Every year, I subject my children to what they call “those pictures.” What they are referring to is a couple of hours of dress-up photographs around Christmastime. I frame each picture and keep them in a box with my holiday decorations. Opening that box each year and placing the photos around the house is my gift to me, and it’s the best one of all!
Taking the photos is a different story. It usually requires some wrangling, especially after our family grew to include three kids!
To get the perfect holiday picture, I have tried all kinds of poses. Of course, the obligatory newborn “stuff the baby in the big stocking.” I have a great photo of my first son Mackenzie, now 21, in the stocking wearing a green velveteen jumper accompanied by a toy reindeer. To his dismay, as he grew older, I went whole-hog on him with a Victorian outfit complete with velvet hat and knickers.
When his brother Michael, now 18, came along I dragged out the stocking, but Michael wouldn’t fit — he was already nine pounds. So, I plopped him down on a wooden sled in a Santa outfit. I cherish this picture because he was teetering to sit upright, and I had to steady him.
The next year we started our “brothers” pictures. At this point, my oldest is six and starts trying to sabotage the pictures. When their sister, Mary Parker, now 16, was born I did my last group dress-up picture. After a series of epic fails in getting them all to sit still and smile, I finally managed to capture their sister looking at the boys as they taunted her. If you look closely you can see where Mackenzie has cut a chunk out of his hair with the wrapping scissors. That was the last of the group photos for many years.
As a different twist, I decided to start taking individual pics under the tree in PJs. The kids were thankful I stopped dressing them up. It wasn’t until their teens that I could get them to pose together again.
Even with all the fussing, I never realized how much this tradition meant to them until 2017. After we had opened all our gifts, my son Michael says, “you know we are really too big to fit under the tree, what if we sat in front of the fireplace?” That picture means so much to me. For more than a year I kept it on my phone as a screen saver.
I guess the joy of holiday photos come from the memories they create. While I laugh now at the years of getting these photos, I wouldn’t change a thing.
In 1980, Judy and Alan started providing respite care for babies in Erie, PA. They moved to NC in 1995 and in 1999 began providing respite for A Child’s Hope. They have cared for more than 200 babies, 89 for A Child’s Hope.
On Dec. 19, 2019, Judy & Alan will retire. Judy shares, “It has been an incredible journey with lots of wonderful memories and we will miss it!”
If you are an adoptee and considering searching for additional information about your birth family, it can feel daunting. Some seek medical knowledge; others want to know more about their family history. But primarily, adoptees have a genuine curiosity of who their birth mother is; appearance or personality. The internet and DNA technology has allowed for the sharing of information about birth relatives and family trees.
Caroline, 49, was adopted as an infant in Arizona. The mother of five children herself, she always had a curiosity about the identity of her birth mother. Last year, her husband gave her the gift of an ancestry kit for Christmas.
“The DNA kit led me to a man who turned out to be my half-brother,” Caroline explained. “The first step, it was that easy.” From there, contact information was obtained about Caroline’s birth mother. And, she took another step. A call. “My birth mother was so excited,” she recalled. A few months later, they met in person. Since then, Caroline’s birth mother and adoptive mother have also had a chance to meet. For Caroline, meeting her birth mother gave her closure on her biological identity. “We have added to our family and it has been a blessing to everyone involved,” she said.
One 23andMe DNA kit led to a 65-year-old Raleigh man learning he had a son he never knew.
“I was given a DNA kit for my 60th birthday by one of my siblings,” said David. “I used the kit to research some of my genealogy and then we reached a dead end and forgot about it.”
Five years later, David received a phone call one night from a man how lived in South Carolina. The caller told him that Ancestry 23 was indicating that he was either a brother or his biological father.
I was shocked, David recalls. “He asked me if I had known his mother, and sure enough, I had dated his mother in college. She gave birth to a son after we broke up and had not told me. So, at age 65, I am a new dad.”
David and his son messaged back and forth and met for lunch. “It was enlightening to find out that I had another child, but it was so important to him.” He is a fine young man and I am proud to refer to him as my son.”
David and his son both add a cautionary note that while their genealogical searches had positive outcomes, it is best to be prepared for whatever you may find. Some birth parents are not going to want reunification, and some biological relatives may turn up unexpectedly.
Finding Your Biological Relatives
Invest in a DNA kit such as 23andMe. It can certainly help you get started. However, you really need to do a little digging first. Glean every bit of information you can from your adoptive parents and other relatives about your adoption.
Once you have this information the DNA kit results may provide you a list of genetic matches that may lead to your birth family. Organizing the information gathered will be useful in starting the conversation with the people you connected via the DNA kit.
Like Caroline and David, often the journey of becoming reunited with your birth family comes in the form of a gift from a loved one. If you know someone that is curious about their family, an ancestry or DNA kit may be the perfect gift this holiday season.
Just starting school or returning from summer break can be difficult. For many children who are adopted this can be compounded with an awkwardness about family relationships. In some cases, the difference is obvious, such as when a child and their parents are different ethnicities or the parents are of the same gender. While taxing at times, a visual difference can turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It often evokes questions or comments early when meeting people and allowing the issue to be addressed head-on.
For other students, skin tone doesn’t tell the story. For them, the awkwardness arises during school assignments. Examples may include: creating a family tree or student timeline, researching genetics, or bringing in baby and family pictures for a bulletin board. Uneasiness can also occur in student-to-student conversations about family and background.
Some parents choose not to address the issue at all, one mother stating:
Just as I don’t go to the school and point out that my children are biracial or fantastic athletes, or that their dad is a doctor, we leave it up to the kids whether to mention adoption. Our children share information about their adoption—and
other information—when it seems right to do so for them. It has worked for us.”
Many adoption experts suggest that parents talk to teachers to explain the adoption connection. They recommend using a simple explanation that includes only the information that the parents and child are comfortable sharing. The conversation starter may go like this:
“Michael was adopted by us as a newborn, and we have an open adoption with his birth mother.”
Or, keep it really simple:
“Michael is adopted and he (does or does not) know his birth family.”
Ultimately, it is up to the parents to decide what is right for their child and family. For parents that choose to be proactive, bringing the topic up with teachers at the start of the school year is often best. The teacher may wish to make a discussion about different family types as part of their lesson plans.
For teachers who are not familiar with the world of adoption, offering your own knowledge as a resource may be extremely helpful and very welcome guidance. Handouts like the one by Adoptive Families magazine help both the child and the teacher answer many common questions – Click here to download.
A discussion about positive adoption language and words can also be valuable. Consider sharing with the teacher this link to an article on the Adoptive Families website.
Parents may also wish to donate a book or two to the classroom. Here are a few titles for consideration:
The Mulberry Bird by Braff Brodzinsky & Anne Braff
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz
Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis
I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis
If the teacher isn’t comfortable with books that speak directly to adoption, some alternatives include
On The Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
The Family Book by Todd Parr
It’s Ok To Be Different by Todd Parr
Be Who You Are by Todd Parr
How parents communicate with teachers about adoption sets the precedent for how the teacher will likely treat the topic of adoption and address situations that arise among the students. Parents that are concerned about questions or conflicts should consider taking a proactive approach and engage with the teachers.
Breastfeeding biological children is generally believed to have huge health benefits. Breast milk builds up the baby’s immune system and creates a special bond for mother and child. Babies who are breastfed suffer only a small fraction of the colds and ear infections experienced by bottle-fed babies during the first year.
Most people don’t realize that adopted children can be breastfed, as well as breastfeeding adopted children is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatricians. There are medications and supplements which help women lactate and along with breast pumping several months before the child’s expected birth usually brings on lactation.
One intended mother who recently adopted her son, Maxwell, through A Child’s Hope began breastfeeding him on the day of his birth in the hospital.
“I had the advantage of already producing milk because I never stopped pumping after my son Ari, who is now 21 months was born,” said Rachel. “But women can plan ahead even if they are not already producing milk and with a combination of pumping and medication or herbs like Fenugreek and Goat’s Rue can help you produce breast milk.”
Rachel produced a freezer full of breast milk before a child became available for adoption so her son will not want for breast milk whether fresh or frozen. Lactation consultants are generally positive about the likelihood that a woman can produce milk for her adopted child. If milk supply is not enough, frozen milk can be used to supplement, as well as formula.
“Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing,” said Rachel. “It’s been shown that even two ounces of breast milk a day provides a tremendous boost to building a baby’s immune system.”
Any woman who is planning on adopting a newborn and would like to breastfeed should first consult with her doctor who may prescribe medications and refer her to a lactation consultant who can discuss pumping and medications and herbal supplements. To find a lactation consultant near you, visit the International Lactation Consultant Association website.
Breastfeeding an adoptive newborn will take commitment and the support of your partner, as well as a lactation consultant before and after the baby is here. But the physical benefits of breast milk and the emotional health benefits of the skin to skin contact are more than worth the effort for both mother and baby!
For more information on breastfeeding an adopted child:
WTVD – ABC 11 – Wake County couple celebrate first Mother’s Day after adopting a baby boy.
Caitlin and Chris are still in disbelief when they look into two-week-old Henry’s eyes.
Growing their family was all they ever wanted.
“We’ve always wanted to be parents. I’m from a large family,” said Caitlin.
The college sweethearts tried conceiving one year after marriage but had no luck. After four years of fertility treatments, they considered adoption.
“We were open to basically anything…race or gender. For us, it didn’t matter,” said Chris.
Two weeks ago, the couple brought home a special gift that weighed seven pounds and 12 ounces.
The couple is thankful adoption gave them a chance at making their family whole, and particularly this Mother’s Day.
“Just looking at him, I wouldn’t change it,” said Caitlin. “It makes him that much more special.”
After adopting Noah in January, Megan opened their home to reporters on Mother’s Day to share a little of her adoption journey and thank the birth mother.
This Birth Mother’s Day, we say THANK YOU and send our LOVE to all birth mothers. You hold a special place in our hearts ❤️ for there are two kinds of strength – the strength to make a parenting plan and the strength to give that plan to another.
Hear directly from a few of our birth mothers – watch the videos
Or Fill Out Our Online Information Request Form.
Valentine’s Day is always special at A Child’s Hope and the Parker Herring Law Group. It’s all about love and love is what we make a reality every day. We create families through adoption of all types, as well as surrogacy and assisted reproduction.
This Valentine’s Day, we collected a few thoughts and stories from those who have directly experienced the joy of love of adoption. We hope you will enjoy them, and the stories will help encourage you to begin, reflect, or continue your adoption journey.
“I started my own adoption journey 21 years ago by signing with The Gladney Center and became an adoptive mother three months later when I was blessed with my son, Mackenzie. Three years later, I took the adoption journey a second time. This time via an independent adoption. My second son, Michael, turns 18 this year. Two years after adopting Michael, God helped me through the assisted reproduction process to give birth to my beautiful daughter Mary. My heart is always full with love for them.” – E. Parker Herring
“’If you have the heart for adoption, don’t let fear stand in the way,’ is a quote I love! As an adoption counselor and as an adoptive parent it really hits home! Loving a child you did not give birth to is one of the easiest things you will ever do! As a mom of three children, two biological and one adopted, the love I have for them is equal and ever growing!” – Adoption Counselor Supervisor Kelly Dunbar
“We’ve seen our sons’ birth mothers every few months since the kids were born (almost 12 and 14 years ago), but this 2017 photo captures the first time the 6 of us were together. We started this journey with awkward, guarded conversations, but now we are family. That can be anyone’s story and I love that I get to play a role in helping adopting parents experience the love I’ve experienced.” – Hal Kaufman, Founder, My Adoption Advisor
“Having an open adoption taught me a new type of love. I never have to worry if my daughter is safe or loved because I know I handpicked the best possible parents for her. The adoptive parents of my daughter have shown me that family is not defined by blood, it’s defined by commitment and love.” – Loving Birth Mother
“My name is Andrea and I’m 16 years old. Let me tell ya, my family is great. Thanks to being adopted, I can see myself having a bright future. I don’t know who I’d be or what I’d even be doing if I had grown up living with my birthmother. I don’t think I’d be getting the good education I have now. I feel like I was saved from living in poverty or being involved in some type of illegal activity. My adoption was definitely a win-win situation. My parents couldn’t get pregnant and I was able to bring them the joy of being parents.”
“Little souls find their way to you, whether from your womb or someone else’s. Every time the phone rings asking us if we can care for a baby awaiting adoption our hearts are full of love and excitement. Nothing can compare to seeing and feeling the joy and love on the faces of adoptive parents as they see their new son or daughter for the first time. Caring for each of these precious babies throughout most of our marriage has been both a blessing and our ministry.” – Respite care Giver Judy
“The thing I love most about being an adoption counselor are the bonds I form with my clients. Each birth mother and adoptive family I’ve worked with has left a lasting mark on my heart. I feel honored to be a part of their adoption journeys and enjoy staying in touch with and supporting my clients long after the adoption process is over.” – Adoption Counselor Rebecca Anderson
“Our experience with adoption has truly changed our lives in ways we cannot describe. Ryan has brought us such joy and love! We have gained new family members in Ryan’s birth family and love them for the wonderful gift they have given us.” – Adoptive Mom Laura
Josh and Melissa are waiting to adopt and are happy to have the chance to share their love with a child, whenever that happens!
“Love is all about family and we can’t wait to share our love with a child through adoption!” – Waiting Adoptive Mom Melissa
Whether you are an adopted child, adoptive parent, birth parent who placed your child for adoption, or an adoption professional we know that you have done what you do because of love and your life is better for it. Share your story and share your love.