We are taught from a very young age that sharing is important and a social norm. Sharing can be complicated and it can be hard to determine when it is necessary. You may wonder, “Where is the Best Place to Share My Story?” This will often become a question in your adoption journey. It doesn’t matter what role you play in the adoption triad, someone will always ask for you to share.
The decision to place your child for adoption is yours alone. You may reach out to friends and family for support. Maybe a provider or agency will be there for additional support. It is okay to not want to share your story with just anyone. There will be people in your circle who may not understand your decision and will want to tell you their opinion. It is okay to shield yourself from those who impact you in a negative way. How much you tell depends on the level of trust you have for the person. Some find it beneficial to speak with a mental health professional in order to process all they are experiencing. There may be some times when telling your personal story is necessary. It will be important for your agency and adoptive parents to understand your path leading up to this decision. Some questions commonly asked by children in the adoption community are related to their features and health. It may be important to communicate your family history so they will have this as they get older. Pictures often tell their own story. Providing your child with pictures may assist your child in having a better sense of where they came from and why they look the way they do.
Stories of Your Child
The family is the keeper of the journey for the most part or until the child is older. Once you announce that you have decided to grow your family through adoption the questions will begin. They will come from providers, family, friends, and even strangers. Most come with good intentions but some will speak with judgment. All will have their own sense of knowledge about what adoption is and how it must be done.
When you first start the adoption process you will be asked numerous questions about yourself, your partner, extended family, financial, and social strengths. Depending on what type of adoption each agency may have additional questions related to your life. It is important to answer these questions and tell your story truthfully so that the agency can find the best placement for you. I’ve been through the process twice and it does feel overwhelming and borderline intrusive at times. I found myself feeling as if I was under a microscope and my story was out there for all to see. I did foster to adopt so each social worker had access to my story through our family assessment. It did help define the children I would be placed with and in the end, it was a helpful tool.
Once you decide on a child or if a child is suggested to you the agency will provide you with the child’s story. This is often called a disclosure. The agency will provide the information they have gathered through their assessment process. This story will be important and it is important to listen with intent. It will be exciting to have the possibility of placement growing your family. That being said, the information provided will assist you in deciding if your child’s story fits into your story. I can’t stress enough about taking the time to make sure that you have gathered enough of the child’s story to feel comfortable raising them. Once you have a child’s story, remember that it is sacred.
There will be many times, once you have decided to move forward and your child is placed, that others will inquire about the story. It is important to provide your medical or therapeutic team the complete information. That said, it is important to tell the right person. It is not necessary to share with every person in your child’s doctor’s office or therapeutic office. Many will ask for more personal information than you may want to share. I always ask where will this information be stored and how will it be used when I get a weird feeling around our story.
Sharing your child’s story with the educational system may be important especially when developing educational plans. It may help them see your child’s needs more clearly. It is a fine line on what to share. When I first adopted my children, their school insisted I tell their story in a meeting so staff would get to know them better. Little did I know or have the experience that this information was going to be shared with the entire staff. Their teachers then shared my child’s adoption story with the class without permission. My daughter was devastated as she wanted this school to be a fresh start without “foster kid” or “adoption” to be present. So many staff members would come up to my children and call me “a hero” for adopting them. My children were five and six years old and had no reference for this. They were barely understanding why they had to come live with me and what forever looked like. They had been in the foster care system for years so in many ways they were not able to trust that this was a long-term placement. Once I realized what was going on I called a meeting and explained that although I was sure they all had good intentions, it was not helpful. Some got defensive but most could see how we were experiencing it. My children wanted what every child craves was acceptance into a family without labels.
I caution telling family and friends the entire story. Especially, if your child has had a traumatic history. It is also important to honor the birth family’s information. There is a risk that your child could find out information from those with who you have shared their story and cause unnecessary distress. Most people come with a caring heart but they also come with their own bias and knowledge. If you tell your child’s story they may put their own belief into it. This may cause judgment or stress. Your child deserves to be protected. You deserve to have the security that your family’s attachment will not be altered by anyone else. It is okay to set boundaries and explain that sharing your story is hard and a delicate situation.
In the public setting, deciding on sharing your story may be harder to decipher. Your child may be having a meltdown related to their attachment or trauma reaction. You may feel you need to explain what is happening. I know I did and then would be so conflicted. It is
important to ask yourself what will be gained by telling your child’s story or yours. How will it help? I was so surprised at how many times strangers felt they could ask such personal questions regarding my children. My children are bi-racial and so many thought they could inquire about their race. When my child would say they were adopted they would say I was a savior and tell my children how lucky they were. This is not at all how we felt. We felt blessed to
have found each other but also acknowledged how much loss my children felt. They also struggled with identity and the differences between us. It felt so intrusive that someone in a grocery store could dysregulate us so easily. They never saw the tears flow as we drove away when my children would begin to question their attachment or understanding of adoption. This took a few years to really define in a therapeutic setting and we were able to find clever ways to tell the story without it feeling overwhelming.
My third adoption was much more different. My child came to me with a lot of trauma reactive behaviors. These behaviors made simple tasks harder in public. I was a single parent and had to bring my littles with me to the store. I would dread it as it would be full of meltdowns, mostly my children’s but sometimes mine too. After a few months, the store approached me. They asked me why my child was struggling so much in their store. I explained the history and held my breath. I thought that I was going to have to find a new grocery store due to the behaviors, but instead, they offered a plan. They provided a blanket and snacks for my little one. She would meltdown around the same aisle so they stored the blanket close. When it would happen they provided a blanket and water for us. They allowed a private corner and frequently checked in. We also devised a plan where there were treats throughout the store that my little one could achieve with good behavior. It took a few weeks but it worked and she was able to move through shopping with success. In this case, asking for help was important. I felt judged as if I was failing as a parent because I couldn’t complete my grocery shopping without a meltdown. Others understood and helped.
Where Is the Best Place to Share Your Story?
We’ve talked about the biological parents and child but now the question remains: Where is the Best Place to Share My Story? Parenting is never easy no matter how you grow your family. It is important to reach out and get support. It is also important to reflect on how the story is impacting you. You will have the story of the biological family and all they have experienced, your child’s story related to their journey and how they view their placement with you, and then the story that you have carried your entire life, the reasons you have chosen adoption, your expectations around parenting and now the living truth. There is an unspoken expectation that because you have chosen adoption that you are better equipped to be a parent and have more answers. I often had, “Well, you wanted these children” thrown my way when I would vent about how hard it was to parent. I had read all the books and felt prepared. I was not. It is that simple. I didn’t realize the impact their story would have on our daily lives. I cherish their story with all my heart and I will also be the keeper, but it has been hard. Deciding who to tell and what to tell at times was stressful. Also, getting the right people to listen to my children’s needs related to their story was downright maddening at times. I found that I had to reach out for additional help to carry and share our story.
I wish someone had told me that I didn’t have to share my adoption journey if I didn’t want to. I felt the need to share with friends and family when they asked because they were my support network. Sometimes this would cause conflict, especially with friends. They didn’t understand my children’s behaviors at times and when I would explain deeper they would get even more distant. Almost as if my child’s trauma was contagious. I learned who my circle was and how to protect my family. My circle is smaller and I am grateful. I have grown over the last ten years, as have my children. Adoption and their story is always there and talked about when necessary. We are a family and celebrate what we have become together. There is no right or wrong way to tell your story but always listen to your instinct as this will be the best tool to guide you.
Heather Pietras-Gladu has over 20 years in the human services and social worker community. The need for education around adoption and trauma was evident when she worked as a social worker for the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts. She would use this passion in a most intimate way when she adopted her 3 children from foster care. As long as there is a continued need for education with humor and truth she will continue to be one of the biggest advocates within the adoption community.