(Crystal A. Proxmire, 7/15/2011)
An obvious angle to a story about the Ferndale Adoption Network (FAN) would be to write about the diversity of the families in the club and the variety of “adoption situations” represented at their recent family potluck.
There are couples who have open adoptions where the birth mother is involved in the child’s life. There are those whose children come from overseas, and those from closer to home. There are families with same-sex parents, families with single parents and parents-to-be who are in various stages in the adoption process.
And of course the beautiful and diverse children would make a pretty picture, though we didn’t take them out of respect for the families who had legal or privacy concerns. At the July potluck children from Russia, Korea, Ethiopian and the Ukraine played with domestically-adopted African American and Caucasian kids. And though the rich diversity gives the group that Ferndale feel, it’s really the commonalities that have brought the FAN families together.
The desire to have a family and care for a child has taken each family on a journey with the same kinds of ups and downs. No matter how it’s done, adoption is a long, emotionally-trying process. The hopes and fears of adoptive parents exist regardless of skin tone or situation. And the need for a supportive environment for adopted children is also universal.
“Our kids grow up with other kids and know they aren’t alone,” said one of the group’s founding organizers April Murphy. “Hopefully as they get older they’ll be able to recognize each other at school or around town. Even if they aren’t close they can see them and know, ‘hey there’s another adopted kid, I’m not the only one.”
Murphy said the group also serves as a way to share resources and information. Being a parent, or if you’re a waiting family, it can be really stressful. We love to get new families so we can share more community knowledge and support.”
Organized mainly through Facebook, the Ferndale Adoption Network hosts outings that are fun for families with children of any age. The group started last year and has already met up for a hayride, a trip to the zoo, and other cookouts and picnics. They are planning a trip to the Oak Park pool later this summer, and bowling in the fall. Over 40 grown-ups are now involved, with several coming to the potluck as their first event.
Candace Loomis and Melissa Morey adopted Kai just shortly after she was born three years ago. They were happy to see there were many toddlers in the group. “Other groups have older kids,” said Loomis. “This works out nice for us.”
The women face questions from outsiders because they are lesbians and because their daughter is dark-skinned. “People will ask about her parents, and they’ll make all sorts of assumptions. People have asked me if her mother was a drug addict, which is not the case at all. But what can you say back to that? I have to tell people that it’s her life and her story to tell. It’s private and up to her.”
Dealing with questions was a common complaint among the parents in the group. One woman who adopted a child from Africa said people she barely knows will congratulate her for saving a starving child. “It’s not like every baby is starving in Africa, and I wasn’t doing it to be heroic. I wanted a baby. It’s not some great altruistic thing, but that’s what people make it out to be.”
Another parent complained that people will speak insensitively about the adoption. “I’ve had people tell me I won’t have the same experiences as a ‘real’ parent,” one of the group members said. “I hate when people ask about the ‘real’ mom,” said another.
“It helps being around other parents who know what it’s like,” Loomis said. The hope of parents there was that the group also helps the children to grow up with community support.
Many of the children in the group are young, and have not yet gone to school or grasped the idea that their family might be considered unique by some. Julie Sias and her husband Craig are the parents of a six and a half year old who is half Eastern European and half Eastern Indian. He has been with the Sias’ since he was two days old, and in this home he also faces a dichotomy of choices, with his mother being Jewish and his father being “white bred Presbyterian.”
The couple says they are giving their son exposure to all the cultures that touch his heritage, and giving him the choice when it comes to religious matters. And though the birth parents have no interest in being active in the child’s life, he does have a picture of them in his room. “As he gets older he is starting to ask more questions, and starting to notice that his family is different,” Sias said. “That’s why I’m glad he is part of this group.”
To find out more about Ferndale Adoption Network, check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/112375997645.