Saturday, March 10, 2012

Privacy and Complexity in Adoption

I've mentioned before that I have a whole bunch of blog posts written in draft form, waiting for me to finish them off.  In addition to these, there are an additional few that I keep writing and then deleting.  All of these have to do with aspects of the complexities of older child adoption.  There are things I wish I could publish here:  in part because I know some that read my blog are waiting for referrals of older children; in part because it would help me think through certain issues; in part so that I could benefit from other people's wisdom and experience and thoughts on various subjects.  But I simply can't, because I just cannot bridge certain privacy barriers that I believe protect my children.  Older child adoption is times, very complicated.  They have seen and experienced things in their lives that a younger child simply hasn't had time to experience yet, and there are implications of these things that regularly impact our every day.

Another privacy issue has to do with the ongoing questions we receive about our kids' history.  I'm definitely more comfortable than I was a few months ago answering people's questions and being rather matter-of-fact about the kinds of things that we don't talk about.  I get that for the most part, people are well-intentioned and simply ill-informed or not very thoughtful in what/how they ask (although the people who ask me in front of the kids if Seth and Lizzie's 'real' parents died of AIDS get zero consideration from me).  I do tire of the questions, and find myself being increasingly careful of my word choices because Seth and Lizzie can understand me now.  But I'm more comfortable in dealing with intrusive questions, without a doubt.  I've also asked family members and friends who know a little about the kids' history to not talk about it with other people, and can only hope that they are as respectful of our kids' privacy as we try to be.

Recently, a child visiting our home asked me who the people were in the pictures we have in Seth's (and Lizzie's) bedroom.  The people pictured are Geoff and Matthew and me, along with Seth and Lizzie and various members of their birth community.  We knew that at some point someone would see those pictures and ask who they were, and so I have spoken with both Seth and Lizzie about this exact situation a few times in preparation for just such an occasion.  In particular, I have talked with Seth about various alternative answers that he can give to people who ask: from full disclosure; to ways in which he can say nothing at all.

So when the visiting child asked who was in the picture, my response was to say that he was welcome to ask Seth about the picture, and that I was ok with whatever answer Seth provided.  I also suggested that I  could accompany the child when he was talking with Seth about it (basically so that I could help Seth in case he had forgotten our conversations and felt stuck).  I also explained to the curious child that until Seth and Lizzie felt comfortable talking with other people about their lives in Ethiopia, we wouldn't talk much about it; we'd rather watch to see how comfortable our kids are in sharing bits of their history, and following their lead.

In the end, I think my answer was complicated enough for the asking child that he gave up on caring who the people in the pictures were!  So we didn't have to deal with the issue this time...but another time is surely coming.

It hit me recently that we were right to guard the privacy of our younger children's history and details about their family of origin.  A couple of weeks ago, in the presence of Seth, I said something in front of a few family members about his and Lizzie's first family.  It was something pretty neutral and not even something that I would consider to be particularly private.  But Seth immediately looked at me and said to me "Mommy, no talk now about Eetopia."  He then hid his face for a moment in a fairly clear expression of his feelings of vulnerability.  I changed the topic instantly, and later talked with Seth to ensure we were united in our feelings on the subject of his first life.

The fact is that Seth and Lizzie are very different children by personality.  Whereas Lizzie is surely one of the most social and open children I've ever met, Seth is pretty much the opposite.  Where Lizzie would likely share her life story with a stranger at the next table in Starbucks, I have come to understand Seth to be a child who is intensely intense, careful with his expression of feelings, and guarded in how much he says about himself - ie. he's private.  Lizzie is relatively unfettered in her affections and thoughts and opinions, whereas Seth is reserved and somewhat rigid and introspective.  Lizzie wears every nuance of every expression on her face, whereas Seth's visage is fairly shuttered most of the time...especially when it comes to matters of his birthplace.  Where Lizzie can be readily persuaded to divulge pretty much anything, it takes time and lots of conversation to bring out the 'real goods' from Seth.  They are just fundamentally different in these ways, for better and for worse.

Knowing now what I know about Seth, I'm doubly thankful that we have been protective of their story.  Many times, especially in the excitement after receiving our referral or during the kids' early days in Canada, it would have been easy to say something to others about the kids' life in Ethiopia, and I have been pushed hard and questioned on a few occasions to divulge some piece of information.  Sometimes, frankly, it's just awkward.  It's not a secret that they have a birth father still living, and that their first father is protestant Christian in his beliefs.  But that's pretty much what we're comfortable sharing about their family of origin.  No one knows all of it, other than Geoff and me...not even Seth and Lizzie at this point, though we're happy to talk to them about it as they have questions and comments.

So we'll continue to choose to follow the kids' lead, and wait until they're old enough and cognizant enough and well-spoken enough to speak on their own behalf about their life in Ethiopia. It'll be interesting to watch this develop.


  1. I love you and your family now, with or without your pasts.