A network of adoptive families, birth families, and adoption professionals which exists to improve the lives of children and others touched by adoption through support and education. UFA is actively engaged in community outreach and advocacy to raise awareness of adoption as a loving option.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why Be United?

I've moved around a bit. Because of that, I've come to know a few different adoption communities. Usually what I've seen are two somewhat separate communities in one place, where any birthparent to adoptive parent interactions are sanctioned and almost supervised by adoption professionals. Occasionally, I've found a community almost institutionally segregated, where only professionals are allowed to cross the lines between the birthparent support group and adoptive parents support group. 

It didn't occur to me to question it much until something happened to alter my paradigm. A year or so after I moved to Mesa, AZ, the local office of the adoption agency I had placed through hired two part-time adoption caseworkers. Neither of these women had done adoption work previously, but they were inspired by a vision and fully invested. They built the most highly functioning adoption community I've seen, out of almost nothing. And it is one community. All know each other's stories and have each other's backs. An adoptive father asks a birthmom how her cheerleading competition went; a birthmom helps organize an adoptive couple's fund raiser yard sale; they have girls' nights and pamper days together as birth moms and adoptive moms, etc. They are on the same side - the side of adoption -enlisted in a common cause.

I grew up in the south, a religious minority. Whenever I encountered another person of my faith, I would feel an easy and immediate camaraderie. We both understood and cared deeply about something that few of our other peers did. I have the same experience with not only other birth parents but adoptive parents as well. Our experiences parallel in so many ways. Both of our paths often start with a disappointment or even crisis; an unprepared for pregnancy or a diagnosis of infertility. As birth parents we must first relinquish our will, often our plan A, even override instinct before we can relinquish a child. An adoptive parent, to be properly prepared must do the same. We each grieve a loss. We are both minorities and often misunderstood. We both encounter ignorance and insensitivity about something incredibly personal, even sacred to us. And we both know something of that unexpected compensation, of our worst times ushering in our best, our deepest griefs are the dues we pay for our sweetest joys. We know of gratitude, of expanded perspective, understanding, and ability to love. Many of us are surprised and delighted to learn we had it wrong about a few things. We both face our fears, many of which we find were unfounded. We are thus very well suited to mourn and rejoice with one another, to support, encourage, and teach one another.

I've participated on adoption group boards, conference planning committees, and have worked for an adoption agency. We've polled adoptive hopefuls/parents about the impact of the education we provided. Across the board, feedback has cited that it was the birthparent panels or presentations which taught and touched them most, which proved most valuable, which made the most difference. It's wonderful. But how much better to get us off the stage and into the crowd? To be more accessible? The more we mingle with them and them with us, the more we will learn. In the past, the two parties were never humanized to each other, they were more concepts than people from either end. But as we can see the faces and hear the stories and interact with each other, our empathy is struck, our fears addressed, and we begin to see we are more the same than we are different.

For the first few years after placement, I had no adoption community. I'd never known another birthmother. And if I knew adoptive parents or adopted people they were few and far between and not accustomed to talking about it (this was 1996 in TN). As I began to be involved in advocacy, I had opportunities to serve with and develop friendships with some adoptive parents. And we would talk. In our conversations I began to learn aspects of the adoptive parent experience I'd never considered. In light if some of this new perspective, I began to regret some of the things I'd said to my J's parents in our limited correspondence. I fear I was, inadvertently, perhaps very insensitive in some of the things I wrote to them. I wished I'd had those associations and the enlightenment they brought sooner. And I think it works both ways. The more birth parent friends an adoptive parent has, the better equipped they'll be in their own open adoption relationship.

I am a better birthmom and a better adoption advocate for my associations with adoptive families and I've many times heard the reverse echoed by adoptive parents in my association. And folks, we need the voices of birthparents in this work. It's powerful for prospective birth parents to hear adoptive parent stories and experience. They can empathize with the plight of the childless and see the fruits of and purpose in the sacrifice. But only a birthparent can speak of the inspiration and motivation, the peace and compensation.

Then (and this should obviously never be one's motivation) there is the matter of karma. I can, of course, have no proof of this but I'll tell you what my observation has been. As I have seen adoptive hopefuls reach out to and serve and befriend the birthparents in their community, I have seen good fortune come their way by way of other birthmoms from other communities being drawn to them and inspired to place with them. I'm just sayin'...

One concern that some have felt necessitated the (perhaps undue) caution in these matters is that adoptive hopefuls solicit expectant parents for their babies. But in this day of proactivity, where we don't wait - we find, I think if folks exercise common sense and sensitivity (which I believe we are capable of) this sort of networking could even be a good thing. I think as a community we got tired of being protected from ourselves years ago.

We've evolved to this. We've come out of fear and micromanagement. We can do so much more together, for each other and for the work.

- Tamra Hyde, Birth Mother, United For Adoption Board Member

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