Thursday, November 17, 2011

Adoption Bloggers Interview Project 2011; Introducing Robyn of The Chittister Family

Production Not Reproduction is a wonderful place to find all kinds of bloggers. I participated in the Adoption Bloggers Interview Project last year that opened my eyes to so many wonderful voices out there in Adoption Blogging Land. It is that time of year to do it all again, and this year I would like to introduce you to Robyn Chittister of The Chittister Family.

Robyn is a kind and thoughtful mother who speaks from the heart and often asks tough questions of herself and all that comes with adoption. She has two children through adoption, the latest addition to the family is less than a month old,  and I spent a lot of time reading through her blog because I was not only intrigued by what she had to say, but she made me think about things that I had not thought of before. She has a great sense of humor that is coupled with compassion and a passion for adoption. I really enjoyed her words and came to find that if we were closer in geography, she would definitely be someone that I would call a friend. So without further ado, I introduce to you Robyn who was gracious enough to answer my interview questions....

~ You spoke recently about your lawyer asking questions about money and how much you wanted to perhaps give the birth mother for expenses. Then you stated ... "Another reason to have federal adoption laws." Can you elaborate on this, specifically what you think those laws should be?
I could write many, many words on this. I believe that we need standardization of adoption laws on a federal level. Right now, every state has its own requirements - advertisements, agencies, attorneys, facilitators, expenses - everything is at a state level. This creates a lot of confusion for everyone involved and, I believe, increases costs for adoptive parents. Briefly, I'd like to see federal laws regarding:
- Allowed expectant and birthmother expenses
- Caps on agency and adoption professional fees
- Standard definitions and licensing requirements for agencies, facilitators, attorneys, adoption consultants, and other adoption professionals, including a requirement that what each professional does is spelled out in entirety in standard written English
- Clear prohibitions on discrimination - any agency that receives federal funds cannot discriminate on the basis of inclusion in a protected class (put simply, gay parents are allowed to adopt, but this does go beyond that)
- Standard requirements for home studies
- Standard requirements for termination of parental rights

~ What is your take on adoption in media, is the attention that you see positive or negative?
It seems to me that most of what we see, hear, and read in the media is either negative or wrong. The adoption stories that get put on the AP are ones about adoptive and foster parents killing and/or abusing their kids. I don't remember the last time I saw a positive adoption-related story, outside of National Adoption Awareness Month. When you look to fiction, you have Glee getting adoption all wrong, Parenthood is taking great liberties, and then there's Once Upon a Time in which the adoptive mother is literally the Evil Queen. I think that there should be a show about adoption after the process is over. What happens to the people involved after the papers have been signed, and they're just living their lives? Whether a "reality" show or a scripted family drama, there is enough interesting in adoption after the child comes home to hold an audience. 

~ On you blog you speak about how you would like to have relationships with the adoptive families. Have you been able to have relations with Jackson's birth family since he was born? If so, has it been what you expected it to be?

Jackson's birth father has chosen not to be in the picture. We'd actually like contact, but that's not in the cards for now. 
The contact we have with S, his birth mother, and her family is very different than what I thought it would be. As I've said on my blog, S sometimes makes poor lifestyle choices. Due to these choices, we don't have a way to contact her, although she knows we'd love to hear from her. However, we've actually struck up a relationship with S's mother, which is odd, because we thought she didn't like us. We talk to S's mom every few months. We send presents at Christmas. In the beginning, I was really good about updates, but now I only send them twice a year. I know I'd do more if I thought S was in a place where she could receive them and respond to them. 
I've also become a Facebook friend to S's daughter's father's grandmother. Try following that relationship! 
Jackson's birth family lives in Missouri, and we haven't been back to see them since we've finalized. I imagine that we'll go back when he's older, if S is in a good place. 

~ Reading your blog, I noticed a couple of times that a counselor or facilitator gave you advice. Once it said that they made you think that your first birth mother did not want to have a relationship when she really did. Another time I read that the counselor told you to agree to the name that the birth mother chose, but then to change it after the adoption was final. What are your thoughts on how those counselors cater to both sides of the adoption, even if that means that they will be breaking promises made to the birth mother?
You read really closely! I don't think that the same people should be working for the adoptive parents and the birth parents. The best analogy I can come up with is real estate - you always have a buyer's agent and a seller's agent, never the same person representing the buyer and the seller. I know that analogy isn't great, but it's the closest I can think of to explain how two people can work together for the best interests of their clients. 

I don't think a person can effectively counsel adoptive and birth parents pre-adoption, especially if the adoptive parents are footing the bill. 

Having encountered these people, I now see why so many birth mothers experience broken promises after TPR is final. 

~ Do you watch any of the MTV pregnancy shows (16 & Pregnant or Teen Mom)? If so, do you have an opinion on how these shows may be affecting the way young people see parenthood?

I don't. Everything I've read about these shows makes me believe that kids are getting the wrong idea and thinking that pregnancy is a way to get famous. 

~ Was there a difference in your adoptions because of the age differences in your birth mothers? Were there some things that were easier to handle? Or harder to handle because of the life experience these women had?
Yes! S (who was 17 when Jackson was born) was much more dependent on us. She called and talked to me almost every day throughout the month before Jackson was born. She was induced, and wanted us to come early to meet her. She wanted us in the hospital. We were a part of her support system. 
Laine was 30 when Cassie was born, and she's completely independent. She would text me sometimes, but she wasn't a big conversationalist. She didn't want us to come in before the baby was born, didn't want us at the hospital. She was far more secure in what she wanted when it came to Cassie. 
After the fact, S expressed that she wished she had had more time with Jackson when he was still hers. So, when Laine said she wanted that time, I was actually glad. I do feel bad for not giving S more time, but the fact was, she asked us to be there. Her mom was working, and we were the only other people who could be there for her. 
Laine has more advice about baby care than S did, which makes sense. She's also far more secure in her life. She has a better sense of where she's going. S had ideas, but nothing concrete. 
The fact that S was so open and trusting made me feel very secure in her decision to place. Although Laine always said she wasn't going to change her mind, I never really felt as close to her, so I didn't really know. 

~ When Mother's Day comes around, what emotions do you feel?
My first Mother's Day was a bit strange, I think. I felt sorry for S, but happy that I could finally celebrate Mother's Day as a mom. I always remember S, and am thankful for her decision.
~Do you talk openly about adoption to your family members? Are they supportive of your thoughts, happiness, fears and so on?

It depends on the family member. My in-laws aren't very receptive to this whole open adoption thing. My mom hated to hear about S, and thought we shouldn't have anything to do with her (my mom passed away in 2009). My grandmother doesn't really understand who I'm talking about when I talk about S and Laine. My extended family is curious about the birth families. Most of them are respectful. Most of them at least try to understand why open adoption and the relationships are so important. I don't think any of them really knew how to support us through the process, either time.

I thank you Robyn for the interview and your blog, so glad to have met you and I will definately keep reading! And another thank you to Heather at Production Not Reproduction for hosting this incredible project that brings light to so many AMAZING voices in adoption!


Kelly L said...

Just stopping in from the Interview Project. It's so nice to find a new blog. Can't wait to check out your book as well!

Anonymous said...

What a wondefully poignant interview. Thanks for participating in this, Kelsey and Robyn.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kelsey! You're very kind.

Oh, and I actually live in Northern CA, so I'm not so far away.


Kelsey Stewart, Author said...

I know Robyn, may just have to take a drive up there to meet ya! Your book is on it's way, hope you enjoy it! And I thank you for being a great partner for this year's round of interviews!!