Almost Full Circle

In the spring of 2000, we met Teri Green, seven months pregnant, at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. Teri was then separated from her 7-year-old daughter, Samantha, who lived in Oklahoma with her grandmother. Teri told us she could not care for the child she was carrying and that her goal was to reunite with her daughter Samantha. Journey Falco was born on May 18, 2000, and placed for adoption with John and me. We stayed in contact with Teri and visited her in the summer of 2001. After that, Teri disappeared. As Journey matured and we visited the birth family members of her older siblings, Journey grieved the loss of Teri and the sister she knew of but had never met. Finally, in December 2008, Journey received a letter and gift from Teri – but no return address was included. I had secretly been searching for Teri for years, but her letter prompted me to increase my efforts. By 2013, we had found Teri and discovered that her younger sister, Kristi, also knew of Journey’s existence. We went to meet them in Oklahoma. Thanks to Kristi – who understood that making connections to her biological family was very important to Journey – a way was paved to gradually reveal “the secret.” In 2015, Journey met her grandmother, Marty. Nine days ago, Journey was finally to meet her sister Samantha and share a week of experiences at the place where it all began – Sunset Beach, NC.
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How does it feel, as a 17-year-old, to meet the older sister you’ve always known about when that sister only learned about your existence a short time ago? (This is a question only Journey can answer.) How does it feel to meet your younger sister, now 17, whose existence was kept a secret from you until recently? (This is a question only Samantha can answer.) How does it feel to be the ambassador between sisters raised in different families when their mother is not able to perform that role? (This is a question only Kristi can answer.) How does it feel to welcome a new sibling and aunt into your ever-expanding open adoption family in the close quarters of a beach house? (This is a question only the Falco siblings can answer.)

How does it feel to arrange and coordinate these interactions as a parent who instigated and maintains this ever-changing family of open adoptions? This I can answer: It feels pretty great!

All parents want what is best for their kids. But we don’t always know what “best” is. And we certainly don’t know what drama or unplanned-for-events may occur as a result of our well-intentioned plans. I could provide a very long list of unintended consequences in this family!

Thankfully, this past week will be for all of us, I believe, a set of treasured memories. It’s a given in our family that there will be some illness, some grumpiness, some heated disputes, some unwillingness to participate, and so on. However, the overall tone of our week at the beach was JOY.

A few highlights of the week include the following:

*walks and runs and bike rides

*shopping for souvenirs and birthday gifts (Emily and K.J. have July birthdays)

*sunrises, sunsets, and “chasing seashells”
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*celebrating the 4th of July
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*laughter and meals together

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*hanging out on the beach

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*playing in the waves
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*spending time with Skye and Kinsley

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*quiet time and naps

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*fishing together

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*attempting family photos (well, maybe not for Becton)

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*celebrating Emily’s 23rd birthday

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*telling our stories, finding commonalities and differences
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In the end, the visit was not an “end” but a beginning with hopes of more time together in the future. There is always loss in adoption. In Journey’s story, there is pain related to losing her first mother and being a secret in her family of origin. In Samantha’s story, there is also pain about losing a mother and not knowing a sister. And Teri continues to struggle in ways that are both known and unknown to us. None of this changes what I believe my role to be. I will say again what I wrote in Everything In Its Own Time: What I know for sure is that honest expressions of love toward another person are mightier than any exertion of power. And I will keep offering a safe place for the truth of our experiences.
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Summer Plans

It’s been interesting talking to folks about their summer plans or seeing their activities pop up on Facebook. There are family and couple trips of all kinds to interesting places in this country and abroad. When I’ve been asked the question about OUR plans, my answer is a little different. Our plans have mostly to do with connecting to relatives we’ve gained through adoption.

For example, we recently returned from a trip to Nebraska for Emily’s sister’s wedding. Emily was one of her bridesmaids. While Brittani and her husband Dillon honeymoon, their daughter Cerenittee is here in Atlanta visiting with us.

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(Dillon and Brittani)

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(Emily and Cerenittee)

Since K.J.’s birth family also lives in Nebraska, we were able to visit with his family too.

There are always new people to meet. On this trip, we met Emily’s mother Rachelle’s newly-found father – after 46 years of not knowing him. And K.J. met the half-sisters he didn’t remember because he was so young the last time he saw them.

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(K.J. with brothers Colton, Austin, and Zach and sisters Ashleigh and Alexis)

During the wedding reception, we were surrounded by family that included both of our oldest children’s maternally and paternally related kin – aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, nieces, nephews, and so forth. I am still in awe that we have been so blessed.

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Next month, we will go as a family to Sunset Beach in North Carolina. We will be joined by Skye and Kinsley. But we will also be joined by Journey’s Aunt Kristi and her sister Samantha from Oklahoma. This is a momentous occasion because Journey has never met Samantha. Sam only recently learned about Journey’s existence.

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(Journey ready for Momocon last month)

The following month, we will celebrate Skye’s marriage to Ben Roney in a “re-tying the knot” at R-Ranch in Dahlonega with most of the traditional wedding ceremonial hoopla. Not only will we (the other Falcos) be meeting Roney relatives for the first time, we will have Skye’s birth family in attendance. In the ceremony that I’ve written (awaiting approval by Skye and Ben), both her mothers and families are acknowledged.

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Meanwhile, an adoption search angel found Becton’s birth mother, and I’ve written to her, asking for any degree of contact that she is able to offer. She may not respond. But we are hoping that she does.

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(Becton with his boys’ tap group last month)

I’d like to jump in a car or on a plane and take off to places I’ve not yet seen or experienced. But that isn’t possible right now. Still, when I sit and really think about the places I’ve been and the places I anticipate going as a parent through open adoption, I marvel at the adventure of it all.

Adoption Memoirs

I attended and presented a workshop at the American Adoption Congress annual conference this past week. The AAC, if you don’t already know, has members that include all branches of the triad: birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, as well as professionals working in the field of adoption. Adoptive parents, however, are late arrivals. In the early years of the organization, the focus was primarily on supporting birth parents and adoptees, and searching for and reuniting those who had been separated through the closed adoption system. In present day, that mission is still a priority – and for good reason. Many states, including my own state of Georgia, do not allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates – a window into the families they were separated from at birth. However, now that the technology for analyzing DNA is readily available, individuals can sometimes discover relatives through companies such as ancestry.com. This year at the conference, some speakers and workshops focused on using the Internet for searching and on analyzing DNA.

Trauma was another big topic at the conference. Trauma is caused by the neurobiology of relinquishment, the way adoption professionals handle pregnant women in crisis, ineffective adoptive parenting, and struggles to build a life when one is cut off from members of one’s original family. At the close of the conference, this trauma was captured in two short films called “Six Word Adoption Memoirs.” The films were powerful, and I encourage you to experience this directly by watching the first one on the Facebook page: Six Word Adoption Memoir Project. To give you a flavor of what’s presented, here are a few examples of the memoirs:

Abandoned by Parents, Reviled by Society

After 35 Years I’m Still Searching

The Weirdness of Adoption Spans Generations

Help the Mother, Help the Child

Isolated Genetic Mystery Speaking Out Now

Daughter, Mother, Stranger, History Repeats Itself

Learning to Love My Own Soul

Fellow Adopted People Are My People

You may be able to tell that these memoirs are written by birth parents and adoptees. The filmmakers said this was not intentional. As they continue the project, they are open to receiving six word memoirs by adoptive parents as well.

Could you tell your adoption story in six words? I have thought about this, and I believe my memoir would read:

Five Children, Six Mothers, Honest Lives

My statement reflects a newer “age” in adoption – the age of open adoption. (The memoirs above were written by those who experienced closed adoptions.) In my case, I recognize that I share parenting with the first mothers of my children, whether they are physically present and interacting with their children or not. It’s a more positive statement, right?

When birth parents and adoptees are hurting, as many are, adoptive parents can be vilified as the orchestrators of this pain. Some adoptive parents, in previous generations (and still today!), hid the truth of adoption from their adopted children. Adoptive parents “drank the Kool-Aid “ of belief that a child from one family could be transplanted into another family and grow as directed. Holding to this belief, adoptive parents failed to recognize differences and/or punished the adoptee and his/her birth parents for being who they are.

Although I fully embrace the chosen words of my memoir and the truth they contain, I also see that they may be misleading to other branches of the triad. My six-word memoir fails to mention any pain associated with adoptive parenting, while pain is more apparent in the memoirs of birth parents and adoptees.

Often, I believe, others view the losses to birth parents and adoptees as gains to adoptive parents. It’s not that simple or the whole story. What goes unrecognized is that adoptive parents suffer too. There is the pain of infertility that is not “solved” by adoption. There is the pain of parenting a child who – though much loved – is, in some ways, always a mystery. There is the pain of never being able to claim the sole title of “mother” or “father.” It is a title that must be shared. Yes, adoptive parenting brings much joy. But the sense of loss will ebb and flow throughout adoptive parent’s life just as it does for other members of the triad.

I was caught off guard and unprepared for the “ebb and flow” when my granddaughter Kinsley was born. Oh, I had grown accustomed to sharing the mother role with Skye’s other mother, Kimberly. Indeed, I bargained for that role.

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So, when Skye wanted us both there for her “gender reveal” photos, I was fully onboard. We were and are in this together; and Kimberly and I would be maternal grandmothers together as well.

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Then Kinsley arrived – beautiful and healthy, a full and complete human being in her own right. And, suddenly, I was reminded that she was not “flesh of my flesh.” Just as Skye carried Kimberly’s genes, so did Kinsley. And Kinsley’s children would carry that genetic line forward.

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As John and I walked the dogs yesterday, we talked about what I had learned at the conference and veered into a discussion of DNA and ancestry. We paused to recognize that we were the end of our lines. Our genes would not be carried forward. It’s something we always knew in our heads. It’s something we only feel from time to time.

So, yes, adoptive parents experience ongoing loss and pain too. And our presence at adoption conferences, like the AAC one, is a necessary element when conversation turns to adoption reform. All three branches of the triad have a stake in the direction of the movement forward. Sharing our six word memoirs can be a way to have our voices heard.

I believe open adoption is better – far from perfect – but so much better than the types of adoption that sever ties between families. For me, that is the primary message I want to announce boldly. While losses for adoptive parents are real, the honesty of a fully realized open relationship – when adoption is the best choice for all people involved – is the memoir I work toward every day. And I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

 

Let’s Talk About It

I received so many wonderful comments and responses to my last blog post “Absence Makes the Heart…” that I want to share some of them. I heard from parents with biologically related children, teachers, adoptive parents, church friends, school friends, and birth family members, among others. There were many affirmations of John and me, for which I am grateful. A common theme was the difference between parental hopes and dreams for their child and the child’s actual path –

“Our children ultimately need to make their own decisions and accept consequences as adults. I believe perhaps the hardest parenting decision I’ve had to contend with is letting go.”

“We don’t get to know outcomes. We can only love them today and accept them today where they’re at. The outcomes aren’t up to us.”

“You need only reflect on the years you shared my efforts at parenting my oldest to appreciate the importance of (a) letting go of the notion that parents can control outcomes for their children and (b) reflecting on the positive power of your parenting efforts on the likely longer term result… I watched my son find his own life sensibilities and become a wonderful person, husband, parent, and beloved high school teacher.”

“While they may not take the ‘easy’ or traditional path, their education or success may mean more to them because they have walked that hard road.”

One very poignant response came from my middle-child’s grandmother who shared her own struggles in parenting and her sadness about the grandchildren she may never know because of decisions that were made out of her control. Yet, she too affirmed doing the best you can do in the moment and trying not to feel guilty about what you might have done differently.

Words mean more in context. And because I know these individuals and some of the struggles they’ve faced, my heart was touched. Each family is unique. And as I reflected on these various situations and the pain involved, I once again realized how important it is to TALK about that pain – with a loved one, with a professional, in a support group, or somewhere. Part of that process is acknowledging the pain to oneself. Another part of the process is educating the other person or persons. A third benefit is receiving feedback that may affirm feelings or redirect energies and attention. I have shared before how valuable I believe it is to me to be part of an adoption triad group where I hear from the perspective of adoptees and birth parents. Often, I realize that I have never considered what a particular experience felt like from that position in the triad. I believe that learning from the other enriches my interactions with persons outside of the group as I go about the rest of my life.

Let me give you an example of the kind of “hidden experience” I have as an adoptive parent that someone who stands in a another position in the triad or one who came to parenting through different means may not know. When I fill out an OBGYN form, I answer these questions this way:

How many pregnancies? 0

How many children? 5

Infertility will always be part of my story. No one will ever say to me about one of my children: “She has your eyes” or “He walks just like you.” I’ll always wince a little when I hear those kinds of comments made about my siblings’ or friends’ children, or even when my children’s birth family note resemblances to the children I am raising. These are positive, affirming statements, statements of inclusion, good for the people who receive them (most of the time). It’s a part of life that isn’t going away and, in my opinion, shouldn’t go away. I mention my wincing because it’s a reminder of a hurt I carry. I think it’s important to acknowledge this hurt rather than bury it. If I buried or denied it, I might expect something different from my kids or others. I might resent them and take out my resentment on them in hurtful ways.

We’ve all got “stuff” in our histories or current lives that pains us or directs our energy in less than productive ways. Let’s TALK about it instead of hiding it!

I’m leading a workshop at the annual American Adoption Congress conference next week in Atlanta. My topic is “Promises & Pitfalls: Open Adoption Over Time.” I hope to generate discussion about what we were promised with open adoption, what has worked, what issues we struggle with, and what changes in the process and education we can imagine might solve some of the “pitfalls.”

In my mind, I have two pictures that represent my view of the current state of open adoption. (I wish I had Skye or Journey here to draw or visually illustrate what is in my mind’s eye.) I will make an attempt at a written description. The first picture shows “What We Were Promised.” On the left is the “Before.” There is a broken heart representing the prospective adoptive parents and their infertility. Below that heart is another broken heart and stick figure child/baby representing the woman or couple with an unplanned pregnancy who is/are unable to parent. In between the two broken hearts is the boldly lettered word CRISIS. Moving to the right is a large arrow labeled “Open Adoption.” On the right is the “After.” There is a triangular set of lines. Top left is a whole heart labeled “family of origin.” A line connects it to the whole heart on the right labeled “adoptive family.” Above the line connecting the family of origin and the adoptive family is the word “Healing.” Below and between the two hearts, connected by lines coming from both hearts, is the stick figure child/baby. Below the stick figure is the word “Wholeness.”

My second mental image is “Reality.” In this drawing, the heart on the left, labeled “family of origin,” is a whole heart with cracks in it labeled “social shame” and “ongoing loss.” On the right, labeled “adoptive family,” is another whole heart with cracks in it labeled “child’s otherness” and “entitlement issues.” Between the two cracked hearts is the stick figure child/baby. It has arrows on either side pointing toward the two hearts. Underneath the figure, it says “dual, sometimes conflicting, loyalties.”

My hope in painting these pictures for you is NOT to discourage you about open adoption. I love open adoption. I believe in open adoption. My hope is to draw attention to issues that still need to be addressed. In researching for my workshop, I spent a lot of time reading articles and perusing online discussions among parents in open adoption. In putting together my PowerPoint for the conference, I did my best to categorize these overlapping issues. My categories include:

  • Privacy Rights
  • Changing Circumstances
  • Names
  • Differing Values
  • Boundaries
  • “Alternative Facts”
  • More Than One Adoption
  • Grief
  • Child Development
  • Contact Agreements
  • Rights of Adoptee
  • Conflict Between Birth Family Members
  • Money/Birth Parent Needs
  • Too Much Knowledge!

I’m looking forward to discussion with others who care deeply about adoption issues. No doubt, I will learn more from them than they learn from me. I hope that you, also, find your people and places where you can share what presses on your heart and mind because, as my friend Dawn says, “Life will never be what one expects, but rather what one is called upon to be in the moment with. Indeed.”

And it changes so quickly!

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From this young family to…

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To this and then to…

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This and…

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To this…

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And to this (contained chaos)…

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And to this and beyond!

Absence Makes the Heart…*

*Warning (per husband John’s direction): Read all the way to the end. Do not stop in the middle!

You’ve heard the expression: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It can. Or not. But there is no doubt that absence gives relationships a new perspective.

I’m experiencing an “absence” of sorts from my usual relationships right now as I live in an apartment with Journey near her school during the week, while John lives with Emily, K.J. and Becton in our house 30 miles away. This seemed like a good plan at the time we made it, given Journey’s physical limitations and ongoing illness. I would get her to school for as many hours as possible, when she had the energy, and without the complications of headache and nausea that long car or bus rides exacerbated. Mostly, it has worked for Journey. But the plan, for me, has meant an awful lot of time waiting to see if she can get up or waiting to find out when I will need to retrieve her from school because she can’t go on. I’d like to say these waiting hours have been productive hours. But Journey’s wakeful periods are so unpredictable that I can’t really afford to pursue big projects. I read. I do puzzles. I watch Netflix. I exercise, sometimes. Primarily, I have time to think.

I have to admit that my thinking has not been very positive. Instead of doing and moving, I am standing back and seeing the big picture. In this big picture, I have failed to do what I set out to do. When I promised myself and my children’s birth parents that the Falcos would provide their children with both a comfortable, secure life and opportunities to excel that they were not in a position to provide, I meant every word. Indeed, our financial situation has enabled us to find appropriate schools, doctors, therapies, and experiences to meet our children’s needs. But, where has this led them?

Our oldest, Emily, does not have a college degree. She is employed as a nanny. When I met Emily’s birthmother, she was employed taking care of older adults.

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K.J. is a college dropout just like this birthfather who now works in the restaurant business. K.J. delivers food for a living, but can’t afford to live away from us.

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Skye dropped out of high school in her senior year and had a baby at age 19. Coincidentally, her birthmother dropped out of high school her senior year and had her first baby at age 19.

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Journey is suffering from mental and physical illness just like her birthmother. (She does have her cats for comfort.)

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Becton, well, it remains to be seen with him. But I can tell you that he is not an enthusiastic student. In a heated text exchange recently, Becton wrote to me: “My hostility towards you is because you aren’t a very good parent. That’s it.”

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Meanwhile, my skills and expertise in the workforce have become obsolete. I’m stuck and feeling like a failure.

Perhaps it should not come to me as a surprise that children – adopted or not – tend to follow their genetics. When I took a personality/career test as a young woman, the test determined that I should be a social worker, teacher, and/or religious leader. “Bah! Humbug!” I said. “I will do nothing of the sort.” And, yet, over the years, I went to theology school and became a youth minister. I got my teaching certification and became a high school social studies teacher. Then I worked as a teacher in mental health hospitals, doing a kind of social work in addition to teaching. I also ran a branch of an adoption agency doing teaching and home studies (a.k.a. social work). My parents worked in religious education and counseling fields. My siblings have gone into teaching and care of older adults (among other things). The apples did not fall far from the tree.

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I can get pretty caught up in my story of failure. When I hear on the radio that the mortality of whites is declining for the first time in 100 years due to “death by despair,” I get it. The reason seems to be that middle-class white folk who made a comfortable living in manufacturing industries have now been replaced by more efficient, cost-effective technology. It is no longer possible, for most, to support themselves and their families without a college degree or extra technical training.

I look at my older kids and think, “Don’t let that be YOU. Get the education now while your brains are still growing. Prepare!” But will they listen? Are they “programmed” in such a way that my words have always and will always fall on deaf ears?

Then I begin to wonder if I’m really talking about myself – not my children. After all, Emily is now taking prerequisite classes to enter a dental assisting program. So far, she seems motivated and appears to be passing.

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K.J. has said that he is going to try taking a class at the community college this summer. If it goes well, he may become a full-time student again.

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Skye didn’t just drop out of high school and have a baby. She married a Marine, who seems like a pretty nice guy. They love each other and he wants to be a father to Kinsley. (Is it possible that Skye learned about the importance of a happy marriage from John and me?)

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Journey is passing all her courses. She wants to graduate next year. We are actively pursuing answers to her illnesses. She hasn’t given up.

 

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And Becton is just a surly middle-school age kid who is going to change in expected and unexpected ways over the next few years.

 

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These kids are smart and kind-hearted and sometimes even a little appreciative of their parents. Whether they follow some genetically-predetermined course or pursue some of the values we have hoped to instill, I imagine they will all be okay.

During one of my waiting-for-Journey periods the other day, I watched a movie. The male lead, an older gentleman, was reflecting on his life. He said, “I love my life. I regret my life. Over time, the lines blur, and it’s just my life.” Today, I’d rather live with that assessment than failure… while I both await and plan for the next challenge on this journey.

 

 

It Takes a Village, Right?

I almost feel guilty not devoting my words to a reflection on the recent Presidential election. But my focus in this blog has always been on my family and adoption. For the bigger picture, I recommend you read Marcus Patton’s recent writing, “Roll up your sleeves” at jmarcuspatton.wordpress.com. I encourage you to also read his post the day before the election, “Revolution of 1800,” to put the 2016 election in historical context.

In the midst of the fallout after the election, our family was experiencing its own emotional upheaval. Skye had been planning to leave Atlanta for North Carolina to attend a Marine Ball with her new boyfriend, Ben. She had asked her older sister, Emily, to take care of Kinsley overnight – Thursday to Friday – and Emily had agreed. The Falco parents did not think this was a good idea. However, since Emily and Skye had worked things out, we didn’t protest loudly. But then, Ben showed up early and took Skye away on Tuesday morning. Skye left us with only two servings of breast milk for Kinsley with four days of feedings stretching out ahead of us.

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On that first day, we discovered that Kinsley hated formula – would not eat it and spit it up when some managed to get into her system. And although Emily had agreed to care for Kinsley, it was clear that Skye had assumed “Truly” (my grandmother name) would attend to her while Emily was at work. I was not amused at the prospect of caring for a screaming 10-week-old who was hungry but wouldn’t eat the only food we had to give her.

Let me rephrase that: I was furious that Skye had put us in this position. I had a list of frustrations with Skye and these, no doubt, added to my anger about the immediate crisis. Skye had refused to work on getting her GED, despite my having helped her enroll in classes. She had put off getting paid work throughout her pregnancy and post-delivery. She had been inconsistent about showing up for the one 4 hour/week job she did have at our church. Skye was often not helpful with family chores, even though her siblings managed their chores as well as school or work. Skye had just recently secured a minimum wage job at a pizza store, but that required me to arrange my own schedule around getting her to and from work and taking care of Kinsley while Skye was at work. Most recently, Skye had been refusing to talk to her boss about taking time off. She had simply disappeared to North Carolina, and I was now sure she had lost that job. Skye had overburdened her good-hearted sister. Emily had agreed to one night and Skye had left her to face three nights of little sleep. I was also plagued with self-criticism: Here I was trapped in a dilemma of my own making, while the world outside – minorities of all kinds – faced enormous fear and challenges that I was doing nothing to alleviate.

Where did that leave us? Where was the light at the end of the tunnel? I had put my goals and dreams on hold to help keep my 19-year-old afloat. Yes, Skye was a good mother – when she was here.

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But Skye was nowhere nearer independence than she had been before she reached the age of majority. And I was changing diapers, feeding, and entertaining a fussy infant again while I still had two of my own children to raise – one of whom has time-consuming medical issues.

Yes, I was mad. But the caretaker in me kicked in and I got to work. I called Skye’s OB office, the lactation center at the hospital where she had delivered, and Kinsley’s pediatrician in search of donor breast milk. Then I posted our situation on the Facebook parents’ page of our church. Within minutes, responses came in from other mothers. It was suggested that I ask another nursing mother if she had extra milk. I did. Within a few hours, Kinsley was drinking Cynthia’s breast milk. Then came Rachel’s milk. Then came Lauren’s milk. Although I initially felt like an addict in pursuit of my next fix, as the offers of support and sustenance poured in, I began to think of the biblical parable about loaves and fishes. Jesus has five loaves of bread and two fishes to feed a crowd of 5000. He asks for God’s blessing, and when the food is shared, it multiplies until all are fed and there are baskets of leftovers. Through our church family’s gifts of milk and comfort, not only was Kinsley’s hunger satisfied, my anger was “miraculously” lifted and dissipated.

I’ve long been a fan of the saying “It Takes a Village.” I thought I knew what it meant: People working together get the job done while an individual, alone, often cannot. What I have learned these past few days is that the village is more than the sum of its parts. The village also raises spirits. It inspires further acts of kindness and love.

So, here I sit, the day after the Marine Ball, waiting to hear from Skye on the day of her anticipated return. We are unaware of how she plans to get back to us and to Kinsley. But I find myself at peace. I/we will handle whatever happens next – without anger, in a thoughtful and loving manner. I have my “village” to thank for that.

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What I’m Learning

Why wait to become a mother? The answers seemed pretty obvious to me growing up. Of course, I was a product of my particular family, my community and church, and the larger culture that included the sexual revolution, Roe v. Wade, Title IX, consciousness raising groups, and efforts to pass an Equal Rights Amendment.

Waiting to become a mother made sense. A woman needed time to explore and discover her unique gifts in the worlds of education and work, and in social and sexual relationships, before prioritizing another human being’s life and needs over her own. A woman needed time to complete her desired training so that she could compete with men for good paying jobs and positions of power. Children needed financial security, and that took time to accrue. Children needed emotional security, and it took time to find the right partner for this task of parenting. (We were not considering sperm and egg donation or other fertility options in those days.) Even my friends who married soon after college waited before considering bringing children into the picture so that they could enjoy and cement their relationship as a couple first.

Yes, times have changed. I know that. And I knew that when my 18-year-old daughter became pregnant. But I foresaw the future that she has yet to imagine. I worried/worry because she has – thus far – failed to check off the boxes in this list of mine regarding “what needs to come first before parenting.”

But here’s the thing: Skye has always challenged me and my ideas about what “ought” to happen. Sometimes her defiance disadvantages her. But other times Skye actually, intuitively, knows what is best for her and teaches me something instead. In this case, once it became clear that Skye’s goal was to become a mother, I decided to lessen my grip on the list and go with the flow. Of course, I still go back to John’s idea that we are keeping our kids afloat “between the buoys.” We are not going to let ourselves be enticed into doing this job of parenting for her, nor are we going to allow her to simply parent without making steps toward independence – steps like getting her GED and securing paid work.

It’s been a little more than two weeks since Kinsley entered the world, and this is what I’ve learned so far. There is a lot to be said in favor of nineteen-year-olds having babies. Nineteen-year-old bodies recover quickly from pregnancy and childbirth (barring complications). They have loads of energy. They tolerate sleep deprivation well. They can be solely focused on the well being of their babies in a way that older women simply cannot because of so many other competing demands on their time and energy. Having a baby at a young age – when one wants to be a parent – can reduce or counterbalance the self-absorption many young people display.

Selfishly, I am also enjoying the effect of Skye’s parenting on her relationship with me. We communicate better. She shares her thoughts and ideas. She listens and responds appropriately. She puts effort into relationships with her siblings and her parents… I know that I (and many others) have said, “I didn’t really appreciate my mother until I became one.” In my house, this “appreciation” or shift in our relationship is coming sooner rather than later. How can I not love that?!

Is Skye’s desire to be a parent at nineteen an adoption issue? Maybe. Even in open adoption, there is the experience of loss for the adoptee. There are questions about “belonging” and the parent-child relationship that are answered differently for adoptees than for those of us who were raised by the people who brought us into the world. Perhaps Skye needed to experience the mother-baby bond for herself. She has always been an experiential learner.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not endorsing teenage parenting. Without the support of her parents during pregnancy and now, Skye and her baby would likely be in desperate circumstances. I simply want to point out the “positives” that I had not allowed myself to contemplate.

Moreover, some of my refusal to expect a good outcome may reflect my experience as an adoptive parent. After all, John and I became parents because their biological mothers wanted to finish school and/or did not have the financial or emotional resources to be parents to their new babies. Their choices made sense to me then and now.

As this story of teenage parenting unfolds in my family, I will try to remain a student of my daughter. I will try to remain “in the moment” with hope and awareness of God’s grace. I will also try to do the same for my husband and other children. I will even try to expand my hope and awareness to the larger world. Being a lifelong student is like being a child of God. It seems to work out better for everyone if I remember my role and that we are all in this together.

We Share, We Love

Adoptive parents who embrace open adoption learn quickly to share their children. Whether we are sharing pictures or information with their birth families, visiting our children’s relatives, attending adoption-related support groups, or communicating with teachers or other professionals, we master opening up ourselves and our families to a wider audience.

When my unmarried teenage daughter became pregnant, I didn’t hesitate to seek advice and counsel from our children’s birth family members, church friends, counselors and others. This wasn’t so much a special circumstance that warranted my reaching out as it was my usual operating procedure: “Here’s the latest about what’s going on in the Falco family…”

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A few days ago, my daughter gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The last few months had dragged on forever. We had given up trying to convince Skye to finish her high school education, to seek employment, and to go to counseling before her baby was born. All of our admonitions to prepare for the future fell on deaf ears. John and I reminded ourselves over and over again that we had made this choice to keep Skye safe and healthy in our home even if she ignored our advice or rules. When the baby arrived, we surmised, there would be different decisions to make about what was and was not acceptable behavior from Skye. In the meantime, we waited.

As the time approached and Skye’s bags were packed for the hospital, I began to worry anew how my daughter would respond to the pain of childbirth and if she would, indeed, embrace parenthood with the kind of love I felt for her and my other children from the moment I laid eyes on them.

Skye had said all along that she could handle whatever came with childbirth, and low and behold – she did! At 3 a.m. on September 4, 2016, Skye began having contractions. At 5:36 a.m., she woke me to take her to the hospital. When we arrived, she was 3 cm. dilated. She hurt and wanted medicine, but continued to labor, reaching 6 cm. before the doctor broke her water. Soon after, she received an epidural. After only eight hours, she was ready to push. Thirty minutes later, baby Kinsley was born with Sherry and me on either side of Skye.

Time stopped in that moment that Kinsley emerged – beautiful and whole. The miracle of new life is just that – a miracle.

The baby was put directly on Skye’s chest for skin-to-skin contact. No measurements or assessments were done. Time continued to move slowly as the baby regulated herself against Skye’s heartbeat and breathing. It was a time of “stillness” between the laboring and the tasks or work ahead. I wondered if something shifted in Skye – if she was discovering that deep connection we share with others even in our isolation. Did it open something in her that had been closed and fearful of connection? Was this truly a new beginning for her in terms of the way she related to others?

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Soon after skin-to-skin, phone camera in hand, Skye began recording Kinsley’s life. In fact, she rarely put the phone down, even when breastfeeding. A parade of visitors began arriving – family members and friends. Skye was content to hand the baby off to others while she looked at her phone or posted comments, pictures, and video. “Was this normal behavior?” we adults asked each other. Why wasn’t Skye stealing every minute with the newborn for herself? Is she bonding with the baby the way a new mother is supposed to bond?

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That first night in the hospital, Skye said I didn’t need to stay. She would be fine. And so I left.

About 12:45 a.m., the desperate text messages from Skye began. She wrote: “I don’t know what to do. I’m not going to get any sleep. I don’t like being stuck here with no help” and “I’ve fed her so much and she won’t stop crying. She only stops when I’m holding her but I can’t sleep while I’m holding her” and “I’m miserable and she’s miserable. I’m not good at this.”

I was torn. My heart broke for her. I wanted it to be easier. Of course, this was hard. Hadn’t I tried to warn her? But “I told you so” was a ridiculous and particularly unhelpful response. She needed help, and I ought to be the one to help her or guide her toward the help she needed. Skye could learn, and she would learn how to do this.

I arrived back at the hospital around 6 a.m. and took Kinsley on walks in her bassinet (as required by the hospital) so her mother could sleep. I talked to the nurses who expressed willingness to help Skye. I was somewhat relieved to discover that they concurred with Skye’s assessment that it had been a rough night. I made a mental note to continue to encourage Skye to ask for help from the professionals – something she has always had a hard time doing.

After a few hours sleep and a shower, Skye was ready to entertain the next parade of visitors, and Kinsley was passed from person to person while more pictures were taken and posted. Again the questions ran through my mind: Is this normal? Is she bonding with her baby? Does choosing picture taking over holding Kinsley mean she’s not? Does deciding to change Kinsley into one of her cute new outfits while she screams rather than burp or comfort her mean Skye doesn’t care?

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The second night, Skye wanted me to stay. I was prepared for a sleepless night, but this second night was very different from the first. I slept. At least, I slept as best I could on an uncomfortable sofa with the TV on, dim lighting, and a crying baby. But the crying wasn’t constant. And when I woke, from time to time, Kinsley was cuddled next to her mother or in her arms. There were no desperate pleas from Skye for assistance. On occasion, I even heard her whispering sweet nothings to her baby. Only once was I asked to help – when Skye needed to attend to her own recovery. Skye was calm, in control, and optimistic.

When morning arrived, I revisited and reevaluated my concerns. All young people of her generation are attached to their phones. Perhaps, Skye’s inclination to document and photograph this momentous occasion did not rise to the level of concern I had assumed.

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And what of handing the baby off to whomever came to visit? Well, let’s consider my own entry into parenthood. As an adoptive mother in open adoptions, I shared my babies with lots of other people in those first days. Indeed, I didn’t even hold K.J. until his second day because he needed to meet and greet dozens of biological relatives before we took him home to begin life as a Falco. And once we got home with our newly adopted babies, I didn’t stay there recovering from the process of giving birth. I was out and about showing off the new Falco to anyone who cared to see or hear my story. If Skye was over-sharing, perhaps she had learned that particular skill from me. Children are to be celebrated and rejoiced over (barring any medical complication that requires isolation) – had been the way I moved and breathed. Had I been less of a mother because I shared as freely as Skye?

Kinsley will teach Skye the importance of burping her after feeding. Skye has given no indication that she is unwilling to learn. Indeed, Skye has been friendlier, more conversant, and more centered since Kinsley arrived. That’s a good sign. This is only the beginning of a long journey, but Skye’s first steps on the path have been steady and sure.

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As I observe Skye’s new maturity, I am reminded of a sign I read the day before she went into labor. We had been walking around the Decatur Book Festival and wandered into a few stores as well. One sign in a store was a quotation from Thomas Merton. It read, in part, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy… and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”

Kinsley’s love for her mother and Skye’s love for Kinsley are transforming them, just as my love for Skye and hers for me once made anything possible. I have spent way too much time judging worthiness, and I need to remember that my main “job” is to love.

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Be Still

Do you watch “Madam Secretary”? I love shows with strong female characters like this one. I also like the way the marriage is portrayed in the show. The partners are true equals, each with an important job. They are partners that disagree at times, but they respect each other and listen to each other’s truth. And they never give up on their marriage or their children.

In the most recent episode of “Madam Secretary,” the oldest daughter, faced with her boyfriend’s imminent departure to study in England for two years, agrees to marry him. (I should tell you that the parents’ relationship with their oldest daughter has been strained at times. She is very strong-willed and opinionated. But Stevie is finally in college and dating a young man that her parents like.) The parents are startled by the engagement because Stevie is so young (college-age). They comfort themselves with the thought that the marriage is likely to be a few years off. To their surprise, the daughter announces that she will be getting married the following weekend. The parents are invited out to celebrate the upcoming nuptials with the newly engaged couple. When the parents return home, their conversation goes something like this:

Wife: “It was brutal – all that champagne and terrible ideas. My face hurts from fake smiling.”

Husband: “How do you think my tongue feels from biting it?”

Wife: “She’s going to put school on hold, maybe find a job in a pub. She did say pub? For the experience of immersing herself in the culture.” (She says sarcastically)

Husband: “We are going to have to say something.”

Wife: “Oh, you are definitely going to have to say something.”

Husband: “Really?!” (He gestures, pointing to himself.)

Wife: “You are going to have to make her understand about concrete plans and contingency plans and future plans. You are just going to have to explain plans.”

Husband: “Look. I know you are upset you weren’t consulted about the proposal. But now I’m the one who has to tell her she’s about to screw up her life?”

Wife: “Yes. Now is not a good time for me to confront my contradictions. I just need you to stop this from happening.”

Husband: “Okay. Okay.”

Wife: “I mean it’s like my entire history of parental guidance is being erased. There’s no bank. Nothing I have done up to this point matters.”

Husband: “Is this all about Stevie?”

Wife: “Yes… Maybe.”

Oh do I identify with the wife’s statements! The feeling that “my entire history of parental guidance is being erased” is SOOO familiar. Believing that “nothing I have done up to this point matters” rings true for me as well.

My wise father, who spent his career as a Pastoral Counselor and Professor of Pastoral Care tells me that the people he counseled often made those kinds of statements. The task is to refocus on the immediate situation rather than to globalize one’s inadequacies. My problem these days is picking ONE pressing issue. All of my children have pressing issues that occupy my thoughts. I spend much time worrying, researching solutions, planning responses… But I will pick one to focus on here.

I have an 18-year-old daughter who is almost five months pregnant… and she dropped out of high school… and she is marginally employed (four hours a week)… and she doesn’t seem inclined to look very hard for a job… and she has no realistic idea of what lies ahead for her. She is just happy to be pregnant and having a baby girl.

John and I have latched onto the term “launch.” We didn’t “launch” Skye – the way parents are supposed to launch their older teens into adulthood, into college, then maybe into graduate or professional school, which leads to a well-paid career, so that they can someday get married and have children and be able to support themselves. So, now what do we do?

On Tuesday, I shared the dialogue from “Madam Secretary” with the therapist I have been seeing for the past couple of months. He asked me, “How are you doing with being still?

“Huh?” I responded. Did he mean like when I’m running and alone and it’s a form of therapy and I work on resolving situations at home?

“No,” he said. He was talking about mindfulness. He was talking about calming the mind. He was talking about “being in the moment.”

Who has time for that, I thought. But I asked, “Am I supposed to be paying attention to how my foot hits the pavement when I run?”

He said he thought that would be pretty boring. But noticing the flowers and my surroundings was a start. He gave me examples of the meditation that he and his wife do, and I began to understand that he was talking about not thinking. In fact, he said, “I would never ask you to do more thinking.” Instead, he said, I should be still enough to hear the holy spirit speak.

Hmmm… I left therapy with suggestions about apps for meditation and prompting to schedule mindfulness into my day.

That night, K.J. was in charge of making dinner. We are in the beginning stages of a new protocol where Skye and K.J. have a larger responsibility for providing evening meals. K.J.’s meal was hotdogs. Though not a particularly nutritious meal, it’s a start for K.J. Another part of the protocol is that everyone comes to the dinner table, hungry or not, and we eat together. Until we started this, I had almost forgotten how enjoyable family meals can be because, for the past few years, Skye has refused to be part of family gatherings. Our cohesiveness disintegrated from there.

After dinner, Skye suggested that she and I take our three dogs for a walk. Walking the dogs with Skye is becoming a new routine as well. I had a general idea of the route we would take, but I was otherwise just walking. As we walked, Skye talked about family situations, childhood memories, parenting, thoughts on her future, and about relationships, old and current. I commented and responded with questions – some of them boldly personal. She never flinched. Nor did I. Suddenly, it hit me that I was not carefully tailoring my speech for Skye as I had been doing for the past few years. I realized that I had been afraid of her lashing out at me. I realized I had been protecting myself from the anticipated hurt. Yet, here we were, walking along together like mutually respectful friends. Wow. I felt lighter and unburdened. Could this be something akin to the mindfulness my therapist had spoken of? I had suspended my agenda and stayed in the moment.

The next day, I attended a meeting of the Wednesday Morning Study Club at the Carter Center. Each year, our club focuses on a broad topic and papers are written and presented by members on specific sub-topics. This year, the theme was: “War and Peace: Which Weapons Work?” Prior to our last speaker, one of our members provided a summary of what we had covered/learned this year and an “inspiration.” She talked about the Buddhist ideas of compassion and forgiveness. Compassion, she said, is not pity or empathy. It is accepting that life includes suffering. Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It involves letting go – not forgetting the transgression – but seeing humanity in the eyes of the transgressor. She provided copies of “A Prayer Before The Prayer for Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu. As I listened to her read the prayer, I was struck by these words:

I am not yet ready for my heart to soften.

I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again.

That, I thought, is at least part of my problem with Skye. I’ve been hurt, and I am afraid of being hurt again if I fully open my heart. This is my issue, not Skye’s.

The prayer also included these words:

Is there a place we can meet?

You and me

The place in the middle

Where we straddle the lines

Where you are right

And I am right too

And both of us are wrong and wronged

Can we meet there?

And I thought, “Yes. I am much more interested in meeting and moving forward than in holding my ground – my ‘right’-ness.” I recognize the arrogance of my position. I’ve been thinking: How can you/Skye not want what I want for you?

In my defense, the evidence is on my side. Education makes life easier. A well paying job guarantees most of life’s necessities and some or many of the extras. But I am not doing myself any favors by imposing my expectation that Skye live the life I dreamed for her. As we now spend time with each other, day after day, we are finding a place in the middle. If I can continue to let go… be in the moment… suspend my agenda… allow space for the holy spirit to speak… and pray for compassion and forgiveness, I trust that my entire history of parental guidance will not be erased. It will simply be expressed in ways different than I imagined.

Love Song for My Children’s Mothers

Love Song for My Children’s Mothers

It’s Mother’s Day 2016, and I wanted to share a slideshow with music that I created for my children’s mothers prior to the adoption conference in Denver. Rachelle, Tina, Kimberly, and Teri all have copies of this slideshow that depicts the history of our open adoptions. Now I want to share it with others – extended family members, friends, and those who have an interest in open adoption over time.

At first, I thought I would post my little movie on Facebook. But the file was too large. Then I read that using copyrighted music might get the slideshow flagged anyway. Despite this discouragement, I tried doing some compressing of the file. No luck. Then someone suggested putting the slideshow on my blog. That sounded promising. I could post it here but alert my Facebook friends to its existence by providing a link. Unfortunately, this blog did not recognize the format of the slideshow. Husband John then suggested putting it in a Powerpoint presentation which the blog would recognize. So that is what I’ve done. However, when I tried to open the file, my computer wanted to download it instead. I waited for the download, and then I could play it. I don’t know if others will have the same capability or patience, but I wanted to give you the opportunity try if you are interested. I’ll warn you that the slideshow is long – over 12 minutes. But on this Mother’s Day, in addition to declaring my love for my own mother, I want to declare my love for these wonderful women who have blessed me with being their children’s mother.