Adoption Triangle or Triad

I attended a virtual adoption conference last month. It was great to share space with so many others who understand your journey, either by personal experience or by empathy. It was a two-day conference with various events and guest speakers geared towards the “three” sides in adoption.

By that, I mean birth/biological parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, also referred to as the triad. They also had professionals attending and people looking to adopt or foster and offered CEU credits for those who needed them.

One of the first terminologies I learned when I started my personal journey into adoption research, several years after I had relinquished my parental rights, was the triangle or triad reference.

One day, as I perused through Barnes and Noble, searching for a book on adoption, I found one called, The Adoption Triangle, by Arthur D. Sorosky, Annette Baran, Reuben Pannor. I remember reading the intro and looking over the topics and quickly becoming more interested because the book included birth/biological stories. I needed some insight desperately. I needed to understand adoption on a deeper level, outside my own experience.

Inside the pages, the authors shared stories and captured the various points or angles of those directly impacted by adoption, depending on their position on the triangle or within the triad. It was the first time that I felt validation for my emotional wellbeing and the impact adoption and relinquishment had on me.

Triad: a group or set of three connected people or things.

Until this weekend, I never questioned this terminology. It seemed like a simple explanation. It was widely accepted and used by professionals as well as many of us within the adoption community.

However, while I was sitting in a virtual conference listening to our guest speaker, Sharon Kaplan Roszia M.S., share her talk on, The Ethical Traps in Building Families Through Adoption and Permanency, I seemed to have an epiphany.

Sharon, a social worker and an adoptive mom, shared how much has changed in adoption, including her own views, over the years but then how other things still needed greater amount of change. She confessed how social services unevenly and unethically impact minority families, who often become victims of a flawed system. She spoke about how fathers are too often not included in the decision making of adoption. And lastly, she talked about the impact on siblings.

At this point, she had my full and undivided attention. It was wonderful and refreshing to hear someone with personal and professional experience talk about the unethical flawed system, racial bias and to include the importance of siblings.

Siblings have always been an important topic for me but one that rarely gets discussed. Too often the biological siblings don’t get to share their side of the adoption story.

I remember sharing with family and friends how I was not only concerned for Noah as an adoptee and the impact adoption would have on him over the years but I was also concerned for Jaren and how our family’s adoption experience would impact him over the years to come. I knew how devastating it was for me at times.

I remember discussing it with my mother once and she brushed it off, as if I was making a big deal or seeing something that wasn’t there. As if I was imagining a false reality. But she didn’t know my son the way I did. She saw him once every couple years. That is surely not someone who can make a fair analysis. It is a dangerous assumption.

People rarely shared the same compassion for Jaren when it came to adoption. Jaren was 20 months old when his brother left our home. While he was not able to communicate his feelings at that time, I have asked Jaren several times over the years (during different stages of his youth), how he felt about his brother being adopted. I wanted him to feel safe that he could talk to me anytime about his feelings. But, I never heard anyone else close to us ask Jaren how he felt. That says a lot. Why were his feelings not valued.

I think some people thought it better to ignore it rather than talk about it. Others thought since he and I had a relationship with Noah, that solved the issue. And lastly, I think some people believe that when a child is parented by his or her biological parent but another child wasn’t, that the child or children who remain with their parent don’t experience a similar emotional impact caused by adoption. It is a sad and flawed assumption. Loss and grief go hand in hand.

In my heart, I knew Jaren had been impacted too. I could tell when we talked with Noah and his family on the phone or visited with them. I knew how Jaren acted at home compared to how he acted when talking or visiting them. I knew how I was different as well. We both experienced anxiety. But I had no proof until recently when Jaren confessed to me. I knew one day I would be faced with the reality and impact of my choice from not just one son but two.

Even their father has confessed to me that a couple years after Noah was adopted, he had a nervous breakdown. I guess the guilt finally caught up with him and it became too much for him to bear.

While in my heart, I know if their father had responded responsibly, the outcome would have been different. My sons know this as well. However, in the end, I was the one with the pen.

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” ~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton

I neglected my sons the opportunity to have each other as siblings. I now understand I should have fought harder to keep them together.

Which brings me back to the adoption triangle or triad.

Most adoption triangle diagrams will show in varying degrees, only three entities on the adoption triad or triangle; birth/biological parent, adoptee/birth child, and adoptive parent. The three titles are almost always positioned on the outside of the triangle on each point or corner of the diagram. However, everyone knows there aren’t just three sides to adoption.

Adoption Triangle or Triad images

That’s when the light bulb went on. The result or cause and effect of adoption create sides, but the system itself is not a triangle or a triad. The system positions those involved in the transaction at opposites ends of the diagram. We are exchanging the loss. We are passing it from one corner to another. And truly, no one wants to maintain, manage, or carry the loss.

Side meaning: support or oppose in a conflict, dispute, or debate.

I thought all these years, the adoption industry and the persons who have been directly impacted by the act of adoption have been focusing on the three sides of adoption but there are not just three sides in adoption. Here we are advocating for the triad without transferring true power to the ones who truly need to maintain the power. Otherwise, those impacted by the result of adoption become powerless.  This has been a huge part of the advocacy that adoptees and birth parents have tried to reclaim over the last couple decades with more transparency and access to birth certificates.

The power has historically been held by the ones who control the spinner, the ones who make the decisions, pass the laws or who used their power to threaten, coerce, groom, or gaslight someone into an outcome that suited those in power, who benefitted the most from an adoption.

At the same time, historically, the spinners do their best to control the triangle and keep everyone separated and in their corners. They were the mediators. They had all the information and the power to release it or withhold it.

When adoptive parents and professionals began to see the issues in adoption and began to advocate for birth families and adoptees, society seemed to accept the information. But once we reclaimed our own voice, our advocacy became a bloody battle at times and a huge debate.

The three outside entities of the triangle or triad are at the mercy of anyone who is in control of the spinner, who ironically will walk away with no emotional or life-long impact or commitment to the process or to persons involved in said adoption.

Which got me to thinking, should we even have sides in adoption at all.

There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Robert Evans

National Adoption Awareness Month 2019

I have read many blogs and articles by adoptive parents and adoptees. It astounds me to hear some of the comments and questions they are faced with as transracial families. Especially since I myself have a mixed race family and have never been asked directly or heard statements that many transracial families have heard. Partly, I think because White adoptive parents maintain their White social groups whereas mixed race families usually have expanded their racial social makeup.

I experienced this first hand one time while visiting Noah’s family in NE.

Sunday morning, we went to their church. I was introduced to one couple with an explanation of who I was. It seemed they had previously been informed of our open adoption relationship and wanted to learn more.

They, who appeared to be White, were married and raised a family, bio kids, who were now grown. They were now fostering a young boy who looked Latino. I think they were about to move from fostering to adoption. But I think they also wanted to maintain a connection with the boy’s mom.

Noah’s parents wanted to invite them over for dinner later that day. They let me know the couple wanted to spend more time with us. While I felt like an experiment, I knew it could impact this young boy and it was worth doing what I could to help.

They came for dinner with their young son.

After dinner is when things got interesting. The guys were downstairs watching TV in the basement. Upstairs, adoption soon became the topic. I started out learning that the husband of the couple was an adoptee himself. His siblings were also adopted. The wife began to talk about their race/ethnic guessing of her husband. She said that they (her husband’s parents and them) think he “may” have Latino or Hispanic. Then she begins to discuss the adopted brother of her husband and in a different tone says they “suspect” he has Black in him.

The words caught me instantly! I am sure no one else thought anything of it. I thought, wow, the brother who could possibly be Black is already a “suspect” without doing anything but being born. Why did she change her words from “may have Latino” to “suspects he is Black”? It’s not like HE was hiding is race. Was it because the agency purposefully withheld this info or truly didn’t know? Or because if the adoptive parents knew, they would not have adopted him? This was probably in the sixties so a different time no doubt. Did the possibly Black brother need to hide his Blackness in order to maintain his place in the White family?

Noah just happened to come upstairs in the middle of this conversation. I became immediately concerned about the impact on him. I looked at him and tried to interpret his facial expressions and body language. Even though I am not his parenting mother, I am still his mother and worry about him as an adoptee and a mixed race male.

Then the conversation turns to transracial adoption. The wife then drops the bomb.

She said (while referencing to Black/African), “We could never adopt a child of mixed race.” She went on to say that she thought raising a child of another race would be too hard. As she said the final too words, Noah looks directly to her and said, “too hard” in sync with her. My heart sank. I was dumbfounded and speechless. I could not believe she made this statement in front of my son or in front of me.

I began to wonder how often my son Noah had to endure comments like this. What message is this saying to him? Raising him is more challenging than raising White kids?

Then she looks at Noah’s mom and provides praise to her for raising a mixed race adoptee. Noah’s mom just silently stares at her.

And here I am, standing among this group as the microaggressions of racism seep out into this conversation and not one considers the impact on me or my son. Should I feel more ashamed for organically conceiving mixed race kids and birthing them or for relinquishing my rights to one so a White family could raise him in a difficult and bias world. To be honest, it is the latter. But this was the first time I was made to swallow the rife first hand, as if I was subhuman.

Thankfully, Jaren was downstairs. And I wonder if he was present, would the conversation have even veered in that direction.

These conversations are not something I have encountered as a parenting mother of a mixed race son. Nor have I heard someone tell Jaren that they couldn’t raise mixed race children because it would be too difficult. Nor thank me in front of Jaren for raising a mixed race son as if my role was superior to that of any other mother or father parenting their child. What an awful burden to place on a child.

These conversations are for White folks who feel safe in White spaces. I look back at this conversation and get angry with myself. I wish I had stuck up for myself and my sons. I should have explained that I am proud to have mixed race sons. They were conceived out of deep love and passion for their father. And nothing about their race makes it difficult for me to parent. I am fiercely protective of both of them.

Being Black should never be something to hide or feel ashamed of. Nor should a child be made to feel guilty for being born Black, or told their race or “blackness” makes life more difficult for their family.

Black Kids in White Houses

 

Somehow I just happened to stumble upon this very interesting and informative article.

Black Kids in White Houses

“She says it is time to watch a video called “Struggle for Identity.” In the video, people tell their stories, stories like the ones in the room. A black woman who was adopted by white parents boils it down: “Don’t think you can make black friends after you adopt a black child. If you don’t already have black friends, you shouldn’t be adopting a black child.”

I do believe that I made a similar statement in one of my recent blog post.  Trans-racial, Bi-racial

It’s a lengthy article but the writer writes with clarity and honesty without casting stones.

The Birth/Adoption Community

I’ll admit, before I entered into the birth/adoptive community, I was somewhat naïve, judgmental and probably insensitive to what individuals in this community experienced. Now that I have joined the ranks of millions maybe even billions of other birth parents, adoptees and adopters, I see this community in a whole new light.

When I was seeking my son’s new family, all I had to go on at the time was my instincts. I would be choosing complete strangers to whom I had not once previously met; to love, nurture, and parent my child for a lifetime. This in itself is a very daunting task. And then being the mother of a bi-racial son, added to my apprehension for my son’s wellbeing. I mean, just one year prior, members of my own family wanted me to place my first born child for adoption solely on the basis of his mixed ethnicity. I wondered how the families seeking to adopt my new son would differ in their views. Did some or perhaps most carry the same prejudices? Would they be more concerned about his racial background or would they just see a precious child created by God and be willing to love and honor his ethnicity?

I remember almost every detail on the day I reviewed the two family packets who wanted to adopt my son. Yes, only two. Most women (birth mothers to be) will have around ten or more families to consider for their unborn child. I had two. These two white American families were the ones who told the agency they were interested in adopting my baby. It does seem insensitive at times. After all, it’s not like going to a car dealership. I want this color with this kind of hair and these features and so on. But sadly, this is how some people view adoption should be. So naturally, I wondered if these families really wanted my baby or if they were just desperate for any baby. There is a difference.

I understand why some families may not want to adopt outside their race. They fear what others will say and they wonder how their new family will fit into a society. I can tell you from personal experience; at times, it can be more challenging to navigate in the world when your family is of a mixed race. It is what it is. Choosing to do what is right though is not always choosing to do what is easy. And it appears to me that those who are prejudice against other races or are against interracial couples are less judgmental and more accepting of families who adopt bi-racial children than those who conceive them naturally. However, if you are considering adopting a child who is not of your race, think it over long and hard. When someone gives you a stare or makes a comment, how will you respond? I know of one incident that didn’t go so well.

An adoptive mother was checking out in a store with her oldest, biological son and her adopted, bi-racial son. Her adopted son, who was a young toddler at the time, was sitting in the shopping cart. A lady behind them kept staring at them. After a few minutes, the adoptive mother annoyed by the stares barks, “He’s adopted, okay?” Now I know some of you may not see anything wrong with this but hear me out for a moment.

First of all, I am a white mother of a bi-racial son. I have had stares while checking out and not once have I felt the need to blurt out to a complete stranger that my son was biologically mine or that I conceived him.  The adoptive mother’s statement tells this stranger that there is a reason she has this bi-racial child. This is where the hero title comes into play. “You see, I adopted him. I am the good person. I didn’t have a relationship with a black man; I just adopted the child from the woman who did”.

Lastly, if this child was five years old, ten or fifteen years old, would his mother shout out, “He’s adopted,” in front of him? I wonder how that might make her “adopted” son feel? This was neither the time nor the place. Just because he is a baby, and cannot speak, doesn’t mean that he cannot hear or that he doesn’t understand. Trust me; he does understand even if he cannot verbalize his words.

As any mother knows, when you leave your child with someone new, whether it is a new nanny, new daycare or new baby sitter, we worry and hope that our child is getting the best care possible until we pick them up. The difference is when a birth mother leaves her baby with his/her new caretaker, she’s gravely aware that she will not be picking him/her up later on that day. She knows it may be a lifetime until she sees her child again and for some, they weren’t even lucky enough to have that. They left this world not knowing if their choice to relinquish their parental rights to parent their child hindered their child’s experience or enhanced it. Many women took their final breath without ever having the opportunity to see a smile on their child’s face, to caress his cheek or to stroke her hair. I know some of these women and my heart weeps for them.

As for me, I am able to know my son through open adoption. I have touched his face, kissed his cheeks and I’ve seen his beautiful smile light up the room. I know that my birth son’s family has provided a good home to him. And I know they love him. The mere fact that they thought it was important to share their son with his original family says a great deal about their character and it shows respect to me as a human being.

We created our own version of the birth/adoption community and what it meant to us.

Who knows how our son will feel when he is grown. Only time will tell. I hope the fact that he has been able to know his birth family while growing up with his adoptive family has only enhanced his quality of life and that he knows that although I gave him to his adoptive parents; it doesn’t mean that I didn’t love him. I am still here, ever present with love and acceptance, watching him grow and expecting him to do great things with his life.