Tag Archives: adoptive families

Every Story Needs A Beginning.

Published on http://www.chicagonow.com/portrait-of-an-adoption/2015/11/every-story-needs-a-beginning/
By Anne Sawan

There are some stories in life that we tell our children over and over. Favorite books, old fairy tales. Books that hold messages and lessons we want to pass on. Stories that have meaning, that matter to us.

I was driving in the car with my seven-year-old daughter. It was a warm summer night, just the two of us, a wide-open evening full of possibilities and fireflies. After camp she usually likes to tell me stories about her day, about the arts and crafts they created, the games they played, but this day she was quiet and I thought she must be tired from a long day. She certainly looked like she had been busy: her hair a mess, her sneakers scuffed, her knees dirty.

It was just the two of us that evening, my other children scattered about at various friend’s houses to swim and eat hamburgers. I asked her what she wanted to do with our free time together.

“Can we go to the mall and get some sushi and Legos?”

I smiled.

It was always the same answer.

As we meandered down the road I glanced in the rear view mirror. She was staring out the window, a serious look on her face, her lips moving slightly as she muttered something quietly to herself.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said, her eyes looking away, her finger tracing a path against the glass.

There was a beat of silence and then, “Mom, I know someone else who

is adopted.”

“Really?”

“Yes, he is at camp.”

I nodded, “How do you know he is adopted?”

“I heard him tell someone.”

“Oh. Did you tell him you were adopted too?”

“No.”

We drove along. Each lost in our own thoughts for a few moments. I wondered why she had brought it up, about this other camper. Having no real inkling about what to say next, but knowing there was something there, hidden in her words, I casually asked, “If someone at camp were to ask you what that other camper meant by adoption, what would you say?”

My daughter shrugged, her finger still smudging an imaginary track against the window. “I guess I would say, it means someone had you but they had to get rid of you, so your mom and dad got you.”

Get rid of you?

I pulled into the mall parking lot, my heart thumping.

My daughter.

My beautiful, sassy, silly, sweet, wonderful daughter thought someone just… got rid of her?

I turned around. “Honey,” I said. “Your birth mother didn’t just get rid of you, she loved you.”

My daughter stared at me, her brown eyes growing wide, her hand falling away from the window.

“She did?”

My mind swirled.

Hadn’t I told her?

Hadn’t I told her, her adoption story a million times?

Hadn’t I told her something like this:

You didn’t grow in my tummy, you grew in your birthmother’s tummy, but she couldn’t keep you, I am not sure why. But your dad and I wanted you soooo much so we flew far across the deep ocean and over the tall mountains, picked you up, wrapped you in a soft pink blanket, flew back across the big ocean and over the mountains where everyone was waiting for you and we had a big party full of love and kisses and cake!

Brakes.

Rewind.

Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she she loved you very much”

Did I say, “I’m not sure why, but she loved you very much and it must have been very difficult for her to say goodbye.”

I must have.

I did.

Didn’t I?

My child’s beginning is unknown. I don’t know the reasons why her birth mother couldn’t keep her and I realized that in telling her I try to breeze quickly by that part, the beginning. It just seems tricky and messy and fraught with such hard questions and deep sadness that I hurry through, telling my daughter instead a story of a kisses and cake and a soft pink blanket that enveloped her with love; shielding her from sorrow.

I so want that story to be enough. For our love to be enough…but it can’t be, because it’s not her story.

When we open a book, we don’t just jump into the middle. We need to have an understanding of where the story begins, and my daughter’s beginning, although difficult, is just as important as any other; a beginning that doesn’t start with my love, but with the extraordinary love of another person. A love that while complicated shouldn’t just be casually rushed over. A love that deserves to be talked about slowly and carefully and with respect. A love like a cherished old book on the shelf, that can be revisited over and over again.

So I took a deep breath and slowly, slowly I spoke,

“Sweetie, I don’t know why your birth mom couldn’t keep you but I do know that she didn’t just get rid of you. Maybe she was too young to have a baby, or maybe she didn’t know how to be a mom yet but she loved you very, very much; and she did the hardest and bravest thing a mom could ever do and found you a place where she knew you would always be safe and where she knew there would be a family that would love you as much as she did.”

My daughter stared, her brown eyes meeting mine.

“Really?”

“Yes, really. She loved you and you know what else? You are full of extra love because you have love from your birth mom and love from all of us.”

A broad smile settled on her lips.

The story was shifting, the words were changing, slightly perhaps, but it was enough… for now.

“Can we go get some sushi and Legos now?”

“Of course.”

Anne Sawan is a mom of five, a psychologist and an author, having books published with MeeGenuis, as well as having articles published on Adoption Today, Adoptive Families, Brain Child, Scary Mommy and BluntMoms. She won The International Picture Book contest held by Inclusive Works and Clavis Publishing in 2014 and her book, What Can Your Grandmother Do? is scheduled to come out sometime this year.

Fly Away

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The plane lifted off the ground and the buildings and cars and trees below quickly became nothing more than small gray smudges against the earth. Clouds soon enveloped the tiny window next to me and unable to see past the foggy haze anymore I sat back, willing myself not to cry.

I had just said goodbye to my daughter who is spending a few months abroad in Europe.

I arrived a week earlier and she met me outside of my hotel where I held her in my arms for an embarrassingly long time, burying my face in her shoulder and drinking in the familiar, delicious scent of her. She proudly showed me around her city: the coffee shops she frequents with friends, the bakery where she gets her morning pastry, the bars with the best sangria.

Despite the relentless rain we had a wonderful week, traveling about, meeting her gracious host family, touring the university, listening to the stories of her adventures in foreign countries, but as happy as I was to see her, somewhere below the surface I kept feeling a slight something; a tremor, a subtle shifting…something had changed and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

So now as I sat there on that plane, the miles between us growing with each passing minute, I thought back to the beginning of this life journey which we had started together so long ago.

I remembered bringing her home for the first time, setting the car seat down in the living room and just sitting and staring at her… I was terrified; filled with fear at the realization that I was now responsible for the very survival of this tiny, helpless creature. Oh, how she needed me and oh, how it frightened me. She needed me to be her sustenance. She needed me to be her voice. She needed me to be her eyes. She needed me in ways I had never been needed before and it was, I thought, too much. But somehow, step-by-step, day-by-day we made it through and slowly, overtime, my confidence grew until I found myself on the other side of the ambivalence, suddenly relishing the fact that she needed me.

She needed me.

How flattering. How empowering. How wonderful.

I was needed.

I thought back to when she needed me to clean off her skinned toddler knees after falling in the park. I thought back to when she needed me to stay by her side as she wobbled down the street on her two-wheeler. I thought back to when she needed me to coax her into the pool, “Come ‘on. Jump! You can do it!”

How she needed me later still to help her navigate the strange changes in her body, the unexpected torment of fluctuating middle school friendships and the confusing new interactions with boys.

Then I thought back to that summer after a particularly bad school year during which a ruthless teenage bully had undone all of my child’s confidence.

I had wiped her tears and told her that this mean girl was no good. That the things she said weren’t true. That it was all just garbage. But no matter how many times I told her that she was beautiful and perfect, I couldn’t fix what was broken. She needed something else.

“It’s called Girls Leadership,” I said, handing her the colorful brochure sporting photos of teenage girls rock climbing and zip lining. “I think it might be good for you.”

She gave it a fleeting glance and handed it back, saying with the sage wisdom of a teenager, “You can call it whatever you want Mom. I know what it is. It’s confidence camp.”

The night before she left we went for a walk on the beach and she cried and begged and pleaded,

“Please don’t make me go.”

How I wanted to say, “You’re right. Forget it. Stay with me. I will make it all better.”

But I didn’t. I couldn’t, because while I wanted to always be the one who could magically kiss away her fears and fix her bad days, ultimately it wasn’t me she needed anymore.

She needed to go. She needed to discover that she would be all right on her own. She needed to climb over those rocks by herself and if she fell, well then she needed to find her own way up.

She needed something more than me.

She needed herself.

So there on that plane, as I thought back through all those years, I finally realized what the unsettled feeling I had been having all week truly was: it was the glorious, beautiful, and bittersweet goodbye of childhood.

Goodbye.

She has done it. She is standing on her own now without me by her side. She is scrambling over those rocks on her own. She will stumble, this is certain, but if I am not there to offer a hand, it’s ok. She will get herself back up, she will clean off her own skinned knee and she will whisper to herself, “Come ‘on. Jump! You can do it.”

A Real Mom

I haven’t written anything here for so long, but something irked me recently and I have something to say, and when a mom has something to say, she says it! So roll your eyes if you must, here it is.

I was perusing my Facebook news feed the other day, checking up on friends, reading various articles, when I stumbled upon this post posted by a well respected, well known online news publication.

A photo of three dogs with the caption: We’re adopted? OMG!!! You mean you’re not our real mom?

And underneath the post: Precisely why I’m not letting my pups know. What they don’t know, can’t hurt ’em.

Immediately I stopped. Now obviously it’s about dogs, great, I get it, and I know, it’s suppose to be funny, I should lighten up, but… those words, “You mean you’re not our real mom?” stuck with me all day: at the supermarket, the post office, the coffee shop; everywhere I went I saw infants strapped to their moms, young children skipping along next to their moms, teenagers slumped down in the front seats of cars next to their moms, adopted or not? I don’t know. I am sure some of them were and some of them weren’t but all of those moms sure looked real to me. I tried to talk myself out of my silly thoughts, perhaps I was overreacting, so I went home and reread the post, which by now had thousands of likes, hoping to see it through different eyes, and then I scrolled down and read the comments, here are a few:

“I never say, “adopted” in front of my fur babies because I know they understand English”

“I never say the “A” word.”

“Mine would never believe you if you told them I wasn’t their real mom.”

But you said that we’re your BABIES!!”

dogs

And then came another photo of a dog, that said, “I’m adopted??? OMG! You mean you’re not my real mom?”

Maybe I shouldn’t have read those comments by all those ignorant people, but I did and my blood began to boil. “I never say adopted”, “The A word.” “You mean you’re not my real mom?” Wow, I thought, how would my daughter or someone else’s child feel reading this? I had always promised myself I wouldn’t become one of those crazy, over the top, annoying, politically correct parents.  I believe that the world should strive to laugh more at itself; I don’t want to be one of those people that everyone has to be extra cautious around, and maybe four children back I would have been the one saying, “Oh calm down! It’s just a joke!” But life changes you, love changes you and I am not the person I use to be.

What does it mean to be “real?” Real means to be actual, genuine, valid, true, physical and tangible; something not imagined. I am my daughter’s real mom. I worry when she is sick, I laugh when she is silly, I hold my breath when I see her struggle, I get annoyed when she acts up, I cry when she is hurting and sometimes, as I watch her sleep, her hair a dark tangled mess, her eyelashes fluttering against her cheek, I have to take a deep breath, humbled by how fortunate I am to have this child in my life. These things are not imagined. These feelings occur with all of my children. I love each of them to my core, to the center of my soul, to the middle of my bones, whether they grew beneath them or not. I am a real mom to all of them and I am tired of people insinuating otherwise when it comes to adoption. Adoption is not the “A” word something to be hidden or ashamed of, adoption is something to be celebrated and we will celebrate because we are a REAL family. Real: actual, genuine, valid, true, physical and tangible; something not imagined.

And by the way, the dog joke…it’s not funny.

2012: Off And Running And Writing.

2012! Wow! How did that happen? Weren’t we all supposed to die about a million times already from some sort of apocalyptic disaster? I think there is one happening this year as well.  So this might just be it, the real end.  Better go live your dreams, make your wishes come true; eat that chocolate cake before we all explode into a million microbes.

I had a great 2011. I felt like I made some strides in my writing, and want to thank you all very every much for your votes in the various contests I entered. I truly appreciated all the support and encouragement.

These writing contests remind me of the races I subject myself to every few months.  I run and run and run, maybe limping a bit a long the way, then come home proudly clutching the medal that shows I did in fact pay the entry fee for the race and my kids jump around, asking, “So, did you win?” To which I inevitably reply something like, “No, but I was the 200th runner over the line!”  They stare at me, sadly shaking their heads and place a sympathetic hand on my shoulder saying, “That’s okay Mom.” Or, more likely,  “Wow, you stink.”

Look, I know going into these races I am not going to win but I love them. I am hooked. They challenge me, give me something to put my energy into and inspire me.  I see the true athletes out there and I am in awe. These people are good! They train year round, living and breathing this stuff. Me…not so much.  In many ways these races are a lot like the writing contests.  They provide me with a goal, urging me on, daring me to learn from my mistakes and to strive to become perhaps a just a little bit better.  Afterwards when I read over my material, see my glaring errors and then read other peoples entries and see their genius I think: That’s it!  I am done, no more writing for me… then I get just a sliver of good news.  Just enough to keep me going…like two great things that happened this past week.

One, I received news from Adoptive Families Magazine that my book, The Very Best Day, was the most read printable article of 2011. That felt great! (Not exactly sure what it means.  Aren’t they all printable?  But hey, take what you can!) Now I just need a publisher…

And, two, my book A is for Adoption was published last week in the January 2012 issue of Adoption Today. So all and all, a good end to 2011 and off to a running start in 2012.

I am placing a link to Adoption Today below, but I know some people have had trouble accessing it, so I will include a copy of A is for Adoption as well.

Now here is a quick disclaimer about the book. The book is narrated by a girl named Anna, which some people, including my own children, found a bit confusing given the makeup of my family (my oldest is named Anna).

Teddy: “Wait! Anna is adopted too?”

“No, Anna is not adopted. Eliza is adopted.”

Harry: “You never told us Anna is adopted!”

“Because she’s not.”

Teddy: “Am I adopted too?”

“No!”

Eliza (crying) “Wahh! I want to be adopted like Anna.

“You ARE adopted. Anna is NOT Adopted.”

Teddy: “Are you sure I’m not adopted?”

Challenges!

I hope you all have a good, healthy, and happy New Year.

http://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?i=95083&p=38

A Is For Adoption

A is for Anna, that’s me! What’s you name? When you see the first letter of your name in this book shout it out!  A is also for adoption. I’m adopted, are you? Adopted means your birth parents couldn’t care for you and your parents really, really wanted you so they made you a part of their family, forever.  Some people are adopted when they are babies and some when they are older. Some kids are in foster care first, and some aren’t.  How were you adopted? What’s your story?

B is for birthday.  I have a birthday party every year to celebrate the day I was born.  This year I want a chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles and a HUGE piñata. B is also for birth parents, the man and woman that made you but couldn’t raise you. B is also for brother. I have three. They like to wrestle, look for worms and play baseball.  Sometimes they let me play with them, sometimes they don’t. Do you have any brothers? Do they live with you? Do they look for worms?

C is for cookie.  Everyone knows that!  C is also for caseworker, some people call them adoption workers or social workers.  A caseworker is the person who watches over kids before they are adopted and makes sure they get to the right family.

D is for Daddy. I love my dad. He takes me on bike rides, and buys me ice cream.  I also have a birth dad. I never met mine. Do you have a dad? What do you guys like to do together? Do you know your birth dad?

E is for eternity. Eternity means forever and ever, which is how long I am going to be a part of my family.

F is for Family.  My family has a mom and a dad and three brothers and a sister and two dogs and a turtle and some fish.  My friend Lizzy has two dads, one brother and a cat and Jay has a grandma and that’s it.  All families are different.  What is your family like?

G is for Gecko, which are the only lizards that make noise. They live where is it warm. They have nothing to do with adoption, unless… are you from a warm place? Did they have geckos there? I hope I get one for my birthday. That would be cool!

H is for Happiness.  Happiness is love, fun, friends and families…. oh, and Disney World, of course!

I is for I love you. That’s it.

J is for jumping, juggling and jogging.  J is a fun letter! J is also for Judge. A judge needs to say it is okay for your parents to adopt you. I had to go with my family to a judge when I was a baby. I saw a picture of us all in our dress up clothes.  The judge wore a black robe and was holding this hammer thing called a gavel. Everyone was smiling.  Some kids go to the court when they are older.  Do you remember going to see the judge?

K is for knowledge.  That’s a big word that means to know or learn stuff, like who you are, where you are from, what your adoption story is.

L is for life and learning and love.  My birth mom and birth dad gave me life, so I could breathe and eat and swim and run, so they are really special.  Learning is important because you need to learn about who you are, where you came from, and then there is learning in school like how to read and do math. Love is the best.  I love my mom and my dad and my brothers and sisters and friends and pets and teachers and cousins and grandparents and…whew! That’s a lot of love!

M is for Mom.  I love my mom; she plays with me and likes to read to me.  What do you like to do with your mom? I know there is another person out there who is my birth mom, but I didn’t know her. I am glad she had me though, or I wouldn’t be here! Do you know your birth mom?

N is for Naked mole rats. They are small rodents who live in underground colonies in Africa. They have large teeth that stick out that they use to dig. They have very little hair and have wrinkled pink or yellowish skin. They are really funny looking and have absolutely nothing to do with adoption, unless…are you from Africa? Maybe you have seen one?

O is for open.  Open means you can talk about anything and not be scared or embarrassed to ask questions about adoption.  Your parents might not always know the answer, but they will try to figure it out for you.  Open also means something you forgot to shut, like the refrigerator door and then your mom will yell, “Who left the door open!”

P is for parents.  I have two, a mom and a dad. How about you? Parents get to make the rules like say what you can eat and where you can go, and tell you to do your homework, and stuff like that.

Q is questions. I have a lot! Like who were my birth parents? Why couldn’t they keep me? What did they look like? Where are they now? Why did the dinosaurs become extinct? How do fireflies light up like that? Do you have questions?

R is for rainbow.  Rainbows are cool and have so many different colors, just like people.  Some families look like rainbows because there can be all kinds of colors in one family: brown hair, red hair, blue eyes, green eyes, brown skin, tan skin, light skin with freckles.  If you line up your family maybe you can make your own people rainbow.

S is for super, stupendous and special!  I am all those things, super, stupendous and special, oh and my mom says I am silly. S is also for sister. I have one older sister.  She likes to play softball, swim and shop for clothes.  Do you have any sisters?  Mine is awesome, even though she doesn’t like me touching her stuff.

T is for together. Adoption is about being together as a family.

U is for Ultrasaurus which was a huge, long-necked dinosaur.  Their bones have been discovered in both South Korea and the United States.  They don’t really have anything  to do with adoption either, well unless you are maybe from South Korea or the United States. Are you?  Wouldn’t you love to ride on an Ultrasaurus!

V is for valuable.  Valuable means something that is desired or wished for or important.  My parents say all kids are valuable.

W is for wish.  My parents had a wish and it was me! I have a wish, to go to Africa and see a naked mole rat in action.

X is for Xenops, which are birds that live in South America and again have nothing to do with adoption, unless you are from South America, then, I suppose it could have to do with your adoption story.  Are you from South America?

Y is for yes! Yes I am adopted! Yes I love my family! Yes I am valuable! Yes I was wished for! Yes I have questions! Yes I want to see a naked mole rat!

Z is for zillion. I have a zillion more places to go, things to do and questions to ask.  Oh, yes, and I love my family a zillion times through.

Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan, 2012

A Letter To my Daughter’s Birth Mother

Two stories this past week have caught my eye, and have wreaked havoc on my heart. One from Guatemala about a toddler that was kidnapped from her mother, then left at an adoption agency, where she was placed with a family from the U.S.A  who adopted her.  This happened four years ago. The couple involved was not involved in the black market part of the adoption, they went through what they thought was all the right channels to adopt their daughter. Now a Guatemalan judge has ordered the now six year old to be returned to her biological mother.  (http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/groups/topic/Guatemala_Judge_Orders_US_Couple_to_Return_Child/)

Devastating for everyone.  As a mother I would go to the ends of the earth to find my child if he/she was kidnapped.  I can’t imagine the pain, the agony of losing a child.  However, as an adoptive parent I can’t imagine the other scenario either. Someone walking into my house and telling me to give up my daughter? Never.

The other similar story I just saw was featured on the Today Show and will air on Dateline tonight,

.  http://insidedateline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/17/7397480-aug-19-a-fathers-fight-the-day-she-disappeared).

This young man was allegedly duped by attorneys and his girlfriend into giving up his infant daughter for adoption. She was placed with a family almost three years ago. The biological father has been fighting to get her back. Again, devastation for all involved. I am not sure I can watch it.

These types of stories aren’t new.  They surface every once in a while, and remain in the heart and mind of every adoptive parent, “What if…” There is no right answer here, nothing good will come out of these situations.  Everyone will end up hurt and damaged.

I have no answers for these people only tears. I look at my sweet girl, her chubby hands wrapped around her sister’s as they walk in the park, her sandy legs as she runs on the beach with her brothers, her tiny body snuggled in between me and my husband as we sleep.  What would I do?  My brain fills with fear and freezes. “Don’t go there,” it whispers. So I don’t. I hold her tight, I fill her with love, and I pray.

Letter to My Child’s Birth Mother:

I am not frightened of many things. I can swat a spider, stand in the middle of a thunderstorm and admire its beauty, I don’t believe in ghosts or superstitions, or think that the world is going to end tomorrow, but I do fear you. Your never-ending presence hovering in the background of my life. You are neither completely present nor ever far enough away.

In the beginning I did not fear you. I felt badly for you, envisioning you as a young, confused girl, unable to care for your child due to culture or poverty or death. It was easy to include you in conversations in my head. There was space for you then in my heart. But as my love for my child took shape and raced away on the wings of forever, the space for you in my heart became smaller, and harder, and unforgiving. We do not need you, I thought.

Perhaps if I had a face; a story to tell, something to make you more real; flaws to point out, blemishes to criticize, missteps to see, but there are none. I am left with a sense of ethereal perfection. A being I cannot challenge, cannot disparage. You will always be flawless, the ideal mother. I however can be touched, ridiculed, a backdrop for anger and disappointment. You are like a supreme spirit, faultless and unblemished by reality.

I can’t stand the ever-present veil of you. I want to exorcise you, banishing you forever with some secret, magical chant, but it would be pointless. You would seep back in, through the cracks of the windows, quiet, determined. I must somehow learn to accept you, to feel at peace with you.

I understand now for the first time the desire of parents to deny a child’s adoption. To deny the presence of you. To say, she is only ours, she never belonged elsewhere. I am told I should honor you, embrace you, hold you up on this pedestal of love and acceptance, but I struggle. What if? What if she loves you? What if she wants you? The pain will be too great. I couldn’t bear it.

I pretend to accept. I try to diminish you by being nonchalant, seemingly unaffected by your existence, but the shroud of self-deceit is thin. I dread the day she asks for you, the day she wants to find you. I understand the need to know, the desire to find out, but I fear it too. I know she needs knowledge, to ask questions, discover and explore. It hurts that I am not enough. It is the hurt that drives the fear, gives it strength. I want to be the one that makes her whole, but she is not complete without you.

I am a woman torn in half. The edges of my soul are jagged and sharp, ready to fight and protect. I do not want to speak of you, acknowledge your reality through voice. Like a warrior of yesteryear, I am ready to defend. She is mine. I love her. I care for her. I have nourished her soul, her essence. I will not allow you to have any part of her, no matter how small…and yet, how can I not? It is not mine to decide. You are a part of her already. Present from the start.

I will get there, do not despair. I am a mother. I will do what is right for her, as you did. As mothers do. I will say the words out loud while I work on them in my soul. I will open that space in my heart, little by little and let you back in. I will hold my breath and squeeze her hand and I will let go even as I hold on. For that is the job of mothers, those we know and those we do not. Those we see, touch, hurt and love and those we only dream of doing such things to. I hope that when the time comes, and she needs you, wants you, asks for you I have the strength and the grace to rise above the fear, as you did, and give her what she needs the most, a beginning. A place to start that complicated journey towards truth, knowledge and timeless love. I will give her a mother’s heart and soul to carry with her, and to come back to.

Anne Cavanaugh-Sawan, 2011