An Adoptive Breastfeeding Story: A Child’s Perspective

Elise's mother and daughter.

Elise’s mother and daughter.

I was breastfed as a child.
Currently, with a rise of acceptance of breastfeeding, and a greater
awareness of its benefits- both health and emotional- that statement is not
that unusual. However I need to add one more detail to that; I was also
adopted as an infant.

I don’t remember the first time that I knew I was adopted. It was such a
common term and reference to me that until I was much older it never seemed
odd or different. My mother, a published author, had even written a book
for adoptive parents.

I was bookended by a brother, three years my senior, and by twins- a boy
and girl, four years my junior. All of us were adopted— my brother and I
stateside as infants, and my younger brother and sister internationally at
the age of six.

Growing up in a family built by adoption, clichés like “You didn’t grow in
mommy’s tummy, you grew in her heart!” were common. I understood the
delicate balance of using terms like “birth children” rather than “real
children”, and even at a very young age I knew there were some things
different, missing perhaps, because I was adopted.

But it never crossed my mind that breastfeeding would have been something
that I could have missed out on.

My adoptive parents practiced much of what is now called “attachment
parenting” long before that term was in the common vernacular. And
breastfeeding was no exception.

Having never had a child biologically, milk production did not come easily
for my mother; however, that did not deter her from breastfeeding. Knowing
that her supply was not adequate for nutritional needs, but a firm believer
in the importance of breastfeeding for mother and child, she found a
lactation aid device that allowed her to place a clear tiny tube on her
breast to give us some supplementation while we nursed. She even designed
herself a nursing bra with a pocket in the center to hold the pouch for
milk. She still jokes that while she knows all nursing mothers leak, she
only leaked in the middle.

Her determination to make breastfeeding work for us probably came from many
places. As a special education teacher, with degrees in both elementary and
secondary education and home economics, she understood the importance of
physical touch and human relationship on development, and also the
nutritional value of breast milk, however little of her own she was able to
produce. I am sure also that the fact that she had always wanted to be a
mother and yet had to wait 13 years after getting married to have children,
had only sharpened her desire to give her children the very best that she
could.

Both my brother and I enjoyed extended breastfeeding relationships. I still
vaguely remember the last few times that I asked to nurse. Looking back I
know I had no idea that it was anything special or unique. It was just
normal.

However I know that it was not always seen that way by others.

Some argued adamantly that they just KNEW that my mother HAD to have given
birth to us. Because EVERYONE knows that if you don’t give birth, you can’t
nurse!

Some, like my dear great uncle, could not believe that my mother was really
nursing and would come over and peer under the blanket or nursing cover to
inspect, as though she was secretly giving us a bottle and just pretending
to nurse!

But like any baby, I was un-fazed by the opinions of others about how I
should eat. And thankfully, so was my mother.

An objection of “But how can you nurse an adopted child?” could be swiftly
answered with “How any mother nurses their child. I just have the option of
nursing with communion grape juice when I run out of milk at church!” And a
question of “Why?” met just as quickly with “Because they are my children
and I want to do what is best for them.”

Even as an adult I don’t find anything “weird” or “odd” about being nursed
by my adoptive mother. The few things I do remember are that it was
comforting and reassuring. And I have many memories of her singing and of
running my fingers through her long hair—something that my dear daughter,
who just turned one, now does in mine.

I have learned, since becoming a mother myself, that no baby feeding is
easy. I struggled breastfeeding my son (now five) due to many issues,
grieving the shortened time with him, but seeking to do what was best for
him in other ways. And after my daughter was born at 28 weeks gestation, I
exclusively pumped for over four months until I could teach her to nurse.
And I value the time she and I share now perhaps more so, because I have
worked so hard to get here. When I am able to comfort and calm her, after a
rough doctor’s visit, a sore tooth, or even just when she is tired and
fussy, I know why my mother made such an effort to nurse us.

We were her kids. And a mother does whatever is in her power to do what is
best for her kids. And at the time, we needed her.

Adoptive breastfeeding is not an easy thing, but neither is any other form
of baby feeding, including “natural breastfeeding.” I hope that more
adoptive parents learn that being adopted does not mean that your child
must miss out on the gift of breastfeeding. It is a gift that some adoptive
mothers are able to give their children—another way to bond and comfort the
child in a very natural way. Like every other aspect of parenthood, you do
the very best that you are able to, to meet the individual needs of each
very different child.

 

meme1Elise Garetto lives in Western Kansas with her husband Tony and her
two children. She works as a Production Manager for a local small business
and also as a Chef for a local hunting outfitter. She enjoys writing,
cooking, outdoor activities, and raising awareness for children with
special needs.

 

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

Give Your Child Voice

Dr. Karyn Purvis explains the importance of giving voice to adopted children and how parents can do that.

I think this is an excellent reminder for all parents (not just adoptive parents) that allowing our  child to have a voice is immensely important to their development.

 

The Voice of the Adult Adoptee

By Angela Tucker

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Angela Tucker(middle), April Dinwoodie (left), and Susan Harris O’Connor (right) speaking about trans-racial adoption at the Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture in Harlem, NYC

Today, more adoptees than ever are speaking up and sharing their stories. This is invaluable to the adoption community, as adoptees are the folks who can truly speak to what it feels like to be adopted. Adding the trans-racial aspect into the mix of an adoptee’s experiences only serves to offer more insight into the complexities of growing up in a family and community where your skin color does not match that of your parents or the general public. Also, growing up within a closed adoption lent way for others to make comments and assumptions about what must’ve happened leading up to the need for my being placed for adoption. All of these aspects can serve for a confused sense of identity and/or trouble coming to grips with ones own narrative. My parents helped all of their children to understand these dynamics by positing ideas around strength, circumstance and difficult decisions, always keeping to the fact that birth parents are real people going through tough circumstances, which led to a need for an adoption plan to be made.

Even with the statements of truth and honesty, I could not escape the comments from strangers, well wishers and the folks who were just plain curious about our large, trans-racial family around town. I would hear irksome statements such as “Your birth mom loved you so much she chose adoption for you.” Although well intentioned, this statement makes very little sense when broken down, and I feel it can be a subtle contributor towards adoptee’s low self-esteem. As I dissect the comment, and try to apply it to people in my worldview I cannot think of a single friend (or previous client when I worked at an adoption agency) who gave birth to a child and
“loved them so much” that they wanted to have someone else raise them. I understand the sentiment behind the statement – likely something to the tune of people expressing their thanks that the birth parent didn’t choose abortion. However that’s ultimately not what is being conveyed by this cliche. Birth parents choose adoption for a myriad of reasons, some altruistic in their motives, some out of necessity, some because their current situation deems it necessary, sometimes its because there are no birth parents present to even be involved with the decision…I have yet to hear of a case where the sole reason was because they loved the child too much.

Over the years, there’s only been one birth mother who I’ve longed to hear from but couldn’t – and that was my own. That was of course until and series of unthinkable events happened to me, and that changed the trajectory of my adoption story. Many of these events are captured in a documentary made by my husband, Bryan (his first film). I am proud he included so many different vantage points from the many whom are affected by adoption within this film – most importantly the voice of my birth mother. The adoption clichés and overused adages can unfortunately leave adoptees with feelings that are confusing at best. On a small and personal scale learning the truth about my birth mother’s choice has offered me the ability to recognize the strength of my birth mother’s character and the honesty and courage that she showed in allowing some of her story to be aired publicly. On a larger scale, Closure offers viewpoints often muted by large media outlets, leading to a healthier and well-rounded education about the tragically beautiful things that is adoption.

(Jamie’s note: Angela allowed for her journey to find her birth family to be documented for a film called Closure. This is Angela’s truth, and this film will provide insight for adoptive parents and families looking into adoption. )

Angela Tucker is a trans-racial adoptee, adopted from foster care – born in the
South and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She recently reunited with some of her
birth relatives, and is still actively searching for another birth sister. Angela
holds a B.A. in Psychology and is a contributing author for Woven Together and
Perpetual Child: Adult Adoptee Anthology; Dismantling the Stereotype. Angela has
delivered keynote speeches for adoption camps, fundraisers, birth parent retreats
and other functions around the nation, her past speaking schedule is found at her
blog; www.theadoptedlife.com. She also writes a column on Adoptees and ableism for
The Lost Daughters. Angela and her husband currently live in Washington State.

A Breastfeeding Story: Breastfeeding an Adopted Child

A Breastfeeding Story Banner

By Sam

MyCollage_45This is my adopted son. Two weeks after he was born, I found out I was pregnant. I was not able to breastfeed him as an infant, but after about 4-5 months of watching his little sister nurse he became interested and I started tandem nursing. However, he would only nurse with a shield though….until today! I offered without a shield and he emptied both sides by himself, and then fell asleep. I feel so blessed to be able to bond with my little guy this way. He is now 15 months old and has been nursing for a couple of months now!

To submit your breastfeeding story, please visit our submission instruction page: iamnotthebabysitter.com/breastfeeding-story-submissions

Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC Panel Mocks Mitt Romney’s Adopted Black Grandson

meme1You may or may not have heard that on Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show she and the show panel showed a picture of the Romney family as one of the “photos of the year”.

The photo shows the large family with newest member, Kieran Romney, sitting on the knee of his grandfather, Mitt Romney.

Not really news-worthy…except Kieran is adopted, and happens to be black. Apparently, the Melissa Harris-Perry Show finds this to be news worthy.

And you know what? I agree… I think trans-racial adoptions should be discussed more in mainstream media.

Unfortunately, sadly, and not surprisingly, Melissa Harris-Perry and her team decided to go the sensational route and missed a huge opportunity to discuss mixed-race adoptions in a way that may enlighten the viewer.

Instead, they made a cringe-worthy attempt to be funny at the expense of a child (who has absolutely no control over what color his family is).

Watch the clip below:

What is even more heartbreaking to me is that they are mocking a child who has experienced a huge loss already during his young life… loss and trauma so great we cannot completely grasp the complexity of it.  Researchers are still are still discovering the immense mother-child connection made during gestation, and the loss that even a newborn experiences during adoption. This is not trying to minimize the importance of this child’s adoptive family, but we need to acknowledge as a society (especially as adoptive parents) that there is always a birth mother/first mother/first father/family loss, out of respect and continued healing for the child who experienced the loss. The panel may not be educated regarding this significant loss, but it is even more upsetting to watch their mockery of this child’s life through the understanding that significant trauma has occurred.

I also think about the birth family, who may or may not have had a say in who would raise their child. Regardless, it hurts me to think of how they would react when watching this segment on the news.

If the Melissa Harris-Perry Show wanted to make their segment short, they should have congratulated the family and moved on. If they wanted to make their segment controversial, why not still make it beneficial and educational for the viewer? Our society loves to romanticize adoption, especially trans-racial adoptions. Why not take a minute and use the photo as a segue to the problems that arise when white families adopt children of color and believe in the fallacy of a colorblind post-racial society?  This is a serious topic that is almost completely overlooked by the media. The show has already covered the topic of corrupt trans-national adoptions, so it is even more disappointing to see them decide to go the sensational route with the Romney family adoption.

It is easy for people to be snarky about what transpired on this show, but I feel like they touched on something so serious that it should not receive a mean-spirited joke in return. It has also been disheartening to watch this turn into a liberal vs. conservative debate. Our lack of common decency and positive public discourse has nothing to do with our political beliefs- empathy is nonpartisan.

 

**Update** Melissa Harris-Perry has since made a heartfelt apology for the statements made on her show.

Samuel’s Adoption Homecoming Day

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Samuel came home three years ago today. Looking back, it was a strange day full of a lot of emotions. There was the anticipation of his arrival which of course was exciting (a new family member is coming home!), but, even so, there was a lot of fear. Brian and I felt fear and, of course, Samuel did, too. He met me three years ago today. I always try to put myself in his place and it makes me incredibly sad._W2P3064

 

Oddly enough, the transition home was really smooth. I think a big part of it had to do with having Aram. They were the exact same size and inseparable from the moment Samuel arrived home. It was interesting to see how language didn’t matter a bit. They were able to communicate to each other exactly what they felt or wanted.

However, this day, three years ago, with all of it’s uncertainty, made me feel unsure of the future of our family. Would he ever be happy? Would he ever accept us? Would we have a close-knit family or would we be looked at always as the strangers (or worse) that I felt we were in that _MG_7558moment?

With all that being said, we want to honor this day and what it represents.  I see the beauty of this day, but it is also a day of mixed feelings, and maybe when Samuel is older he’ll want today to be a day of celebration, but right now we treat this day with a gentle respect. I look at where we were 3 years ago, and then I peak over this computer screen to see my children snuggled up in our bed with my husband discussing the fun day ahead of them, and I think of the journey taken in three short years: the separation, the reunification, the relationships, the celebrations, and even embracing the heartache- That is what we want to reflect on today.

Friday Thoughts- Why My Son Needs to Know His Birthday

We made it to Friday! Honestly, I’m always kind of surprised when Fridays roll around and I’m still in one-piece. However, I’m less surprised than I was a year ago. Although the boys are getting older and with that the  calmness and wrangling of their energy in certain situations has made life a little more relaxing on my end.

I felt my first bittersweet moment in the realization that they were getting older the other day. It happened this week when Aram lost his first tooth. Out of all things, learning to walk, learning to talk, even weaning! Nope…A missing tooth.

Samuel still has all of his baby teeth, but is now hoping to join his brother. He will run to the mirror each morning and check each tooth for mobility. We had to reassure him that each person loses their first tooth at the time they are supposed to.

Where Samuel is from in Ethiopia, birthdays are not really celebrated, nor is an exact date known. Many people can give you an estimate based off of the crop seasons, but it just isn’t a big deal. So, Samuel came home without an exact birthdate. One was estimated after interviewing his family and medical examination. However, the Ethiopian (Ge’ez) calendar is much different than the Gregorian calendar we follow (for instance, it is the year 2006 there) and the medical examinations are sometimes very off due to stunted growth from lack of basic micronutrients as well as parasitic infections. One of the best ways you can estimate a child’s age is by teeth or by other developmental milestones or markers. Most children come home estimated age younger than heir biological age (a tell-tale sign is after a few months of addressing nutritional deficits the child goes through puberty likely delayed by the lack of readily available nutrients in the body). Samuel’s teeth indicate he is probably around his estimated age that was assigned to him in the orphanage (or possibly slightly younger, which is very unusual). With Samuel, I didn’t think knowing his exact birthday was a big deal because like in Ethiopia, our family isn’t really big on celebrating birthdays, either.

I started viewing it differently when I picked up a book for the boys, Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

This was the first page of the book:IMG_7729

Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave, and slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.

I started realizing it isn’t about the actual date, it is what a birthday represents in our country.

Frederick Douglass, was an American slave that later became a leader of the abolitionist movement. He spoke about how and why slave owners would deliberately attempt to dehumanize the American enslaved people:

  • Newly born babies of slaves would be separated from their mothers as infants.“Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what reason this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the child’s affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.”
  • Feeding slaves like animals. ““It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied.”
  • Deliberately withholding literary/educational materials from slaves so they could not learn to read or write because, “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”
  • Not allowing slaves know their age or birthdate. “I cannot remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday.”

I understand that birthdays in Ethiopia may culturally not be something many pay attention to, but Ethiopian or not, my child is an American-  specifically a black child in America, who will, God-willing, grow into a strong black man. And my child is going to know his birthday.

So, regardless of whether or not we receive a concrete date of when Samuel entered this world, there will be no over-explanation about the mystery surrounding the exact date. Samuel will always be informed about his cultural practices, and why his story, like everyone else’s, is unique. However, we will not dwell on the fluidity of the date on his birth certificate. This is his to take ownership of, this is the date that represents so much of his past, present and future, and honors those who came before him in this country that were not given the dignity of having this day to call their own.

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