Christine Brewer is a happy, well-adjusted young woman who was adopted when she was an infant. She recently started a blog to help parents and adopted children to understand the pain and confusion that can surround adoption and how it can be transformed. Christine was kind enough to answer some questions for Adopting While Abroad.
You said that you think your blog is controversial, why do you think that is?
I think that having a blog where you take something that could have ended up terribly and giving several examples of this and then bringing the positive into the whole situation is bound to attract varied attention. I came across a group in my research that had a very negative outlook about adoption. And I was pretty much attacked for being happy. Some very negative things were said and it could have turned out pretty nasty. However, instead of fighting it, I saw it as an opportunity to learn how to better educate those who have been adopted, looking to adopt or just even the curious mind. Everyone’s story is different and I think that it’s important that we see all possible sides to what is meant to be a life changing and saving experience.
Why do you think some people who are adopted are so angry? Is there anything adoptive parents can do to help with this?
Before I share my own personal opinion of this, there is a scientifically proven theory that people who go through traumatic or life changing experiences go through the grieving process. This includes anger and denial. It’s hard sometimes to feel the initial thoughts and feelings of neglect or that someone didn’t want “us”.
With my own personal experience there were 3 different grades in my elementary and high school education that I went through this stage – kindergarten, 8th grade and 11th grade. In kindergarten, you are exposed to a brand new world. Your parents no longer have control over who your friends are, the places that you go and the things people say to you. There were plenty of times that people would make interesting comments to my mom and I was finally old enough to understand what they were saying.
Eighth grade was just a time before another life-changing experience, (changing schools the next year). I was being taken from the comfort of all of my friends that I had made in the last 8 years and being thrown into a completely new atmosphere. Making new friends, learning to fit in again, all things that I think subconsciously scare us adoptees.
In 11th grade, at least where I grew up, this was the year that was strongly focused on science and more so than ever, biology. I had a teacher who basically questioned my integrity because I couldn’t fill in a chart about my genes that I had received from my parents because I didn’t have any of that information.
There was one thing that kept me going through all of these rough times and that was the honesty and openness of my parents. I always knew that I could come home and talk to them about these things. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t come home angry or depressed about these things and didn’t initially want to talk. But I knew that when I was ready to talk, I could. And I could talk to them without the fear of being “rejected,” of making light of my feelings.
I think for adoptive parents it is SO important that you become familiar with the process of grieving. It may sound like they are not related but they are. It becomes a lot easier to identify what your child is going through and what is coming next with this knowledge.
What did your parents do right that made you feel good about yourself?
I LOVE this question first of all! I can’t help but brag a little! I had awesome parents! Were they perfect? No! But who really wants perfect parents! This question was probably my mom’s strong point. And the answer to this question is probably something you won’t expect. She pointed out our differences. She would openly embrace the fact that we had different skin color that she did. But she always told us that we were great the way that we were. Each of my siblings had their own special “color”. Mine was dark caramel. She would point out the fact that I would never have to go tanning, or worry about getting crazy red sunburns. Overall, she just made us feel like we were people just like the rest of the world.
The lesson that everyone was special in their own way was one that has stayed with me. We are all different. I have seen families who are biological that look nothing alike. Being open and honest though really helped me growing up. I can still remember being in Kindergarten and realizing that my teacher and I had different skin colors and coming home and asking my mom about it. All she did was laugh and point out the fact that she and my teacher were the same color. From that day on, I never even noticed.
How did your parents embrace your culture?
So this is a funny story. Growing up, they thought that I was Native American. So growing up I went to Native American events and cultural learning experiences. I learned a lot. I also learned to embrace the Native American culture and love it! Then one day, my mom took me to a hula class. It was literally like love at first dance! I fell in love! It all came so naturally to me. I felt as if I could understand the words in the song before I even started learning the beautiful Hawaiian language. I have never felt more myself or at home before I started doing hula. Of course after that, I began going to the Aloha Festival, dancing with the Hawaiians, going to Hawaii (and falling in complete love with the native islanders) and found the real me. My sister (who is African American) upon going to high school found that she got a long so well with people of the same ethnicity. They had a connection that no one could explain. I longed for that kind of relationship and I finally found it!
In your blog you say there was a time when your siblings had more information about their birth parents than you did and you spent a lot of time looking through scrapbooks and reading what foster families had written. What advice do you have for parents whose children are going through this and how can we help them the most during this time?
First of all, I am so grateful for my foster family who took the time to put this together for me. It is truly what kept me going at some points in my life. Knowing that a family who didn’t even know me or my story could love me as much as they did is such a blessing. They gave me information about the first 3 months of my life that I would never have gotten. The next thing that I would say is make scrapbooks or keep some sort of record for your children. We NEED to be reminded what the younger years of our life are like. The happiness that existed because for the most part all we are going to remember is that sudden and big change.
What was the worst period for you and how did your parents help you through it?
I think the worst period for me was when I realized that each of my siblings had more information than me and that their stories were a lot more “G” rated then mine. It wasn’t until I had another sibling who’s story wasn’t as great that I was able to be ok with the difference. I think the thing that helped me the most through this was just my parents showing me that children who weren’t adopted don’t always have the happily ever after that I thought they had.
What are your thoughts on adoptive parents maintaining contact (via photos and letters) with living birth family and planning trips for the entire family to visit the birth family? What words of advice, from your experience, would you give?
This one is kind of hard for me to answer in a broad term. So let me use my own family as an example. Growing up, each of my siblings’ adoptions became more and more open until the last one which is completely open. Each of these adoption situations have there pluses and minuses. To be more specific, growing up, it wasn’t really hard for me not to know anything until I understood that my sister knew more than I did. During this time, you could usually find me looking through scrapbooks and reading letters that my foster family had given with me trying to recon with the facts that I had been given. Questions that crossed my mind during this time were “What if when I am finally ready to find my birth parents, they aren’t alive any more?” or of course as a kid the worst “What if they are in jail?” or they don’t believe the same things I do? Then what?
It wasn’t until I had graduated from high school and began having experience with people from all over the globe that had different opinions and perspectives and that makes each of us different. I finally came to the conclusion that whatever is supposed to happen will happen. And when that time comes I will be able to deal with the situation at hand.
To further answer your question, vacations and trips really depend on the situation. The biggest question that you need to ask yourself is how this affects my child. Because when it comes down to it its all about the child. If this is going to affect the child in the wrong way then is it worth all of the trouble and confusion it could cause? I personally believe as long as the relationship is established (title, role, all of that fun stuff) then it is at the discretion of the adoptive parents or the way the adoption guidelines were set out. I am a firm believer in this! If you said from the beginning that you would send weekly pictures, then as part of the healing process on both sides, these agreements need to be upheld.
What advice do you have for parents whose children are angry or want answers that they just don’t have?
Be patient! Sometimes our questions are just to prove to ourselves that we are angry. By “out questioning” our parents we feel that we have won and that they have done something wrong. Don’t let this get to you! You haven’t! It’s all just a part of the grieving process. Like I have mentioned a couple times before, its always better for you to tell us that you really don’t know rather than lie or tell us that you do but don’t want to tell us because you are afraid of how it will affect us.
Christine answered more questions sent to her by adoptive parents on her blog, From the Eyes of a Child; A Girl. Adopted. Writing to Change the Lives of Others with the Same Story.
Here are a few books about grieving and grief and adoption:
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler.
Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections has an excellent chapter on loss and grieving. This book will help you with dozens of things that will come up from the day you bring your child home through the preteen years.
Grief and Loss throughout the lives of adopted children is a short article written by Susan Ward.