An Article from: The New York Times August 26, 2009, 1:00 pm
Terminating an Adoption By Lisa Belkin Regular Motherlode readers have already met Anita Tedaldi, who blogs at ovolina.com. She has written a few guest posts about being a military spouse. But she has never before written anything like this.
A few months ago, when another guest blogger wrote about secondary infertility, many of the comments were along the lines of “why don’t you just adopt?” and some of the responses were in the vein of “adoption is not always that easy.” In the middle of that I heard from Anita, who asked to share the story of D., her adopted son (she has used her real name here, but changed his), whom she raised for 18 months before she relinquished him to another family last year, when he was about two-and-a-half years old.
The termination of an adoption is a fraught topic, raising questions of love and loyalty and the definition of parenting. Anita’s tale will make some of you angry, but she hopes it will trigger a deeper understanding of how fragile and fierce the bonds of adoption can be.
My Adopted Son By Anita Tedaldi
The first time I considered giving up D. I was lying alone in my oversized bed. It was about midnight, my children were asleep and my husband was deployed. I was so taken aback by my thoughts that I bolted upright, ran to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. It was dark, but I could see my silhouette in the mirror and I stared to see if I was looking at a demon instead of D.’s mother.
I ran to D.’s room, afraid that he was already gone. But he was there, lying on his Thomas the Train sheets, sucking his thumb and breathing evenly. I caressed his cheek with two fingers and he exhaled. “I love you little man,” I whispered, and kissed his forehead, swallowing down the knot in my throat. I went back to my room and sobbed into my pillow.
D. was my adopted son. He’s a little boy from South America who came to our home several months before that frightening night. He arrived through Miami International Airport on a Monday afternoon, and I was so anxious that on my six-hour drive to pick him up, I dug my nails into the steering wheel for the duration of the trip, leaving marks I can still see today. I couldn’t contain my excitement. After waiting many long months, I’d finally hold and kiss my son.
I had wanted to adopt for a long time, even before I met my husband or had my five biological daughters. I’ve always wanted a large family, like the one I grew up with in Italy, and I love the chaos and liveliness of many kids.
I did lots of research on adoption, including attachment problems and other complications that older adopted children can have. I spoke to my therapist and went through a thorough screening process with social workers to figure out if I, and my family, could be a good match for a child who needed a home. We were approved, and began the long wait for a referral. When they told us about D., I was ecstatic and convinced that I’d be able to parent this little boy the same way I had done with my biological daughters.
When he arrived in the U.S., our pediatrician diagnosed our son with some expected health issues and developmental delays. His age was not certain — he had been found by the side of a road — but the doctor estimated he was a little younger than one year. D. lacked strength in his legs and had a completely flat head, from lying in a crib so many hours a day. The first few weeks at home, people often asked me if he had experienced a brain injury. D. also suffered from coprophagia, or eating one’s own feces, which my pediatrician assured me the majority of children outgrow by the age of four. Most mornings, when I went to pick him up from his crib, I’d find him with poop smeared on his face and bedding.
But the physical or developmental issues weren’t the real problem. Five or six months after his arrival, I knew that D. wasn’t attaching. We had expected his indifference toward my husband, who was deployed for most of this time, but our son should have been closer to his sisters and especially to me, his primary caretaker.
His social worker, his pediatrician and his neurologist all told me that he had come a long way, and that attachment issues were to be expected with adoption. But D.’s attachment problems were only half the story. I also knew that I had issues bonding with him. I was attentive, and I provided D. with a good home, but I wasn’t connecting with him on the visceral level I experienced with my biological daughters. And while it was easy, and reassuring, to talk to all these experts about D.’s issues, it was terrifying to look at my own. I had never once considered the possibility that I’d view an adopted child differently than my biological children. The realization that I didn’t feel for D. the same way I felt for my own flesh and blood shook the foundations of who I thought I was.
I sought help and did some attachment therapy, which consisted of exercises to strengthen our relationship, mostly games because of D.’s age. He fell in my arms many times throughout the day, we sang songs, read books, repeated words while we made eye contact. We built castles and block towers and went to a mommy and me class.
Still, I struggled. One day (I’m still not exactly sure what was different about that particular day) I was on the phone with Jennifer, our social worker, who merely asked “what’s up” when I blurted out that I couldn’t parent D., that things were too hard.
As soon as I said these words out loud, a flood of emotions washed over me, and I sobbed, clutching the phone with both hands. Jennifer didn’t say anything, she waited patiently, and when I had nothing left, she asked me to start from the beginning. We talked about my family; about the problems my husband and I were having with D. and, as a result, with each other; about the girls and their partial indifference toward D.; and about some of my son’s specific challenges.
For the next several weeks Jennifer and I spoke daily. She mostly listened and told me to focus on D.’s future and well being above everything else. Eventually I told her that I’d look at profiles of potential families, but stressed that I wasn’t committed yet, just considering options.
My thoughts and emotions were disjointed and came in waves. One moment I was determined to keep D. because I loved him. An instant later, I realized that I wasn’t the parent I know I could be, and that I should place D. with a better family, with a better mother.
As I wrestled with these demons, things remained very tense in my home; whenever my husband was stateside we fought incessantly. I felt I was swimming upstream until one early morning Jennifer called, and told me that she had found a great family for D. They had seen his pictures, learned about his situation, and fallen in love with him. The mom, Samantha, was a psychologist, and the family had adopted another boy with similar issues just a couple of years before.
I spoke to Samantha and her husband a few times on the phone and right off the bat I felt comfortable with them. During one of our conversations we decided that she’d come down to meet D. by herself, to ease the transition.
This meant that the decision was final. D. would leave my home.
While waiting for Samantha to arrive, Jennifer helped me to talk to my kids, to family members, even strangers, but most importantly she held my hand when it came to speaking with my son. I explained to him that he’d be joining his new family and that we loved him very much — that he had done nothing wrong. I don’t know how much he understood because of his young age and because he never reacted to my words.
For my first meeting with D.’s new mom, I was a wreck. I dressed D. in one of his cutest outfits, white polo shirt and blue khaki pants, strapped him in the car seat and took off to meet Samantha at a nearby McDonald’s.
The car ride was short, but each time I approached a traffic light, grief assailed me, and I turned around, determined to head back home and keep D.
The five-minute trip turned to a 30-minute journey, and when I finally made it to the McDonald’s parking lot I was frazzled. My hands were shaking, my mouth was dry, and my eyes were red. Samantha recognized us as soon as we got out of the car and rushed over. Her eyes lit up the moment she approached D., and she lowered herself to his height to hug him.
Over the next few days Samantha and D. got to know each other, and then it was time for him to leave with her. That morning, I awkwardly let her into the house and willed time to stop. With my hands shaking, I handed her D.’s bag and some of his favorite toys. My daughters were watching SpongeBob and said goodbye to their brother almost nonchalantly, as if he was just going out for a bit and would soon be back.
I opened the front door of my home in slow motion. It felt heavy and my feet stayed glued to the ground. Samantha told me she’d give me a few minutes alone with D. and quickly walked to her car. I kneeled down and pulled D. close to me, desperately wanting to impress an indelible memory of my son on me, and me on him, inhaling his scent, feeling his soft skin and touching his coarse hair. In our last moments together, I stared into his eyes and told him that I loved him and that I had tried to do my best.
His new mom would love him so, so much; my little man would be OK.
He didn’t cry, he stared back at me, then looked to Samantha and asked for more juice. I was too overwhelmed to utter another word, but Samantha squeezed my hand and reassured me that D. would know I had loved him and that I had done a good job.
The next few weeks I felt a mix of emotions, desperation, relief, sadness, guilt, shame, and acceptance. After a couple of months at Samantha’s home, I learned that D. was doing well and adjusting to his new life. He was struggling with some issues, but I know that Samantha and her husband are the best parents D. could possibly have. They went to great lengths to legally adopt him, to welcome him into their home and provide him with the best care he can receive. The fact that he also has a sibling who has dealt with similar issues has made the transition easier. Samantha told me that D. can’t get enough of his brother or his dad’s attention.
My husband had originally asked me not to write about D., because I’d only open myself up to criticism. But I wrote this essay because D. taught me a lot about myself and about parenting and because I hope that by sharing this experience others can feel less alone in their failures. D. deflated my ego by showing me my limitations. Because of my little man, I have more compassion for the mistakes we make as parents, and I’m far less willing to point my finger at others’ difficulties.
I’m still processing this experience and I think I always will.
I don’t have anything left from D.’s time with us. Samantha didn’t want D.’s clothes, I think she preferred to make a fresh start, so I donated everything to the Salvation Army. We don’t have D.’s pictures around because my husband thought it’d be too difficult, but in my wallet, I carry a small close-up photo of D.’s face, which I took after his first haircut at a barber shop. When I think about him, I take it out and look into his big dark eyes as a deep endless sadness fills my heart.
Thank you little D. for all that you’ve been to me, to us. Despite my failures, I loved you the best way I could, and I’ll never forget you.
********************************************************************************** I found this article in The Third Mom Blog this Morning. I have read it over a few times and it makes me wonder how this has effected everyone involved on all sides..especially little D.
When I was first adopted, my Mother had told me that if things did not work out in my new home I was able to go back to Korea but we would have to really try to make it work and know that to return to Korea was the BEST decision. I don't remember if those were her exact phrases but I believe that is how I took her proposal.
And there were many time in my early years that I wanted to go home, usually when there was a fight, argument, or discontentment from our 'barriers'. My Mother would tell me that the letters I had received from the Head of Eastern Child Welfare Society every holiday was to let me know that they did not forget about me. During the rough times, I wanted to write to Dr. Kim (President) and let him know how I felt and that I was ready to go home. I cannot remember how my Mother handled my requests but know that she somehow reassured me things would get better here and eventually I kept these letters to remember that one day I may go home to Korea.
Aside from these initial hard times, after the first couple years, my Family no longer really discussed my past nor encouraged any related subject matter regarding my past, family, and Korea. And in some regard, I no longer really showed signs that I cared to discuss or needed to go back to my family or anybody else. In the early childhood years that followed, I 'blended' into my family and tried to do the same in school. I am not saying that 'events' or 'things' did not come up throughout my early years that brought my thoughts back to those feelings of 'displacement' or ' 'identity' issues. But it was in those first couple of years that seemed to have hit 'us' all very hard. It was in many ways difficult to adjust..not just for me but for everyone in my new family.
So, I am reading this article and wondering how I feel about this. I wanted to jot a comment under it in the Third mom blog but feel compelled to write more than a comment...maybe perhaps, a point of view from Little D. I know Little D cannot do this but then perhaps from another adoptee's view of her own experience in the first stages after adoption.
I do not believe my Parents had any idea what kind of background I had except the one from my Adoption papers. They did not know that I was going to be a little fireball with a mouth that could really fire back..in Korean and later in English. They did not prepare themselves to discover the amount of issues that would follow concerning my sense of displacement, identity, and attachment issues. It took some hard fights, harsh words, and tears for us to come through the initial post adoption stage.
I want to share that I did not accept my Father here for some time as well. In part, because I felt I had a Father that I did not want to let go of nor forget. And I was not afraid to express this to him when I was upset. I know this must have hurt him but at the time I did not look at it in his perspective, after all, I was only 7 years old. And my anger, when I felt it, was my only defense from the pain I felt and the frustration that came from the culture shock, having to re-attach once again, and feelings of rejection.
And even through these hard times, the one I accepted immediately into my heart, was my Mother. Perhaps, because I did not have a Mother growing up and needed one or because she was the one that I felt closest to as soon as I had landed in the States. She was the one that we all went to for all situations that occurred in our house. And since she was a stay home Mother, and I had skipped the first year of school, we were together always. Therefor, I attached myself quickly to her.
I think of the 'what ifs''. What if my parents gave up on us and felt it was too difficult and realized that the dynamics of raising a 'trans-racial' adoptee was more difficult than they ever imagined. What if, they saw how difficult this impacted not only me but the whole family in the initial post adoption and relinquished me back to Korea.
I have to say that I played with these thoughts many times. I wished many moments that this was exactly what they should have done over the years. Especially during my first post adoption year and later in my Teens. For my Parents, I cannot truly speak for them and do not agree on all their methods of how they raised me but am happy that they did not give up on me and us. I do not like to use 'grateful' for many reasons which I may go into later but am truly happy that I am here.
That is not to say that I do not have longings and desires that seem to float up and dissipate into my dreams. Nor does it negate any of the hard times that follow personally in my life. I think of how my life would be if they had sent me back to Korea. How it would effect my sense of belonging and attachment. My feelings of displacement. And my need to know the meaning of 'HOME'. I do not know these answers of course, but I ask myself, would I be here with my family I love, with the Reunions we have made, and the Journey that I have made thus far. Would I be writing to you here...and would I have accepted myself and my life as I do now.
Something for me to think about. Something for other perspective Adopting Parents to think over and for us all to understand and to respect that which follows.
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What started as a need and desire to reach out to other Korean Adoptees and to also to look within myself has led me through an incredible journey. Since I had started my first blog, Korean American Adoptee Home is Within, I have reconnected with my family in Korea as well as found my younger brother in the Netherlands. I have also connected with many other adoptees,APs, and Artists who I feel are truly inspirational and empowering individuals. It has paved a way for me to learn, discover, and express my visions of how I see this world we share!