Friday, March 18, 2011

Fostered... and Loved. Forever.

I still remember meeting my first foster brother. His arrival turned my teenage world upside down, or at least knocked it off its axis for a few weeks. He doesn't know it, but ten years later, he's still impacting my life.

 I think about him and the reasons why he eventually aged out of care. And I look at my son and think you're not so very different from that scared young man. And I wonder, am I capable of making an impact on another life? Am I ready to open my home to a child, knowing their stay is temporary? 

Prior to his arrival, I thought I had this family thing cornered. Some of us were biologically related, others came home through adoption. But all of us were permanent fixtures.

That changed the day a young man arrived. He was skinny and mouthy and not happy to be moving into a home with so many kids. I was in my late teens and not happy to be sharing a home with him either. 

He was only 12 years old, but his beautiful brown eyes betrayed a lifetime of adult experiences. Where had he been before he arrived, backpack slung on his shoulder, clothes and a handful of toys in a suitcase?

He stayed for about a year, even following my parents to their new home on Vancouver Island. On more than one occasion, he would plead with my mother and father, "Will you adopt me? Please? "

I've never asked my mom how much it hurt to hear those words, how much pain it caused them both when she answered honestly "No, I can't". Eventually, the boy moved in with an extended relative, but his stay with our family left its mark. In truth, he never really left.

A few years ago, I ran into him at the mall on Vancouver Island. I was there with my mom and with Noah - who at the time was snoozing peacefully in his snugly.

He came running up, smiling "Hi Mom!" he beamed. They exchanged a big hug. "He still calls you mom?" I asked later. Turns out he had never stopped - and that he was welcome at our home whenever he wanted to stop by.

I think I underestimated my parents' commitment to their foster children. I was humbled to see the love they had for their 'temporary' son was really more permanent than I had given them credit for.

I said hello and introduced the baby to him. I watched his eyes flicker when mom explained to him that Noah was once her foster son, too. "So you adopted him, eh?" I smiled, and watched as he quickly broke eye contact.

I'd give anything to know what he was thinking. Was it "why him and not me?" Did he still wonder why my parents said no, or did he understand their role a little better now that he'd grown? Did it make him feel less worthy, knowing that adoption was now an inter-generational part of our family? Did he feel like he alone had not been denied official welcome and permanency?

I wanted to tell him about all of those that came after him. The boys and girls, the babies and sibling groups, who were not meant to stay forever. The tears my mother shed when the children moved on, the grief she felt that no one seemed to comprehend or even bother to empathize with.

Did he know the pain it caused when she watched a child leave her arms and home? Could he guess how that pain was twinned by the pride of seeing "her babies" embraced by the loving arms of their parents? Could he imagine her joy when they went home to birth family or were introduced to adoptive mom or dad? Did he know she cried those same tears for him, had the same worries over his future, and keeps that same love on hand for him whenever he needs it? 

Mom, you may not have adopted or fostered me. You "only" gave birth to me the old fashioned way. But you've set an amazing example to your children - ALL of us, whether we called you mom for a day, a week, or a lifetime. Thank you.

And brother, if you're reading this. We may not share a name, but we share some pretty incredible parents. I'm glad you came to stay with us that day. I'm glad you're part of our family.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eyes Wide Open

I had a long conversation - several of them, actually - with prospective parents who aren't quite ready to explore openness.

"We just don't want to deal with birth parents," one said.
"We don't want our kid to be confused or feel divided loyalties," another explained.
"It's better for the kids to just focus on their new family... isn't it?"
"Why can't they wait til they're grown ups? It'll be less confusing for them that way."

I've heard these myths voiced often enough to know they not only still exist, but also remain rather prevalent in the minds of many prospective parents.

There was a time when similar thoughts raced through my mind. Knowing what I do now, growing from what my son has taught me, I still understand where the apprehension comes from. But I can't accept those reasons for my son or our family. Noah's losses aren't compensated by the perceived benefits of his closed adoption. 

At first, when we sat around the table planning Noah's life, the social worker looked me in the eye and told me some delicate reasons why Noah's birth mother chose not to remain in contact.

At first, I felt a rush of relief. I remember thinking "I won't have to share him!" but now, looking back, it was never about sharing. It was about keeping Noah connected to the woman who gave him life. The woman who could answer the questions I never could.

In time, my feelings towards birth mother have changed. Initially, I was in awe of her. For creating this perfect child. At the same time, I was equally confused by her ability to move on without the promise of a connection. I convinced myself it was because it was too hard for her to see her son call another woman "mommy".

That's where I was wrong. By presuming what her reasons were, I formed false opinions about who she was and what motivated her to make the most difficult decision of her lifetime. 

I don't know her. I couldn't keep pretending to understand her motivations, and I had to give up on the fantasy of who she was. If I couldn't do that, I would have a hard time helping Noah through his inevitable fantasies about who she is and what life might have been like with her.

I quickly came to see that my presumptions about WHY were simply conjecture. There could have been a hundred reasons. There may be many competing factors that helped birth mom decide that a closed adoption was the best plan.

I have no idea why she said no. Did she believe the myths prospective parents sometimes voice? That her son would do better with just one set of parents? That knowing each other would add confusion, not clarity, to her son's self-image? Was it really too painful? Or was it a practical reason? One made by another or one forced upon her?

Knowing that I may never know, and accepting that reality has helped me move back to where I should have been all along: looking at this adoption from Noah's perspective.

I won't have any answer for my son when he says "Mommy, why did she say no?" But at least I won't be filling his head with my own presumptions of why --- when the only one who knows, and can explain, is the very one who's missing.

At least going in with eyes wide open will help me communicate openly with my son about his closed adoption. And if we can't have an open adoption, at least we can have open communication about it, as hard as that may be to accept.