Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas and Adoption

At Love Large, adoptive dad from Uganda talks about adoption and Christmas traditions for adoptive families:

Is there anything special about adoptive families and traditions? For the most part I would say no. Adoptive families are just that – families. On the other hand, adoptive families are unique in that sometimes adopted children have entered the family after living for years in another country with very different traditions and memories. Further, adopted children often enter the family from another country with a whole other heritage.

Some adoptive families have chosen to just simply live and celebrate Christmas as they always have. Their children are integrated into those existing traditions and treated no differently. Their heritage and their traditions are now the traditions and
heritage of their new family.

Other families have chosen to honor the heritage and traditions of their adopted children, regardless of the age they entered the family. For instance, I know many families who cook special ethnic dishes and have introduced some ethnic traditions from their child’s country of origin to supplement their existing traditions.

Has adoption changed your celebration of Christmas? I think for adoptive parents, the joy of Christmas and the joy of adoption combine, a sort of synergistic overlap. One of our favorite Christmas connections to adoption led to Maya's middle name, Noelle -- I found out on Christmas Eve that I was approved for a singles slot with my agency, and so could adopt again from China. What a happy Christmas that was!

It is because of adoption that we have our "Touch of China" Christmas tree, with ornaments recognizing Zoe's and Maya's Chinese heritage. Same goes for Tonggu Momma, who wrote a sentimental and lovely post about the Chinese ornaments on their tree, and a new tradition as they await a referral for a sibling for the Tongginator. The adoptive dad at Love Large writes about the Ugandan ornaments on their tree.

But what about first parents? How has adoption loss changed their celebrations? I haven't really thought much about it, figuring that Christmas wasn't really celebrated by my kids' first parents in China, where such a small percentage are Christians (yes, Christmas is a secular celebration in China, as well, but mostly for city dwellers). But it got me thinking to read first mom Jenna's reflection on the ornament she bought in 2003 after relinquishing her daughter:

I didn’t hang it in 2004.

I was just coming out from under the dark veil of denial of the first year of adoption. While our relationship was fine, I was beginning to feel things that I didn’t quite understand. In fact, some of the things I was feeling felt wrong. Was I allowed to regret things? Was I allowed to miss her so deeply, so viscerally? Was I allowed to think of “what if” and ask why? I didn’t know. The thoughts scared me. They overwhelmed me. And so acting like any other reasonable adult, I ignored them just as I ignored the ornament when I pulled the decorations out to deck the halls that year. I ignored what that meant.

I don’t think I hung it up in 2005 either. In fact, I know I didn’t. My heart was heavy with the realization of all I had lost as I cradled my newborn oldest son in my arms. I couldn’t begin to comprehend what hanging her ornament or lacking to do so meant for me. I couldn’t even comprehend at that time how the relinquishment of my firstborn was going to forever affect how I parented the children under my roof. I wasn’t in denial that year. I was clueless as to everything that placing a child had done to my soul.

Come 2006, after completing almost a full year of therapy, I pulled out the box and opened it for the first time. Turns out that the little star that said “Baby’s First” wasn’t properly attached to the ornament and fell off. I hung it that year, the first in our new home, without the star. It was a step. A baby step. But a step.

In 2007, I fastened the star to the ornament with some fishing line, courtesy of my nature loving husband. And every year since, it has been proudly displayed on our tree.

[Belated addition -- I just read Lorraine's post at Birth Mother, First Mother Forum, Christmas Thoughts For Those Separated By Adoption, and suggest you read it, too.]

What about adoptees? We know that birthdays and Mother's Days and Father's Days can trigger issues relating to adoption for adoptees. I'd think that holidays heavy on family togetherness would do the same. Peach writes this about Christmas as a reunited adoptee (I'd think these thoughts would hold true for adoptees, like my kids, who know nothing about their birth families, too):

Here it is Christmas Day as a reunited adoptee ~ I agree with you that "being adopted" is a huge part of my on-going identity and affects all my relationships. I spent Christmas with my adoptive family, but recently saw my birth family. I am thinking about my birth family today celebrating Christmas together and I'm not with them. It doesn't negate the Christmas I had with my adoptive family and the love. But it defines me, acknowledges loss, and requires a lot of mental energy.

My brothers are together celebrating Christmas with their children & (our) father.
My son is missing out on precious memories with his biological cousins, aunts & uncles, and his Papa. All the while we enjoyed Christmas with my son's beloved Grandma (my Mother ~ adoptive). Yet in the corners of my mind the absence of those precious memories my son is missing (and I missed as a child & continue to miss) with the family of our very blood is lost.

It makes me want to cry ~ and yet I ask myself "Why"? ~ When I had/have a(nother) family? One who loves us. These are just a small sampling of the myriad of emotions and thoughts that travel through this reunited adoptee's heart and head minute by minute by minute...on Christmas especially, but not just today.
Reading Jenna's and Peach's thoughts remind me that Christmas and adoption isn't just about me as an adoptive parent, that the joy of Christmas and the joy of adoption shouldn't completely swamp everything else in adoption. I think I've forgotten in the overwhelming happiness of this season that it might be different for my kids and for their first families.

Before next Christmas, I'll be talking to the girls about what they might want to do -- or not do -- to recognize adoption, China, birth family, in our next Christmas celebration. Maybe we can find ornaments to honor their birth families at this time of year. If that's what they want.


mammandorla said...

I wish u and ur family a merry Xmas.
Thx very much for this blog.
An italian next foster mom (Viet Nam).
Mammandorla (it seems "almond-mom")

Wendy said...

We have added new traditions that include birth culture. We also recognize that her first family does not celebrate; however, her foster family does as they are Christian. It is interesting because we do not celebrate "Christmas" as such as we are not Christians--although our entire extended family is. Incorporating several traditions and acknowledging many of the holidays that are held during this season is a must for us. Acceptance of all people is a message we discuss and foster.

Anonymous said...

We have some Chinese ornaments on our tree and it's not unusual for my girls to receive at least one gift that is China-related (as they will this year). However, I haven't really thought about incorporating adoption into Christmas. That would seem a bit "forced" to me. Actually, it is tough to get them to focus on anything else besides presents, except for maybe songs, decorations, and cookies! In our family, adoption seems to just come up at random times. I don't feel like I have to plan to incorporate it into anything.
Sue (aka anonymous... dang I've forgotten my password again!)

Bukimom said...

Last night my daughter was feeling sad and thinking about her Chinese mother, wanting to know why she couldn't keep her, etc. We talked about it for quite a while at bedtime. I assured her that it is quite normal for adopted kids to be thinking about their birth parents especially around the holidays, so she is a completely normal kid!