Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Adoption Story

 As many of you probably already know, I am adopted. I’ve had several people ask me (both here and on Facebook) if I would be willing to share my story, so I decided to write it down... It's taken a while (scanning the pictures took a lot longer than I expected), and that's one of the reasons I haven't written much this week. Anywho, here goes...

My adoptive parents (henceforth referred to simply as my parents) met when they were around 30. They married in 1983, and began trying to start a family. They were unable to conceive, and doctors weren't able to diagnose the problem. So they began looking into adoption.

My birthmom, Rachel, was in her teens when she met my birthdad, Alvaro. Based on my birthday, I’m assuming I was conceived sometime around Spring Break, 1988. My birthparents broke up not long after that, and Rachel realized that she wouldn't be able to take care of me while finishing school, so she decided to look into adoption.

Rachel approached Catholic Social Services in Northern Kentucky. That happened to be the agency my parents were trying to adopt through. At the time, all adoptions through CSS (and most adoptions, period) were closed. Adoptive and biological parents could exchange some information (letters, pictures, etc.) through the agency with the help of a caseworker, but direct communication between the two parties didn’t happen. Especially not before a baby was born. I changed that.

My parents were interested in an open adoption, in which they could meet my birthmother prior to my birth, and hopefully keep in touch with her directly as I grew. Rachel, meanwhile, was hoping to find a family that would give her frequent updates about her baby (me!), and who would be supportive of us meeting if I decided that was what I wanted when I got older.

When looking at adoptive couple’s profiles (scrapbooks of sorts potential adoptive couples make with information about themselves for the birthparents), my parents stood out to Rachel. She asked the social workers if it would be possible for her to meet them prior to my birth (something CSS had never done). Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Rachel, my parents had already made a similar request. The social workers, Mrs. Fleischman and Mrs. Winterburg, were supportive of the idea, but they had to work to convince the nun who was in charge of CSS that it would be a good idea. My mom says her words were, “I’ll let you try it this one time, but if it fails, I don’t want to hear anything else about it.”

My parents met Rachel, and everyone immediately got along. Rachel told my parents that she wanted them to adopt me when I was born, and the waiting game started. There were still questions. Rachel could choose to back out, or one or both parties might drop the ball on communication after I arrived.

I was born on December 15, 1988. My parents got to meet me when I was a day old. They got to visit with Rachel and me at the hospital. This helped to confirm her adoption decision. I left the hospital with my parents and I was legally adopted not long after.

Me, one day old, with Rachel.

Dad holding me at the hospital. Please, someone comment on those fantastic glasses.

My maternal biological family (my aunts Amy and Kara, Rachel, and my grandma).

While Rachel was in labor with me, Alvaro (who had moved back to his home in Texas) began experiencing sympathetic labor pains. He tried to get a hold of Rachel and her family, and when he couldn’t, he flew to Cincinnati because he was certain I had been born. He got to know my parents, and they promised to keep in touch with him, too.

My parents with Alvaro (holding me).

Originally, my parents and birth parents were on a first-name-only basis. That changed after my birthmom was in an accident shortly after I was born. My parents didn't hear about it until after the fact, because of the chain of command that was required when communicating through the adoption agency. After that incident, everyone involved decided that, rather than restricting contact to letters until I was older, we should try to keep communication open from the start. For as far back as I can remember, I have been told that I was adopted. I've grown up with frequent contact with both of my birthparents, as well as my extended biological families. 

Rachel, who lives nearby, has been to every one of my birthday parties, sees me on Christmas every year, and visited frequently "just because" when I was growing up. I have many amazing memories of playing at her parents' dairy farm with my birth cousins, going to movies and haunted houses, and boating. When I was in high school, we volunteered together at our local animal shelter every week. She got her BSN, and she works at a hospital that is less than five minutes from our house.

Holding my birth cousin, Genna.

When I was 12, she married an amazing man, Scott, who not only knew about me but openly accepted me as part of his family. I was a junior bridesmaid in their wedding.

She and Scott had trouble conceiving, and several years ago they adopted a little boy, Owen, who is now five. His adoption is also completely open, and I've met both of his birthparents on several occasions. The neat thing about my birthmom is that she understands what it's like to be both a biological and adoptive parent.

Me with Owen.

Scott, Rachel, and Owen at Christmas several years ago.

Owen was the ring bearer in our wedding (and he stole the show dancing at our reception, too). My own kids and Owen get along great, and even though he's technically their uncle, they act like cousins. They call Rachel "Nana," and we get together for play dates and just to hang out pretty often.

Even though Alvaro lives in Texas, he still made trips to come visit me. And my parents exchanged phone calls and letters (this was before the internet was commonplace) to keep him updated.

My birthdad was in the process of getting his Master's degree when he and Rachel were together. He finished school and met his (now ex) wife, Holly. They got married when I was a toddler; I was at the wedding with my parents.

My aunts, Tia Ana and Tia Maki, and my cousin Matt.

Holly has been at least as amazingly welcoming of me as Scott- I am insanely blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life! She and Alvaro have three girls together, Riana (20), Delaney (18), and Aubrey (16). I've gotten to visit with them (either them traveling to Kentucky or me to Texas) many times over the years, and in the past few years I've gotten to see them at least once a year, which has been amazing! All three of my birth sisters were bridesmaids in our wedding. Josh, the kids, and I actually spent Thanksgiving 2010 in Texas, and over the summer Aubrey came and stayed at our house with us for a week.

I was so proud when I got to hold Riana!

Riana, Holly, Aubrey, Alvaro, and Delaney.

Dad came down to Texas with me to celebrate my grandpa's birthday.

Even though Holly and my birthdad split up several years ago, they remain friendly. I still see her every time I get together with my sisters. They all live in San Antonio, but Holly is from Ohio, so she and the girls come north to visit family fairly often. Holly always makes sure to schedule their trips so that they can stop by Kentucky to see me. She's just that awesome!

Facebook has been a huge blessing, because it makes it so much easier to keep in touch with Alvaro's side of the family. My grandma, Alvaro, my aunts, my cousins, Holly, my sisters, and I are all able to keep in touch via the internet even though we're a thousand miles apart. Texting is also great for keeping in touch with my sisters.

My family's experience with open adoption was so positive that Catholic Social Services began encouraging more openness in all of their adoptions. My brother was adopted as a newborn slightly before my second birthday, and he has had a completely open relationship with his birthmom Anne and her three younger kids since he was a baby. His birthdad left the picture when Adam was a baby, but they've recently reconnected via Facebook, and are getting to know each other in person.

When I was 6, we adopted Kylie. Her birthparents actually ended up staying together, and today they are married with a son of their own. So Kylie has a full biological brother. They just moved to Kentucky from Ohio, and Kylie sees them about every month (she spent Thanksgiving with them this year).

It's pretty cool to have such an amazing family, both biological and adopted. I can say I have four parents (plus Scott and Holly, who are pretty much two more!), two brothers, four sisters, more than 30 aunts and uncles (that includes spouses; Catholics have big families, haha), over 100 cousins and second cousins, and nine grandparents (all of whom I was blessed to meet and four of whom are still living). How many people can claim that?

Cousins on Rachel's side: Steve, Sarah, Joseph, Adam, me, Leah, and Heather.

Minnie (my step-grandmother on Alvaro's side) and Grandpa Iragorri, who passed away three years ago.

Mom's dad, Grandpa Rothert, who passed away when I was a baby.

Grandma Scheper (Dad's mom, who passed away last month) and Grandma Rothert (Mom's mom, who passed when I was in middle school).

Rachel's dad, Grandpa Kuchle.

Grandma and Grandpa Scheper.

Grandma Kuchle (who passed a week before Trinity was born).

Grandma Rothert.

Some people ask me if I ever regretted being adopted. Never. Since I knew my birthparents, I never guessed about any unknowns (there was no chance I was secretly a princess mixed up at birth, unfortunately). I could call them with questions about my medical records (turns out, migraines and benign tremors run in Alvaro's family and hearing loss is common on Rachel's side). I was able to find out whatever I wanted about my heritage (my birthdad's family is Colombian and my birthmom's family is Scottish and German). Most importantly, I knew why they chose to give me up. I never doubted their love for me. I never wondered if they "got rid of me" because I wasn't pretty enough, or good enough. I never questioned the fact that, in choosing adoption, my birthparents were doing the most selfless thing they could for me. And as I grew and saw their pride in me, I knew that this was what they wanted for me. They got to witness me grow into a happy, bright child, with opportunities that they couldn't have given me. This was the outcome they had dreamed of when they considered adoption. Adoption was their gift to me.

Growing up, my friends used to ask me why I called my adoptive mother "Mom" and my birthmom "Rachel," if Rachel was my "real" mom. I always explained to them that my adoptive parents were my real parents. They were the ones who raised me, who were there for every milestone, and who accepted me unconditionally.

I always thought it was ironic that I was baptized by a priest named Fr. Hellmann.

Even though my biological parents have genetics on their side, that does not change the fact that my adoptive parents are my real parents. My mom gave me a cross-stitched sampler with this poem on it once. It sums up how I feel pretty well:

Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone
But still miraculously my own
Never forget for a single minute
You didn't grow under my heart, but in it

This is not meant to downplay my birthparents' roles in my life. I love them more than I will ever be able to express, and I am so blessed to have such wonderful relationships with them. They have given me more than I ever could have dreamt for myself.

In my opinion, adoption has been the greatest gift I've ever received. But I doubt I'd feel the same way if I had been adopted through a closed adoption. I'll always be grateful to Catholic Social Services, and to the social workers who went out on a limb to see if changing the system would benefit parents and kids alike (answer: definitely). And I'll forever be grateful to my parents, both biological and adoptive, who gave me life and the chance to live it to the fullest.

Finally, here is a poem Rachel's sister, my Aunt Laura, wrote for her (and me) early in the adoption process. It's from the perspective of a birthmother in a closed adoption, because this was before CSS agreed to an open adoption. Maybe I'm biased, but I think it's one of the most beautiful adoption poems out there, and since the only copies I know of are stashed at Rachel's and my mom's houses, I thought I'd share it. Please, if you decide to share this, give my aunt credit. And if you share online, I'd love if you'd link back here so I know!

Dearest Daughter
By Laura Kuchle Wallace

Oh dearest, precious daughter
How I wish that you could know
All of the love I must feel silently
All of the pain of letting go

You will never know the tears I've cried
Or the times I've asked God, why?
I could have a daughter as you
Unable to keep you by my side

I'll never see your first steps
I'll never hold you when you cry
A loss that I face daily
A mother without a child

I know that you'll pick flowers
As you run through fields of green
And rush to proudly give them
To the mother you know, not me

I know I won't be with you
To celebrate each new year
But my heart will be there, near

I'll never forget that moment
No, I'll never forget that day
And while you are blowing out candles
Another prayer for you I'll say

I love you, dearest daughter
In the truest form of love
That is why my heart told me
It was best to give you up

I gave you up for reasons
Someday I hope you will know
But don't think the word adoption
Means my heart will ever let go

How I wish that life were kinder
To mothers such as I
Who bear a child so young at age
With the innocence of mine

But don't think I live in sadness
Since we've been apart
I gave you life, the truest gift
Of love straight from my heart

I'm secure that you are growing up
In a devoted, warm family
Whose love I felt so strong
While you were still inside of me

You are an answered prayer to them
The child they couldn't have
And then God saw us all as one
And touched us with His hand

They will see your first steps
They will hold you when you cry
And they will give you everything
I was unable to provide

They've cried tears of joy for you
Able to raise you as their own
I've cried tears of sorrow
Wishing I could raise you better, alone

You are my first born daughter
You will always be my child
I don't regret my innocence
Because it gave you life

You live within my heart, dear child
Every moment of the day
And my deepest hope of joy for you
Lies in every prayer I pray

I know that you will see life
From the rosebud to the sea
And I hope that you remember
Your life began with me

Open adoption made many of these fears non-issues for my family. But the sentiment is there. One of the myths about adoption is that the birthparents will forget their children after placement happens. Maybe this is true for some small group, but I know a lot of birth parents and adoptees, and I cannot imagine this being the case for the majority. Adoption is forever for everyone involved.

If you have any questions about adoption, I am always willing to give an honest adoptee's perspective. Similarly, if you have questions for an adoptive or birth parent, I can pass them along and share answers. I know that this was a really long post, so if you read to the bottom, thank you!


Mama Gone Green said...

What a wonderful story (it brought tears to my eyes!). You are so lucky to have such an extended and loving family. Thanks for sharing!

Mama Forestdweller said...

WOW. I am blown away by this beautiful story. I keep having to wipe away tears, too. It's so amazing to read, and I am so glad you have shared the story of your family. Thank you!!!

DeBie Hive said...

What an amazing story!!!!!

Sandra said...

I absolutely read every word. And Kim, I don't cry often, but I'm sitting here sobbing. This is so beautiful! What a terrific life you have lead!

cpcable said...

What a beautiful story, Kimberly. Thanks so much for sharing it! What a great example of good things coming to those who open their hearts and act out of love.

Maria said...

Family is in the heart, not in the blood. And there is no such thing as too much love for a child. How lucky you were to have so many wonderful people in your life!

katie and the little things said...

This story is beautiful! Thank you for sharing. Even though I knew some of the details, it's so powerful and awesome to hear it in your words. You are a lucky girl to have such a huge wonderful family (and extended family!)

Nicola said...

What an uplifting story. So good to read a successful adoption experience and very generous of you to share it. I'm sure many people will find it helpful.

btw: Never mind your Dad's glasses, what about that sofa!!!

Mrs. Tuna said...

I'm one of 7 kids. My parents adopted my 5 cousins when their mom died. I was about 8 years old. Adoption is a wonderful thing.

FunnyGal KAT said...

I, too, am choked up thinking about how very blessed you are to have all of these amazing people in your life. I can't imagine how difficult it was for many of your family members to do what they did, and how fortunate it is that they were able to stay in touch and see for themselves how well it turned out.

Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story-- and in such a beautiful way.

Leanne@lifehappenswhen said...

This was a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing such an amazing testimony with the world.

Mama Gone Green said...

Hey there! Would you be able to email me your address? (tarynoakley(at)gmail(dot)com.
I want to mail your owl ornament to you! I emailed you at your blogger email, but wasn't sure if you actually checked that email account or not. Thought maybe commenting would be a better way to get in touch. Hope you had a great birthday!

WhisperingWriter said...

Wow, this was a great story! Thank you for sharing.