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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Adoption Interview Project 2012: My interview with Shannon from Peter's Cross Station

Adoption Bloggers Interview Project 2012 Heather over at Production Not Reproduction  is the mastermind behind the Adoption Interview Project. I'm so happy to be a part of this blogging community, although my part in it is infinitely small and lame-o. And let's face it, it's pretty much flat lined at the moment. I'm blaming it on my two little maniacs who leave me unable to form complete thoughts most days. Every time I break out the laptop with a blazing thought in my head, two little bodies amble over to me like attention zombies and drain me of inspiration, motivation and lap space. Personal time and space is a thing of the past. I got a really long hug on the toilet this morning. Yeah. I'm not one to ever turn a hug away, but come on...

Stay on topic, Lindsay...
The interview, yes. I was lucky enough to be paired up with Shannon of Peter's Cross Station. Her blog is passionate and informative. She's a smart cookie with a beautiful family created through open, domestic adoption. Shannon has written for multiple online sources about adoption including Babble and BlogHer.. You'd be wise to runnotwalk to her blog and pick her brain. She's a valuable resource to the adoption community.

Here's my interview with her:
Did you and your partner arrive at open adoption easily? Did you consider any other avenues?
We arrived at adoption easily. My partner threw out a short list of fantasy sperm donors among our male friends (the top of the list and his partner became our girls' godfathers), but I was literally laughing as she did. It was a five-minute part of the conversation. Then I said, "okay, I'll research adoption agencies tomorrow."

If we had gone the pregnancy route, one of us (for a number of reasons, my partner) would have had to do a second-parent adoption anyway. So I just figured we would do best to keep it adoption from the get-go and focus on that.

Once we started researching adoption agencies in our state that had a good track record of working with same-sex couples, we found these were agencies that primarily placed African American babies. So then we knew our adoption would be transracial. When I dug just the tiniest bit further it was soon quite apparent to me that open adoption would be best for a child, her first parent(s) and at the very least by association, for us.

So all of these things just fell into place. We never considered international adoption because we knew we would have to closet ourselves to do that, whereas we could be open about our family in a domestic adoption (in our state, at that time--this is not, by any means, universally true for same-sex couples adopting domestically).

When it was decided that you'd proceed with an open adoption, what issues were important to you? Have those issues changed with time?
My dream was to adopt the baby of a woman I could be "best friends" with. I was jealous of families in which both mothers were really involved with the child/ren and the moms were close and talked all the time. But the further along in adoption I get, the more I realize that a woman I am likely to identify with at that level is probably not a woman who needs to place her baby for adoption. A woman "like me" enough to talk on the phone every week and plan all the birthday parties together is more likely to have been coerced into placement--because she could have done it herself.

(I am not saying this is true in every case, and I firmly believe that even a mother who "could" do it, has the right to choose not to--to do something else, whether abortion or placing a child for adoption. But I do think that most of the mothers I am friends with who placed their children would not do it again and many say they were coerced in one or several ways.)

The longer I live adoption the more I see that coercion of mothers to place their babies for adoption is widespread, if sometimes subtle, and is perhaps the number one poison to healthy adoption practices, both institutional and individual.

I do wish very much I had better relationships with my children's mothers but the reasons I don't are the same reasons they truly needed us to adopt their babies. It is sad all around, but at least I know this really was the best thing for my daughters and their mothers--however tragic.

Meanwhile, our door is always open to our girls' mothers. We send lots of letters, pictures and texts. We leave phone messages for birthdays and Mother's Day if we can't get through. When we do have fleeting contact it is always a banner day.

Your family is multi racial. Did you encounter any hesitance within your families or your birth parents' families prior to placement?  If so, how were the issues resolved, post placement?
We didn't really have any race-related problems from our families (on either the birth or adoptive side). If there were issues, people kept them to themselves (which we appreciate!). For many years (until this past June, when my sister-in-law had a baby girl) our children were the only grandchildren or nieces in either of our families. They have been duly spoiled. (Now we enjoy spoiling our baby niece/cousin too!)

Our older daughter's mother did say she chose our profile because it was the only one she was shown with "any color in it" because pictures of our friends included African American people. Given few choices, she was resigned that her daughter would be adopted by white people. We talked openly about this with her. It was a positive conversation overall-as positive as such a sad occasion can be, at least.

Your blog is very passionate. you seem like a great ambassador for open adoption. how do you keep your passion for the subject alive?
My kids, my kids, my kids.

The older they get the more they need their [first-birth-natural-original-
biological-just, plain] mothers. And loving them means wanting to give them everything they need.

I can't deliver their moms under our complicated circumstances, but I can do everything I can to make it clear that those bonds belong to them and always will, no matter what. I can make it clear to them that they get to feel about adoption whatever they feel. I can make it clear that it is not their responsibility to make me feel okay if they are hurting or angry. I can make it clear that they can count on my partner's and my unconditional love--and we trust that they love us, even if adoption and its causes feel sad and unfair to them at the same time. I can make it clear that we are with them and have their backs no matter how they are feeling.

The more I learn about open adoption the better mother I can be to my girls. The more I advocate for open adoption, the better off adopted people will be. I consider everyone involved in adoption to be my extended family. I advocate for moms' rights on behalf of my daughters' mothers; for adopted people's rights on behalf of my kids. Open adoption is one element of ethical adoption and making adoption ethical is one of my priorities in life. I took that on when I chose to adopt.

What are some of the lesser known challenges you've encountered in your multi racial family?
The hardest thing about being an interracial family is finding real, living, breathing interracial places to be in U.S. society.

We live in a very segregated country. Take that as value-neutral if you want to, but interracial spaces--truly integrated spaces--are few and far between. A lot of times, white people will see a brown face in a crowd and feel warm and fuzzy and think they are in integrated space. I find myself counting all the time--I count the number of total people on the playground, then the number of non-white people, then figure the percentage. If it's less than 20% non-white, I feel like I've failed my kids. (No, really. It might sound silly, but it's true.)

Based on my reading and talking to adult transracially adopted people, I think the most important thing a white parent can do for a child of color is provide real peers and adults of the child's race for deep and long-term relationships. Living in a well-integrated neighborhood is a bonus, practicing new food ways or culture consumption is great. Learning to braid hair is a basic life skill, but real people to whom your children can relate are the number one priority.

We are lucky to have had a chance to move to one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the United States (statistically) and to have found a nearby dance studio full of African American instructors and students for the girls to attend. We also go to an unusually integrated Episcopal church every Sunday where the girls just blossom and glow under the admiring beams of surrogate aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins who look like them.

But moving into integrated spaces can be uncomfortable for white people--even supposedly anti-racist white people. It's taking a risk that someone won't like you, will judge you in some frightening way; will just be too different to understand. I always say, put yourself in your kids' shoes. If you are always asking them to be the token person of color it's not fair. It doesn't matter if every is "nice" or if your child is "welcome." Asking them to always be the different one is too much for a child. As the adult, as the parent, put yourself on that line whenever you can instead of your kids.

The godfather I mentioned above--top of the fantasy sperm-donor list--is Afro-Caribbean. So even if I had given birth, our family would have been interracial, and seeing as he is a surrogate brother to me, it already was. For us, thinking about living integrated lives far predated learning that our kids would be Black. Both of us were (are) scholars of American culture with an emphasis on race and therefor had (have) colleagues and friends of all races.

But even so, actually being an interracial family requires an almost mundane level of constant awareness of race and how it affects day-to-day life. The older the girls get, the more issues come up. I can now be at some distance from them in public places and watching them negotiate the world as little Black girls (often, when people don't realize their mother is watching) is an eye-opener.

A few weeks ago, a white woman tried to kick them off a swing so her daughter could use it. She had no idea their mom was observing the whole exchange. My older girl was about to give way, but her little sister shook her head defiantly. I was proud of her and let her handle it for a few minutes more before letting the other mom realize who I was. I hope she was darned embarrassed. And I don't really mean darned.

As a blogger, how did you learn to draw the line regarding the girls' adoption story or their birth parents or even just daily life?
I haven't learned where that line is, so I tend to err on the conservative side. I try not to tell someone else's story if she doesn't have equal access to tell it from her own perspective, so I say very little about the kids' moms. I feel kind of the same way about the kids. Up to a point, talking about kids is the same for everyone--teething, crawling, walking, potty-training, cute little kidisms...but my kids have reached an age now when they are much more individual and their stories are more about them and who they are than just about me having cute kids. Yet they are too young to tell their own stories from their own perspective. So I have cut back on blogging generally and blogging about the kids and OUR adoptions specifically.

That said, there are many stories I do tell in more private venues. I am open with anyone who emails from the blog to ask a specific question because they are doing their own adoption research of one kind or another or because they identify with us and want to share or ask advice, or whatever. I also tell more in detail at adoption conferences and other places where the information is targeted in a particular way to improve adoption overall or someone's family specifically.

I'm a new adoptive mom and our new addition looks a whole lot like my husband and I. So when it comes up that he was adopted, I get weird responses from people. I find that I'm still tripping over my words a lot when asked the usual, nosey questions about adoption. How did you find your voice regarding inquisitive strangers and acquaintances?
I'm an over-sharer. I am also a teacher. So I usually assume people mean well (you can tell when they don't) and talk frankly about the truth of our situation. If my kids are around, I will still talk about it, but I will include the kid/s in the conversation so they don't feel talked about. If the kids are at all uncomfortable we keep it simple and change the subject.

The biggest problem I have is the "oh what a saint you are" response people sometimes (often) have to recognizing us as an adoptive family. It really makes me angry, because well-intentioned or not, the person is implying that it is especially difficult to love my children. It is not. It is wildly easy. Ask anybody who's been on the receiving end of one of their smiles.

I am also really angry when people automatically assume it's okay to say negative things about their mothers. I bite my tongue and pretend I don't understand, then start speaking admirably of the girls' moms. "Oh her mom is such a genius!" "Oh she has her mom's eyes, that's why she's such a beauty!" "Her mom works so hard..." etc.

To say rude things about my kids' flesh and blood is to ay rude things about my kids.

Do you remember one stand out moment where you felt the connection between you and your new child? Was the bonding experience relatively similar for you each time, or did you have different experiences with each child?
This is not the case for everyone--whether a parent by birth or adoption--but I really did feel an instant connection with each of my girls the second I laid eyes on them and held them.

In the case of my younger daughter, I was waiting for the social worker to bring the baby from the hospital in the lobby of the agency (a building that held many other offices too), in front of a huge plate-glass door. People were getting off the El across the street and walking home from work. (It was rush-hour, and in fact, the social worker was stuck in traffic.) When she walked through that glass door, she put the baby right in my arms and said "congratulations, you're a mom again!" and I was thinking "wow, those people walking by outside might see this and have no idea what a profound moment it is in my daughter's and my life." It was a little bit surreal and really happy.

I had to go to a courthouse recently to get some document for something or other (I forget) and was flooded with a happy feeling. It occurred to me that the last two times I had been in a courthouse were to petition to adopt my daughters. So I have this bizarre happy association with annoying bureaucratic spaces now!

Thank you, Shannon for allowing me to drop these questions on you at the last minute. And thanks for some fresh inspiration to keep chugging along with this little blog.

Now, behind the jump is my attempt to sound like an intelligent adult with more than one synapse firing as I answer Shannon's questions...

How did you come to adoption in the first place?
I wound up having pre eclampsia with our first son and had to deliver him fourteen weeks early. He was very sick for a long time and we're endlessly blessed for such a healthy kid today. We didn't want to risk it again, and it was always our intentions to adopt eventually, so it was a very easy and natural conclusion for us. I'm very proud of my husband for being so easy and naturally open to adoption. He has such a big heart - I really love that about him.

What kind of adoption did you do?
We decided very quickly on open, domestic adoption through a local agency. It was the perfect fit for us.

How did you make the decision to do this kind of adoption versus other types available (if they were available)? As we were learning about all the different kinds of adoptions out there, we were shocked at how great the need for African American/biracial adoption was versus how long some people were waiting for a baby of their own race. Everyone has different needs and comfort levels, and we understand that. But for us it just didn't matter, at all. We wanted a baby and felt we were emotionally and logistically equipped to raise a child of another race, respectfully. We also needed this adoption process to have a very low impact on our son, W, who was two at the time. So we decided on domestic to avoid extensive travel. Then we learned that there was an agency very close to our home  that specialized in open adoptions. We figured that if we were going to have a child of another race, that it would be beneficial to know their birth family - to see where they came from. It was all just too perfect. Open, domestic, multi racial adoption. Boom bam.
Of course it didn't wind up turning out quite that way though...

What factors (specifically about adoption itself) where most important to you at the time you began the adoption process? Did these change or shift at a later time? If so how and why?
We went into adoption with one focus: a healthy baby to bring home from the hospital. We were robbed of that experience with Little W and we were craving it. So that was our driving force in the beginning. But once we found our path (open, domestic), I think a fire was lit in me and I developed a passion for it. Open adoption is a relatively new thing and I think it's very scary to outsiders. I love "spreading the gospel" to people who aren't in the know. Hopefully some form of open adoption will be the norm, some day.
It was also important to me to find a respectable agency that put the needs of the children first, then the birth parents. We were lucky to find that in our local agency. In my opinion, once agencies or adoption professionals start putting the needs of the adoptive parents before the babies and birth families, you're creeping into what seems like very questionable moral/ethical ground.
Once we were in the thick of The Wait, bringing a newborn home from the hospital seemed less and less important. And good thing because H's adoption plan was created when he was three months old. Our feeling was... when this kid is six months, three years, eleven years, twenty years old, is it going to matter that we missed twelve measly weeks with him? No way.

As you raise your adopted child, what is most important to you today? Is it what you predicted would be important when you began the adoption process? If it has shifted how and why?
I think my answer to this mirrors that of any other parent, adoptive or biological. I want my sons to have every opportunity available to them. I want them to shoot for the moon, to follow their dreams, to be healthy and kind and loving. Being  an adoptive parent will always be a bit trickier than being a biological parent because there's more questions to be answered and more people woven into the tapestry of our lives. This is especially so if you're a multi racial family. In preparing for our adoption, I did all the research, I knew all the ways to include my child's ethnicity into our family's nucleus. But as fate had it, that sweet little baby wasn't placed with us. And just a few weeks later we were surprised with an emergency placement... of the blondest haired, bluest eyed cherubic baby you've ever seen.  Go figure. So while I still want H to have a connection to his birth family's roots, it's not quite so pressing because simply, at first glance, there's not that blazing difference in appearances. Did I answer that question appropriately? Not so sure. We're just seven months in from placement, 7.5 months in from that heart breaking disappointment. So even though Little H consumes every corner of my mom-brain and is the light of my life, I still think about the baby that  wasn't placed with us every day. I'm sure that will fade with time. But currently, the transition from expecting an African American baby to having a Caucasian baby is still a part of my life. Clearly, some of the details aren't what I expected. But overall, the ideals that I hold important remain the same. I want him to know that he is loved by his birth family. I want him to know about them - and to know them. I want him to know that he is entitled to feel exactly how he feels. If he's feeling sad or mad regarding adoption, I want him to know that that's ok and that we're there to listen.

What resources do you look to for learning what you need to know about adoption and raising an adopted person? What do you like about these? Are there any "resources" you have seen and not liked? Why?

I'm a blog junkie. I bought several books while making our adoption plan but I just can't get through them. They're written by well meaning psychologists and I'm sure they're great for some people.  But when it comes down to it, I prefer blogs. Real life experiences from people who aren't experts is what I need. I like to learn from real moms' mistakes and laugh with them as they learn the ropes of parenthood. It puts a face and a heart on "The Adopted Child" that you read about in the books.

You have a mixed biological/adoptive family. Do you feel there are unique challenges to this experience, from your perspective? Are there unique blessings?
I do feel that there are unique challenges to having both biological and adoptive sons. Just the other day, I got into a conversation with W about how much we look alike. It wasn't a real heavy talk. It was short and to the point then he was off with his trains and dinosaurs. But it stuck with me for a while. How would that convo had gone down if the boys were older? How would it have made H feel to hear me talk about how much W and I look alike? Will W feel left out because he doesn't have a birth family like H? We will definitely have challenges as a family of mixed origin. Luckily, we have a few years to figure out how to tackle those subjects. Hopefully, our endlessly open dialog regarding H's adoption and birth family will leave him fulfilled when it's brought up that W and I look like twins. We'll be able to jump right in with pictures and stories about how much H looks like his birth parents and siblings.

What does "open adoption" mean to you and your family? Do you feel you have the support you need to maintain a healthy open adoption? What is your support? Would you like to have more and if so, what kind?
Open adoption means so much to us. Ultimately, it gave us our son. But it also gave us such a bigger sense of love for a child.  Before learning about open adoption, I would have never guessed that loving an adopted child would include love for his birth family. H's birth family loves him so much - and that will always be tangible to him. I see our relationship heading towards a place of closeness. It's still very new and I think I don't hear from them much because they're healing. But I keep a blog for them and always let them know how open I am to him knowing (I mean really knowing them). Hopefully with time for healing, we will be comfortably close. We all live less than two hours apart, so there's no excuse, if both parties are game.
     If we need it, our agency is there for us. But I don't feel like I need them as a middle man. I'm confidant in our relationship and the respect is there, on both ends.Like I said, I'd love to have a close relationship with them.But only time will tell if they will reciprocate.


  1. Hi Shannon, long time no "see"! I think what you wait about finding integrated spaces in America is so true. We never were able to find that in Nashville, and are much happier in Sydney, Australia. I was trying to research the best places to live in America, as far as integrated neighborhoods go. Guess what, I couldn't find anything! Someone should research and publish that data!

  2. What an awesome interview. Reading your answers reminds me of how much I appreciate your blog, Shannon. Great questions, Lindsey!

  3. Kohana, Rogers Park, Chicago has about 30-30-30-10 African American-White-Latino-Asian. And it's a big neighborhood, so there are mini-neighborhoods of course, but the experience on the street or at the playground is very mixed. Besides the overall racial diversity, there are a lot of recent immigrants here, too. We live closest to the pockets of African and pockets of Latino newcomers. People speak English, Spanish, French and a zillion other, more local languages. Going to the beach it's like the United Nations. We'll see a white couple and child walk by and think "oh--people like us" and then we'll overhear them speaking Russian or Polish and go "oh--never mind..."
    Pretty awesome.
    EXTREMELY rare in the U.S.

  4. What a great interview, both the questions and the answers. I especially loved the paragraph about how you take care of your daughters' bond with their moms, even with sporadic (or no) contact, how you encourage them to feel their feelings, and how you have their backs always.

    Thanks Shannon and Lindsey!