Adoption: Growing Grace

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Growing Grace is a tender story about adoption from the perspective of a girl (almost a grown up, but not quite) who discovers she is going to have a baby. Readers, young and old, are taken on a journey with the young mother as she struggles to do what she believes is best for the baby who is growing inside her. The book addresses the plight of her decision making process, the connection she develops with her baby, and most of all, the love she has and will always hold for her child.

Children learn about the world through imaginative play and story telling. Parents who have adopted children often introduce the concept of adoption and help each child understand their journey through books and stories. Many books on the subject of adoption begin with the adoptive parents’ experience, their journey leading up to the adoption, or the first moment meeting the child. Most of these stories beautifully reiterate how much the children were hoped for and how valued and loved they are from the perspective of the adoptive parents, but do not convey this same sentiment from the perspective of the birth parents.

This missing perspective is an integral part of fully understanding the adoption process. Through the account of one young mother, Growing Grace provides an opportunity to engage in an open, honest, and evolving conversation about each family’s unique experience. Acknowledging the circumstances of the birth mother, and making it part of the dialogue about adoption in the earlier stages may help the family and each individual to comprehensively synthesize their experience in a meaningful way.

An ideal read-to children’s book, this story introduces the perspective of the birth mother framed in love and compassion. Written in simple and appropriate language, Growing Grace provides an opportunity for children as young as preschool-age to navigate and understand, in their own way, how their life may have begun. Inviting the birth mother’s perspective into the conversation allows a unique opportunity for the family to explore this rarely shared aspect of the adoption story. Every family’s situation is different, and this book is intentionally open-ended and inconclusive, as to allow additional opportunity to explore the various possible outcomes.

The story of Grace is a tribute, not only to the child who has been adopted, but also expresses appreciation, honor, and recognition of adoptive parents and biological parents alike. Brought to life by illustrator Layal Idriss, the dynamic images in this book beautifully convey the complexity of emotions involved in the adoption experience. It is intended to spark questions, facilitate communication, and foster an exploration of what each family’s adoption means for them. This book promotes self-discovery and self-actualization, and helps anyone affected by adoption to integrate their own unique experience into their identity with positivity, clarity, and confidence.

To purchase Growing Grace

The Eight Letter Word

Guest Blog by Crystal Gould

ADOPTION: the eight letter word that most people seem to have an opinion about, yet very few truly understand. Those of us in the adoption community know those eight letters are filled with love, loss, hope, joy, sadness, beauty, sacrifice and complication. When birth parents choose to place their child for adoption, there is a void that cannot be filled. When adoptive parents recognize that even love isn’t enough sometimes, there is a feeling of helplessness that cannot be ignored. When an adoptee feels disconnected and lost, there is a sadness that cannot be washed away. In the same breath however, adoption is also filled with tremendous hope. Hope for a child’s future and best wishes for optimum success in life. It is a complicated mixture of love and anticipation. Adoption is complicated and difficult to explain, but crucial to discuss with children (adopted and not) at an early age.

My husband and I have two children who were both adopted from China as toddlers. They have always known they were adopted. Their understanding of that eight letter word has changed over the years and their feelings about it will alter even more as they age, but the foundation for their understanding was set from day one.

It is important for adoptive families to remember that their child’s story begins well before the child joins the family. There are many ways to help an adoptee understand his or her background. Reading children’s books with an adoption theme, watching age appropriate films and videos, and looking at photos are all great ways to help a child understand and be able to discuss adoption. Another very important way to help a child understand his or her complicated life story is for the adoptive parents to create a lifebook for their child. A lifebook is the child’s bridge between the past and present, and can open the door to many valuable questions along the way.  Lifebooks are books made specifically for the adopted child to help piece together his or her birth history. It can include photos, facts about the birth place, or even in some circumstances, letters written to the child from his or her birth parents.

The most valuable thing adoptive families can do is to keep the conversation going. Sometimes there will be hard, difficult to answer questions and often times there will be unknown answers. Avoiding tough questions will just create more questions. In the same breath however, it is also important not to push the topic. If children are not ready to discuss their adoption story, or if they suddenly show a disinterest in their past, it is okay to simply say, “I am here for you when you’re ready.” It is important for adoptees of all ages to know their parents support them and are always willing to discuss their adoption story with them. Sometimes the answers will be easy, and sometimes there will be no answers. Saying “I don’t know” is okay. It is not about having all the answers. It is about being open to navigating the difficult questions together, and in turn, growing together as a family.

Adoption: The Quiet Voice

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It’s never been a secret, really. I didn’t hide it. I have always been open and willing to talk about it. Not necessarily something I advertised, but something I’ve come to deeply appreciate and value about my personal life story. Yet, somehow in this moment, it feels inexplicably overwhelming. I worry about making other people uncomfortable by the revelation. I battle with old feelings of uncertainty resurfacing. I recoil at the thought of feeling exposed, raw and vulnerable. In other articles I’ve written, and in the very mission statement of my blog, the message is clear: Empowered Times—Liberate the inner evolution! I strive to encourage everyone to stand boldly in who they are, to embrace their flaws and shortcomings, to honor their scars, and to move fearlessly down the unexplored paths of self-awareness and self-discovery.

And here I stand at a crossroads. On one hand, I am paralyzed by uncertainty and doubt. On the other hand, I am propelled and fueled by a vision which has evolved over the years. I believe, as Michelle Madrid-Branch so eloquently and succinctly frames it, “Adoption Means Love.” We must continue to find new ways to open up conversations about adoption. We must break down the stigma and overcome the taboo associated with adoption. We must encourage people impacted by adoption to share their voice and their experience with others. We must create more connection, more transparency, and more opportunity for dialogue. We must provide more validation and support during the challenges presented through the adoption process. We must empower one another to whole-heartedly integrate our unique experiences into a profound understanding of who we are, where we come from, and where our future endeavors will take us.

With all this said, I will choose to step on to the path of uncertainty and doubt and embrace the risk involved along the way. I will choose to share my voice. This is the voice not often heard in the adoption story. The voice in the shadows. The voice that historically disappeared for nine suspicious months, only to reappear muted and stifled. The voice that often still only whispers its truth behind closed doors or on safe platforms. However, I believe that in concealing this voice, we also arrest the potential for understanding and healing.

Many years ago, “Grace’s” mother asked me to write this story… our story from my perspective. She said she had bought every book she could find on adoption, but none of them offered anything about the birth mother. How could she fully explain to her three-year old daughter how much her birth mother loved her if there was no such character written into any of the storybooks? Children begin to understand life through play and story-telling, but how can they make sense of adoption if things are only vaguely presented to them? Storybooks which do include the birth mother, often do so in a mythical and mysterious way. Not to dismiss the importance of some of the most popular stories on adoption, as they most certainly convey how much the baby was hoped for, prayed for and celebrated after the adoption. However, an important segment is overlooked… how much the baby was loved, longed for, and nurtured prior to the adoption. This is the story I am going to tell.

Adoption: Helping Children Discover Their Story

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My first job when I moved to Los Angeles in the year 2000, was working at a residential facility for primarily pregnant and parenting teenagers. I was a counselor and case manager for a group of girls who called themselves “The Survivors.” And they were. They had each come from their own tragic family situation, and many were under the care of Child Protective Services. At the age of 15, 16 or 17, they were either expecting, or in the process of learning how to raise children of their own. Despite their unstable circumstances, these young mothers were resolved to raise their children. At times, Child Protective Services would intervene, and the babies would be removed from the mother’s custody. Regardless of what the authorities determined, it was always evident to me how much the girls loved their children. I developed tremendous respect and tender empathy for these children trying to raise children.

Over the years I have worked with many children in foster care, children who were adopted, and children with extremely complicated parent relationships. I will never forget Lisa, one my first clients in the public school system. She was in the second grade, and lived with her father who had recently been released from prison. Her father was committed to rehabilitate himself so he could provide a decent life for his daughter. There was a restraining order against Lisa’s mother due to excessive drug use and the unpredictable and risky behavior that ensued when she was high, which she often was. Despite the court restriction, Lisa frequently went to visit her mother in the van where she was living in a vacant lot nearby. I worked with Lisa for three years, and though the restraining order against her mother was never lifted, she never gave up trying to see her mother whenever she could. Something within compelled her.

Lisa was about the same age as my own daughter, the daughter I placed for adoption eight years earlier, while still in my teens. In professional terms, we refer to this as counter-transference, and I had to carefully manage the empathy I had for Lisa in her situation, and differentiating that from my own feelings for my daughter. Choosing adoption was the single most difficult decision of my life. One thing I was adamant about, from the moment I first discovered I was pregnant was to make sure this child (we’ll call her Grace) felt loved, cared for, and like the integral part of me she was and would always be.

In some ways, this personal experience informed and set me on my professional path. When I was in graduate school, one of my professors spoke about a book, The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier, which recognized and explored the complex dynamics for every member in the adoption process. In reference to the book, my professor explored the deep and long-lasting wound among children who are adopted, birth mothers, and adoptive parents. Of course complex dynamics and deep wounds exist in even the healthiest and most functional family relationships.

Every family’s situation is different. With regard to adoption, families will choose what type of adoption feels right for their family. For example, Grace’s adoption was initially meant to be an “open adoption,” but that shifted over the years as the needs of their family changed. However, whether the adoption is open or closed, domestic or international, adoptive children have the right to the truth in a way that is sensitive to age and developmental stage.

My professional experiences have only reiterated for me what I have always known to be true on a personal level. All children should have the opportunity to ask questions, explore possibilities, and understand how their life may have begun. We must support children in their own process of navigating who they are and where they come from, so they can make sense of their unique stories in meaningful and healing ways.

The Powers of Storytelling

When I was a little girl, I was a storyteller, able to weave tales together like a master. I would try to convince others my stories were true, often because the stories felt so true for me. It was an imaginary world, and growing up in a home with one black and white television, at time before internet, my imagination was a critical source of entertainment for me.

The origin of storytelling goes back thousands of millennia, and for our earliest ancestors, had significantly greater purpose than mere entertainment. Sharing stories has been an integral part of our history, human nature, and survival. Storytelling helped to make sense of and provide meaning for life and death, imparted information about potential threats and means of survival, created emotional connection with others, and of course communicated various perspectives and experiences throughout generations. (Watch video)

Telling our own personal stories can also be profoundly healing. In fact there is an entire psychological perspective known as “narrative therapy,” which focuses on the individual’s ability to tell, explore, and understand their stories in a meaningful way. Ultimately, we make sense of our world through our stories, and whether we are aware or not, we have a plethora of stories going through our minds everyday. Saying our stories aloud can be extremely powerful. When there is someone to witness our story (e.g. a therapist, a trusted friend or family member, a support group, or even a larger audience), we have the opportunity to be heard, felt, and understood, allowing us to view our experience from a different perspective.

For those of us who are a bit more discreet and would rather not broadcast our stories, there are also incredible benefits of writing about our experiences. James W. Pennebaker, PhD has researched and published his findings (Opening Up) on the power of reflective writing. He proposed that by exploring our stories with a willingness to openly address how we feel about those experiences, we are able to understand ourselves better, process past traumas, and ultimately, live healthier lives. Dr. Pennebaker found that people who were able to honestly identify and disclose their feelings about specific life events experienced reduction in depression and anxiety, lower stress response, and improved immune function.

Stories are especially important for children. While the brain is in the earlier stages of development, young children are less able to process abstract concepts like the death of a loved one, changing family dynamics with a new baby in the house, or understanding adoption. However, if they read a story about a character (even if it’s a hippopotamus), and they feel they have something in common with the fictional character, they become better equipped to understand and make sense of their own unique and personal story. Stories also offer children an opportunity to ask questions and gain better awareness and empathy for others.

As children, we are primed for stories, when our imaginative mind may be at its height. I realize as I’ve gotten older, other more practical qualities like logic, problem solving, and concrete thinking have become more dominant, and my creative powers of make-believe have fallen by the wayside. There is hope. Like the muscles in our body we may neglect over time, the imaginative areas of our brain have the potential to be revived with a little exercise and practice.

Like a “moth” to the flame, we continue to be drawn to stories through books, television, film, and more recently social media. In the era of reality television, it’s refreshing to know about community clubs and organizations (e.g. The Moth, Toastmasters, This American Life, etc.) which focus on real experiences… raw, uncensored, and honest human stories. Sharing our own personal stories and listening to the stories of others provide us with an incredible opportunity. Storytelling can help us to feel validated through shared experiences with others, facilitate healing, create a sense of connection, and reinforce our commonality as a species. We need this now more than ever!

Mother’s Day: A “Tricky Conundrum”


It’s a “tricky conundrum,” says Ryan Jon in his social media video addressed to his biological mother in recognition of Mother’s Day. The annual reminder to honor, celebrate, and appreciate the women who raised us is often times countered with an emotionally complex tsunami of loss, pain and sense of isolation. A bittersweet holiday, Mother’s Day is one in which I celebrate not only my own mother, but also recognize and honor other women and children who experience this day in extraordinary ways. So this year, I decided to ask women who have been touched by adoption to share what Mother’s Day means to them.

“When I started this journey  Continue reading “Mother’s Day: A “Tricky Conundrum””