Create A Lifebook
My daughter’s lifebook has been our best tool for telling her adoption story. Her lifebook was started before her adoption and has always been kept with her other books. Each year we add pages, and now that she’s older, she adds her own. She chooses whom to share it with and sometimes takes out pages that are confidential before she shows her lifebook to a friend or teacher.
It wasn’t until I received a call from her first grade teacher that I realized how well she knew her adoption story. A teacher’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, and my daughter comforted her by describing her sad feelings when her birth mother died. She described the adoption plan and process, and her arrival in our home as an infant. She ended her adoption story with, “I know that God will help you have strength to get through your hard days. I am praying for your hurting heart.”
Start Early and Talk Often
My advice for new adoptive parents is to start talking to your child about the adoption story right away. Incorporate it into everyday conversation. Even if the child is too young to understand, it gets you comfortable with ways of talking about it. Also, it establishes the idea that there is nothing secret or wrong about this way of forming a family. Be calm and matter-of-fact. Children pick up tone of voice-and the feelings behind it — as well as words.
Our talks started when we began taking walks in the stroller. When my daughter pointed to an airplane, I asked her if she had ever been on one. She said no, and I told her that she was actually on four airplanes, and that is how she got home with Mommy, Daddy, and her sister. I asked later if she knew where she was before she came home with us, and I told her the name of her birth country. Through repetition, she learned the answers, even if she didn’t understand them. Now she asks why she was in that country, and I tell her that is where her birth parents lived. I explain that they couldn’t take care of her, so they let us adopt her. She asked me today if they were dead. I told her I didn’t know, and we may never know, but that there are lots of reasons why parents may not be able to take care of their children.
Keep it simple and add details as they ask questions. I also wrote my daughter’s story for her. In writing, the story always stays the same, and that is good for young children.
Request Information While You Can Get It
We adopted our son Carlos at the age of two in Colombia, and we all lived there for a month while the adoption was being finalized. He has no memories of that time, nor of foster care before then. His adoption story has always been a part of his life, but at age seven or so he began to want more information. We have only his birth mother’s name and age — no information about his birth father. Carlos and I are both dissatisfied with this scant information, and we’re told by the Colombian government that this is all that is available.
If I were to do it again, I would insist on obtaining more information, and conducting a search, before leaving Colombia. I would suggest to anyone adopting overseas: get as much information as you can while you are in the country.