Good news for waiting families: pre-placement is a perfect time to start the
lifebook process. Before children arrive, parents will have time—a luxury not
often enjoyed once children are at home! Use that time to:
keep a journal,
pay attention to non-critical information,
maintain alertness to the 'warm fuzzies,' and
gather information, through examining history and through interviewing people involved in the placement.
Keeping a journal, says Massachusetts' ODS Adoption Community of New England, Inc., Executive Director Joan Clark, helps both process your own emotions and record vital pieces of information.
Journaling permits us to rely on our experiences instead of our occasionally spotty memories. The adoption process can be lengthy and stressful, not unlike pregnancy. Holding on to an assortment of events, names, and hard and soft facts is next to impossible when you can’t remember where you put the car keys some days. If you keep a journal, that journal will always be available for review.
Another way to start is by simply maintaining attentiveness. This is related to keeping a journal, because sometimes connections between events aren’t made right away. Parents may receive pieces of information that don't fit neatly together. Only over time, after repeated exposure, do the pieces of the puzzle suggest where they might fit.
In addition, synchronicity (unusual coincidence) seems to pop up a great deal in the adoption world. Sometimes these connections seem to be a million-to-one; they just call out, ”This is unbelievable!” Reviewing a journal can help facilitate making these connections—but first we have to be sure we're paying attention to the details.
"A couple adopting from Russia was planning to follow their religious tradition of naming their new baby after a grandmother who had passed on. . . . Often people choose either the first name or the first initial, which was M in this instance. When they received the referral papers, the baby’s first name already started with M, and she was born the same day that the grandmother died."
-as told to ODS Community NE
Executive Director Joan Clark, adoptive mother
These stories contribute to family history and honor a spiritual dimension. They enhance the 'legend' quality of the adoption story, giving children a sense that this was always meant to be. This sense may enhance positive feeling and help with acceptance of adoptive-family values once the teen years arrive!
A third way to start the lifebook process is to maintain alertness to 'warm fuzzies,' which are pieces of personal, family-oriented information that are not typically part of the official record. Waiting parents can be more sensitive to warm fuzzy facts as they engage in such pursuits as travel to birth countries, meetings with birthparents to discuss open adoption, or receipt of foster care placement information. As you move through the adoption process, developing lifebook 'antenna' for cute items and other tidbits will help you collect the stories your child will cherish.
One of the best times to soak up information the fourth means of beginning a lifebook is prior to placement. Once placement occurs, then the initial attachment period sets in. Sometimes this period isn’t compatible with examining your child’s birth history, placement history, or the reason s/he became available for adoption. (This is why it's best for foster children to be placed in adoptive homes with up-to-date lifebooks.) I often find that after placement it takes 12-18 months before the lifebook journey can be resumed.
Before placement occurs, search out those pieces of information that will turn to gold in the teen years, even during young adulthood. As the 'lifebook detective,' see this search as Job 1! The information you uncover will help lay the cornerstones of your new family's foundation.
Often, as a child becomes older, s/he will have numerous questions about the pre-placement period or birth family history. These might be as simple as, "What was the name of my favorite staff member at the orphanage?" or direct and complicated, such as, “Is my birth mother still alive?” During adolescence and early adulthood, adoption information takes on great significance.
Personally, I always hated doctor visits, when I had to say I knew nothing about my medical history. Medical information can be difficult to obtain, yet few things are as necessary to have. Pieces that may be just as vital to track down are nuggets like the birthmother’s favorite childhood games.
Try to interview people who had contact with birth family members. Treat the orphanage staff as extended birth family. Get quotes about your child, the full name of the person quoted, and photos. Open adoption? Don't be shy find out as much as possible about the birthfather, his childhood interests, talents, nationality, personality traits, favorite things. Do the same for the birthmother. Treat each opportunity as if it were the last, because you simply never know what the future might bring.
Lifebook information comes to you via official documents, your recollections and experiences, and the results of paying attention to new types of information.