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Friday, March 6, 2009

Talking about adoption is hard (part 1)

I feel like I'm admitting a shameful secret, but here's the plain truth: I'm a well-educated, well-spoken, conscientious adoptive parent who has a hard time talking about adoption with my kids.

There, I said it. As much as I'd love to say it's easy and I handle this topic with admirable grace, the reality is that I stumble and stutter and think and rethink what I'm saying to Ro and Ree about adoption, how much information they can handle at their age, and how I'm answering their questions. And our girls are only three years old. Imagine how tough (for all parties) these conversations are going to be when they're five, or seven, or 15?

 What I want:

I want to tell our three-year-olds what adoption means in simple kid-friendly terms, I want to tell them that adopting them was the best thing their father and I have ever done, and I want to find an age-appropriate way to gently introduce topics like their birthparents in China and why they were available for adoption. Shoot, writing all of that was so simple... I wish conversations about these things were that simple also. But they're not, at least for me.

What we've done so far:

We talk about adoption all the time in our family. I guess we've embraced the "Talk early, often, and at an age-appropriate level" way of thinking. It's a good thing, for the girls, but also for us because, frankly, we need the practice. With every conversation we all get a little more comfortable. Luckily, Ro and Ree are young enough right now that we have time to tell their adoption stories, stumble over certain areas, figure out better ways to say what we want to say, and eventually get it right.

Anyhow, we press on, and take every opportunity (either natural or sometimes admittedly forced) to talk about adoption and China and our family, partly because we don't ever want the girls to angrily say "What? We didn't know that -- why didn't you ever tell us?!!" We want the information about our family's beginnings (and the girls' beginnings) to be something that they've just always known. Something we've always talked about. Something that they know their daddy and I are incredibly happy about.

It's been relatively "easy" up to this point:

As much as we talk about adoption with the girls, I've got to say that up to this point our conversations have been fairly high-level. Ro and Ree are young -- so young -- and we've kept our conversations at what we think are age-appropriate levels. That "age appropriate" part is such a judgement call though!

As an example, this is the simple story we tell them of how we met: Once upon a time, your daddy and I really wanted to have a family. We talked and talked about it and then we decided to adopt a child. It was so exciting! We contacted an adoption agency and filled out lots of paperwork. Afterwards, we waited and waited and waited some more. It was a really long wait and we were so anxious... In October of 2005, you girls were born in China, and then our adoption agency sent us your names (Da-Shuang and Xiao-Shuang) and your pictures. Holy moly! We were crazy thrilled that you were twins and couldn't believe we were going to adopt not one but two precious babies! In the pictures that the agency sent us, Baby Da-Shuang (that's you Ro) was wearing a pink outfit and staring right at the camera -- so beautiful and so serious looking. And Baby Xiao-Shuang (that's you Ree) was wearing a blue outfit and a funny little smirk -- so beautiful and a little bit mischievous looking. We were overjoyed, and had a big party with lots of ribs and chocolate to celebrate. We couldn't wait to travel to China to meet our adorable baby girls! As soon as we could, we gathered our families (Wela and BobBob, Ma and Pa), packed our big huge suitcases, and all six of us flew on a looooooong plane ride to China where we got to meet the two of you. You were sad at the beginning, because you didn't know us and we didn't know you and everything was new and scary. For the next two weeks in China, we went to a whole bunch of appointments and meetings and gradually started to adjust to each other as a family. Your daddy and I felt like the luckiest people in the world when we got to adopt you and become a family of four. Finally the last official paper was signed, and the whole family got on a big plane and flew home.

The story changes a bit every time we tell it, depending on what tangents the girls feel like exploring. But that's the gist of it. It gives a pretty accurate glimpse at the level of detail our three-year-olds are interested in right now.

They like to look at all of the pictures from our trip to China, especially ones where they were crying, and to ask questions about what they liked to eat when we first met them, whether they knew how to walk or not, and which toys they played with. (Ro's favorite pic from China is this one that she calls "the orange picture.") I don't think Ro and Ree have any idea what "born" or "adopt" really mean, although we use those terms frequently when we talk to them and they parrot the terms back to us. I think that three-year-olds (at least our three-year-olds) just don't really understand those concepts yet, and that's ok.

We'll continue to tell their stories, and continue to add more information and details every time, whether they completely understand everything or not, and whether they ask questions or not. (We don't wait until they ask questions, because they might not know what to ask, or they might be afraid to ask, particularly as they get older.)

Taking the next step (gulp):

I think we're at a natural point right now to discuss more information with the girls, but it's hard to know what to say. One of their aunts is pregnant, which is thrilling and also gives us a good opportunity to talk a little bit about pregnancy and babies and birthmothers. The girls have asked questions about the baby, they speculate which stuffed animal is the same size as the growing baby right now, they've touched the aunt's tummy trying to feel the baby kick, and their favorite game right now is to put a stuffed animal under their clothes and prance around yelling "I've got a baby in my tummy." It's cute, of course. But in the back of my mind, even as I'm playing the game with them, I'm noodling things over. We've already danced around the question of "Did I grow in your tummy, mama?" but they haven't asked point blank yet. One of them will ask though, today or tomorrow or next month, and even if they don't I have the feeling we should use this as a catalyst to gently introduce the concept of birthparents. I know from experience that I stink at on-the-fly explanations, but can do a pretty decent job of explaining things with some advance thought. This applies to all of the next big topics we'll get into. So TubaDad and I are working on it. When we figure it out we'll add it into the story of how we met the girls.

Please share:

Well that's where we are. I wish I had all the answers and was a natural at these discussions, but I don't and I'm not. So instead here's a request for help. If you've got things figured out, can you share your thoughts on any of these topics:

- DEFINING ADOPTION: What simple, kid-friendly definition of adoption do you use in your family?

- BIRTH PARENTS: How do you discuss your child's birthmother and birthfather? What terms have you settled on (I'm using birthmother and birthfather just for the sake of discussion here). At what age did you start talking to your child about the fact that she had a birthmother/birthfather?

- WHY DIDN'T THEY KEEP ME?: How do you approach (or plan to approach) this topic in your family? What do you say to your child when she asks (in one form or another) "Why did my parents give me up?" How much detail do you go into?


I titled this post "Part 1" because I'd like for this to be an ongoing discussion. Maybe we could even have a few guest hosts who have this all dialed in for Part 2. I can't be the only person in the world who has an entire bookshelf devoted to adoption and still needs to learn more about this, can I? Anyhow, clearly I need to go reread some of those books, and I also hope to learn from others so that talking about adoption isn't quite as hard.


  1. Wow, the first response!

    ok, so we've always gone with simplicity, but truthful. We don't have any details so our conversations center around the fact that we don't know anything about their birth parents.

    Amelia is almost 7 so we've talked about the one child policy & poverty, but in general terms. All this started when she was 2-ish. Right about the time she started asking when she was going to get big boobs. ha!

    I recently had an eye-opening experience. At 43 I JUST realized that my paternal grand-parents (who lived close by & I saw frequently) had heavy accents. I'm trying to keep this in mind going forward when talking to the girls about their past. Sometimes even the most obvious things (and conversations)are invisible.

    I'll do my best, keep answering questions, but accept that they will understand in their own time.

  2. Anonymous3/06/2009

    There are some great children's books that are written for Ro and Ree's ages about adoption. You can go onto Amazon.com or contact a local children's bookstore in your area and ask for recommendations. You will be impressed with how well they are written and they are great vehicles for discussion.

  3. I am one of the folks that voted for this topic. I've been following your blog since late in our wait...3 years ago. Our little sweetie is just 3 months younger than yours. We live up in Oregon and are acquainted with D, K2, S2 and H2. Anyhoo....we are at the same point you are at right now. We've had some of the same conversations with our daughter but, she really seems resistant to talking about it too much (which is a surprise since she is such an inquisitive child). I'm curious if your girls ever seem resistant to the conversation or, seem troubled by it at all?
    And....Thanks so much for starting this conversation thread. Great idea!

  4. SOOOOO glad you brought this up. My twins are about a year younger than yours and I don't know you but I do get alot of great info from your blog. :) I'm looking forward to peoples responses because I too will be dealing with this in the next year. Also our situation is a bit more complicated because we have a bio child almost the same age as the girls. How do I explain that one, that one of the 3 grew in mommy's tummy but the other 2 didn't. It's hard topic. They are all my babies.

  5. Hey, my son is adopted through a step-parent adoption- so I guess the terms are a little different, but I wanted to add my 2 cents... Squiggles is a well adjusted little boy whose birth father walked out when he turned 2. That being said, my husband quickly grew found of him (my son) and after we got married.. yada, yada, yada... We went through the process of giving him my husbands last name. My son being 5 at the time wanted to know what it all meant.. So this is what we told him.. We told him that his birth father wasn't ready to be a daddy. That he couldn't afford to be a daddy or a husband. That this man gave up all his rights as a "father figure" to put you in this home permanently. Squiggles understands that its costly to have a child.. There are things that he "wants" to have, but that my ex could not provide for us. He told his CASA supervisor this and many other things at his hearing. (SMART KID) Squiggles asks questions, but we decide if he is ready for the next step of them. He just recently found out he has siblings, but he will probably NEVER see them. As far as keeping it open- Winston knows he's different- i mean any body can see that he is chocolate and we are vanilla.... ( :)

  6. I found" when I was born in China" was the best book to explain the whole government policy and built on that. We called the bio parents birth or biological and we have said that what they look like and some of their traits are from them and some form living in our family. We said no they weren't born sisters but are now and for life. We tried to be honest and did so very the very youngest time. Lots of time we said I don't know! and I wish I did.
    Our girls are now 13,12 and 11 and I am in China now with the younger two and big sis was here last year. We are volunteering at a foster home near a village probably much like one they came from. They are being educated! Good luck.....you will do the right thing.

  7. Nichole3/06/2009

    Our girls are twins also and Turned 4 in Jan. We talk so much about how they were born in China and all about waiting, and coming to get them and bring them home to live with us forever. Because we talk so much about China I have been calling their bio parents their China Mommy and Daddy. Sometimes I think they understand that they were born in their China Mommys tummy and sometimes they ask if they were in my tummy. So I just keep talking about it until someday it clicks.

    I think I talk about it much like you do. I put it into a scrapbook/lifebook so they can look at pictures with the story. I also added a mirror to the page about birthparents so I can ask them to look in it and imagine what their China Mommy and Daddy might look like. Like if they have the same eyes and nose and silly smile.

    I love that you are so open and honest on your blog and I look forward to other peoples ideas too. I often struggle with what to say also.

  8. I am a lurker here(love the blog)and haven't commented before. This entry is really relevant to what i'm going through right now. My daughter Sally, also born in china, is turning 6 tomorrow actually and we've handled talking about adoption very much how you have, until recently when it seems a lightbulb went off and all the things we've told her all these years just came together and it seems she suddenly 'gets' it. What being adopted means, the term birthmother, the fact that she didn't grow in my tummy. She brings up her birthmother about once every couple weeks these days.(started about 4 months ago). It's usually at a time when we're feeling particularly close and snuggly, and she'll suddenly get very sad and say, "I miss my birthmother". She was one when she came to us and had been in an orphanage the whole time, so she doesn't 'remember' her birthmother, but it's clear to me and my husband that she's really just processing the whole damn thing(being adopted, being different, feeling she doesn't have words for yet, etc.). I, like you, fumble for words and sometimes feel more successful than others, but one thing that has helped me and seems to help Sally is that I always validate what she's feeling. We'll say things like, "I know you're sad" and just hold her when she cries. Then, in simple ways, we tell her what we know to be true. We tell her that we'd like to be able to find her birthmother(which is true) but don't think that it's very likely. These talks were strange and a bit scary for me at first because it's hard to see Sally cry. But I'm glad that she's talking and processing and I've been able to find the words as needed. Hope this help. Rumor Queen is always wise and she has some posts on this subject.

  9. I think you have a WONDERFUL approach!! With our family - like yours, it's quite obvious that our daughter was adopted. However, with us, people are quite confused when they see an Asian baby with blond hair. And, I have been asked if my husband is Chinese. Thank you for sharing this post. We too were wondering how we will be handling the topic of adoption and answering our daughter's questions. We've been fans of your blog prior to your referral, and you gave us something to hold onto while we waited for our referral. For that, we thank you. We've been a family for nine months now. Please come by and visit our blog. Thanks again for sharing!
    Jan, John & Jillian Rose

  10. I was adopted at 17 months. I don't remember ever having a conversation with my parents about it. It was very simply just always known and accepted and not a big deal. I don't think I asked a lot of questions but that's more because my parents aren't the most open of people. That's one aware where I hope I do better with my kids.

    My kids are 6, 6 and 3. The 6 year olds know I was adopted and will sometimes ask questions. When asked if I grew in Mamaw's belly like they grew in mine I simply say no, that I grew in someone else's belly. She couldn't take care of me so Mamaw and Papaw got to adopt me. I then say "Isn't that great? Because now I have a sister and you have cousins, etc. etc." It's fairly simplistic.

    With these kind of conversations I think it's best to just relax and let the kids lead you on the way. I don't think there are wrong answers to their questions. Just be honest and forthcoming!

  11. Thank you for this post M3!

    Our son, also 3, was adopted domestically as a newborn. We "talk" about his story, read books and look at his scrapbook, but, to date, I don't think he GETS it.

    Like you, I want to be ready for when he does and I want to make sure I answer his questions "right".

    I look forward to this series and all the feedback you will undoubtedly receive!

    Thanks again.

  12. You know your children best. You know what they can emotionally handle and what are the best words.

    Lilly is almost 7 and we've always used adoption language in our home because David and I were both adopted.

    However, we could tell that she wasn't (and still isn't) ready for the "heavy" stuff. She knows about a birthmother/father in China and that they couldn't take care of her. We're looking at pictures of our trip and we're hoping to try the video again soon. Apparently it wasn't as exciting as Sprout...so she bailed early.

    We talk about China A LOT and how she was born there. We don't push her with the other stuff because anything past a few minutes just glazes it over. One mistake we'll never make (that my parents made) was that she "doesn't care" she was adopted...and that she doesn't look like mom and dad. My parents never talked about adoption in our home and I grew up thinking it was a tabboo subject and that I wasn't as loved as my younger sister who was their biological child. I do have an older brother who upon being asked responded that it just doesn't matter to him that he was adopted. Every child is different and we as parents SHOULD know them best.

    Good Luck!

  13. Hi M3,

    My daughter is only 2.5 so we don't have the talk of adoption very frequently. Once in awhile we watch the video I made for her about her adoption story, look at photos of her in Guatemala, and I've even written her a short little story about her birthmom, her, and us. As I understand it in Chinese adoptions there is not any (or much) info given about the biological parents? With Guatemalan adoptions we are given their names, children's names, towns they are from, age, birthdate, I.D number, etc. So we are able to share a tad more info.

    I mostly tell her "See, that's when you were a baby in Guatemala. Mommy & Daddy came on an airplane to pick you up!" - I guess we're much much more simplistic with our words. We also have the added layer of a foster mother to explain - who cared for her for 16 months.

    I think you're on the right track though. :)

  14. Anonymous3/07/2009

    I am an avid reader of your blog, and although I don't have any adopted babies of my own I have friends who do and who are. I can imagine this would be hard.

    One story I heard was that God gave the child two moms. One was special in that she kept her safe inside until the day she was born, but then she loved her so very much and wanted to make sure that she had the best life possible and knew that her mom and dad that were picked for her by God were waiting for her, so she gave her to someone else to watch over and take care of her until her new mommy and daddy could come and get her.


  15. Anonymous3/07/2009

    I highly recommend making lifebooks for your girls, if you haven't already. My daughter has a toddler lifebook with lots of pictures that focuses on our and her story in an age-appropriate manner (without the heavy topics of abandonment and such). This sits in our living room on a shelf with other photo albums. Then I am almost finished with her lifebook, which includes everything we know (and don't know) with all her personal information, such as where and when she was found and other details that we consider to be her private info.
    We bring out her toddler lifebook to look at with her and she brings it out herself to share with us or look at alone. I took me almost a year to get the wording how I wanted it so all we have to do is just read it to her. This has been the best practice for us. This adoption talk isn't always easy but it's easier when we have a script. After a year of reading this together, we can talk 'spontaneously' quite easy. We just came back from China with her little brother last month. Now she has all kinds of questions.
    We explain adoption like this... Adoption made us a family! Adoption is a word that describes how a child is born into one family but is raised by another. A family that raises an adopted child is just as 'real' as a family that is created by birth.
    We have 4 simple paragraphs talking about her birth parents, which we ended up calling her Chinese parents.
    Sorry for the long comment. If you want to see any of her lifebook, just let me know. I wrote it together with a yahoo group and would love to share it.
    good luck,

  16. I love that you are anticipating these questions and your responses to them. I'm sure you will get many thoughtful and compassionate ideas from your readers that you will personalize for your dear little girls.

  17. Anonymous3/07/2009

    Just being open about the to talk about adoption is where you begin as you have. The girls will tell your what you need to learn next and how, even though they are twins each one may developmentally/emotonally approach their adoption thoughts differently. One thing I can tell you about for us is that some of the hardest questions that have come my way from our 3 girls have always been what I hadn't planned for and when I wasn't ready. Just keep educating yourself. My oldest is 2 qand I found out 3 years ago that the loving story I re-told her for years had added to her rage, I never knew it, but finally at age 9 during a rage she stared through me with the eviliest of eyes and said "if you hadn't prayed for me" my MoM wouldn't of had to give me away". Of course I said, "Honey that is not how it happened and we spent some time clarifying... From that moment on, things have changed for her.
    Now my other two just seemed to roll along about, one just really wants to know if I think her birth mother breast fed her.
    It is ever evolving...

  18. My mother died when I was born and my father remarried. I remembered as a child my step mom talking about when my brother was born...but never me, My dad and step mom made a decision not to tell me anything until 2nd grade...Big Mistake! Fast forward...when we adopted Catie I remembered my situation and swore that we would talk about it often. I have really let Love You Like Crazy Cakes be our springboard. Catie just turned four and has started relating her pictures in China to the book.

    She knows she has birth parents, but doesn't know what that means. She also knows that she was born in China.

    I know when she gets older the harder questions will come, but we try to keep the adoption conversation open and appropriate for her.

    To others this might not be funny..but I love when she goes to church, sitter, school and has a new teacher. Catie always insists on telling the worker her story....love to watch the workers eyes bug out of their heads because they aren't sure what to say. Makes me laugh!

  19. Anonymous3/07/2009

    We have a lifebook which tells our daughter's story from birth to joining our family and includes every scrap of detail (since there's so little) that we could muster from her referral information and all photos we could get our hands on of her SWI and the people there. We read it often and talk about how everyone is born (a concept which is not obvious to the three-year old set) but not everyone stays in the family they are born into. Some of this language I picked up from "How I Was Adopted" by Joanna Cole. With a new baby on the way in the family this book might be a resource for you even if you don't want to share it with the girls yet. It's a pretty frank discussion of the matter. Also, for what it's worth, we use the terms "China Mommy", "China Daddy", and "Forever Day".

  20. Thanks for opening up this topic! As a waiting mom (almost 3 yrs so far) I've thought about this for a long time (oh... about 3 yrs now LOL!) and still have no idea how I'm gonna handle it. I'm gonna bookmark these posts and come back and read often. Looking forward to all the advice.

  21. I was so glad that you wrote this post. I felt like maybe I as the ONLY Mama out there who was hesitant about these discusions. Don't get me wrong we used the "talk early and often" concept too. Until I figured out that it kept re-inforcing Evelyn's need to feel completely ours- no questions asked. Last week she wanted to take a Chinese Baby away from her Chinese Mother- she said " yes she has a mama but not one like you". Interesting.
    I realize now that I might have to talk about her birthparents with her, but she seems totally and stubbornly not interested. I actually said "Evelyn you do know that you had a mother that is Chinese and that's where you grew and was born from?" She said "yes" and walked out of the room and has never said another word about it.
    That's where we are. We answer all of her questions and tell her stories. Any story of China that she wants to hear. Although these stories only begin at the story of "the Big Room", where we first met her. I can not go further back than that. Someday she will ask and I will keep it simple. I have just recently started using words like "orphanage" and "orphanage aunties".
    One time we had a conversation about her cousin growing in my sister's belly and how she did not grow in mine but in her Chinese Mother's. She was pissed to put it mildy. She was mad at me for about three days. Eventually we talked more and I told her that families were made in differnt ways, that each way was magical in it's own way. That sometimes Mama's got their babies after they grew in their own tummy, that some Mama's got their babies from China or Guatamala or Russia. That some Mama's got their babies from right here in the U.S. I told her that all Mama's just know where to get their babies, we use our hearts and a bit of magic and each way is wonderful and amazing. But my favorite way was to go to China with my husband and meet my daughter there, to me that was the most magical way.
    This is what works for us. She doesn't seen to ask many questions about why she was in an Orphanage or why her Chinese Mother did not keep her. One day she will, when she is ready to hear. I go by her and what she asks and what she wants to know, then I answer her as best I can. Sometimes I cry,sometimes I get it right.
    It is what it is.

  22. Thanks for discussion! We are in a similar position with Em. She is 3.5 and we talk "early and often" with her as well... although I do stumble over the right ways to discuss some of the harder topics.

    She has asked why she looks different. I think she was talking about her eyes not "matching" mine and I introduced the idea of birthmother and birthfather. I told her she grew in her birthmother's tummy and they gave her her looks... but she just stared at me like I was crazy. HAHA!! So... I'm not sure how much of it she understands.

    Like you, we read a ton of books on adoption and I figure I'll answer the questions as they come... even in my awkward way!

    I am working on a more comprehensive life-book (she has a toddler version) now... and it is helping me work out the right way of presenting information. It helps force me to really decide on the appropriate language I want to use with her.

  23. De-lurking for a second to say a few things: 1. I love your blog, follow it religiously. 2. Your girls are so cute, and with a LID date slowly approaching, your blog has been a source of hope. 3. With an adopted toddler (domestic), who is African American (we're not), there's no hiding the fact he's adopted. While our situation is different, as we see Grant's birthmom and birth sisters all the time, we've taken the following approach: it doesn't matter how you talk about it; it just matters that you do. Grant calls his birthmom and birth sisters his family, sometimes, he just calls them his mom and sisters. Here's my point: I think we can stress over names, over the story, over the specifics, but I don't think you can talk too much about any of the details. While Grant doesn't understand half of what I tell him ("your birthmom loves you so much, but she didn't have the resources to take care of another baby), I still say it. By giving it voice, it'll make it easier down the road, as I will have said some of these things again and again and again. I think you're doing a bang up job, and this whole post is to say "don't stress it"; all adopted kids are going to have an identity crisis at some point (all people, actually), and all we can do is best prep them for it with honesty and love and then be there to hold them when they experience pain or confusion.

  24. great topic-- we have bio and adopted kids and we too have taken the" talk about it often" approach-- i want ALL of my kids to see adoption as we do-- another way to build a family. my 3 yo (from china) knows she was born in china, that we flew on a plane to get her- and she know that about her brother as well. if i ask her if she grew in my tummy- she says no- i tell her she grew in my heart and that God picked her out for us. i have just recetnly started talking about WHY and where she was left-- my 5 yo has been asking about that- and she understands the 1 child policy- i tell her and my 3 yo that her birthparents loved her soo much that they left her at a police station- and that we don't know exactly why, but they knew that they couldn't take care of her and wanted her to have a better life. she looks at her photo album a lot- loves to see herself with no hair, etc. we live in a community and go to a church where there are A LOT of adopted children- mostly internationally and from lots of different countries, which helps:)

  25. You are right, it does get easier to talk to them about it. The first time I used "Birthmother" I nearly fainted. It was horrendous to say it. When Lily was Litte we used to say, "adopting you was the best thing Daddy and I have ever done and I hope one day your birthmother will how much we thank her>' She was too little to grasp it but it got us used to saying it and she got used to hearing it. Now, at age 6, she is aware of her birthmother. She attaches notes to ballons to send to her during harvest moon festival. We answer whatever she asks. I have always read China adoption related kiddie books to her and am now restarting that with Rosie.
    As for, Why didn't they keep me? She understands that China has very strict rules and the people cannot make all the decisions that we can make. One of those rules is, the one child policy. She knows her birthparents loved her but if they had kept her they would have got into a terrible amount of trouble.
    Use this pregnant Aunt as an opportuinty to explain how some children stay with birthparents and how some have to find their forever families.

    M3, it is rotten and hard but you will be fine and so will the girls. I know I don't comment much but I read daily and if you should want to email, feel free.

  26. My daughter will be three in April April will also be the 2-year anniversary of our adoption. She asks me to tell her "my story" every night at bed. It started because I Love You Like Crazy Cakes was one of her favorite bedtime stories. One night, instead of reading the book, I followed the books format to tell her story. She especially loves when I say we packed toys and books and clothes and food just for her.

    A few weeks ago, I put her story into a Publisher booklet. I added photos of our trip to China. I included photos of what we did during our wait like painting the nursery or daddy making her a Build-a-Bear Detroit Tiger. I also put in photos I had of her SWI and wrote about what she was doing according to the information we were given. Her book ends with a picture of her and her first birthday cake, five days after we got home.

    She loves looking at it on the computer. My next step will be getting it printed so she has a hard copy.

  27. We adopted our daughter when she was four so our conversations have been a bit different. She remembers her life in China and has more answers than we have honestly. However we have had to talk about the baby in the tummy situation. It was a bit easier for me because I grew up with my stepmother (who she knows as grandmother) but knows I had a biological mothers. So I explained to her that she has a china mama and she grew in her tummy like I grew in my mom's tummy, but that she will grow up with me like I grew up with grandma. We talk about her china mommy a lot and she will say that she has two mommy's and two daddy's.
    I don't know what I would do if she was younger. It's been much easier to be age appropriate because she is older.

  28. Anonymous3/07/2009

    Hi M's!
    The girls will let you know when they are ready for more. It will take time and they are still young. Keeping it positive is the best plan.
    It broke my heart to tell Christopher he didn't grow in my tummy, like Ryan. He was 3 and didn't really get it. We used the word adoption long before he could 'get it', but it helped to make the term familiar.
    Christopher would ask questions about his adoption when we were in the car, driving to school or the market. He was about 7 when the big questions started. He knew the basics, but would ask the hardest questions in the middle of traffic (and I am proud I never crashed!) Why.... the hardest to answer. Our answer was "because she loved you so much. She wanted you to have a wonderful life, but could not give you a safe home, warm food, and the toys that you like." We always tell him how much we really wanted him, and needed him to make us a family. We have pictures, but he doesn't want to see them, so we don't push.
    At school, they did a unit on genetics. We talked about how his eye color and hair color, and really bad teeth came from his birthmother. His music talents came from his genes, but his piano and lessons come from us and together they make him who he is.
    Love them, that is the best message you can give them. Tell them how wonderful your life has been since the girls made you a family.

  29. I'm still waiting so have absolutely no suggestions but I've been following this blog


    for quite awhile.

  30. You have a lump in my throat. I'm nervous about it, too, because I want Ruby to feel loved and know she is safe, but also understand that the way our family came together will inevitably be different from classmates. Keep sharing - I'm a couple years behind you but love this important post.

  31. You're not the only one who has problems! Our twins (Korea) are just a couple of months older than your two. They came home at age 6 months.

    We've talked alot about 'being born in Korea, coming home to mommy and daddy' etc. forever... honestly, more for OUR benefit than theirs! It gets easier the more you practice.

    Our two are NOT ready to hear the word "mother" or "mommy" if it isn't in reference to me. I tried one day to say 'birthmom' and I got the "YOU ARE MY MOM!" response so I changed it, for now, to, "the lady who's tummy who grew in."

    It sounds so generic and disrespectful to me, but that's what the kids need right now, so that's what they get.

    They DO listen, though. Out of the blue I'm getting questions such as, "Mom? Do we have TWO mommies?" and "Mom... I was a good and happy baby in Korea because those people took care of me." etc.

    We tell their story in a very basic way right now... and we talk alot about how God had His hand in everyone's decisions. We also talk about how sometimes we don't understand WHY things have to happen the way they do, but that we trust that God is taking care of us and has a plan for us no matter what... the kids really seem to understand that part... and at night they even thank God for "my Korea."

    I don't blog too much about our talks because I'm not sure that the kids someday would appreciate the world knowing about our intimate conversations in detail... but I think it's SO IMPORTANT that us AP's have some guidance and support... so thanks for bringing it up!

  32. Our favorite book that always sparks a discussion is "The Three Names of Me" by Mary Cummings.

  33. What terms have you settled on (I'm using birthmother and birthfather just for the sake of discussion here).
    Don't stress it. Kids have an amazing way of coming up with their own names (BobBob for example).

  34. We have always told the girls adoption is a promise. They still knowingly tell me, "Mom, adoption is a promise." And they say it with a very serious tone, which cracks me up.

    The best thing I ever did was re-write the Jamie Lee Curtis book "Tell Me Again" with their story. I'd be happy to send you our text if you want.

    The worst thing I ever did was refer to their birth mother as "that lady in China." The term has stuck and no matter how many times I say "birth mother" they politely say back, "Do you mean that lady in China?"

    And despite my best efforts they still think all babies are born in China. :)

  35. One other funny story . . . the girls are currently obsessed with Mary Poppins. They know Mary Poppins is a nanny. They also know they had a nanny in China. So, they now look through the book "When You Were Born in China" and look for Mary Poppins.

    Oh my.

  36. Lia just turned 3 and, like you, I've always talked about when she was adopted, that she was born in China, etc. Those words are fairly easy.

    But, also like you, the words birth parents do not come easily for me. Lia will say quite matter-of-factly that she 'doesn't have a Daddy.' She doesn't seem upset by this (right now) but she really does have a birth father...she's just not old enough to understand. We recently added a baby cousin to our family which launched a lot of discussion about having babies in tummies, etc. I have a student who was adopted from China as a baby, also by a single mom. I actually asked her mom at conferences one time how she talked about this topic and I loved her words. I've started using them with Lia. I tell her that some Mommies grow their babies in their tummies and some Mommies adopt their babies. I know it's not a terribly detailed answer...but it's working for me right now. Hopefully, I'll figure out what to say before the next round of questions start.

  37. The thing that threw me a curveball is that my daughter (6yrs) is wondering who else in China is related to her - not just birthparents. She wonders if she has a sibling and if her birth grandparents are still living. I was prepared for birthparent talk but somehow didn't even think about the other relatives.

  38. It's hard, but I think you are saying exactly the right things, and all the other commenters have also given great ideas. My son, who is now 30, was a domestic adoption as an infant. We talked about adoption often, just in normal conversation when he was little. I never wanted to say, "I have something to tell you", but wanted him to grow up knowing and accepting it and knowing it made no difference that he came to us a different, but very special way.

    When he was in 4th grade his class started studying genetics before I knew it and his teacher didn't realize he was adopted. She called me that night very apologetic, saying she had asked Jon where he got his blue eyes. She said he told the whole story of how he was chosen and didn't know his birth parents or who he had gotten his blue eyes from, but that everyone told him he looked like his granddaddy (my dad) and he felt he fit into our family just perfectly. She said all the children were very interested and she thought he enjoyed being the center of attention for awhile and getting to tell his story. I was very proud of him.

    Occasionally, he would ask a question out of the blue, (usually at the most inopportune time, so be prepared for that! LOL), so I knew he thought about it, but after I answered his questions as honestly as I could, and gave a little reassurance and love, he would run off to play. As the girls get older, I would follow their cues.

    Your girls are adorable!

  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. We are still waiing for China, LID 4-25-07, but, my wife and I both follow your blog and...well, we are trying to patiently wait for even a part of what you have been experiencing. I have no brilliant advice to offer, just that I hope to be in your place someday. Thank you for sharing with us, Ro and Ree are amongst my favorite kids, even though I will probably never meet them. Cheers from Chilly Washington!

  41. Thank you for sharing. I am so afraid in how she is going to take it since she already got upset that she wasn't at our wedding.

  42. mamato2chinagirls3/07/2009

    I happened across your blog and saw your discussion about adoption. I have 2 daughters adopted from China. The oldest is almost 8 years old and the youngest is 4 years.

    We have always talked about adoption as it being a normal way to enter a family. We explained that families are joined by love- not by biology. That we love people who become our family by marriage and by adoption. So this is the way they explain it to others. That adoption is like marriage and you love someone sooo much that you have a ceremony to make them a part of your family. EXCEPT adoption is forever. (unlike marriages)

    I have older sons and the oldest became a Dad several years ago. This REALLY brought out the ?s about "why was I in someone else's tummy?" and birth mothers. The two girls are totally different in how much information they want and ?s they ask.

    The best book we found, the one that made both girls happy was Xinran's "Motherbridge of Love". (you can find it at Amazon) The illustrations tell the story with the pregnant Chinese woman back to back with the adoptive mom. "There once was two women who never knew each other. One you don't know and the other you call Mother".
    I choked up the first couple of times reading it but it did open the door to talking about pregnancy and adoption in a very real way.

    We started with the story of the one child policy and poverty and perhaps those were the reasons a baby might be "left to be found" but then we visited my older daughter's SWI and heard a different story - told in front of her!
    So we now say "We have No idea why your parents could not raise you. We are thankful that a red thread led you to us because you fit just perfectly into our family"

    We have decided that this is the best answer- not a guess that may turn out to be wrong. The adopted teens tell me that they want truths- not stories or guesses.

    It is a hard subject and I have listened to the now teenagers adopted from China by my friends. They want "truth", so I tell the truth as I know it.

    I noticed that my 8 year old now answers people's ?s before we can. She will reply to the "Is that your real mom?" with "She is my real mom but I have birth parents in China". I always answered that ? with "Of course she is really my daughter. She was adopted from China as a baby and has been mine since.

    We call them birthparents. We include the father as much as the mother ever since an adopted friend suddenly realized she had a birth father too--she was so shocked it was funny. She said everyone always talked about birth moms and no one said a word about a birth father and then she learned about the birds and the bees and figured out "a Chinese guy had to been involved".

    Talk to adopted teenagers- they are funny and full of insight.

  43. Alright, so I'm going to be the minority here...a few quick facts.. We've been home from China for 7 months..the Eggroll will be 3 in the beginning of April...I'm an adult adoptee, and my mother was also adopted...
    Why in the world are we putting so much emphasis on "the story"? Why in the world do we tell our kids that we are a "forever family" and then in the next breath emphasize the fact that they are different? The idea that every story must be told, that every party must be identified seems nuts to me.
    I agree that kids should know that they're adopted (I've known from the very beginning), but, the term "adopted" should be no different than 2 hands or 2 feet. It just is.
    I grew up knowing that I was adopted, that families come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and that my family didn't look like the family next door. And it was never any big deal. Contrary to one commenter, no, I never had any identity crisis...
    When we get to the questions, we answer them briefly but truthfully. We emphasize the present, not the past. We celebrate the holidays of everyone's heritage, the German, the Irish and the Chinese...we do it because that's our family...our family, right now, today is German, Irish and Chinese...just like the family down the street is Irish and Jordanian, and the family next door to them is Dutch, Irish and African American....

  44. Anonymous3/08/2009

    Hi! I've been lurking for a while, but I thought I would chime in with my two cents. You're doing great with your girls, and you have an absolutely beautiful family!

    I was adopted along with my twin brother when we were little, and while it was just by our grandparents, the issue of adoption was still there and just why everything happened the way it did. My parents/grandparents were always very upfront about everything, not exactly shoving the information at us at every possible moment, but telling us snippets of information and stories of when and how we were born. By the time we were really old enough to grasp what adoption was, it was no big deal, because the idea and everything had been introduced to us earlier in simpler terms. The fact was that we had always been loved, and that was all that mattered.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that you're doing a wonderful job already, but you can breathe a little. The fact is that you love the girls and they obviously love you, and so long as you emphasize that over everything it all will turn out fine. Yes, the stories of why/how/where etc do matter, because naturally the girls will become curious eventually, but the best thing you can do is keep on loving them.

    Rant over. :D


    (Oh, and your blog ROCKS. I hope to adopt someday and every update you make brightens my world a little. Just throwing that out there haha.)

  45. Sounds like you are doing a real good job already! One of my favorite blogs, where I learn a lot - she has two daughters from China and they talk A LOT about adoption:
    The mom actually went back to her daughters SWI (which was where my daughter was at the time!) and got to see my Mia while we were waiting to travel to China - amazing!
    enjoy :)

  46. I love that you are doing this series M3. I have no words of advice for you because I've not gotten to this point yet, but as a mother I do know that open communication is huge with children. I can not wait until part 2. Thank you so much for doing this, it is a great education for those of us waiting.

  47. I'm glad you're doing this too! It helps to get lots of advice. Here's my piece:

    Mae (3.5) is a very intuitive kiddos and asked about her adoption very early, around 18 months. we see a counselor once a month for her anyway (she has some anger!) and she came up with a nice plan. we made her a book. it's not our OUR journey to her, but rather, what we know about HER life before she met us. She LOVES this. And sure there are things I don't know, so we say, "I don't know. Maybe this happened. What do you think?" She's asked if her Chinese mommy was mean (a way to ask why she was given up, I think) and we talked a long time about that. No, she wasn't mean but she was probably sad. We talk alot about what we don't know, and that's ok, since it's the truth. I think the best thing I've learned about this is what you've already done, which is to always be there when there's a question, even if you don't know the answer. It's ok to not know the answer. Because Mae has older brothers, we've even gotten into the 1 child policy! I don't think she understands it, but she's heard it and know that in China mommies can only have one baby. I could go on and on. I think this might turn into one huge cathartic discussion!

  48. We use birth mother and birth father or china mother and father. My best piece of advice is to be straight forward and no nonsense about the fact that they didn'y grow in your tummy. If you approach that fact with dread and sadness, then they will pick up on that and believe that there is something wrong with that fact.

    At this age, you may want to present this fact as "you grew in a woman in China's womb until you were ready to be born." Sometimes using mother or mommy to describe someone other than you is confusing to preschool children.

    Claire just turned three and hasn't asked about these issues yet. Sydney at age 4 is much more into discussing her life story.

  49. We have had a few conversations. Maylin's friend's mom had a baby. So Maylin asked if she came out of my tummy. I told her no because she was born to me in a very special way. I explained in bried, short terms, how a special lady in China had her in her tummy and how we went and got her after she came out. A few days later, she told me her doll Alley was adopted. She also asked if the nanny holding her in her Gotcha Day picture was her China mommy. I really think she comes up with these things because we talk matter a factly, just like we do about our bio kids birth. My hubby found out he was adopted at age 30...it devistated him. We are upfront. No hiding here. We want it to be a natural thing too. Great job M3.

  50. Hi M3, when my first came home from VN, I wrote her a song which included all those words that we tend to stumble over, at the beginning (eg birth mother). It was written to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine" and I just changed all the words. I sang it to dd1 for over 7 years, and only recently has she stopped asking for it. It helped us both in so many ways. I highly recommend that :)

    Another thing that I've done is when I compliment my daughter's beautiful eyes, or lovely hair or intelligence, I say that she must have gotten it from her birth mother/father. That her birth mother/father must be very beautiful/handsome, and have lovely hair and be very very smart. She really likes when I do that.

    I've also read (repeatedly over the years) When You Were Born in Vietnam as it very nicely lays the groundwork for many many discussions. Bibliotherapy is wonderful!!

    You're a thoughtful person. You'll do what needs to be done for your girls.

    dd Sunshine 7 3/4 VN
    dd Brilliance 2 3/4 China

  51. My daughter is just slightly younger than yours. We have been saying goodnight to the moon every night for about a year and a half. We wave to the moon and say Goodnight, moon. Goodnight China. Within the past 6 months or so we have started saying goodnight to her birth family in China. Sometimes my daughter says goodnight birth family and sometimes she gives a report which ranges from "I had fun at school today" to "I am tired" or whatever is on her mind. We have friends who have had babies in the past year and she knows babies are in bellies and that she wasn't in mine. It was at that point we started really talking about a birth family in China and that some people (like her mom and dad) stay with their birth families forever and some people (like her, like some of our friends and family) have a birth family and the family that is their family forever. It is hard at this age, and I need practice too, because there is alot they don't understand yet and still we owe it to our kids to be able to give them the information that they need when they need it. Practice makes perfect, as they say.

  52. DEFINING ADOPTION: We’ve talked a lot to Lydia about adoption. We told her we adopted her. We told her that adopting her meant promising to love her forever. By adopting her we promised to always be there for her and be her forever family. When mommy and daddy’s make that promise it’s called marriage but when parents make that promise to children that’s called adoption. As for how she relates to us. She knows mommy has a sick tummy and cannot make a baby and that is why we found a baby who needed a mommy to adopt. The most beautiful moment in my life happened when my daughter said to me…I love you mommy and I adopt you back.

    -BIRTH PARENTS: We started at three actively discussing birthparents but they were never hidden or not discussed so that’s kinda approximate. We use the term first parents. They are the tummy parents who couldn’t keep her. They are the ones who loved her first and we love them very much and hope she does too. (Which she says she does at 4 ½.)

    DIDN'T THEY KEEP ME?: We tell her we do not know and that we likely never will know. We have told her that she was placed in a safe place with a note and that her first parents wanted her to be taken care of by people who were better able to do so. We have told her her first mommy and daddy were likely very poor. (And where she was left suggests that very much might have been the case.) She has a picture of the man who cared for her framed in her room and we call him Shushu. She colours pictures for him and for first mommy.

    OTHER QUESTIONS WOULD YOU LIKE TO DISCUSS? Lydia often talks about finding first mommy and we are honest with her about how difficult that might be, but that when she gets bigger we will help her. She is unaware we have already started looking. We do stay in contact with Shushu though and we will definitely make sure they meet when we return to China when she is 10. She has seen pictures of her finding location and her 2 orphanages. So far all is comfortable and she is doing well. She has created her “brother” who she uses to help her understand adoption and when we talk about it she talks about how he has gone through the same thing. I talk about this a lot at Loving Lydia. IF you are interested I am at http://lovinglydia.typepad.com/

  53. (delurking here)

    We have two children, both adopted from South Korea. Our son is 5.5, and in typical boy fashion is oblivious despite all our talking about adoption. The one time I felt like we had a breakthrough and he really got the whole "not growing in mommy's belly" he had a shocked look on his face, looked at my husband and said, "in yours??" Seriously oblivious. LOL We continue to talk to him at every opportunity using terms similar to yours. We have refrained from using birth mother because I don't like confusing myself as mommy and birthmother, but I would love to come up with something a bit more respectful than the lady whose tummy you grew in. Our 2.5 year old is a girl, and I am anticipating ALOT more questions from her (and her story is much more difficult to tell), so I am constantly on the search for a better way to talk to both of them.

    I am not typically emotional, but seem to choke up with tears the few times our son has asked specific questions. We are doing the best we can by sticking to the plan to talk about it often. I need to get moving on a life book, but they intimidate me so much.

  54. Anonymous3/08/2009

    Linked here from Anne's blog. We have a different type of adoption: open domestic. So what we use might not work perfectly for you, but here is some of what we tell our daughter about birth parents (even though she's too young to understand yet): Before you were born you were growing in R***'s tummy, but she and G*** couldn't take care of any baby (filling in the because.... when she's old enough to understand and handle the information). R and G loved you so much, even though you weren't even born yet, that they wanted to find a family who could take care of you and so they asked H*** (our SW) to help them. H*** helped them find us...etc. The key here, according to what I've read, is to assert that the birth parents "couldn't take care of any baby" rather than "couldn't take care of YOU" as if the children are to blame. It might be harder to explain with a Chinese adoption if the parents were hoping for a boy.

  55. Anonymous3/09/2009

    We have 3 DD, 2 adopted. One 7 the other 4. The 7 yo- we talked about how she was from China (and what a great trip we had) since she has been home (adopted at 2). As she got older, we added in about her birthparents, and about how we'll never know them or why they had to take her to the orphanage. (I still have a hard time saying "abandoned"- so I don't use that word). She knows about China's one child policy, and that it is there because of all the people and they wanted to make sure they had enough food for everyone. (I've heard her tell this story to others). She also knows about how boys have to take care of their parents when they are older (but she is a little fuzzier on this part). The 4 yo knows she is from China, like her sister, but she doesn't seem to get the rest.

    Where things became very interesting is when we brought the (now) 4 yo home (1.5 years ago). The now 7 yo began crying and telling us she missed her birth parents. She made up LOTS (and I mean LOTS) of stories- like she use to go to the beach every morning with her birth mother before breakfast, to how her birth mother would use baking powder when she made pancakes! When this first began, it just totally pulled my heartstrings. Now, I mainly just listen and comfort her.

    The question I dread to hear is "If you say you think my birth mother probably loved me very much and probably thinks of me all the time, and you tell me that you love me very much, how do I know you won't leave me either?" Circumstances of course are totally different in China than the US, and I can understand the answer to that question, but will a child?

  56. Kristine3/09/2009

    I have a 6.5 and 4.5 year old who were born in China. We share the story of the adoption trip much the same way you do. As for birth parents, we mostly talk about birthmom at this point (I can't figure out how to introduce the birthfather without talking about the birds and bees. Yikes!). Anyway, we say all babies are born in a lady's tummy but not all ladies can be mamas. As for the whys, we use Deborah Gray's advice(she has books as well as a video with good info on the topic)...we talk about things babies need and say that some people can't give babies those things so the babies get homes with Mamas and Daddys who can. This list is by NO MEANS restricted to material goods. Someday it will include the "special paper" that couples in China need to become parents. We're not there yet, however. While we can only speculate about the reasons, it does seem to help.

  57. When my daughter (adopted from China also) turned three, I made a photobook for her online, and had it printed and bound and sent to us. It tells her story from her perspective. It was very much of a life book in format.

    Before that, we were very direct about all the ways people become families -- by being born to their mommies, or by being born to a different mommy and then coming to live with their mommies and daddies. So we could look at different families we knew and talk about how so-and-so was born from her birthmother's tummy, and then adopted by her mom and dad, and so-and-so was born from his mommy's tummy, and so on. SO that ground was established. This was all right around the time she started trying to figure out which adults were mommies and daddies, so it worked out.

    In the book, along with tons of big photos, we started by talking about the month and place she was born and what happened next, how her birth family couldn't keep her. I devote a paragraph to saying we don't know why they couldn't and we might never know why. My daughter has a heart defect so we add that we've wondered if it was because they couldn't fix her heart and hoped someone would. But we reinforce that we don't know. And we conclude that paragraph by saying that we think they cared about her, though, because they wrapper her in nice clothing very lovingly and put a bottle with her and put her somewhere where she could be found right away. We included photos of the orphanage and her finding place on that page. Through the rest of the book, we refer to her birthmother as her Chinese mommy (she also had a foster mom whom we call her foster mommy.) We tend to talk about how she had three different mommies who loved her and did important things for her.

    Having the book was and is super-useful. It let us nail down our terminology, for one thing, without it being an on the fly thing. It let us tell -- and celebrate -- her story from her perspective, not tell our story (we explain that "halfway around the world, while you were growing and learning all these things, your mommy and daddy were deciding that they wanted a family" but it's still part of her story, not her as part of our story, if you know what I mean).

    And at first, her primary interest was in the photos. A book she could take down, carry around, look through, tell people about, show to teachers ... yay! Now, she asks to read it every couple of months. It's a way for her to regroup on the facts of her adoption and origin. It's been spectacularly helpful.

    One of the hardest things was to only include one or two representative images per page! I take a lot of photos and it nearly killed me to limit myself. Also, we were lucky to have several photos of her twenty months in China that we could use to flesh out the China portion of her story.

    I made the book as a paperback and got a spare made just in case. The spare is tucked away, and the regular one is easy for her to carry around and something she can use normally and get dogeared so it doesn't get treated like a precious marvel. I wanted it to be another book, not something on a pedestal.

    At this point (4.5 years) she is proud of her interesting background and identifies with China in many ways, but appears totally comfortable with the idea that both she and her baby sister (biologically ours) are equally sisters, equally daughters to us, etc. She likes to rehearse her knowledge, so we take advantage of that whenever she's on the topic, so she can proudly list the ways people make families, etc.

    I would show you a PDF of the book if that would help you. I don't know if you'll be able to email my profile, but I read your blog regularly, so just ask JG to contact you in your next blog post, if you want to see it!

    Good luck and don't worry -- once you get to talking about it, in an offhand way, it won't seem tough -- and the sooner the better!

  58. I just remembered one more thing; no two:

    First of all, we do read I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, as another poster commented, and we read all the parts of it -- we want to emphasize that her Chinese mother was a real person and that we are grateful she had her baby. We also put special flowers in a vase and put them on the side table for our daughter's birthday celebration each year, and we tell her those are in honor of her Chinese mommy and daddy, who brought her into the world at this time x years ago. She has absorbed this without seeming threatened or fascinated. And she really identifies with Crazy Cakes now, in a way she didn't when she was younger and we didn't read all the words.

  59. Anonymous3/09/2009

    My daughter was 3 when we brought her home, so it's a little different for us. She lived with her First Mom for 2 1/2 years, so that's what I refer to her as. I started with the adoption talks early, as I wanted it to be a natural part of our discussions. It wasn't easy, to say the least. The questions about why her Mom gave her up were the hardest, as I didn't have a lot of concrete info to give her. Poverty and all that was pretty much what I told her, and that her mom wanted her to have an oppotunity for education that she just couldn't provide for her. To complicate it, she has 2 older brothers and a sister 18 mos younger that her mom didn't relinquish, so that was tough. You just do the best you can, answer what you can with honesty and it should be OK. What works for some, may not work for others, you have to feel your way through it. Your Mama instincts will lead you as you know your kids better than anyone.

    What really chaps my butt right now is having to deal with all the questions about the stinkin agency we used that was indicted for all the fraud counts for the very program she came to us through. The misinformation and lies they told on all sides make everything that much more questionable. Throughout the indictment and trail prep process I've foung a few things they told us were flat out lies. As much as I tried to shield her from that she knows about it and is pretty po'd. To say the least.

  60. My apologies for how long this is!! I am also a great believer in the lifebook/scrapbook as a tool for starting discussions. Writing it out also gives you the chance to try out the language you’ll use before you have to say the words out loud.

    We adopted my daughter from Taiwan 3 years ago at 2.5 years old. For the first 18 months home, she refused to discuss anything about "Taiwan-China," as she calls it. Her aversion to anything Asian was intense. But I also believe in the “talk early, talk often” approach and knew she needed to have access to her story. We had been talking about adoption from Day 1 in Taiwan and for her 4th birthday I made her a lifebook using a digital scrapbooking program (that way I can update it as she grows). I made it for many of the reasons you mention – I needed to have a tool to keep the line of communication open and I wanted to get my head on straight about how I was going to explain all of this to her when she reached the point that she wanted to discuss it. It wasn’t much of a success at first. She would let us read it to her, but she didn't want to explore the idea that the girl in the book is actually her. But we continued to read it and given any opportunity, I’d talk about Taiwan and how we met and anything else that sprang naturally from our normal interactions with the world. She didn’t seem to care, but I figured that as long as I kept talking and she had access to the information, when she was ready we’d proceed from wherever she wanted to start.

    At about 4.5, she started asking simple questions to which she seemed to want only simple answers. Any attempts by me to keep these conversations going were shut down (usually with her starting to speak all the Spanish words she’s learned on Dora the Explorer.) Then one night in December, completely out of the blue, she came at me with her lifebook folded back to a picture of her birthmom and about a million questions. What followed was the most exhausting 30 minutes of my life as I was grilled by my 5 year old about adoption and her birthmom and what happens when the grown-ups can’t take care of the babies and foster parents and the baby house and on and on and on. Since then it seems the walls have all come tumbling down because it’s an adoption-talk free-for-all at my house. I like to think that we’re getting it right most of the time, but only our daughter will be able to tell me that when she’s old enough to be objective about it. So to answer your questions –

    Adoption – we simply say that families are made in lots of different ways and adoption is just another way for a child to become part of a forever family. Some children are born into a family and some are adopted into a family, some children become part of a family when two parents marry, etc. One way isn’t better or worse than any other.

    Birthparents – we were fortunate to be chosen by our daughter’s birthmother and to have a few pictures of her. We call her “birthmom” or “Taiwan-mom.” The concept of birthfather hasn’t come up yet nor the possibility of birth siblings still in Taiwan. To be honest, I haven’t broached that subject yet, preferring to tackle one issue at a time.

    Why didn’t they keep me – we have told our daughter that her birthmom wasn’t able to take care of her and wanted her to have a better life than she could provide and that she made a very difficult decision when she placed her for adoption – a decision that shows that she loves her and wanted the best for her. It’s a different situation when you don’t have access to that information and both scenarios have some very difficult ideas to try to get your head around.

    My daughter’s story has some twists and turns that will have to eventually come out but that she’s not going to be ready to deal with for many, many years. My challenge is to figure out how to handle some of those things, since I’m not speaking about them specifically now due to her age, so that she doesn’t feel like I’ve kept things from her when she is given the information.

    I’m happy to share lifebook info and access to either of my two blogs. The first one, Bringing Home Zoe, is public. I ended it at the one year anniversary of Gotcha Day but it’s still on the web at http://www.bringing-home-zoe.blogspot.com/. The second one requires permission to view, but it has the posts regarding some of our ongoing adoption/transition issues. If you’re interested, I’ll be glad to send you permission to view it, though don’t feel pressured to do so.

    Bottom line – keep talking, no matter how you do it, and your girls will help you find your way.

    Zoe’s Mom

  61. Please forgive me if others have already made these suggestions. I didn’t have the time to read all the many comments. I have a 5 year old adopted from China at 13 months. I bought the “Coming Home” book http://www.adoptshoppe.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=216 soon after we returned from China. It is a customized book that tells (in simple terms) about adoption. It sounds like you have already covered the story better than the book will. I find that I change the story around as my daughter gets older. She has always loved this book and still chooses it to read on a regular basis. Another idea is doing a lifebook. I have got a rough draft of one but haven’t completed it yet. Some people do a toddler version and then an older version too. I’ll be lucky just to get the older version done!

    Thanks for continuing to blog about your girls. I thoroughly enjoy it!

  62. Anonymous3/09/2009

    Right off the top, excellent job on simply telling "your" truth to the girls in an age appropriate fashion. It's worked for us for over ten years now. Her adoption is an on-going lifetime conversation that has evolved over the past 10 plus years. I have found that our best plan of action was to listen to and let our daughter lead the discussion where she needs it to go. She knows and understands how Mommy made the decision to adopt ( single parent at the time) she has heard the part where she was "not happy to meet me" and everybody cried and then we laughed and we haven't stopped talking and laughing since. When she was 5ish and wondered why she couldn't stay in China we explained about "the law" (one child policy) In first grade when she realy began to question things because she was making so many new friends we began to discuss at her direction, her birthmother and birthfather. To this day she mostly wonders whether she has a brother or sister. We always tell the truth...that we don't know the answer to that question and likely never will. She's a funny, talented, wonderful kid and very firm in what she thinks. We spent many years (and still do) honoring her birth country, her birth family and many cultural traditions but an odd thing happened about a year ago...she got firm about the fact that 'SHE KNEW SHE WAS CHINESE AND ADOPTED' thank you very much and she thought we might not need to be gas-baggin'about that so much to her. Whew...that was quite the little revelation. So, M3, you are correct when you keep it age appropriate, they will let you know what they need and you will hear it clearly because you are a very good listener. Cheers!


  63. Our daughter is almost 5 and has been asking more questions lately. We have a video of our trip to China and her first year with us and she loves to watch it. I think it is kind of like a digital Lifebook! She also recently wanted to start "acting out" the adoption. She has me and my Dh sit on the couch and pretend we are on the airplane. Then she comes in pretend crying and after a little while smiles at us. It's cute!

    The conversations have been kicked up a notch lately because I am pregnant (quite a surprise). She has told me that she is sad she wasn't born in my belly. I told her it made me sad, too, but that if she had been born in my belly she wouldn't be the person she is and I really like her exactly the way she is. Then she went on to ask how the baby got in there and how it was going to get out. I'm starting to think the adoption questions are easier!

    I use the terms birthmother and birthfather, also. I realized I don't talk about them much and have been trying to add that in more. We do pray for her birth parents on her birthday, though I don't know if she ever really knew what that was about.

    Just keep talking. They pick up so much and eventually, when they are ready, they start asking questions and repeating the stories back to you.

  64. Our twins are almost 8 months old, so we haven't told them a whole lot that they understand! We do have an open adoption (domestic) with their birth mother, but she dislikes that term. So, we have begun calling her Tummy Mummy. There is a book on adoption called The Tummy Mummy by Michelle Madrid-Branch. I bought every possible children's book on adoption so that I can read and reread the stories to our girls as they grow up. I like that you start their story out simple and then add more details as your girls become more mature. They are adorable, by the way!!

  65. Okay- I will reply even though we didn't adopt.
    My girls have many AI friends. One day, S said that she didn't like the concept of birth (we're pretty open, she knows WHERE babies come out of) so she would like to adopt. L asked what is adoption. I explained that sometimes a mom or dad can't take care of their baby. We don't know why. We sometimes can't even ask them. But, there is another mom and dad who want a child to love and they adopt the child that needs a mom and dad.
    The family grows together and the real mom and dad are the one that raise and help that baby grow. There's another mom and dad somewhere and most likely, they loved their baby too, but they just couldn't take care of the baby, so they offered someone who COULD do it, adopt.

    I mentioned that L's friend Ruby was adopted. L wanted to know how I knew this and I pointed out that Ruby looks like people who have Asian, Chinese or Japanese or Korean (keeping simple here) parents, but her mom and dad don't look like that. My girls already know that kids are a mix of mom and dad, so she thought about that and asked Ruby. She was very exicted to come back the next day and tell me that Ruby was adopted and that her mom and dad flew all the way to China to bring her home and now L wants to go to China to see where her friend was born.

    We do have alot to work with on the whys. Why did the parents leave the child? Why didn't they love the baby? I have tried to explain that a) the past doesn't always matter and b) just because you can't raise your child doesn't mean you don't love them.

    It's a touch subject.
    HUGS and good luck!

  66. Great topic! Someone else already mentioned my blog, which is pretty much devoted to talking adoption with my 8- and 5-year-old daughters: http://chinaadoptiontalk.blogspot.com

    Hope you'll stop by! Two quick points:

    I like the story you tell your kids, but I'd start at a different point -- with their births. My story to the girls is "You grew like a flower in your birth mother's tummy until it was time for you to be born. . . . " That makes the story really about the kids, affirms that they were born, affirms that they existed before you met them, and gives an opening for talking about birth parents.

    Second suggestion, maybe for when they're a tad older -- I highly recommend Beth O'Malley's "My China Workbook," a fill-in-the-blank lifebook for kids to fill out. It works great with my 5year-old as well as my 8-year-old.

  67. P.S. You can find the "My China Workbook" at Amazon.com, as well as other places, I'm sure!

  68. Our twin girls are nearly 3 and we've been talking about adoption from the beginning. There hasn't been much need to define adoption as of yet, as they just accept the term and use it easily. I think they think everyone was adopted, actually. We also use the terms birthmom and birthdad. To us, the terms felt factual but warmer than birthmother and birthfather. We talk frequently about our trip to Korea. We speak with great love and admiration about their birthparents. We, too, worry that we will have left some piece of information out that will cause the girls some hurt down the line. We worked hard to make sure there was an age-appropriate reference in their lifebooks to all of the really difficult info that we will have to delve into as they get older. I do the same thing as you, M3, and constantly think about these questions and my responses. It's so helpful to me to read your blog and hear your story (and those of the other readers). I'm happy to share some of our lifebook wording with you if you want. thenahras@gmail.com

  69. We started to intoduce this to my son at about 4 when a friend was pregnant. Along with how will the baby come out (gulp) and how was it when I was in your tummy. Keep it really simple and answer truthfully. I wouldn't bring up the subject but I made it clear it was always ok to ask about it and I would tell him all he wanted to know. It's easy to overdo it. I explained the poverty (he was born in Russia) and that his "tummy mommy" didn't have money to buy baby items, crib, milk, etc. When he was 7 he wanted us to find her and send her money. it broke my heart - we told him we didn't know how to find her. I know more is coming but for now he is secure knowing he is ours forever, no matter what. He is also VERY proud to be Russian - Canadian.

  70. Even being an international adoption pediatrician, I struggle the same. I am at about the same place you are with telling "the story." My biggest struggle has been the birthmother topic. I recently introduced the book, "A Blessing from Above." You have to get it. It is so precious. I haven't found many adoption books for kids that I like, but this one is a bit different. It is about a lonely kangaroo who is standing below a bird's nest when a baby bird falls our of the nest. The momma bird sees that she does not have enough room in her nest for all her babies and she lets the baby stay with the mommy kangaroo. I used this book to teach my kids the word "birthmother." Without relating it to their own adoption story, I said, "See, she is the baby bird's birth mother, but she doesn't have room in her nest. That sweet Mommy kangaroo has plenty of room and she wants a baby soooo badly. what a wonderful thing that the kangaroo can take care of the baby bird!" I haven't yet jumped to "you have a birthmother, too" because I think they needed to have the concept down first. On the other hand, if they ask before I get a chance to tell them, I will tell them straight up. I plan to use this same book when telling them about their birthmother. I'm going to relate the book to their adoption first, saying how I am like the mother kangaroo. Then point out that they had a birthmother, too. I don't feel too much of a rush for this since they are only 4yo, they don't notice pregnant women or babies, for that matter, they don't have birth siblings, and they were adopted as infants and have no conscious memory of their adoption. If any of these circumstances were different, I'd likely have had to tell them by now.
    BTW...cute pics of them all dirty!

  71. Anonymous3/10/2009

    Hi Guys,
    Our daughter is 4 1/2. We have been open as far as from her being from China, reading books (Shoey and Dot is an all time favorite!) I knew at one point that the questions would start. Several months ago, on the way home from taking big brother to school she pipes up from her car seat and says "Mom, where is my China mommy and why can't I see her any more?" I was a little shocked needless to say. My first answer was "I don't know..give me a minute!" (We only live 5 minutes away from school..not that long to think!) I told her that her China mommy was still in beautiful China and that the reason she couldn't see her anymore was that she knew that she couldn't take care of you like she needed to so she took you to your orphanage and they knew that mommy and daddy wanted a special little girl. So we flew on the big airplane to come and pick you up and bring you to our house. She said..."OH.. OK! Cool!" That was the end of the conversation.

    The girls (right now) aren't going to be looking for the novel of their lives, they are probably going to be ok with a very simple answer.

    I have started on a lifebook for our daughter..it is a slow process...but will hopefully be done by the time she graduates high school..she is getting ready to start kindergarten :o)

  72. Anonymous3/11/2009

    I have a unique situation and I thought my experiences may (or may not) be helpful to you as I am both an adoptee and a birthmother.

    As an adoptee: I am adopted from Taiwan and so the obvious physical differences were noticeable, although I really didn't think about them until an older age. However, my parents openly discussed what they knew about my birthparents from the time I was little. My mom created a book about my adoption that I could look at any time I wanted. As an adult I notice how that could certainly help lead to meaningful conversations. The story's main focus was how our family came to be and how loved I was. As an adoptee I feel that the important points to emphasize are that families come together in many different ways and that love is always most important part of it. My parents also emphasized that my birthmother loved me so much that she made the choice to place me for adoption because she was not able to care for me and wanted a better life for me than she could give. Hearing this often helped my understand as a child why someone would be placed for adoption.

    I do have to say that my sister, who is also adopted felt a little differently. My parents took the same approach with her and I was always much more comfortable with that part of my life. (She did have different circumstances surrounding her placement though.) Remember that all children are different and so will react differently. Use approaches that you feel best matches your children's personalities.

    As a birthmother: I placed my birthdaughter through open adoption. I made that loving choice for multiple reasons but mostly because I love her very much and wanted her to have more than I was able to give. My family and her family all have a very open relationship and I feel her parents have done an excellent job talking about adoption with her. We use terms such as birthmother and birthdaugther. They have told her her story since she was a baby and so her adoption is just another normal part of her life. She feels comfortable asking her parents and myself questions about her adoption. She's even able to explain her story to others.

    In all, I feel that talking early is excessively important and that love is the resounding song to be heard. Hope this helps!

  73. WOW...I had missed this when you posted it and wanted to come back to read it when I had time to absorb it all.....

    This is a subject that we have not had come up with Sarah, but I suspect it will very soon......we are going to have two very different stories to tell one domestic and one international.....This is something I personally have struggled with because although Sarah's adoption is closed, we do have some info on her birthparents and I realize that we will most likely not have that kind of information when we receive a referral.

    Wonderful post and you got some great comments....I have already bookmarked this and plan to use it as reference when the time comes.....can't wait for part 2!


  74. "When You Were Born in China" has some great language about the realities of the PRC during this diaspora.

    "Adopted: The Movie" and "Adopted: We Can Do Better" (available as a set from Point Made Films) is a terrific one-two punch on adoption communication and realities.

    "Let's Talk About It: Adoption," a Mr. Rogers book, is phenomenal at explaining the framework of adoption without placing blame or setting unrealistic expectations (we did have to modify a word or two).

    And, lastly, read blogs and other writings by adult adoptees. Heart Mind & Seoul, Harlow's Monkey, Shadow Between Two Worlds, and Joy's Division all come to mind.

    With everything you read, including this comment, keep in mind that there is author bias and that you will have to sort out what adoption is for YOU as separate from what adoption is for the girls. That second part is, no matter how much you say or how you say it, always going to be theirs to frame.

  75. Hi M3- We were in the same DTC group and I love reading your blog. Our daughter, Sydney, is 3.5 and I just finished a toddler life book for her. A woman named Kristi has a business (www.littlelotuscreations.com) and her books are beautiful. I love how mine turned out. Sydney is very curious about birth parents and yesterday at Panera asked me how babies get out of mommies tummies then how they get in there? Can you help answering that one for me? :)

  76. Anonymous3/21/2009

    I don't have any personal experience with adoption other than an adopted uncle, but I do have some suggestions based on being half Chinese.

    "Why didn't they keep me?" I'd suggest you say, "they couldn't afford to have more than one child" (or "probably couldn't" if you don't know the details for sure). This is kinder than "they weren't allowed to have ...", and also more true: people can have more than one child in China if they can afford the financial penalties, which most people cannot. "They couldn't afford to have more than one child, and wanted you two to stay together" would be even better if it's true.

    Other questions: do they know yet that people in China speak a different language? Have they sufficient exposure to Chinese phonemes to learn the language if they want to later?