The Best Advice for Adoptive Parents from Season 2: A look back at the amazing and insightful conversations in adoption we shared from 2021 Transcript


Episode 9 Podcast > Full Transcript


This is Adoption: The Long View, a podcast brought to you by Adopting.com. I’m your host, Lori Holden, author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption. Join me as we take a closer look at what happens after you adopt your child and begin parenting them. Your adoption journey isn’t over then -- it’s just beginning.

In this podcast, you’ll hear from a variety of thought-provoking and influential guests as we help you make the most of your adoption journey. Like any trip worth taking, there will be ups and downs and challenges. Here's what you're going to wish you'd known from the start. Ready? Let’s go.

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Welcome to Episode 209, in which we wrap up our second season of Adoption: The Long View. Another smashing success! Word is out that this podcast is full of information that helps potential adoptive parents and already adoptive parents become more comfortable and effective at the more challenging parts of adoptive parenting.

So THANK YOU, listeners, for tuning in. THANK YOU, agencies who share this podcast with your clients. THANK YOU adoption support groups who discuss our topics together. THANK YOU, adopting.com for meeting people early in their adoptive parenting journey. THANK YOU all for sharing and engaging. Every time you Like, Share, or Rate this podcast on your preferred platform, it helps us reach and help more people.

In Season 2, we’ve heard from 10 amazing and fascinating people who have explored the complexities of adoption with us -- adoptees, an investigative journalist, birth moms, a therapist, a foster mom, adoptive moms and dads, the CEO of a large child welfare nonprofit -- deep thinkers, all of them.

This episode brings out the best advice from each of them. For throughout the season, I have asked each of our guests: what do people need to know to adopt well? And to adoptive-parent well? And in this episode, you’ll hear the answers.

Before we get into the Best Of Season 2, I thought you might like it if I shared what has turned out to be the most popular post on LavenderLuz.com this year. Well, excluding the one about Dr Laura being a hypocritical twit, which reached the masses because... who knew so many people google the phrase “Dr Laura is a twit”?

Top Post of 2021

Other than that one, the most popular and shared post on my blog in 2021 was one To the Woman Who Longs to Be a Mom and Wants a Closed Adoption. Let me take just a few moments to highlight it and the reasons it went viral back in January.

I started blogging after coming to parenthood through infertility and adoption. I straddle both groups in the blogs I read and the forums and groups I frequent. So often I see women where I was 20 years ago, when I had a severe case of what Season 1 guest Rich Uhrlaub called GottaGettaBaby Syndrome. Open adoption was a new-to-me phenomenon then; in fact, adoption agencies were very new at teaching about it as a starting point of adoption relationships, much less coaching around ongoing relationships throughout an adoptee’s life.

Back then, I had already been through so much: the disappointment of an infertility diagnosis, the indignities of treatments, the losses upon losses that broke our ravaged hearts. When we eventually turned to adoption, I was looking for a simple resolution to our family-building quest: in our famine of no baby but a readiness to parent, we’d find a woman with a baby but a famine in readiness to parent. It would be a win/win and we’d all live happily ever after.

I actually thought that, back when everything was hypothetical.

I had some learning to do. But before I could learn, I had to unlearn a few things.There were 3 things I “knew” that turned out not to be true, and with this post, I shared them with people experiencing GottaGettababy Syndrome now, in the 2020s.

First up is this: Closed adoption was good enough for before. Why not for now?

Not true.

Closed adoption was never good enough. It was a failed experiment of the 20th century that rooted adoption practices in shame and secrecy rather than in truth and transparency (more on this in episode 104 with Rich Uhrlaub). It required that everyone involved pretend that what had happened hadn’t happened. It supposed that being relinquished and adopted, and surrendering a baby to strangers were No Big Deal. And worse, as investigative journalist Gabrielle Glaser tells us in episode 201, the cover of darkness offered by all that secrecy enabled bad actors to act badly. Just do a google search for Georgia Tann, Dr Hicks, Louise Wise, or Paul Peterson in recent times -- just to mention a few.

The grand experiment with shame and secrecy finally came to an end as the subjects in it, namely adoptees and birth parents, eventually found each other, raised their voices together, and demanded change. Facilitated, of course, by the rise of the Internet.

Next thing to unlearn is this: Open adoption is measured by contact between adoptive parents and birth parents.

Not true.

So by now, everybody knows you should do open adoption, whether you want to or not, and whether it’s available to you or not. If you cannot provide birth parent contact for your child, you are failing somehow. But here’s the thing: some families DO have contact with birth parents, but it doesn’t actually foster relationships or enable meaningful conversations between parent and child, and, in fact, it can make things feel awful for all involved.

And on the other hand, some families have NO contact with birth parents -- not because they don’t want to -- but still their children are able to process their adoptedness, to talk with their parents about things as they come up over the years. Even in the absence of birth parent contact.

Turns out that contact is not the best measure for an open adoption, if you listen to adoptees. What is better for parent and child alike, as well as within the control of adoptive parents, is a sense of openness, a vibe of approachability and willingness to Go There with the child, when it comes to adoption emotions and fears.

My two guests in episode 202, Katie and Kara, help uncover some practical truths around this. One is that contact invites complexity. If adoptive and birth parents don't’ have a tool to deal with all that emotionally-charged complexity over the years, the door between them is too easily and too often closed. What is that tool? Openness.

Also, when parents first understand the benefits of openness, then they want to seek out as much contact with birth family as they can because they know it can be good for their child. Katie and Kara and I, along with Angela Tucker of episode 105) have created a 3 minute explainer video about openness and contact, called the Inclusive Family Support Model Grid. You’ll hear Katie’s and Kara’s advice from episode 202 in just a few minutes. And, remember we always have links in the show notes on LavenderLuz.com and adopting.com

The last thing to unlearn is this: Simple is Easy.

Unh-uhh.

Remember a few minutes ago when I admitted to wanting a simple resolution to building a family? I thought that finally filling my arms would be the end of things. We did it! We got to the finish line! I didn’t have the perspective yet to know that the finish line was also the starting line.

And from there, things get the opposite of simple. People are complex. Relationships are super complex. Relationships over time are super-duper complex. And we are doing this not only within ourselves and between us and our children’s other parents, but between us and our children!

Sure, there would be a simplicity to not navigating relationships with birth parents, whether they are present or not (even when they are not present, there is always the Ghost Kingdom, which Randall Pearson mentioned in season 5 of NBC’s This Is Us).

But that simplicity doesn’t mean things would be easier. It wouldn’t be easier to help your child access their medical history. It wouldn’t be easier to help your child process their adoptedness and coalesce their identity when some of their pieces are missing. It wouldn’t be easier over time to acknowledge and attempt to heal all the blank spots. All that is the opposite of easy, as many adoptees -- and their parents -- will tell you.

So those are 3 things I want to tell women today who want to become a mom through infant adoption and then wish they would never have to think about adoption again.

Now, let’s think about adoption! In terms of the best advice offered from Season 2 guests about the long view of it. What do people need to know to adopt well? And to adoptive-parent well?

We have a transcript available so you can easily find any episode you’d like to refer back to.

First is Gabrielle Glaser, investigative journalist and author of this year’s bestselling book, American Baby, from episode 201.

201: Gabrielle Glaser, Journalist

Gabrielle: As hard as it is to say, the most important truth is that adoption begins with loss. And you were speaking earlier about all of the sensations that an infant coming into the world has for nine months, shift dramatically when an adoption takes place.

So to understand that as happy as it is to have a new family, a newly created family, to really be aware of what the adoptee is experiencing at every stage of development. And to be prepared, to be accepting, to be understanding in order to be able to forge ahead as this new family.

Lori: Be able to acknowledge that adoption begins with loss, loss that exists alongside the happiness of forming a new family. That was Gabrielle Glaser from Ep201, should you want to tune in for more on the shadow history of adoption.

Gabrielle’s advice was echoed by Kara Anderson and Katie Biron, two coaches of adoptive parents who talk with us about being the adoptive parent your child needs you to be in Ep202.

202: Kara Andersen and Katie Biron, Facilitators & Coaches for Adoptive Parents

Kara: I'll just go back to a little bit of what I talked about before, which is that one family had to experience a loss for my family to form. That's completely unique to an adoptive parenting journey than many other parenting journeys.

I think also, too, that the experience of being an adopted person needs to be at the center of how you parent. And there are going to be many different factors that ebb and flow throughout their lifespan. But creating that space, creating an environment in your home that's open and welcome to discussing this is key, just like in other ways that you are, as a parent, creating that space to talk about all the things that kids experience, whether that's bullying, human sexuality, drugs and alcohol; all the big issues that come into play as parenting. This is just another one that needs to be on the table and available to fully embrace.

Lori: And I will say that getting good at having adoption conversations does make you good and open for other big ones. Katie?

Katie: My advice would be to really take to heart the Maya Angelou quote that Lori mentioned earlier, that,

“Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better.”

So, if you are an adoptive parent who's just starting the journey or maybe you're a hopeful adoptive parent, I'm going to ask you to read some of the books that are hard to sit with, like The Primal Wound, to really help yourself understand the adoptee experience and delve deeper and do that work. And just be open to knowing better and doing better and finding spaces where you can really explore that.

And so maybe at first, it's with other adoptive parents, because they share a like experience. But then maybe you get yourself into a Facebook group or literature that's written by adult adoptees, acknowledging that there might be some stuff in there that's hard to hear. But making space for the hard to hear, not reacting instinctively with defense and like, “I didn't do that” or “I didn't mean to do that” or “That's not my situation.” But sitting back listening and giving space to learn.

Lori: Know better, do better, and listen to adoptees. That was Kara Andersen and Katie Biron from Ep202, on being the adoptive parent your child needs you to be.

Tim Elder of Infant Adoption Guide also suggests we listen to adoptees in Ep203, along with some other advice.

203: Tim Elder, Adoptive Dad

Tim: It really made me think, because you've got two sides of the adoption here; where you're going into it, and then when the child is placed with you, what happens? So, it's very important to think about both.

And so, when you're going into adoption, remember that – there's two things to remember, really; an expectant mom or the expectant family, it could be even. Like in our case, it was not just an expectant mom, but they're going to choose you for being you. So, you need to be sincere. You need to show her or them what life is like for their baby in your family. You need to know that this is going to be a commitment, a lifelong commitment. And have that openness like we were talking about.

So, the transition of going into adoptive parenting. Well, I think following my three tips I just gave are big because, like we said, you don't want your child's story to be secret, but you need it private. And you need to share those adoption stories early and often. Partake in their story, cultivate those relationships, work on them because your kid’s birth family are your family now. Like it or not, or want it or not, and you will want it -- I think it's important you get into this. And our experience was just the more you get into it, the more you cultivate the relationship, you embrace them, you love them. It's a beautiful thing.

Adoptees have a voice and they need to be heard. And you need, as an adoptive family or a hopeful adoptee family, you need to listen to them and hear them because they have great insight on what it means to be adopted and what it's like, no matter what their experiences. And I had my own teenage daughter on my podcast because I want her to tell her story or share what it's like, so far, as a teenager, to be adopted and what that means.

Lori: Be authentic, be inclusive, and honor your commitments. So said Tim Elder in Ep203, on making the shift from adopting parent to adoptive parent.

In Ep204, we heard from Candace Cahill, a birth mom who lost her son twice, yet also gained something precious. Her advice is to honor the vast spectrum of both loss and joy in adoption.

204: Birth Mom Candace Cahill

Candace: I think adoptive parents have to acknowledge and accept that adoptions begin with trauma. A child who learns that her parents are abusive or drug addicts will still feel abandoned and left behind. An adoptee who had a picture perfect life will still wonder what things would have been like or could have been like had they been kept. And even a willing birth mother who's been educated and counseled on the long term effects of relinquishment and feels that placing her child for adoption is the absolute right choice, she is still going to grieve the loss of that child.

It doesn't mean that adoptive parents, they don't need to ignore the joys of adoption. Welcoming a child into their life, it's got to be such an amazing experience. But they need to be willing to accept that their happiness was built on another person's pain and be willing to admit and talk about it. The previous guest who said, “Do your own work”, this is a part of that. Yeah.

Lori: Yeah. And it's a simple model to think that either adoption is awesome or adoption is terrible. But the truth probably lies in all the complexities in between and they happen at the same time. So, that acknowledgement that there is loss and grief at the root of adoption doesn't mean that we can't still go on and find peace and be happy and joyous and have good lives.

Candace: Yes.

Lori: But we probably can't do those things if we don't acknowledge it. Because there's something there. Anything that's unacknowledged comes out sideways one way or another, if you wait long enough.

Lori: Candace reiterated what so many previous guests have told us: “Do your own work, people!” That was Candace Cahill, birth mom, on Ep204 about losing her son twice (and finding something else).

In Ep205, we covered 5 myths that adoptive parents still believe if they listen only to the loudest voices in adoption. Here are perspectives from adoptee Sara Easterly and birth mom Kelsey Vander Vliet Ranyard.

205: Adoptee Sara Easterly & Birth Mom Kelsey Vander Vliet Ranyard

Sara: To adopt well...I mean if you haven't adopted yet, know everything you can. Study adoption. Listen to voices from all of us here to absorb the information. Learn. Go in with your eyes open, because I think a lot of times, we don't have that opportunity.

And I don't know why, but we get wrapped up and you're kind of learning as you go, which is, you know, some part of that is the parenting journey. So, it's not to say that it's hopeless if that's where you find yourself, but once you find yourself there, then get in that place, get enough learning and being open.

And being open to really seeing, even if it hurts, because it's not always pretty. It's not a pretty package. It's not always that wonderful, beautiful story. So, be okay with that and just start getting comfortable with the discomfort and the complexity. That might be what I said last time. I don’t remember.

Lori: That's ringing a bell and it's really eternal evergreen advice, really.

Kelsey, how about you? As a birth parent, what do you think people need to know to adopt well and to adoptive-parent well?

Kelsey: To adopt well, I really think that you need to seek transparency at every turn and do your research. I think that you can take your research outside of even just adoption and get into things like – I think that you should kind of radicalize yourself in a way and do your research on things like classism, racism, things like that.

And then when you are ready to focus in on adoption, listen to voices that you haven't listened to before that you would have never thought to listen to before. Widen your perspective and embrace empathy. Get used to that, because that is going to be a lifelong process for you.

And to parent well, that's great. I would love tips to parent well. To adoptive parent well, I think keeping an open mind. It sounds so simple, but it is tough. And approaching every milestone with an open heart and open mind. And get ready for – just you'll be so much more ready for anything that adoptive parenting throws at you. And your child will be able to be received well with whatever they bring you as well.

Lori: Well, you're speaking my language when you mentioned openness as one of the key ingredients. And I also love what you said about transparency, because when an article like that Time magazine one comes out and adoptive parents are reading it, and if they were to find their agency in it as one that was using coercive practices, I think that would be so very hard to come to terms with, that you participated in something that was unethical. So, the way to avoid that is to do your due diligence on the front end instead of later.

Lori: “Do your research, people!” Go in with eyes open by listening to voices you may not have heard before. Cultivate empathy, an open mind, and an open heart. That was Sara Easterly, an adoptee, and Kelsey Vander Vliet Ranyard, birth mom, on Ep205 about shining light on our adoption blind spots.

In Ep206, adoptee Anne Heffron talks about our grief spots, and how adoptive parents need to clear away infertility grief to make room for a baby.

206: Adoptee Anne Heffron

Anne: There is this idea of really, really tend to the inner well of love that is inside of you, and to not have it ebb and flow, depending on what you receive from the outside world; that your source of love will keep everything okay as long as you focus on that. Does that make sense?

Lori: It does, Anne. Develop a practice of looking within and tending to your own heart so it can be a source of love for your beloved child. That was Anne Heffron in Ep206 on why and how to heal one’s heart from the grief of infertility.

In Ep207, Jen Winkelmann, MA, LPC, also talks about healing, and of the importance of having a relationship with an adoption-competent therapist before you need it.

207: Adoption-Competent Therapist Jen Winkelmann, MA, LPC, NCC

Jen: Well, I think we just spent the last half hour talking about it; exactly. It's that idea of having the courage to turn the lights on. Having the intention – I mean, truly, if we could do adoption according to what I think would be most beneficial for everybody, having a relationship with somebody who gets adoption issues, who's clinically minded, would just be an automatic part of the process; just like a home study, just like the paperwork that you have to do. It would just be part of it.

So, I think to adopt well, and particularly over the long haul, the most significant thing I can say is that please be open to the idea of developing a relationship with someone.

And I think it is an investment well made to develop that relationship before you need it, because if it comes to a time when you do, you'll be able to call that person and hit the ground running. And there will be so much less work to do to try and put you back together, to try and give you enough fuel to get through the therapeutic process. There will be so much less to unpack. You won't have to build trust because it will already be there. There's just so much value in just giving yourself 8 or 10 sessions with somebody who knows that option. And just having that in your back pocket for if you ever need it.

Lori: Another podcast I listen to, he says, “Dig the well before you get thirsty.”

Jen: There you go. That is the perfect way to say it. That's the perfect way to say it.

Lori: And I can attest to all that you're saying; finding early, building a relationship before the need becomes so great that you're in crisis. So, that's excellent advice.

Jen: Just assume you'll need it. And then if you don't, it's gravy.

Lori: Gravy. It’s true that the more we can be proactive in “dealing with our stuff” and helping our children do the same, the more we can experience gravy rather than a mad scramble. That was therapist Jen Winkelmann in Ep207, on becoming an adoption-competent parent and finding an adoption-competent therapist.

Ep208 featured special guest Rita Soronen, CEO and President of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption about becoming a forever family for a child who really needs one..

208: Rita Soronen, CEO & President of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

Rita: To adopt well from the foster care system is some of the things we've talked about already; understand what the system is. Understand that it is a government system. There are times phone calls are not going to be returned or there are times that you feel like the people that you're working with, the professionals you're working with, are overwhelmed and understaffed. And indeed, frequently they are.

But I think if we all keep our eyes on that prize of providing a safe, nurturing, thriving home for a vulnerable and at-risk child, those barriers are worth it.

Now, I don't think anyone should put up with an organization that ultimately is not responsive to them. And so, make sure you find an organization that's responsive, that's supportive, that feels like it's got a track record of solid experience in moving children out of foster care and into adoptive families.

For the parent, it's again those things that we've talked about; make sure that you not only have a supportive network around you, but you truly understand what you're getting into. And it is again, an incredible experience to think about providing a family for a child or youth that was at great risk of turning 18 and leaving care without a family.

But think about, too, that the first route in might be considered fostering first, so that you get your feet into the system. You understand what the system is like. You get used to the dynamics. Because frequently, we know that, I think, more than 50% of children who are with foster families are ultimately adopted by those families, if they've been freed for adoption.

And so, think about truly understanding the dynamics of this child welfare system, getting your feet wet, either through fostering or through getting as much information as possible, and then just charge into it and say, “I'm doing this not only for the child, but I'm doing this for me. This is what I need and want to do as well.”

Lori: That's a great point because it takes you out of the savior area, “I'm doing this all for the greater good.” I mean, I acknowledge getting your own needs met by becoming a parent. So, that's all wonderful.

Rita: And understand this is forever. Even though these children have gone through lots of changes in their life. They've moved from foster home to foster home. They've moved from bio family to child welfare. They've moved from school to school. Those children have gone through way too many transitions for any child. This transition needs to be permanent. And so, it's got to be eyes wide open. These are not children, when they start acting out, that we can then send back to the system or should send back to the system.

Lori: That was Ep208 with Rita Soronen, talking about adopting through the child welfare system. Her advice is applicable for any type of adoptive parenting: She tells us the common refrain of “Eyes wide open” and being able and willing to see and attempt to understand the experience through the child’s eyes.

That’s a wrap for Season 2 of Adoption: the Long View.

We will take a short break and see you soon for more captivating guests in Season 3. Make sure to subscribe on your preferred podcast platform so you know when new episodes are available.

With each episode of Adoption The Long View, we bring you guests who expand your knowledge of adoptive parenting. Please subscribe, give this episode a rating, and share with others who are on the journey of adoptive parenting. Thanks to each of you listeners for tuning in and investing in your adoption’s Long View. May you meet everything on your road ahead with confidence, capability, and compassion.