This interview with critically-acclaimed adoption author Sherrie
Eldridge is the last of a four-part series. This post includes a
discussion of Sherrie's initial groundbreaking book, Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adopted Parents Knew.
CG: This was the first book you published, and it was hugely successful. How has your life as an adoption expert changed since this book came out?
SE: Dramatically. And unexpectedly! Before this book was published, I was already active in the adoption world. In 1994, I had founded the Jewel Among Jewels network, which is a nonprofit organization for those whose lives have been touched by adoption. So, I was already speaking publicly to audiences about adoption.
But when I wrote the 20 Things book, my publisher and I didn't think it was going to be a big deal, and then it just took off! I spoke for the NACAC conference (North American Council on Adoptable Children) in 1999, which was the year the book was released, and people were sitting on the floor to hear my speech. I couldn't believe it! The reception to the book was just amazing, overwhelming. I've never needed to seek a speaking engagement since then.
Because of the book's success, I've traveled the world and had the opportunity to speak to government officials in places like Beijing. It has been such an exciting ride. I never anticipated that this was going to happen, and I am so grateful for everything that has come out of the book.
CG: A key concept in your book is that you encourage adoptive parents to acknowledge and heal from their own grief at not having a biological child before adopting, so that they can better help their adopted child cope with his own grief at losing his birth family. How do you recommend adoptive parents handle the subject of their former losses (i.e., biological children that have died, miscarriages, etc) when talking with their adopted children?
SE: Ideally, adoptive parents will have worked through their grief before adopting. But you can never totally be free of grief. It is okay to tell the truth, even if it is sad. The door of loss can become the door of hope.
I worked with a couple, Carrie and Phil, who had lost a baby, Gracie, to stillbirth and then subsequently adopted a baby named Kate. In Kate's room today is a shelf with two pairs of baby shoes, one inscribed with Gracie's name and the other inscribed with Kate's name.
The following paragraph about Carrie and Phil is taken directly from another of Sherrie's books, 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need To Succeed:
"Do Carrie and Phil have twinges of sadness when they carry Kate to her crib and glance at the shoes? You bet. Does that mean they are bad parents or that they haven't grieved the loss of Gracie? No way. The two emotions - joy and sorrow- coexist, side by side, like the shoes, reminding them of their release of baby Gracie to heaven and their happiness in parenting Kate."
CG: Yes, I really relate to this. We keep a picture of Matthew, the baby that we lost, in our house alongside pictures of our girls, Katie and Annie Rose.
SE: It is a beautiful tribute to all your children. You know, it makes me think of an experience we had at Denver Adventist Hospital. It involves the very first couple to ever do a Forever Fingerprints ceremony and take home a copy of my Forever Fingerprints book.
Three weeks after the parents took the baby home, the baby died suddenly. It was such a shock and a tragedy. We had all been so excited about the adoption, and it had been very special at the hospital when they made the fingerprints with the baby and the birth mother. And three weeks after the adoption, the baby had died.
But this couple went on to adopt again. Rebecca Vahle, the adoption liason at Denver Adventist Hospital, hosted a Forever Fingerprints party for Adoption Awareness Month, and this couple came who had lost the baby. The mom talked about her first baby and said she was thankful they got to be his parents for as long as they did. They remember him and they celebrate their new baby, all at the same time.
CG: Which of the twenty things do you identify most strongly with?
identify most strongly with the first chapter: I suffered a profound
loss before I was adopted, and I need to grieve it. Like all adoptees,
I was intimately connected with a birth mother, and now she's gone. It
is traumatizing to be removed from all that is familiar.
Yes, I even saw that painful separation happen with my daughter
and her foster mother, Susan. Katie had spent several months in foster
care, and when we first adopted her, I think she really missed Susan.
She cried a lot and the only thing that soothed her was for me to put
her in the sling. Goodbyes are still very hard for my daughter.
Goodbyes are hard for adoptees, kids or adults. We almost have to
laugh at how we can't say goodbye. We put it off and put it off.
There is a song called Mommy Comes Back that is helpful to young
children, even those who aren't adopted.
beckywrightsongs.com. Some of the best ones are the titles: Call Me
Loved, Thank You For Giving Me A Chance, Child Of My Heart, and Always
Be Mom And Dad.
CG: We also really like the adoption
music of Chuck Kent. There is this one song, Tell Me The Story Again,
which we call Katie's song. It makes me cry when I hear it.
CG: Sherrie, what final message do you wish you could convey to adoptive parents?
Adoptive parents need to be sure they are well prepared before
adopting. Once the adopted child has been brought home, adoptive
parents tend to think, whew it's over. But it is really just
beginning. Education and support systems must continue to be
available, for the sake of the child.
Adoptive parents need to
continue to educate themselves, because parenting an adopted child is
not like parenting a biological child, and the child's needs change.
How a child processes her adoption changes year to year. It is a
lifelong journey, and I don't mean that in a burdensome way. It is a
journey of learning and self-growth and beauty and connection.