Tiffany, Hannah’s birthmother, the relationship is much different. We have much more frequent contact and Hannah is much closer to her as well as her extended family. She calls occasionally and Hannah calls her often (both with and without my permission to use the phone!). Tiffany and I chat regularly on facebook about her life, her twins’ lives, and of course about us and Hannah. With Tiffany the relationship reminds me more of a sisterly relationship. We care deeply for her and Chase and Kayla (Hannah’s siblings) and like to stay informed as to what they are up to and how they are doing. When we lived in Indiana we saw them often (several times a year and especially a lot that very first year). We would take the kids to get their pictures taken together every year and attend birthday parties, holiday events, sporting events, etc. Sometimes we’d go to them and sometimes they’d come to us. Now that we’ve moved so far away, the burden of actual physical visits falls more squarely on our shoulders since Tiffany simply doesn’t have the money to travel. We try to make at least one trip back to see her and the kids every year and this year we actually got to see them twice! I think as our lives get busier and busier and as all of the kids get older it may be harder and harder to have frequent visits, but thankfully with facebook it’s pretty easy to keep in touch. Hannah loves her family on her birthmom side and I see her interacting with her siblings as typical siblings interact and with Tiffany more of the way she interacts with her aunts and uncles. Her relationship with Tiffany’s parents and brother are fairly good as well although we really only have contact with them when Tiffany sets something up as a whole family visit.
As far as how we all interact when we communicate, I think in the beginning we were all a little worried (except for maybe Mike who is pretty rough around the edges and ALWAYS just speaks his mind!) about offending the other and kept our interactions quite structured and censored, but now that the years have passed we just tell it like it is. I speak with Tiffany pretty much like I speak with my own siblings. I’m not afraid to tell her when I think she’s making a mistake in her own life or in parenting of the twins and she’s not afraid to tell me to bug off or to agree with me! She also doesn’t hesitate to give me parenting advice with Hannah as well. We talk about so many things other than just Hannah that it’s a very developed relationship now and not just a birthmother/adoptive parent relationship.
What has been the biggest surprise for you about open adoption?
My biggest surprise about open adoption has been other people’s reaction to it when they find out that Hannah is adopted. So many people who have no business commenting on my family’s personal life feel free to say whatever they want and ask very personal questions simply because our family was created by adoption. We hear things like, “Oh you are so lucky that she looks just like you. No one will ever know she’s adopted,” like that’s something undesirable! It also never ceases to surprise me when people respond with some variation of, “Aren’t you afraid SHE is going to steal Hannah back from you since she knows where you live?” This comment bothers me for so many reasons. First it paints Tiffany as a villain and since they’ve never met her I don’t know why they think they could possibly pass that judgment. Second it implies that I would do something that would put Hannah in danger. UGH! Another thing that surprised me was that many people painted us as some sort of saints for adopting. They don’t seem to understand no matter how hard I try to explain that WE were the ones that were blessed, not Hannah. We really wanted to have a family and adoption was the only route to that for us. We didn’t “save” a baby. We were blessed with a baby and a whole lot more in a relationship with all of Hannah’s birth by her adoption. We did nothing heroic.
What is your greatest fear about open adoption?
My greatest fear about open adoption is that at some point we will lose contact with one or both of Hannah’s birthparents and the impact that will have on her. We chose open adoption so that Hannah would always know her birthfamily. We dreamed about a close extended family relationship with them and we have luckily had exactly that. Naively, we never considered that fact that people change, situations change, and that we might not always have the kind of relationship we want. We never considered that it wasn’t all in our control. Since adopting Hannah we’ve met other open adoption parents who’ve lost contact with their children’s birthparents at some point down the road of their adoptions. Even though they always kept their relationships open, one or more of the birthparents simply stopped contact/moved and did not leave forwarding information/had a falling out with the adoptive parents/regressed into back into substance abuse or abusive relationships/etc. I often panic when I think about that possibly happening to us. Hannah is my baby girl and I’d do anything for her, but I can’t be her birthfamily even though I wish she’d been born from my womb. As a parent it’s hard to know that there is something so vitally important to your child’s life that you have no control over providing to her. I simply have to turn Hannah over to the Lord and pray that He will give her all she needs to be at peace with herself whether or not she has contact with her birthfamily.
Hannah has Aspergers Syndrome. How does this impact her perception of adoption? How does it impact yours?
Hannah actually had her Asperger’s diagnosis taken away last year and it was replaced with Disruptive Behavior Disorder-NOS. I suppose I should change the name of my blog! She still has MANY, MANY aspie characteristics though, simply not enough of them anymore to qualify for a full diagnosis. Hannah’s special needs actually don’t impact her perception of adoption much at all, however the other side of the coin that makes Hannah unique is that she is profoundly gifted (IQ higher than 99.7% of the population!). This actually makes her adoption processing quite difficult. She has the academic intelligence and reasoning ability of probably a 4th grade child even though she’s only 5 yrs old, but only has the actual life experiences of 5 year old to draw on. She comes up with some pretty wild perceptions of things sometimes because of this! I often get into trouble with this since I’ve been preparing answers to questions about her adoption that I know will eventually come up geared toward the age that children general want to know about those particular things. However, Hannah tends to ask about them sooner and then I’m stuck because the while the answer I have prepared may be academically appropriate it is NOT age appropriate and may contain things I’d rather not get into at her age!
What made you decide to pursue adopting from foster care in the future?
When we first decided to pursue adoption to build our family we did some research on the various types of adoption and felt a strong pull towards adoption from foster care because there were so many children in our area waiting for homes that had been waiting for YEARS. However, we were young and not experienced parents at all. Kyle had basically no kid experience at all and I only felt comfortable with children up to about age 8 since that’s where my experience as a teacher stopped at. We didn’t feel prepared to parent older children or children with serious trauma at that point since we had little parenting experience and weren’t yet strong disciplinarians. Most of the waiting children in our area were 10 years old and older and we just didn’t feel like we would be good parents for that age of children yet. Still we wanted to build a family and felt like we really needed to start out the “normal” way with a baby first and learn as we went. We were also committed to having some sort of an open adoption and our local state foster care agency at the time didn’t allow a lot of birth family contact after the adoptions were finalized for most adoptions so that pushed us more towards a domestic infant open adoption.
God apparently got a good laugh at our thought that we couldn’t handle a discipline problem however, because he sent us Hannah even though we went the agency adoption route! Now, after parenting Hannah for 5+ years we’ve learned quite a bit about parenting and discipline. We’ve learned that even though we make mistakes, aren’t perfect, and are clueless much of the time we can still be good parents and we feel ready to add to our family. After taking all the foster care training classes and reading LOTS of books we feel like we’ve probably already encountered many of the discipline issues and behaviors we’ll encounter with kids from a traumatic background simply from Hannah’s behavior disorder. We feel like whatever they can dish out we can take and if not us, then who? There are so many kids who need homes, both temporary and permanent and we feel ready to fill that need. We absolutely can’t wait to start adding to our family.
Has your family been supportive of your open adoption?
This is an interesting question to answer. At first Kyle’s family was very much against any type of adoption and extremely against open adoption in particular. They believed a lot of negative myths about adoption, had preconceived stereotypes about birthparents and children who might be born to them, and were pretty much just prejudiced about the whole situation. My family on the otherhand is a very blended family to begin with. There are many divorces, remarriages, adoptions, and pseudo adoptions already so they didn’t seem to think anything would be different. So, when Hannah was born we were prepared to go to battle with Kyle’s family to accept our little one, but one look at her precious face and they were all over it. She was completely accepted and adored. They even occasionally ask about her birthfamily and how they are doing and don’t hassle us at all about having an open relationship with them. My family on the otherhand totally shocked us and went the other direction once Hannah was born. While they adore Hannah and treat her like an absolute princess, they are not accepting of Hannah’s birthfamily at all. There has been much jealously about having to share Hannah with another family and disparaging remarks made both to them and about them to us. At one point we thought we might have to cut contact with my family if they couldn’t get their acts together it was so bad. We worried about the message it would send to Hannah to hear (and feel the hostility) negative things said by people she loved about other people she loved. We weren’t about to allow that to continue and felt we had to nip it in the bud before Hannah got old enough to totally get it. Things seem to be better now and while there are no longer negative remarks made in our presence, I don’t feel like they accept Hannah’s birthfamily really. Unfortunately, I can’t make them. I can however make sure they don’t express their opinions in front of Hannah by reminding them that if they want contact with Hannah they have to play by our rules and that includes respecting Hannah’s birthfamily’s place in her life and our decision to maintain a close relationship with them by not expressing negative attitudes in front of Hannah.
Hannah’s birthfather’s family doesn’t know about the adoption. What do you tell Hannah about that? Do you think they will ever find out?
Well, so far Hannah hasn’t really asked about Mike’s family so we haven’t brought it up either. I have some answers prepared and ready for when it does come up, but all my adoption parenting books say not to give kids more information than what they ask for. When they are ready to process certain aspects about their adoption they will ask. Another part about this that makes it tricky is that Mike now has 2 other children with two different women (not Hannah’s birthmother) that also do not know about Hannah and whom we have never met and who it is likely we will never be allowed to meet. I did manage to pull some pictures of them off of facebook and have saved them on my computer for Hannah for when it comes up. It just breaks my heart that I will eventually have to tell Hannah she has siblings that she can’t see and that I can’t make it happen no matter how much she may want it because their mommies have the final say. So, I guess at the moment Hannah isn’t curious about Mike’s family so we haven’t told her anyting about it yet. I’m not sure she’s ready to process the fact that some people have negative ideas about adoption or hide pregnancy’s because they are ashamed of them (she still hasn’t asked the big “where do babies come from/how are babies made?” question yet so I’m not going to do anything to hasten that conversation!) because to her adoption is a perfectly normal part of life. She doesn’t feel different because of it yet and I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible. She already has so much that makes her different from her peers (giftedness and a behavior disorder) that I don’t want to add more to her plate before she’s ready. I do think that someday Mike’s family will find out about Hannah since it’s a pretty big seceret to keep and it seems like the bigger the secret the more likely it’ll be blown wide open at some point. Now that Mike has friended me on facebook I think the likelihood that someone will put two and two together based on our posts and conversations is great. I’d love to meet them and learn more about them since we know very little about them. If even to just get a better feel of family health history and pictures I’d love to chat with them even if they don’t want an ongoing relationship. Unfortunately, it would be disrespectful to go against Mike’s wishes and contact them ourselves. However, when Hannah is old enough we’ll give her all the information on them we have so that she can try to make contact if she wants.
Thanks so much to Natalie for being a great interview partner and to Heather at Open Adoption Bloggers for hosting this amazing project.