Inspire – Women of Dartmouth Stories

Adoption: It’s Complicated

I am thankful that we built our family through adoption.  The story began 23 years ago…

How It Started

I noticed a woman at church one day with two beautiful, cocoa-brown children.  Months went by.  I miscarried again.  And again.  Why hadn’t that woman come back to Mass?  Finally, on a sunny Sunday in March, I watched her walk into church and sit in a center pew.  My heart raced. My husband, Dave, and I were more than ready to get off the fertility-treatment-flywheel.  As I was coming back from Communion, I slipped her a note. As is my nature, I dated it:  March 11, 2001. I wondered if her children had been adopted and if she’d be willing to tell me about the process.  The woman waited for me after Mass and took me out for coffee on the spot.  She introduced herself as Carolyn and shared that her children had been adopted from an orphanage in Colombia.  She explained that she was volunteering with the friends of the orphanage organization in the Twin Cities.  Divine intervention was at play:  she had been praying for a meaningful opportunity to help others, and I had been praying for her help. 

How It Evolved

On March 11, 2002, Gabriela Moreno Moreno was born in Bogotá, Colombia, under difficult circumstances. Anger, fear, and guilt ruled the day. There was no upbeat, IG-influencer-choreographed, exploding-pink gender reveal. There were only tears—a crying baby alone in the world and a crying mother not even afforded a moment to hold her newborn.

On May 8, 2002, after a year’s worth of paperwork and preparation, I got a call at my desk at General Mills from Carolyn. She said, “Call Dave right away and meet me at your house!”  He and I agreed to meet at Java Jacks and drive down Dupont Avenue South together. As we approached 4818 Dupont, we could see our lawn festooned with pink balloons and a pastel package leaning up against the front door. Dave unwrapped a photo of a beautiful, brown-eyed baby girl. The JPEG name below the photo read: Gabriela. Dave exclaimed, “How did they know we wanted to name a girl Gabriela?”  The universe was sending us a message: this pairing was meant to be.

How It’s Going

Twenty-two years later, we’ve lived many lifetimes. We returned to Bogotá in 2005 to adopt our son Daniel (also named by his birthmother) and we’ve traveled to Colombia five times since. We’ve supported our kids through ups and downs and medical misunderstandings (Your son will never play sports…). We cheered from the sidelines as each of our kids represented Colombia on the Colombian Men’s and on the Women’s National Ice Hockey Teams. 

To help quiet their ghost kingdoms and help bring peace to all parties involved, we eventually searched for each child’s birth mother. Together with Gabriela and Daniel, we met each of their birth mothers for the first time in 2019. God-willing, our children and their first mothers have long lives ahead to build relationships with one another. Hopefully, our kids will also connect with birth siblings and other family members from whom they were separated all those years ago.  

Day-by-day, Gabriela and Daniel wrestle with dichotomies. They escaped lifetimes of hardship and poverty, but their birth families continue to live la lucha. They are not treated with prejudice when they are with us, their white parents, but are often racially profiled when they navigate the world without us. As a parent, I observed that they were sometimes too Latino (at their predominantly white high school), but in other situations, they were not Latino enough (not native Spanish speakers).

What I’ve Learned Along the Way

Adoption is rooted in loss

For adopting parents, infertility is often an impetus to adopt. My infertility struggle was sad and isolating and took the shape of multiple early miscarriages. The pain came in consistent doses—hopes dashed in predictable intervals of every six to eight weeks. International, trans-racial adoptees, however, lose the most:  birth mothers, birth families, birth languages, birth countries, and birth cultures. 

Adoption is trauma.

It is traumatic for a mother to part with her child, and it is incredibly traumatic for an infant to be immediately separated from their mother. It is nothing short of terrifying for a tiny infant to leave the only voice they’ve heard for 40 weeks, to no longer hear the heartbeat that has kept them safe, to no longer feel the body that has kept them warm. Adoptees and birth mothers work their whole lives to soften these scars and unravel the PTSD. 

Adoption is challenging.

The hardships that many adoptive families endure run wide and deep. As adoptees wrestle with abandonment, identity issues, and disenfranchised grief, it is reasonable that their mental health is put to the test. Adoptees are statistically more likely to have a psychiatric diagnosis than non-adoptees. A meta-analysis of adoptees’ mental health found higher levels of depression and anxiety in children who were adopted vs non-adoptees.  Adoptees are four times as likely to attempt suicide.1

Adoption is co-opted.

Adoption is not the answer to the questions about women’s reproductive health, but that is another important topic.

Adoption is full of possibility.

I was able to raise children free from expectations that they would grow up to be just like me. As a white parent of brown children, I have come to understand white privilege more deeply.  As part of a trans-racial family, I appreciate institutional bias and prejudice in a way that I would not have if my children were white. I have a deeper appreciation for being other. I recognize the importance of advocating for my kids in uncomfortable situations. I have learned to call out racism—even when voiced by family members and other trusted adults.

Adoption is love.

My heart is full, but my heart aches, too. Although softened by trust and love and knowing their birth mothers are OK, sometimes their anger and fear still bubble to the surface. For me, there are always new worries. For them, there are adulting hurdles ahead. But my kids know I am not going anywhere. I am their mother. I am also other.

 

1 From Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT’s article at VeryWellMind.com (What Are the Mental Health Effects of Being Adopted?)

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