During National Adoption Awareness Month, I will introduce you to numerous guest bloggers, highlighting many parts of the adoption journey. I crossed virtual paths with Chemene Vizzi a few years ago and quickly realized this woman was a force! Her energy and passion around adoption support is unwavering and the support group she has created in NYC is a great model to be followed.
By Chemene Vizzi
It’s the line to the roller coaster!
After 11 years of being a support group leader for adoptive and foster families, this is the phrase that I felt perfectly represents the journey for all. The pre-adoption journey can feel frustrating and may take time, just like the line to the roller coaster. You know the ride will be amazing with twists and unexpected turns but the waiting is the worst!
When I first began my journey of domestic adoption, I felt the wait was the hardest part. When would it be over? When can I start the parenting? I wanted the fun to begin! I felt the journey was about me. Only me! Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. I didn’t realize there was a whole world out there I never knew about. Different perspectives that sadly didn’t dawn on me at the time.
My adoption journey lasted two years from the time I made the decision to adopt until I brought my son home in 2010. It doesn’t seem that long now, but it felt like an eternity at the time. During this time I joined a local support group to learn more about the process. As a group, we were limited in resources; Facebook was in its infancy and email was the only way to get in contact with members. We met once a month to discuss issues. It was there I began my unexpected education.
I was lucky enough as a group leader to have a “big mouth” which led me to meet amazing professionals and families that I invited to our meetings. We would discuss their journeys of adoption and foster care. At first, I was having people speak at our meetings to help others because I didn’t need the help. I was fine. I knew what I was doing!
It wasn’t until I started to listen, truly listen, that I realized I knew very little. I listened to the voices of adoptees who were placed with families at birth speak about trauma. I listened to birth families as they spoke about the most difficult of decisions while barely being able to get the words out. I listened as adoptive parents would tell stories of trying to make sense of adoption to children when they couldn’t fully make sense of it themselves. When you truly listen to all perspectives, only then can you understand or empathize with others. I slowly started to see that this journey was never really about me, it was about my son. He was the one I was getting educated for.
Years and years of listening and listening to adoptees, birth parents, foster parents, social workers, advocates, therapists, and adoptive parents, helped me realize I wasn’t as “open-minded” as I thought.
I work with families every day that have adopted a newborn, a toddler, or even teens and wonder why their child one day didn’t want to celebrate their birthday or felt that mother’s day was a sad occasion. I have families that didn’t even know that they should be telling their child they are adopted. The reason why many families are confused about the questions and behaviors as their child grows is that they have never met anyone that adopted before or if they did, they have never explained any trauma-related issues.
As your child gets older, you will need more support. I thought that bringing my son home at birth was it. I’m a parent and now I’m all good. Wrong! I was even told when he was a toddler “just wait til he starts asking you questions and, by the way, be prepared because you will either be in the car or on the toilet.” I took this with a grain of salt and thought how bad could it be? Sure enough one day out of the blue while driving, all the adoption questions came spewing out of my 5-year old’s mouth! Thankfully I was ready after all the years of listening!
So now what? All this information is great but how do you actually find the resources and education you need to be a better adoptive or foster parent?
Local support groups are hard to find in some areas of the U.S. and they are not always the right fit for each family. Here are some great ideas that I actually used myself in order to find support and also to be able to give support over the years.
Use Facebook and join some groups
Social media platforms can help those who truly have no support in their area. Groups on Facebook can actually be an excellent tool for educational purposes. Listening to others tell their stories is a great way to learn different perspectives. It may, however, take you some time to find the right group for you since each person has different needs. I recommend joining all types of groups that educate on the triad (adoptive parents, adoptees and birth parents) of adoption and foster care. Join the ones run by those who actually live the journey. Listening to adoptees talk about their feelings and birth parents sharing what it actually was like during the pre and post-adoptive process is an amazing way to try to understand the true journey. At first, it may seem overwhelming, but as you read more you will find the information is an invaluable tool for parenting your adopted son or daughter.
I do however caution my families to be careful and not share personal information about their situation online. Confidentiality and privacy are important for the safety of children. Social media has provided new support and an opportunity to many, but at the same time, you may come across some people that will disagree with what you write or who might share your information inappropriately.
Start a group yourself!
I know many families in which the closest person to them is 45 min away. That is not ideal of course. However, there are so many platforms that can connect families like Google Hangouts and Zoom that can be used to connect with others that live far away. You can now host meetings online!
Find a friend! Learn together!
If you can find one person in your area to listen that is enough. Be bold and call local agencies or perhaps AAAA (Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys) adoption attorneys and tell them you are looking for “friends” in adoption. Years ago I made a call to a local AAAA attorney and made an important connection. Not only can I learn from a professional in the business and gain resources but now I’m a resource for his families as well.
Join in on webinars!
You can get so much from a great webinar. NACAC (North American Council on Adoptable Children) provides information all the time on all topics from transracial adoption to adoption trauma. AdoptiveFamilies.com also has webinars from open adoption to adoption in school. In New York, we have the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York (AFFCNY) that provides us with support opportunities and advocacy information.
Sign up for conferences like Empowered to Connect!
This conference is “designed to help equip adoptive and foster parents” to better deal with the needs of their children. It is held every year in a different state, but the best thing is that you can apply to have the simulcast happen in your town; you don’t have to fly anywhere (go to showhope.org for details). It provides practical tools for parenting a child from trauma and gives us the confidence to know we can be there for them no matter what.
Start a book club!
There are so many wonderful books out there on adoption and foster care. Read them together and support each other through the learning process. Some books are rough to read but really do tell the stories o of those living the lifelong journey. Try reading The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis and Etched in Sand by Regina Calcattera, for starters.
It is important to know that this journey doesn’t end when you bring home your child; it is only the beginning. Some children will need more support than others and parents need to be educated. There is a triad to the adoption process. Everyone has a different journey. Everyone has a different perspective. So live, learn and educate yourself! Take the time while you are in line or even when you start the roller coaster ride to prepare for what’s going to come next. Your child will thank you!