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.

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!

To Be (mother) or Not To Be (mother)?

 

It was girl’s night on the town, something we were all looking forward to and had prioritized amid our busy and demanding schedules. A mix of 30- and 40-somethings, we champagne-toasted each other and our much anticipated evening together. We come from all walks of life, different parts of the world, different cultures, different experiences, and we cherish one another more because of it. This is not where we are divided. Where we begin to feel the division between us is in our parental status—whether or not we will go home to children at the end of our evening. Continue reading “To Be (mother) or Not To Be (mother)?”