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9May

Mother’s Daze

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. As an adoptive mom, I consider this day special.

It, to me, signifies a rite of passage. Days when adoptive parents have earned the right to celebrate and be honored in that position.

Close to my own mom, I recall treasured Mother’s Day times with her. One that stands out to this day, presenting that infamous M-O-T-H-E-R poem--you know the --

M is for the million things something, something

O is for the (well, you get the picture)

--in crayoned drawn letters that I surely worked hard to create. Little did I realize as a youngster that my mother hated that poem--with a passion.

I never subjected it to her ever after. Nor the poem “Trees” or the song “Donkey Serenade” (we are going back here, I know—but then she is nearly 93)—things I learned made my mom cringe. I never told my mom that I was just a wee bit hurt by her frankness, and her (ahem, dare I say) insensitivity to her at-the-time only child. Don’t get me wrong:  I love my mom to bits and still do but, given my experience, I resolved early on that if I was ever blessed with raising a child, I would be grateful for any gift given to me.  

Happy to be spending this upcoming Mother’s Day with my daughter, I was reflecting that over these 25 years of her life that I have memories of some amazing and lovely Mother’s Day offerings. There are several I consider Mom Treasures:

  •  The gift of sweetness:  at age 5, a clutched-to rose, slightly wilted, but given with giggles and eyes that laughed with delight and made me cry.
  • The gift of thoughtfulness:  a laptop desk—because she knows I love to write and be comfortable doing it. This gift I have used nearly every day for the last nine years.
  • The gift of creative genius:  the very best breakfast/meal of my life—hands down—served on our best china to me in bed, no less, accompanied by a vase of wildflowers she picked herself, and with a menu I still haven’t forgotten: French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage (no easy task as she was vegetarian), parfait of fresh fruit and yogurt dressing she whipped together and (of course) coffee. It was made with so much love. To this day, I can’t recall ever having tasted a meal as delicious.
  • The gift of surprise:  treating me to a paint-on-pottery session to share her passion for art; she paid for the experience and even brought the snacks for our hours of fun. (The cup I made is one I used for years which now graces a prominent place on my bookshelf of precious things, positioned just so to ensure that the broken handle is not visible.) 
  • The gift of strength:  last Mother’s Day weekend, helping my husband and I move, and then making an amazingly good spread. I got to choose the menu.

But perhaps my favorite is something I look at it every day at least twice--for it is hung right above the bed. The credit for design and craftsmanship must be acknowledged. It is a plaque from the Willowtree creations.

  • The gift of soul:  this image of mother and child is the reflection of my long-suffering and enduring hope as an infertile woman that I would someday embrace a child of my own. Through the gift of love and the grace of God, my husband and I adopted a most beautiful child. This picture says what my meager words cannot.

As I gaze at this lovely memento daily, memories of other days that held just as much the thrill of a Mother’s Day celebration come across my mind’s garden—some that were quiet, some that were the unassuming everyday variety, and some with a little more bling:

  • Cooking together—dancing around the kitchen—cranking up the music real loud (something we did when my husband was generally not at home). 
  • Reading her Cinderella when she was age 5 or 6 and having her say (I am paraphrasing)—“Did Ella come from her stepmother’s tummy?”  “No.”  “Oh. I’m lucky ‘cuz even though I didn’t come from your tummy, I don’t think you’re an evil stepmother!”  (Made me smile; she said it with such resolute sincerity. Nice to know!)
  • Losing sight of her at Disney World when our 5-year old went down the wrong side of a four-sided slide in Mickey’s playground. We heard her wail about stranger danger (gosh, she was listening after all) so she was not out of sight for more than a few minutes (and we could hear her). Once she was safely back in our arms, through her tears she thanked a kind gentlemen she considered her hero because--according to her--“he saved my life because he found my parents!”  
  • Being asked to do her hair for prom (I am no beautician but did have a trusty set of electric rollers) two years in a row (!) rather than getting it done professionally to save money and allow me to participate in this adventure.
  •  Having “girl’s night” together once a week when she was young—watching movies, eating popcorn or nachos in bed—and giggling or crying. Just because.
  •  Staying home from work when she had scarlet fever at age three and making up a game by role playing and acting whatever I could remember about the Peter Pan-Captain Hook-Tiger Lily story, something she asked to play for years after that.
  •  She and my husband hip replacement-proofing the house, being with me the day of surgery and during my hospital stay, and also cooking and playing nursemaid to me once I was back home.
  •  Watching her and her friends do summer “Olympics” gymnastics right alongside the 1996 gymnasts on TV--walking on balance beams and clearing straddle horses visible to only them, and bowing before imagined audiences when they held up cards that said “9” and “10” for each other! 
  •  Surprising her by dropping by school to eat lunch, and her actually being glad and introducing me (with pride) to her classmates!
  •  Making me begin to “let go and let (her) grow” by earning a scholarship to Cambridge University in England for a summer program when she was only 14.
  •  Proving she was a girl of her word when she exclaimed “I want to be with you,” so much so that when I was on an extended phone conversation with a friend, she found a pair of scissors and cut one side of her hair, bringing the fistful of her locks and a hopeful smile but eyes that spoke to her uncertainty of what my reaction would be. (Let’s just say, this got my attention real quick.)

Parents have a mélange of memories:  funny, poignant, scary, or over-the-top-how-do-I-handle-this one moments. They can be the small snatches of life, the tender times we might not even recognize as future memories that will comfort us.

I urge mothers to remember the pictures of life as a parent that have captured your gaze, your heart!  Perhaps this could start the ball rolling. 

Even if we just write them down and pull them out at future times when we need a lift or a smile, memories can be healing. Your memories can be considered gifts—Mom Treasures.

I hope this Mother’s Day and those ever after will be landmark moments for adoptive mothers to realize our Rite of Passage is noteworthy—whether this is a position we have held for years, we are just embarking on this journey, or are somewhere in the process. Congratulations. It is your badge to wear proudly.

Motherhood. Parenthood. When you are in the ‘hood, you will most definitely have memorable days—whether or not they have something to do with a Hallmark holiday. And, just to warn you, some of them will undoubtedly make you feel daze-d!

8May

Academy of Pediatrics Endorses National Adoption Center’s Open Records Policy

The American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed the National Adoption Center’s open records policy which calls unencumbered access of adopted adults to their original birth certificates an ”inalienable right.”  (Read policy here.)

The Center believes that copies of both the original and amended birth certificates be given to the adoptive family when the adoption is finalized unless specifically denied by the birthparents.  In any case, the Center advocates that when an adopted person becomes 18, he or she should be able to receive the original birth records, and be given access to medical and historical records.  These should be available to adopting families before the adoption is finalized.

Children who have been adopted often express the need to learn about their genetic background .  It is not, they say, because they are not happy or have a fraught home life.  Their desire to know comes often from curiosity about their origin and whether they have siblings.  “It’s a like vital part of us is missing,” says Alison, 22, who was adopted when she was three.  “I love my parents and I am not looking for ‘new’ parents.  I just want to see if I look like my birth mother or whether I have a sister or brother who also has a good singing voice.”  Alison is concerned, too, about any inherited medical condition and wonders about the general health of her birth parents.

Birth records are sealed in most states, but access to them is permitted in Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kansas, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Oregon.  Just last month, New Jersey, after a 34-year long effort by adoption advocates and birth parents, passe  a law that would open records.  It will not be effective, however, for three years, giving birth parents who want their names expunged from the records time to do so.  

5May

Celebration of Family Recap!

The 2014 Celebration of Family was a success! 250 guests joined us on Thursday, April 10th at the Crystal Tea Room to honor Jay and Bridget Devine for their dedication to helping children find permanent, loving families. The event featured a circus theme with performers from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts including an aerial acrobats, stilt walker, jugglers and a tight rope walker. Thanks to all who joined us for a fun evening in support of the National Adoption Center and all volunteers who donated their time to make the event a success - we met our fundraising goal of $150,000. 

Thank you to all of our sponsors: Wendy’s, Wawa, Peco, Margaret Jacobs Charitable Trust,  Brian Communications, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, CMF, Bruce and Sue Davis,  Devine and Partners, McAllister Towing, Morgan Stanley, Neumann University and Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Thanks to all of those who donated to our live and silent auctions, purchased ads in the program book and those who donated services.  

For more pictures, check out our Facebook album by clicking here.

24Apr

Update on Wednesday's Child USA

We wanted to update you on an exciting project we have been working on here at the Center. Wednesday’s Child USA (WCUSA) is a two-part program that will create adoptive families for children now in foster care through partnerships with the media. First, we have created an Adoption Community to bring together under one umbrella all professionals throughout the country who participate in Wednesday’s Child programs to allow them to share ideas and information and develop best practices. The WCUSA Community, with over 40 member-cities already, is growing rapidly.  We’ve developed a new listserv that allows members to easily communicate with each other, and we publish an e-newsletter distributed to all members every other month.   

Second, we are nearing initiation of a Wednesday’s Child feature in two major matkets—San Francisco and Chicago. These are cities with no current Wednesday's Child-type program. We’ll keep you posted on other markets that are interested in such a feature, and please let us know if you know of another city that might like to be included.  In Philadelphia where the television feature has existed for 10 years, more than 60 percent of the children shown have found families, including some with serious medical challenges. Philadelphia is fortunate to also have a weekly Wednesday’s Child feature weekly on radio and a column each week in The Philadelphia Inquirer.    

18Apr

Learning About Adoption

As an intern with NAC, I was afforded the exciting opportunity to participate in the agency’s Adoption Café. This Adoption Café was designed to showcase a specific type of child within our network.  The potential adopters that we invite is carefully chosen by NAC professionals along with the input of a team of New Jersey’s Department of Child Protection and Permanency workers. It was collectively decided that a Café dedicated to highlighting the process as well as the joys of adopting medically fragile children would be greatly beneficial! The event took place this past Saturday, April 12, 2014 and the forum for our café was The Burlington County Public Library in Westampton, New Jersey. 

Unfortunately, many families are unaware of the diversity of challenges, espeicially medical, that face children in the Tri-state area that are living without their forever family.  To this end, our event provided this type of information and more in a series of workshops offered throughout the afternoon.  Many parents were surprised to learn that there are  outside supports available to families during and after the finalization of an adoption. The families learned and understand that they are not “in this alone”.  These supportive services are readily available for all.  For example, DCPP workers discussed the ways that they provide ongoing supports and assistance to adoptive parents. In addition, we sponsored a workshop in which current adoptive families of special needs children shared their feelings, experiences and advice to those considering embarking on a similar journey.  The exchange of ideas and information was very enlightening to all of the participants.

Many of these children are medically fragile due to abuse and neglect at the time of their birth or shortly after.  These adorable youngsters simply long for that unconditional love and support that so many of us take for granted.

I feel very privileged to have been a part of this very special day. It is so rewarding to be involved in the process that results in the improvement of the lives of children who need loving homes.  I admire the families that open their hearts to eagerly love and support our kiddos. A truly rewarding and amazing experience!!

contributed by Elly Gerhardt, Program Intern 

4Apr

Celebration of Family - Jay and Bridget Devine

April 10 is the National Adoption Center’s largest fundraiser – our Celebration of Family Gala. Each year we recognize an individual(s) whose commitment to vulnerable children encompasses our belief that “There are no unwanted children…just unfound families”.

Jay Devine says he will always remember when he first learned about the National Adoption Center. He heard the Center’s founder describe a six-year-old boy who had been severely abused by his birth parents and needed to be adopted.  “Hearing that was so shocking and so foreign from our personal experience that from that moment on, I knew this was an organization that Bridget and I would want to support.” 

“We are both products of large, supportive families with loving, hard-working parents. This foundation makes us want to work as hard as we can to provide that same opportunity for our children and the thousands of children in foster care who are free for adoption.  There can be nothing more important than making a positive difference in the life of a child.”

Bridget and Jay, over the years, have demonstrated their commitment to children growing up in families.  They want for all children what their 15-year-old son, J.P, and their 13-year-old daughter, Meg, are fortunate enough to have—a family that gives them a lifetime of love.

3Apr

Taking Off - Adoption Match Event

contributed by Elly Gerhardt, Program Intern

I am pleased to announce that I have officially made it through my first two match events!  A "match event" is designed to provide the vehicle for our network of social workers, perspective adoptive families and our youths to meet and greet! Shortly after becoming NAC’s intern, I was met with a few obstacles while navigating through the match event planning season. Not only were there hundreds of envelopes to be labeled and stuffed, but workers and families had to be contacted in other ways too. Nonetheless I wouldn’t trade the experience, I’ve learned so much. I have been afforded the opportunity to become familiar with the case management network in the Tri-state area as well as learn all about our youth and their current situations. It has been particularly interesting to learn about SWAN (Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network) and its function within the foster care system of Pennsylvania.  I am proud to have played an integral part in developing systematic and computerized ways of sharing information and keeping it all up-to-date.  It amazes me to realize that so much actually goes into planning a match event. It’s almost equivalent to planning a Bat-Mitzvah twice a year! Not only do you have to set the venue, find a caterer, and plan activities. You have to trust (and reminders help) that people  will show up to the event your team has put so much effort planning day! Luckily we had an unbelievable turn out; some would call this a record-breaking event. We had twenty families and sixteen youth registered. 

NAC and SWAN work so hard together to make this event absolutely flawless.  Match events have been happening for over twenty years, many matches have been successfully made and many placements have resulted. So this year we wanted to have the event at The National Helicopter Museum in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  I went into the match event season thinking that matches and finalization were the ultimate goals; however, I learned that it’s not only about that, but it’s the day full of connections with people that really make a difference. Our team did a lot to make those connections happen. We were fortunate enough to have a pilot from a local flying school give the youth (and staff) a once in a lifetime chance to be co-pilots in a helicopter. Riding high above the city was a thrilling adventure for all. In addition, to challenge our sharpest guests, we played rousing game of trivia. I was surprised that not everyone knows Mr. Spock’s famous words, “live long and prosper.” Thanks to Kathleen, our facilitator, the youth and families loved searching for hidden treasure in our creatively designed Scavenger Hunt.

It goes without saying that the most touching moment of the day was our “Everyone has a Voice” programming. “Everyone has a Voice” encourages the youth to discuss how it feels to be in the system. Each youth got to share his or her own personal thoughts and feelings about this time in his/her young lives. This activity gives the teens an opportunity to discuss topics that are on their mind in a small, intimate group, with acceptance and no pressure. It is impossible to not feel a pull on your heartstrings when our youth shared their mutual hopes and dreams for a forever family! The entire event was spectacular as well as scrumptious, as we all enjoyed a feast of favorites including chicken fingers, salads, pasta and other delicious treats. NAC along with SWAN again delivered an amazing day for our youth and families. I want to thank the National Adoption Center for allowing me to “help” with such an amazing event. Though, majority of the time I was making intern-ishly silly mistakes. My mentors allowed me to learn from my mistakes and continue on in our important mission to make an unforgettable match event for the youth and families!

photos by Chris Jacobs, Program Director

27Mar

Vai Honored for Wednesday's Child!

Today we join in celebration the 119th birthday of Philadelphia’s Civic Flag. Our very own Wednesday’s Child host Vai Sikahema was honored with the Philadelphia Maneto Award as one of four recipients of bringing brotherly love to the city of Philadelphia with his contribution to Wednesday’s Child. Wednesday’s Child partners include the National Adoption Center, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and NBC 10. 

The day was beautiful and the event was very well attended!  Other honorees included Linda Cliatt-Waymann for her passionate and admirable work as Principal at Strawberry Mansion High School, Wei Chen for his dedication to social justice, safe and peaceful educational environments and overall understanding among youth and Dr. Ala Stanford-Frey, for her organization "It Takes Philly!" whose goal is to improve the lives of Philly youth, by providing them with critical exposure to career opportunities and a brighter future.

19Mar

Art of Adoption Match Event

On Saturday, March 8th we hosted our Art of Adoption Match Event in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Child Protection and Permanency. A match event is an event that brings youth in foster care together with adults who have been approved to adopt for a day of getting to know one another. Match events are a rare opportunity for the youth and adults to interact one-on-one, get to know each other and decide if they wish to get to know each other better. Of course, we know some of these connections eventually lead to adoption.

Saturday’s match event included a fun day of art activities that focused on the youth. Artists from the Center for the Arts in Southern New Jersey, where the event was held, guided the youth in projects while prospective families were there to assist. Youth were asked to use art to define aspects of themselves. Different techniques such as collage, watercolors, crayons and calligraphy helped the youth express themselves. The overall atmosphere was relaxed and provided ample oppourtunity for youth and families to get to know one another.

This life-changing work wouldn’t be possible without our supporters, so we want to send out a huge thank you to the Center for the Arts in Southern New Jersey for their incredible support in making this a fun and exciting day. 

7Mar

The Calling

Recently, our daughter turned 25. Adopted as an infant, she has been and evermore will be the joy of this here-to-fore childless couple’s life.

It was rather surreal to see her—the pictures of her as an infant, as a toddler, young child, teenager flooded my mind—and to look at her now, as a grown (young) woman, called my heart to yield more than a couple of silent tears, revering my title as parent.

Although she was going to perform songs she had written over five-plus years at an open mic night and hoped many of her friends would celebrate with her, she exercised an amazing muscle in her heart:  she invited my husband and me to come!  (And what’s more, she and her friends made her birthday dinner to which we were also invited.)  When it was her turn on stage, the announcer told everyone that it was her birthday and with her first smile and guitar strum she took us all for an amazing ride of her passion to be a part of this world. She was, to very unbiased me, the star of the night. Even though she was to be surrounded by a number of her friends, and accompanied by a few, she, without blinking an eye made it a point of saying that her parents (as if it were a special thing she was proud of!) were “in the house.” And, I think I even heard her say, “Thank you, guys!” (Of course that could have been a universal shout out to everyone who came, but I think I’ll just keep it as directed toward us.)

Her oldest childhood friend was at that gathering to celebrate this landmark quarter-century birthday. Seeing the two of them together, I was reminded of something that happened on our daughter’s fifth birthday. When I recounted the story they both giggled and nodded that they, too, remembered…

When our daughter was five (her friend was six and a half), she announced to this friend she had known since she was two, “I am adopted.”  Although I was in the room when she said it, I was surprised that she blurted it out, and then reveal her understanding about what she had thus far gleaned about being adopted--which, to her, was something special.

I watched her friend’s reaction out of the corner of my eye. This declaration immediately prompted her friend to waltz over to me, hands on hips and vehemently announce, “She’s lying!  She told a lie.” 

“Oh?” I answered. “What was a lie?” 

“She said that she’s adopted. There’s no way. She said you didn’t give birth to her. So she has to be lying. You’ve always been her mother. She is your child,” and with confused eyes and knitted brow, “isn’t she?” 

How does one tell a child about the wonders and the miracle of adoption?  Can it make sense to such young children?  From the time we started talking to our daughter, we always used the word “adoption” and would say it regularly, not as a defense, not as an excuse, but as a term that she could come to understand was something completely normal and natural. We wanted that word to be something she didn’t struggle over, but instead accept as part of life and the special way we became a family.

I told this young friend (I’m sure I am paraphrasing, but to the best of my recollection I said something like this):   “Well, actually, she did not lie. She is adopted. It means that she didn’t come out of my tummy, but we were lucky enough to have her come into our lives. Adoption is a special way that some children join families. We are all lucky because we three became a family. She will always be our daughter. She will always be adopted. And she will always be loved.” 

Our daughter, after placing her hands on her hips, sauntered in front of her friend and with just the slightest upturned face mustering all the righteousness a five year old can, “See. Told you so. I did not come from her tummy. I am adopted.”

Her friend, puzzled and thoughtful for a minute then proclaimed, “Oh, I think that’s something like my mom and dad are planning.”

Knowing her parents well and never having heard this since they had four birth children, I was truly curious, “Are you sure?  Your mom or dad never mentioned that to me!” 

“Oh, I think it costs $12 a month. I heard them talking about it. Our friends do that. They have a picture of the girl on their refrigerator. So my mom and dad are thinking about doing it, too. I think you order a kid through the TV. Do you pay $12 a month, too?” She was referring to a Save the Children Foundation campaign to sponsor children living in another country.

I couldn’t help but smile at this child’s rather sweet life-view. This quite innocent perception of how things work. I am not disparaging that it is a wonderful and noble gesture to sponsor a child in a foreign country who might just have a greater edge in life from financial support and the hands-on gift of letters or gifts.

But, of course, a far deeper passion to impact the life of a child can happen through adopting. Parenting a child in the day-to-day is incomparable. As with any parenting, one will experience indescribable joy. And one will experience heartache of how to guide, to teach, to love their children through crises. The overwhelming measure of life worth, though, can come in the smallest moments—seeing them performing songs they wrote about life, about being raised, about becoming a good person from the influences of their whole life.

Giving a child a unique part of that whole life is an honor and a privilege. Loving someone fiercely enough to share your life with them—from the moments of high drama to the tenderness of good-night prayers, whether nursing them through a strep throats and fevers, driving lessons and packing lunches for school, this role might even be considered a “calling.”   

Hear anything? 

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