Thursday, November 17, 2011

Adoption Blogger Interview with Semi-Feral Mama

This month I participated in an a interview project organized by Open Adoption Bloggers. I did it last year, too (check out that interview here). I love getting to know new bloggers.

This year I was randomly paired with Semi-Feral Mama. I have really, really loved getting to know her. And don't you just love her pseudonym? Semi-Feral Mama. Grrr.

We got pretty deep into each other blogs and our interviews are both pretty long, but totally worth it. Her story is awesome, she is so intelligent and witty and has a HUGE heart. Well, I will let her words speak for themselves.


Tell me a little about yourself.
I am the 44 year old, stay-at-home mother to a three-and-a-half year old bio daughter and a two-and-a-half year old adopted son.  My husband is also 44.  We moved to Missouri in May of 2010, the same week we brought our son home from Ethiopia.  Prior to that we had lived in the Pacific NW for most of the last 20 years.  My husband, daughter and I are all pink, our son is brown.

Why did you choose to adopt? What led you to adopt from Ethiopia?
Our reasons for adoption are a little different than the norm.  We do not have fertility problems, nor are we Christians that felt biblically called.  However, adoption is always something we considered a possibility.  A big deciding factor was probably that I had worked in animal welfare for years.  I consider it tragic that so many animals are family-less and could not understand why anybody wanting a pet would not adopt one that needed a family (rather than buying from a breeder or, worse yet, a pet store.)  It seemed obvious to us that there are also kids that need homes, and we had room in our home and our hearts for another child. 
This does not mean we feel that we should be glorified for adopting.  In fact, it always bothered me when people told me that their adopted animals felt grateful.  And I never knew why it bothered me.  Now I know it makes them seem “less than.”  On the other hand, I always thanked people who I knew adopted their animals rather than purchasing them.  And I know it bothers lots of adoptive parents when people thank or “bless” them for adopting.

And in case I haven’t offended ever reader yet with the previous analogy, I will also say my husband and I have big concerns about human over-population.  (Everybody offended now?)  Yep, PART (big emphasis on part) of the reason we adopted is because it felt like a responsible environmental decision. 

We considered all types of adoption (that we were aware of) when we were researching how to continue building our family.  Eventually international just “felt right.”  Then as we researched and discussed countries, I just woke up one day and told my husband, “Africa.”  At that point Ethiopia seemed to have an established and ethical program so it became our obvious choice.

Once you settled on international adoption, what led you to Ethiopia? How much did you know about Ethiopia before the adoption?
We were reviewing every type of adoption that we were familiar with.  One morning I woke up, looked at my husband and said, “It’s Africa.”  If I was a religious person I would probably say something like, “Jesus put it in my heart.”  As an agnostic, I don’t have a poetic explanation.

Once I narrowed it down to a continent, I started doing more detailed research.  I wanted a country with a fairly well-established program so I could choose an ethical agency and not worry about corruption.  Unfortunately, those who are paying attention to the Ethiopia program now know that my idea was overly simplistic.  But at the time we started, based on the vast majority of current information available,  our process was a legitimate way to make an ethical choice.  Ethiopia had an established program.  There were agencies with amazing reputations (also many without that we avoided). 

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I think I was also drawn to Ethiopia because of the famine there in the late 80’s.  I had an awareness of the country and an empathy for the people that developed when I was in high school.  Additionally, I have a number of friends that had been to Ethiopia and loved the country and her people.

Beyond what I knew from the famine in the 80’s and what my friends told me, I knew very little before I started.  I knew a fair bit by the time I was on a plane going there.  I learn more everyday.  Fortunately there are a number of very entertaining fiction books that also help readers get a sense of Ethiopia (Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese ).  There are also great, modern memoirs (Held at a Distance by Rebecca Haile), awesome biographies (There is No Me Without You by Melissa Faye Greene – herself an adoptive mother,) and mind-blowing autobiographies (This is A Soul: The Mission of Rick Hodes by Marilyn Berger). 

International adoptions aren't usually thought of as "open" adoptions. In what way is your son's adoption open? How can international adoptions be open?
If we had gone with a domestic adoption we would have absolutely sought out an “open” situation.  It seems very clear to us that kids knowing as much about their history as possible is a good thing.  As we narrowed down our choices, one of the things we found so appealing about the Ethiopia program was the possibility of meeting our soon-to-be son’s first family.   Many people who adopt from Ethiopia meet members of their children’s first families and maintain long-term relationships with them.  The nature of these relationships varies widely based on many factors.  It would have been our goal to maintain as close of a relationship as possible.

Unfortunately, we were not able to meet any of Little Dude’s family members when we were in Ethiopia.  We are currently pursuing a way to open up lines of communication.

Your son was 13 months old when you adopted him - much different from adoption a newborn. What was it like to meet him? How did he react to leaving Ethiopia? How did he transition from leaving the care center? How did he do meeting his new family?
I do not love everything about the agency I used, but I want to give them credit for the way they handled family introductions and the transfer of custody.  When I went through the process adoptive parents only took one trip to Ethiopia (now two trips are required).  Our agency arranged for us to meet our children, but only spend a few hours with them the first day.  This was in a group situation and at the care center they were familiar with.  Adoptive parents then went home for a few hours and came back later for a longer visit.  Over the course of almost seven days, the amount of time the kids spent with their parents versus the amount of time that the kids spent at the care center slowly reversed.  Eventually, the parents have sole custody and there is only one last, fairly short visit, to the care center.  At that point, most of the children were ready to really start to bond with their new parents.  Of course all children vary and for those who had already endured the most trauma or attachment challenges, this seven day period was not long enough.

For first time parents, or those taking home more than one kid, I would think this type of gradual transfer of custody would be amazing. My son, fortunately, seems to have the right combination of a resilient personality, and a solid attachment prior to coming into care.  So, he didn’t want anything to do with me the first time we met.  He didn’t cry, but pictures tell the story.  By day two we were moving in the right direction.  By the last day he wanted nothing to do with the nannies.

As I am answering this question I am on an airplane.  It has me thinking about him getting on a plane with me eight days after we met and flying half-way around the world.  What a bizarre thing.  At his age he certainly did not comprehend air travel.  Not sure what the culture shock felt like for him. 

Because we had just moved to Missouri (my husband actually moved us while I was in Ethiopia), he met my sister, her kids, my mother, his sister and father all at the same moment.  Less than 24 hours later he was on another long car ride and began a time of being fairly isolated socially – just him, his new sister who is 11 months older than him, me and my husband.  I shouldn’t forget our pets – who he loved immediately. 
I think having a sibling relatively close in age was probably very, very helpful to his transition. Also, I think he was very, very, very happy to be able to go outside as much as he wanted.  We spent tons of time outdoors and we just followed his lead.

There were a couple weeks of bad nights, probably a combination of jet lag and trauma, but things quickly normalized.  We have been very, very lucky but we also practice attachment parenting and stepped up our efforts with him.  We wore him tons, put him back on bottles and still co-sleep with him.

Tell me a little about your international adoption experience.
I can tell my story about our adoption, but it was an unusual story at the time for how fast it went, and it would be unheard of today.  UNLESS the prospective adoptive parents were going with an unethical agency.  Right now a short wait time in Ethiopia should be a giant red flag.

As a whole, the program in Ethiopia is changing very rapidly as the government and agencies try to get a handle on corruption.  And probably for a variety of other (capitalistic – although no one dares to talk about it) reasons as well.

As for us, we sped through the process for a few reasons.  Our home-study social worker worked directly for our agency.  We wanted a boy.  Our agency’s Ethiopia program was fairly new so they didn’t have a long wait list.  Our agency had just entered into a relationship with a new care center.  Our son’s case passed court on the first try.  Blah, blah, blah.  From the day we first saw our son’s picture until he came home was three months.  The total time from entering contract with our agency to when he came home was about nine months.  We prepared our dossier quickly.  I bullied our way into Parent Preparation classes to keep our timeline moving.  Because we thought we might be moving, our agency helped keep our file moving. 

We did not pick our agency based on time-lines.  We picked them based on ethics.  It cannot be said enough, if the time-line is short – CHOOSE ANOTHER AGENCY.

We paid for our adoption ourselves.  We had to borrow money from family members and sell my beloved jeep.  We were able to “buy” our plane tickets on points.  Because we only had to take one trip, and my husband didn’t actually go, we saved lots of money in that area. 

Overall I am sure we spent more than $20,000, but I honestly am not exactly sure.  I guess I should look at the taxes my husband filed, but that will just make me outraged at the IRS for auditing us, and so many other adoptive families this year.

How hard/easy has it been to infuse your life with Ethiopian things? What are some ways you do that?
We live in a community with almost zero adult Ethiopians which causes us concern.  We are reaching out to other adoptive families.  We cook Ethiopian foods.  We acknowledge Ethiopian holidays.  We watch Ethiopian music videos.  But we know our community is not going to be an easy place to immerse ourselves in the culture.  As our son gets older we will go to culture camps as a family and we plan to travel to Ethiopia as many times as we can afford to.

If I do see someone that I believe might be Ethiopian I greet them by saying, “Selam.”  This has opened a few doors for us, and also led to many humorous interactions.

How did you prepare to become a trans-racial family? 
There are so many books on the subject and anyone going into the situation needs to read a variety of them (as well as blogs).  I think you also need to take a very long hard look at yourself.  Become aware of your own prejudices and don’t be afraid to re-examine this issue again and again.  Most of all, I think this is a personality issue.  How do you feel about being the center of attention from strangers?  Are you willing to be the only white person in a room?  And, if necessary, are you willing to cut off friends or family members that you have known and loved for years if it turns out that they will be harmful for your children to be around?

Have you experienced any funny/frustrating/aggravating/heart-warming reactions about being a trans-racial family?
I studied, studied, studied about being a trans-racial family before we even committed to adopting from Ethiopia.  At the time we were living in a small city which was predominantly white with a small Hispanic population, an even smaller Asian population, a very small African-American population, and a teeny-tiny, minuscule African population.

The week we brought Little Dude home we moved to a community that has much higher population of African-Americans and a fairly significant number of trans-racial families.

In the 18 months our son has been home we have had no significant run-ins.  I can count on one hand the number of times people have said something stupid to us.  And I almost NEVER catch people staring at us.  I do see it happen more often when we are visiting my sister in the suburbs of Chicago or my parents in a small, very white, vacation community in Michigan.

Also, my personality probably minimizes these situations.  If someone is staring at us, I assume they think we are beautiful.  And, I have no problem with attention or talking to strangers.  I am concerned that as the kids get older, they might not be as comfortable with situations that might arise.  However, so far, so good.

Did it rename your son? Why or why not?
We planned to rename our son for a few reasons.  Sadly recent studies show that resumes of candidates with ethnic names or names perceived as “minority” do not receive equal consideration as resumes of candidates with names perceived as mainstream/WHITE.  This is wrong, plain and simple.  At the same time we want to give our kids every advantage we can.

Also, and this is harder to explain, but I have a really bad “ear” for unusual names.  I can ask and ask, study a person’s lips, repeat the name, and still not get it.  It is embarrassing.  But it gives me empathy for others who might not actually be ignorant bigots, but might actually have the same problem I have.  (There should be a name for this stupid problem because I swear it is real.)

And yet, when we learned our son’s name it was very similar to another currently popular name that we like.  And the shortened version of his name is much like another one of our favorite names.  In fact, the shortened version is also the name of a popular (and very hot) African-American actor.  So we decided to keep the name and Anglicize the spelling.  We tried to make it so easy that anyone reading it would know how to pronounce it.  We gave him a middle name from the Old Testament.  It is common in both black and white communities in America, and in fact variations of it are popular around the world. 

What advice do you have for anyone interested in pursuing international adoption? Ethiopian adoption?
My major piece of advice would be to get involved on the internet.  You will be able to read a million people’s opinions.  Eventually you should be able to gather enough info to filter through to start to form a legitimate, well-informed opinion of your own.

After that, if you still think IA is for you, you need to pick your agency wisely.  Some of this stuff is very cloak and dagger.  You will need to set up new email accounts so you can have anonymous access to special internet groups.  It sounds so ridiculous, HOWEVER, there is a big power differential between agencies and adoptive parents.  It is hard for adoptive parents to be honest as they fear repercussions from agencies.  So there are agency review boards, etc… that adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents try to keep agency reps off of.

Bottom line – there is no reason to EVER go with an agency that has multiple, serious complaints against it.  And please don’t be na├»ve enough to believe that agencies that have religious names are therefore ethical.  Some of the worst agencies in Ethiopian adoption have the most Christian names.   Sure, anyone can have a bad experience, but it is very easy to see patterns.  There is no reason to ever engage with an agency that has to explain away anything.  Just move on until you find an agency that has nothing to explain except the run-of-the-mill complaints.

If an agency is promising quick referral times, RUN THE OTHER WAY.
With all the information available, if an AP chooses an agency that has a bad reputation or promises a quick turn around they are implicit in corruption.  There are no excuses.  


Hop on over to Semi-Feral Mama's blog. Her diary of her time in Ethiopia is fascinating - look back through posts from the end of April to the beginning of May 2011. So eye-opening and heart-warming. It's just another example of how awesome adoption is. How families come together. Just meant to be, you know? 

P.S. If you aren't sick of me yet, check out my interview on her blog.

1 comment:

Joniece said...

I just wanted to say thanks so much for your input, it is really appreciated and held dear to my heart :) you're amazing! Have a great day!



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