Monday, May 30, 2016

The Darkest Places

I thought that I knew what grief was. I thought I had been to my darkest places; those places where hope seems impossible and I'm barely holding on by a string. I recently found out, with the death of my father, that those places get darker and that string gets thinner. I've never been so close to the edge as I have been this past month. When things get rough, I remind myself of a quote I found on Pinterest "The bravest thing I ever did was staying alive when I wanted to die" (Author unknown). I've held on to that quote like someone drowning would hold onto their last breath.

At first, I was in that "sweet" denial phase. I remembered being there right after the adoption and this time I clung to it. With the adoption I knew that I'd have to come out of it eventually so I pushed myself. I would read about it until I broke down, I started going to therapy to reprocess memories, and I forced myself to start processing the loss of my motherhood.

I've started coming out of the denial phase from my father's death, but I'm still there quite a bit of the time. None of it feels real. The only good part of the denial phase is that everything was put on hold, including my adoption grief. I've found when the grief does hit me, the adoption still takes up most of my emotional energy. I've wondered many times how it's possible that losing my son and motherhood to adoption can feel worse than the actual death of a parent. 

I will never be able to call my father again. I can't tell him about my latest crazy idea (that he would fully support and help make crazier), I can't share stories of the grandson he never got to meet, and I won't ever be able to arrange that meeting. The grief I feel at those thoughts have been immeasurable. I will regret that for the rest of my life.  I am glad that at the end, my father and I had a long talk about how much my son looked and acted like him when he was a kid. He was delighted with that conversation, and it soothes my heart just a bit to think about it.

 As much as I want to just repress it all together and stuff it down deep, I know that it's something I have to process. Not processing it would be the worst decision I could make, and would delay the end goal of acceptance. I often find myself asking if there really is any real acceptance in adoption though? Do these wounds ever close? 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Love Letter From This A-Mom to the Internet.

The availability of information in the digital age and our ability to connect with one another is, as we all know, a blessing and a curse. There have been endless think pieces about how the internet and social media have changed aspects of our culture, including parenthood. How do we monitor our kids screen-time and social media access while still allowing them to culture the skills they need to grow up in the digital age? How do we keep our kids safe online? What are the boundaries for privacy when posting or blogging about our kids? All of these questions are questions worth wrestling with. Parenthood is complicated and these are complicated times. And yet, like most things, the added layer of being an adoptive parent make things even a little bit more complicated. Add in the intersection of transracial adoptive parenting (link to definition here), and it’s a whole different can of worms. 

2015 Christmas Card shared with birth family. 
There are valid reasons that people disparage the increased impact that the internet has on our culture, but for my family, its been invaluable. Social media allows me to keep in touch with my child’s birth family through regular photos and updates, despite the fact that they live halfway across the world. Social media has helped me build relationships with families that mirror mine…a group of us even does a Christmas card exchange each year. The internet has given me a wealth of information on trauma informed parenting (link here), transracial hair care (link here), connected parenting (link here), and mommy blogs specific to adoption (link here) that generations of adoptive parents before me never had access to. 

And yet, the most priceless gift the internet has given my family is the ability to listen to the voices of people of color, adult adoptees, and birth parents and to learn from their experiences. The adoption industry is just that; an industry. And because of the power differentials present between birth parents and adoptive parents, and between races and classes, so often the voice most centered in adoptions are the voices of people like me: white adoptive parents. Vocabulary and conversations center our needs, our experiences, our feelings, very often times at the expense of first parents and even more tragically, at the expense of our children. 
But the internet has started to change that. For people who are willing to learn, there are spaces to enter into that flip the script (link here) on adoption and works to dismantle the harmful power differential between the members of the adoption constellation. There are Facebook groups, blogs, speakers and books (link here). Suddenly there are places to go and people to listen to who will challenge the dominant adoption narrative, challenge white privilege and neocolonialism, challenge some of the corrupt and harmful practices prevalent in many parts of the adoption industry.

Elle with her husband and daughter in their picture
 for Faces Of The Movement
Entering into those spaces as a white parent of a black, internationally adopted child is not always easy. I have often been confronted with my own white fragility (link here) and defensiveness. So often we have been fed an incomplete narrative about “grateful” adoptees, infantilizing them, erasing them, ignoring their trauma. So often we have forgotten completely about birth parents, or, even worse, given into harmful narratives about their laziness or lack of compassion. We give no real attention paid to the systemic issues that brought them to their circumstances in the first place, and no humility about the way that we perpetuate and benefit from these systems. 

In any relationship where there are inherent power differentials and those power differentials are explored and challenged, emotions are high. We encounter righteous anger from adult adoptees who were kept from key elements of their identity by their adoptive parents. We encounter the deep grief of first parents who long for a connection with their baby and keep getting shut out of the picture. Adoption is hard. It can be beautiful, but it is always hard. 
Elle and her daughter walking in a peaceful protest
in Ferguson MO in October 2014. 

As a white adoptive parent, being confronted with racism, neocolonialism, and the corruption of the industry can often make me feel defensive. There are times when I have to literally imagine taking hold of my emotions and setting them to the side in order to focus on the emotions of other members of the adoption community. It would be easy to say, “Well my adoption isn’t like that.” Or even worse, #notalladoptiveparents. And yet, out of love for my child, I am trying to unlearn that impulse. The internet has given me a place to have these conversations, a place to encourage me when I need guidance, and most importantly a place to call me out when I center my own identity over the identity of my child. 

So. Thank you internet for holding the space. Thank you adult adoptees. Thank you people of color. Thank you first parents. Thank you for speaking up, for demanding to be heard. For not giving up on me for the sake of my child. You’ve been gentle with me and kind and patient. You’ve been direct with me. You’ve been vulnerable. You’ve let me into your stories and experiences. You’ve let me into your pain and your joy and your anger. I hear you. I am trying to hear you more. Your voices make me a better mom. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 
Picture of Elle and her daughter.
The love between them is palpable. 

bio: Elle Dowd is a white adoptive parent of a Black child from West Africa. 
(photo credit: FreshBlend Media in St. Louis)