While wordsmithing our Holiday Appeal letter, it was suggested that we describe our work as fulfilling. It was just an idea, a suggestion, instead of saying busy – because we’re all busy, right? (Talk about an overused word! But, I digress.) Fulfilling didn’t sit well with me. Because for this work to be fulfilling, I feel like we shouldn’t be spending our days trying to unravel trauma that didn’t need to happen – or certainly didn’t need to be as bad as it is by the time a client finds us. And we shouldn’t have to try and convince others in the adoption constellation of the critical importance of ethical practices, including post-placement support for birthparents. I feel that to say this work is fulfilling is to say that I am happy I get to do this work. And that feels like saying that I find fulfillment in other people’s pain. Which I don’t.
I do feel truly privileged to be able to advocate for birthparents, to help them connect with resources, find community, and healing. This is not my lived experience, and when I joined this organization eight years ago, I understood what I was being entrusted with – to be let into this space as an outsider, trusted to do right by the population we serve – the immense responsibility of serving an invisible population was not lost on me. Our birthparents trust me and our staff to help them. And adoptees have let me into their space, even inviting me onto their podcasts to talk about our work. I do the work because I can and because it is important. But I wish it wasn’t necessary. So, no, the work isn’t fulfilling, and there aren’t nearly enough of us doing it. (Want a job?)
I wish that no one needed to choose between placing their child for adoption or parenting their child, especially when that choice often comes down to a handful of resources amounting to less than 1/10th of the cost of an adoption. When hopeful adoptive families can fundraise thousands of dollars in order to adopt a child, but a woman who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy can’t access the resources needed so that she can parent; when our government expands benefits and tax credits for adoptive families, but can’t provide sufficient benefits so that a family can stay together, something is wrong.
I wish that all adoptions were approached with eyes wide open, with the understanding that all adoptions begin with breaking apart one family in order to create a new family. That all adoption begins with the trauma of separation and loss, and there is no magic wand to wave that will erase that trauma. That adoptees and birthparents are at significantly higher risk for depression and anxiety, substance abuse and suicide than the general population. I wish that every adoption agency and adoption attorney acknowledged those risks, prioritized caring for birthparents, centered the voices of birthparents and adoptees, and didn’t look away from the hard stuff.
But we’re not there – not yet.
Though I dare to hope we will get there one day (hope springs eternal, does it not?).
So, we do this work.
And in the spirit of the season, and in spite of the multitude of challenges, I am grateful for many things:
I am grateful for my team. They show up every single day and give everything they have, and then they give even more. And this is an all-hands-on-deck sort of operation. We all work together, support each other, have each other's backs. We are problem-solvers. And I truly believe that that is how we do so much. Because every single person working for and supporting this organization asks, “How can I help?”
I am grateful for the adoptees and birthparents who are willing and able to use their voices to raise awareness and effect change. It isn’t an easy thing to do. We all know how social media is… it is an often brutal, triggering, and traumatizing space. But they do it so that someone else’s experience might be better than theirs. I see each and every one of you, and I am grateful for you.
For the organizations that are working to help families stay together, thank you. Because we know that, as a society, our first priority should be to keep families together and that while adoption is an option, it isn’t always the best or the right option.
I am also grateful for the organizations who are advocating for adoptees, who are elevating the voices we need to be listening to, who are educating adoptive families and anyone else who will listen. Your work is so important. Thank you.
For the agencies who are working hard to get it right; who are listening and learning and changing. The agencies who have reached out to us in an effort to do better by their clients, who are providing ethical options counseling and who understand the importance of supporting their birthparents long after a placement has been finalized, I am grateful.
For the adoptive parents and prospective adoptive families who are educating themselves, who are making open adoption work even when it is ever so hard, who are listening to their kids and supporting them, I am grateful for you.
And to the people who make our work possible, I am grateful. We stretch every dollar you give further than you can imagine, and we would not be here without you. Our best outcome is for our services to no longer be needed, but until that time comes, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for seeing us. For seeing birthparents. For understanding the importance of this work and supporting it. I see you and am grateful for you.
And, yes, since I know you’re wondering … we ended up keeping the word busy. Because that’s what this year has been.
As we enter this holiday season, I hope that you are surrounded by the warmth of the people you love and I hope that you can share that warmth with someone who might need a little extra. Be well.