Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Does it Hurt you When I call her "Mom?" Adult adoptees & the Accessibility of Post-Adoption Support

The Dress.

My hand paused over the "Enter" key after I typed my response on to my adoptive mom's comment on a picture of me wearing a certain dress, on Facebook.  This dress is the subject of an inside joke between us.  I didn't want to buy the thing at first, but my mom somehow managed to triumph over my stubbornness and convinced me to get it.  She finds it humorous that it is now one of my favorites.  I jokingly grumbled back to her in type, "You love it because you picked it out, mom!"

This simple interaction is in fact more complicated than you can imagine.  This is because she's not my only mom, though she was supposed to be, and I share times with her that I don't share with my other mother--and vice-versa.  As integrated and friendly as my families are with each other, especially despite the distance between them, adoption is still a tough topic.  Whether it be on Facebook or any other method of communication, letting my families know what I am up to always seems to involve what I share with one family that I do not share with the other.  And "mom" is such a loaded word.

For those of you not familiar with my narrative, I will give you some background.  I was adopted through private, domestic infant adoption in the "era of considering openness."  The agency's version of "post-adoption support" given to my adoptive parents was, "Tell her she's adopted.  She won't care about being adopted."  They said that my first mother didn't want me and wanted to "just move on with her life."  There was never any prospect of reunion or openness as far as my parents were aware.  Not that this is the reason they adopted me.  I was the infant available for adoption at the time, and these were the circumstances, allegedly, that I came with.

On the other side, my first mother believed we had an "open" adoption.  As was explained to her, it was for my welfare that it would be set up this way: I could know her and contact her when I was ready.  She simply could not reach out to me or know my identity or location so as not to "disturb" me before I was ready for contact.  These separate stories given to each family successfully kept us apart for nearly 25 years.

So, when reunion happens, as you can imagine, it's not so easy to depart from 25 years of expectations.  My adoptive mother who never considered the idea of sharing me with another mother must now acknowledge that I have another mother.  She must decide what this means to her.  No one can point a finger at her or tell her to just "get with the program."  Her "coming to terms" with her part of adoption was done by way of the scant professional advice she received and no post-adoption support.  Likewise, my first mother, who thought I knew her all along and just wasn't ready to reach out, must adjust to the knowledge that she was cut out of the picture by the agency.  Of course, the knowledge that we all had to "come to terms" with the idea of adoption where she might never be in the picture, especially contrary to the agency's promises, is unsettling to her.  It makes her feel like a piece that does not fit into the puzzle.

People often want to know why a given adult adoptee can't understand that they were wanted.  Or why some can't incorporate two mothers into their life after reunion like other adoptees can.  Why can't the adoptee see any given concept that someone else in the "triad" might be able to see?  I'll explain closed adoption like this:

I compare having family ties and family background that contributes to how one pieces together identity to having a picture made from puzzle pieces.  When were born, we have a set of pieces that makes one picture.  When we're adopted, some of those pieces are removed and even sealed.  New pieces are added to our picture from the adoptive family.  Many of us assumed we'd never have that original information or those ties again.  We had to bring together a new picture with the pieces that we had.  Though I think no person in someone's life is replaceable, we make a complete a picture as possible.  When reunion happens, you move on to what is at least your third picture in life.  You have new pieces that must be fit in to make a new picture.  It's a lot of work.  It's a hard process.  It's a learning process.  And it doesn't come as easily to some as it does to others.

I imagine it's the same for original families with adoptees as the missing puzzle piece.  Only it was likely easier for me to be integrated back into my original family because they have always awaited my return.  Year after year, they waited patiently to hear from me.  They never made a new picture, which is more painful than it sounds.

Whenever I share something that I did with one mother or one family that I did not do with the other, it brings about painful reminders of what each side has missed out on.  It makes calling one mother "mom" in front of the other and sharing aspects of everyday life that most people don't give a second thought to way more complicated than it should be.

When someone needs adoption-related support in my families, they just deal with it.  There is no post-adoption support for us.  It's gone, or it never existed for us, rather.  So you can imagine why it's so important to me to evaluate whatever I do or say so as to not cause anyone unnecessary grief.

It's not that the support, now, is absolutely non-existent.  It is unattainable, because I was adopted across and handful of States and due to everyone's location, we'd never be able to all go somewhere for support.  It's also ridiculously expensive.

Had I used my agency to reunite, it would have cost $220.  If we want post-adoption "support?"

$95 per hour.

Of course therapists and counselors should be paid for their work.  But this fee schedule from my agency entitles me, as an adult adoptee, to support so long as I can afford to pay for it.  I only work part-time.  I won't tell you how many hours I'd have to work in order to pay for one hour of post-adoption support.  It's also the principle of the matter.

With a lack of post-adoption support oversight among adoption agencies, the result is sad.  All youth adoptees, adult adoptees, original families, and adoptive families are equally human.  Yet their support in adoption is not equal based on fees, ability to pay, availability of support, competency of staff at their agency providing the support, whether or not their agency is still open to provide the support, and the location of all involved as to whether or not the support can be reached.

I have met so many other adult adoptees who have come to terms with being adopted, and whatever that means to them, all on their own or with the help of family members.  They are proud of this--and they should be.  It is a testimony to the amazing and strong people in our community.  However, they should not have had to come to terms with it on their own.  All agencies should be providing on-going, competent, and accessible post-adoption support to all members of the "triad" for a lifetime.

When adult adoptees say, "I want to talk about adoption.  I want to have a say," and someone replies, "But adoption is so 'different' now," we're not looking at the complete picture of adoption.  Adoption support is not just about adoptions that will happen in the future (which adult adoptees are also more than capable of providing competent feedback on).  It is about supporting and empowering individuals whose adoptions took place in the past--no matter how long ago.  A lifetime.

What Joy and Stephanie, and I think JaeRan and Susan also, touched on in this past Friday's meeting in D.C. was profound: there is such a focus in adoption on "how do we make more adoptions happen?" that we forget to provide adequate support for those in adoptions that have already taken place.  That's another part of "adoption synonymy."  "Adoption" is synonymous in part with "adoptions that are going to happen," so much so that we forget or engineer some sort of obsolescence for individuals of adoptions that have already taken place.  The act of facilitating adoption when it comes to "adoption support" is not good enough on its own.  Adoption support needs to be accessible, competent, and available for a lifetime for all members of the "triad."