ABC, Adoption & Me

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ABC, Adoption & Me is a children’s book written by Gayle and Casey Swift, a mother and daughter duo. Gayle is an adoptive mother, adoption coach, and foster parent. She is also the co-founder of GIFT (Growing Intentional Families Together) Family Services, an organization that offers support through adoptive coaches who are adoptive parents and certified professionals. Casey is an adoptee and a teacher who wanted to create a book “designed to support and encourage adoptees.”

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Gayle Swift

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Casey Swift

In the book, each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a particular adoption theme. Adoptive parents may be apprehensive about bringing up certain topics, and adoptees may also struggle with their feelings of loss and identity. This book provides a way to explore these issues, and it lets children know that adoption is a safe topic. Casey and Gayle have provided a valuable tool for parents and their young children to start meaningful and important dialogue about  adoption. Read on for our interview!

I like that you wrote this book with your daughter, Casey, who is adopted.  How did the idea for the book come about?

When she and her brother were growing up, we read constantly. Books of all types filled their shelves. Since we are an adoptive family, many of these books related to adoption. We noticed a huge void in the adoption literature for children.

Most titles focused on the parental point of view—how thrilled they were when they adopted the children. The stories reinforced the deep love that grew to bond them as a family. Something important was missing: the adoption experience as told from the child’s experience. Certainly, adoption provides them many blessings. Underlying that fact is a story of loss and ambivalent feelings.

ç This is perplexing to kids and they need assistance in coming to terms with it. Adoptive parents want their kids to be happy, feel firmly attached, and know they are deeply loved. One important way to do this is to be brave enough to talk about the hard parts of adoption. This ensure kids won’t have to wrestle alone with these complicated and sometimes scary thoughts.

We wanted to create a book that helped families handle this conflict in a healthy, loving and accepting way. Our book acknowledges the realities and says, yes, we have these extra threads in the fabric of our family and they all have value. ABC, Adoption & Me makes it easy to explore the complete adoption conversation and it does so with respect, honesty, and good humor. The conversations don’t have to be heavy, they just have to be authentic!

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What were some resources, if any, that helped both of you as Casey was growing up?

I recall reading many books to my children but when I asked them recently, they could not recall any specific book. Certainly, this lack of emotional resonance in the books available to them, fueled our interest in creating a book that would support adoptees and their families. I know we read: Adoption Is for Always, by Linda Walvoord, The Mulberry Bird  by  Anne Braff Brodzinsky and Why Was I Adopted?ByCarole Livingston

You are an adoption and family coach. How does being an adoptive parent equip you to better help parents in the adoption process?

It gives us empathy and credibility. We travel the same journey as the families we reach. We live adoption every day, and experience it’s many blessings and we wrestle with questions of grief and loss, identity issues and the struggle to braid together the many strands of our life stories.

Like other adoptive parents, I experienced soul-deep joy when we adopted our children. A fourteen-year eclipse had ended and once again the sun glowed in our lives. But it is essential that I not let my joy blind me to the hard parts of adoption. I want to acknowledge and support my kids so they are not left to flounder on their own. I want to be the safe harbor where they can feel protected and understood. Their gains and losses through adoption are both real.

Adoption is not a zero-sum game where kids must choose to deny their biological heritage in exchange for a loving family. They are the product of both nature and nurture and each holds importance.

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This book is helpful because it gives children ways to talk about adoption and ask questions. What are some other ways that parents can talk about adoption with young children?

Teaching moments crop up in daily living. TV programs, movies, advertisements, and literature often have storylines that center on family issues. Parents can explore them to compare and contrasts situations with their own families. It doesn’t have to be obviously connected to adoption. For example, a story about a talented athlete in a family of bookish non-athletes present an easy opening for talking about how family members can differ from one another—especially in adoptive families. Be sure to make clear that a child is valued not only for what they have in common with their adopted family but also for the ways that they are different. Their differences spice up the family and enrich it.

Seek not to be color “blind.” Instead, notice all of the colors of the human rainbow. Honor a child’s race as an integral part of who they are, like their size or eye color. Paul Griffin’s delightful illustrations portray an array of humanity. These drawings can be a great jumping off point for discussions. Notice the variety in family composition and color. Then, talk about what it might be like and how this might feel. Compare it to your own family experiences. Dare to have the awkward conversations. Your child will get the message that it is okay to have questions, complicated feelings and/or curiosity about her adoption, her birth parents and how it all fits together to shape her life. Parents can open conversations by talking about how “some” kids feel curious about a situation and then invite your child to share his view.

People often question adopted parents and kids about adoption. Perhaps they’re genuinely interested. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re just nosey. Your family is under no obligation to provide information to intrusive questions. Model good boundaries for kids. Teach them how to educate others and honor their own privacy needs. When discussing adoption in front of kids, be mindful of what and how you frame your answers. Kids will listen to your conversation and will weigh your words for content, judgment, and subtle emotions. Take the time to review these conversations later to be sure that your child hasn’t misinterpreted what you shared with others. This will ensure that they get the message that their adoption is something of which you are proud and parts of which are private.

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What encourages you about adoptions today? What work still needs to be done?

Adoption professionals are working hard to educate and raise the general “AQ” Adoption-attuned Intelligence of our culture. This means educating everyone to update old beliefs about adoption to reflect what we know about attachment, grief, loss and a respect for the reality of an adoptee’s experiences. We must let go of the old belief that viewed adoption as an event that solved a problem for birth parents, adoptive parents and a child in need of a family. People used to think birth parents and adoptees never looked back, that the severing from one family and grafting to another was painless and without lingering memories or effects.

Of course, we now realize that the truth is quite different. Adoptees and their birth parents do think about and miss one another. Adoption remains a factor throughout an adoptee’s lifetime. Like gender, height, etc, it is a permanent element in an adoptee’s identity.

Do you and Casey have any other projects planned?

We are working on a book that explores adoption from a tween’s point of view and addresses the thoughts and feelings they have at that stage.

I’ve completed a young adult novel That Baby We Borrowed. It tells a story that centers on one foster child’s journey… When a foster baby joins the Neill family after his brother is killed, thirteen-year-old Darcy, learns for some kids, “My parents will kill me,” is the truth. Will Spencer’s parents get away with murder—twice?

To find out more about Gayle Swift and her latest work visit www.gaylehswift.com

Tell Me Your Story: Of Choosing Adoption First

Many couples arrive at adoption after exercising all of their other options. There are couples who battle years of infertility and heartbreak and finally turn to adoption as a way of expanding their family. And then there is Robyn.

Robyn was in the 8th grade when she watched a news special that changed her life. It was the late 80s and Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had just been ousted from Romania. Robyn watched the program, but what caught her attention were the stories of the children living in orphanages. Somehow she wanted to help. At the same time, she was attending Catholic school and taking Family Life Education. She was learning “precisely where babies come from” and wanted no part it in. At an early age, Robyn decided she had no interest in being pregnant or having biological children.

There were different reactions to her declaration. Robyn’s mother shrugged and told her, “As long as I’m a Nana”. Most of her other family members told her, “You’ll change your mind when you get older.” But Robyn didn’t change her mind. She started dating, and although having biological children was never in Robyn’s plans, it took her boyfriend a little bit longer to come around. Robyn and Max dated for 7 years and lived together for a year before he finally proposed. She said yes, and told him, “You know this means you’re not having biological children.” He decided that he was okay with that.

When Robyn and Max were ready to adopt, they started out thinking they would adopt internationally. Robyn’s original plan of adopting from Romania changed when the country closed to international adoptions. Their next choice was Russia because Robyn had some Russian heritage, but she was disqualified from adopting because of her health. Robyn has Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – a debilitating neuropathic pain disorder that has resulted in nerve damage in her knee and ankle. Russian adoption counselors wanted potential mothers to be very healthy and since long flights were out of the question, so was a Russian adoption.

So they went back to square one. Ethiopia came to mind, but Max asked, “If we’re going to adopt a black baby, can’t we do that here?” So they started looking at options in the United States. Because fostering focuses on reunification, and the couple wanted to be parents, they decided on domestic infant adoption.

Today, Max and Robyn are parents to Jackson and Cassandra, two biracial children ages 8 and 2. Both children came home with their adoptive parents from the hospital. The couple chose open adoptions and have good relationships with many family members of their children’s birth families.

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Max & Robyn with Jackson & Cassandra. Photo credit: Karyn Engle Photography

Robyn is very active in the adoption community. She blogs about her adoption experiences at http://chittisterchildren.wordpress.com, and has written articles for Adoption.com. Robyn is also active in several Facebook adoption support groups and moderates one for African American Domestic Adoption. When asked about the online discussions that surround open adoptions, Robyn is very outspoken.

“People are very passionate about adoption, which is both good and bad, and I do feel discouraged by discussions sometimes. Every time an adoptive parent chooses a closed adoption, or simply waves off open adoption as a choice. Every time someone calls adoptive parents “adopt-o-raptors” or similar garbage. Every time someone says, “Your story doesn’t count.” Every time someone believes that discrimination is OK. No one person can speak for everyone, and there are a few people with very loud voices who seem to believe they do know everything and speak for everyone, which I simply don’t like.”

Robyn also knows that she is under a magnifying glass when it comes to raising black children in America. One topic that always seems to come up is “black culture.” Robyn says that most parents, including the black parents in her discussion group, agree that there is not one definition of black culture. So instead of trying to give her children a particular experience, Robyn emphasizes the importance of teaching her children about black history.

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She does this by reading her children books with historical figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama. As her children get older, she plans to take them to museums, festivals, and parades. They read books by Faith Ringold, and some of her children’s favorite characters are Disney’s Princess Tiana and Doc McStuffins.

Robyn also knows it’s important for her children to see “people who look like them in their day-to-day lives.” She also makes a point to maintain relationships with other black or biracial kids and parents. Her advice to parents, “ You don’t base friendships on race, but when you genuinely connect with people of color, you work harder to make sure those people stay in your life.”

For Robyn, she knows there are challenges, and she admits that she is “finding parenthood is a lot harder than I ever thought it would be.” But in spite of the challenges, she is sure of her decision. It hasn’t always been an easy choice, but for Robyn, it was the first and only choice.