Last year around this time, I wrote this piece for NW Kids Magazine. for their November National Adoption Month issue. They just republished it on their website, so I thought I’d share it here as well.
Written November 2012
Each November, not only does my family get to celebrate National Adoption Month, we get to celebrate the adoption of our precious girl. On November 15, 2011 we brought Lilli home to Portland from Eugene, just five days after we learned we were chosen by Lilli’s birth parents to adopt her. She was five weeks old then. Now she’s a walking, babbling, curious, strong-willed one-year old.
In this first year, we’ve learned so much about adoption.
Adopting a Child
First and most obvious, we have adopted a child. By we, I mean my husband Matt and me. We also includes my parents and Matt’s parents. And our siblings and their kids. And so on. We have all adopted this wonderful little human into our lives, practically in the blink of an eye.
I sometimes marvel at how easy and quickly she was enveloped into our world. How immediate and unconditional my love was and is for her. Our community of family and friends has embraced her so fully. Lilli, at age one, is an intensely well-loved girl. (67 “Likes” on Facebook for her birthday announcement!) She’s our girl. Our daughter. Not, “adopted” daughter. Just, our daughter.
And while that’s absolutely how I feel, it is also true that she is adopted. That is a part of her story and we have pledged to be transparent with her about it. We adopted Lilli in an open adoption, and I’d say we’re on the very open end of the spectrum.
Adopting a Family
Simply put, in an open adoption, the birth mother (and birth father, if he’s in the picture) choose adoptive parents for their birth child. On one end of the open adoption spectrum (sometimes called “semi-open” adoption), birth parent(s) and adoptive parents do not meet. They communicate through some sort of middle entity, an agency or a lawyer, through which information is exchanged. Birth parents may provide basic medical history. Adoptive parents may agree to send photos and a letter once a year. When the child is old enough to choose, they may seek out the birth parent.
Our story is at the other end of the spectrum of open adoption. About six months after we entered the adoption pool (not a very long wait), we got the call from our agency. Heylene, the mother of a one-month old, and the birth father (he’s asked me not to use his name, so I’ll call him “Nick”) chose us to adopt her baby girl. After learning about Heylene and Lilli’s story from the counselor, we made the decision to move forward. The next day we drove to Eugene to meet Heylene and Nick. The following day, we met Lilli for the first time. We hung out with Lilli and Heylene for a few hours, a crash “get-to-know-you” session to see if we were a good match for being in a relationship for the rest of our lives. Imagine going on a blind date with someone where you have three days to decide whether or not to marry each other. That’s pretty much what we did. After three days, Heylene and Nick decided yes, Matt and I were the right people to parent Lilli. And yes, after three days, we were head over heels in love with our Lilli.
Two weeks later, it was Thanksgiving. We invited our new family members, Heylene and Nick to come and spend it with us. Now, a year later, we’ve seen Heylene nearly every other month and Nick about once a quarter. We have no qualms about texting each other notes and photos. Our relationship to Lilli’s birth parents has evolved sweetly and organically.
Don’t get me wrong, it is complicated. Heylene and Nick’s families have varying levels of knowledge of and support for the adoption. Lilli has a half brother we’ve just met for the first time, along with Lilli’s birth grandma and birth great-grandma. (Very intense introduction, but hopefully the beginning of a long and healthy relationship.) Both Heylene and Nick have moved farther away from us. Even with that, the good news is, it’s only just begun. Lilli’s birth family is a part of our family circle, now and forever. and advocate around racial diversity and other issues, this is a community I’m eager to connect with. Much more to learn on that front as Lilli grows older.
Adopting a Community
As soon as we decided to adopt a child, we entered into a dynamic adoption community. We adopted through Open Adoption and Family Services, an agency specializing in and exclusively facilitating and advocating openness in adoption. Through them, we are now a part of a diverse and active community of families waiting to adopt and those who have adopted. We’ve also become a part of the larger “open adoption” community.
In addition, we are now part of the transracial adoption community. As a mixed- race couple (I’m Filipino-American, my husband is Welsh-American, aka “white”), it was inevitable we’d be in a transracial adoption. Lilli is 1⁄4 Panamanian and, at age one, looks very Latina. As a one-time activist and advocate around racial diversity and other issues, this is a community I’m eager to connect with. Much more to learn on that front as Lilli grows older.
What’s more we’ve now joined that larger adoption community, which is extremely diverse and much larger than I knew before we adopted. Adam Pertman wrote in Adoption Nation, “Extrapolating from U.S. Census data, we can guesstimate that there are at least 7 million adopted children and adults in the United States today; add in birth parents adoptive parents, grandparents, siblings… and the number of people directly connected to adoption soars into the tens of millions.”
Pertman also noted, “The Adoption Institute survey showed that nearly six of every ten Americans have had a ‘personal experience’ with adoption… And a stunning one-third of those polled said they had ‘at least somewhat seriously’ considered adopting a child themselves.”
From adults who were adopted in the 1970s internationally from Korea or Vietnam, to those families that have come together through the foster care system, to others who adopted within their own family—there are so many experiences of adoption. At the center of these adoptions are children with concentric circles of loved ones radiating outward.
As my daughter enters her second year, I’ve started thinking about how to talk with Lilli about her story. Tonight, as I snuggled with her in my arms, I quietly relayed to her the whole story of her adoption for the first time. The story still needs some editing, but it felt good to say. Like parenting, adoption will always be a work-in-progress.