Help me figure out how to share about adoption with my toddler. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 18 Old 12-24-2010, 12:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi everyone,

 

I think this is my first post on this forum, or at least my first thread.  I've been reluctant to post in this forum because of how public these boards are, even though I use pseudonyms.  Our adoption is certainly no secret, but I still think a lot about privacy and the various implications of writing online about it.


That said, I need some advice.  Can anyone talk me through exactly how they talk to their young toddlers about adoption?  Like, tell me exactly the words you use, the situations you use them it, etc.

 

Willow joined our family in the first week of her life, via domestic infant adoption.  She's a happy, healthy, amazing child, and she's 19 months old now.  I want to do everything I can to help her understand and process her adoption in whatever way she wants or needs as she grows.  Right now I'm feeling a bit lost.  We anticipated a fully open adoption, with visits and everything--a birth mom or birth family whom Willow would grow up knowing face to face or at least through phone calls or letters.  So far that's not the case; while our adoption is technically open, and we send updates and photos to our file at our agency, keep all of our contact info updated, and have been very clear in our openness agreement and with our social worker that we'd love to have contact, Willow's birth mom hasn't yet wanted that.  We've never even met her.  I completely respect that and I try hard not to disrespect her by trying to guess what's going on in her life or what her reasons are for not reciprocating contact yet.  We do have some basic information about her that she filled out after delivering Willow, and two photos.

 

I'd expected that our relationship with our child's birth family would be a way into talking about adoption; we could talk about birth or first families and there would be a real person for my child to connect to that, someone she'd at least met.  I thought we'd put her photo up in Willow's room and talk about her and so on.  In our situation, though, I worry that that would be an invasion of her birth mom's privacy in some way (since she hasn't made contact, and we can't ask her what she's comfortable with, is it OK to have her photo up for anyone to see?  To share her name or anything about her with other people?  I don't want Willow to grow up thinking we're ashamed of her birth mom or the story of Willow's life before she came into our family, but I also want to respect and protect her birth mom).  Without that, I feel a little bit lost. 

 

 I feel like Willow is old enough that I need to start talking about it to her.  I'm very pro-openness about all aspects of adoption, and I'm not uncomfortable with or threatened by anything about Willow's story or how our family came to be.  I definitely don't want there to ever be a time where she didn't know she was adopted!  I just don't know where to start, or what or how much to say.  I've tried to tell her her adoption story before, but I just felt awkward and overly wordy.  I haven't found a single board or picture book I like yet (a topic for another thread, probably!), so I don't have any help in that way yet.  She's the same race as us and looks a lot like us, so there isn't that obvious route into talking about adoption either.  I really never expected this to be difficult, and honestly, I feel a little stupid about it...  I've always been so passionate about being ethical and open in adoption that I just assumed this would all flow naturally and easily.


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#2 of 18 Old 12-24-2010, 02:59 PM
 
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My daughter is 28 months and I haven't started talking about adoption with her. She wouldn't get it yet. Our bioson is 5 and was verbal at a much younger age. We have a number of books about where babies come from. When I read them to him, I say, "When you were in my tummy and when sister was in her Mama (first name's) tummy." We just talk about being in someone's tummy. So far he hasn't asked why she was placed. When he does, we'll give an age appropriate answer. Same with her.


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#3 of 18 Old 12-25-2010, 05:23 AM
 
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We have a book called "When you were born in Vietnam" which explains the entire Vietnamese adoption process, and we read that to DD a lot.  (It's interesting because she actually has a very visceral reaction to the page where they show the G&R ceremony.  She likely has no memory of hers, but she always talks about how angry she is because she thinks the new moms are taking the babies away from the old moms--her words, not mine.  So even at 3, she has some pretty strong reactions to it).  Maybe you have a lifebook or some type of adoption book to bring up the subject?

 

We also just watched an episode of Sunnypatch where one of the bugs talked about being adopted.  During that episode, I talked to DD about how the bug and her are similar because the bug couldn't find her birth place when she wanted to see it on her birthday because it was far away.  We frequently talk about how she has a "Vietnam mommy" that gave birth to her and that her Vietnam mama could not take care of her (we don't specify a reason, because in all honesty, we don't know.  We don't know for sure that her mom was a poor single mom or an unwed mother or whatever, and I don't want to re-create DD's story).  We then talk about how her mama and daddy went to Vietnam and adopted her and brought her to America to love her and take care of her forever.

 

We try to keep it very simple at this point.  As she gets older, we'll add in what we know, we'll show her the paperwork, etc.  Right now, we use books to bring it up...we also have pictures framed in our house from our trip to Vietnam and she frequently looks at them and asks questions.


~Brandon Michael (11/23/03), Jocelyn Lily Nữ (2/4/07, adopted 5/28/07 from Vietnam), Amelia Rylie (1/14/09), & Ryland Josef William (9/7/05-9/7/05 @ 41 wks). 
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#4 of 18 Old 12-25-2010, 06:57 AM
 
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I'm going to write my DD's story and "publish" it in a photobook.  None of the adoptive books I've read come close to capturing her story.  I'll do one for DS too, but since his adoption is open it's easier to talk about it.  But even still, my DS doesn't "get" adoption and he's now 6 1/2.

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#5 of 18 Old 12-25-2010, 11:38 AM
 
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When my daughter was that age I just tried to emphasize positive adoption language. I'd often say "I'm so happy we adopted you." None of the adoption books are ever like your family but they can create a positive foundation for discussing your story. DD loves the Jamie Lee Curtis one because the main adoptee is a girly girl

 

You also might want to explore the difference between privacy and secrets. The identity of my daughter's birthmom is private. There is no shame in privacy.

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#6 of 18 Old 12-29-2010, 07:06 AM
 
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She's at a great age for you to start talking about it.  She's young enough that you can sort of practice and --if you don't get it "right"-- there's still pently of time to adjust your language into something you do feel is right.  That's one of the reasons I'm glad I didn't do dd's lifebook until she was two or so...I needed those years to really figure out how I wanted to talk with her about her story and her adoption.  I know it's difficult to start in on it all, but really...try telling her a few times in her sleep, or talking about it while you're holding her and cuddling.  That sounds silly, I know... I think once you practice it out loud a few times it becomes a lot easier to verbalize in general.

 

I think displaying her birthmom's picture is fine.  It's definitely a great way to open conversations, and for your daughter to have an easily available object on which to start any lines of questions she has.  If you're worried about her birthmom's privacy, you could display it in a room that doesn't normally receive non-family guests...like your daughter's bedroom, or a family pictures wall in a stairway.

 

Honestly, for us most of our adoption discussions surfaced with our older son (19 months older than our adopted dd).  He had more questions and asked them, and for him we did a lot of reading (there are many, many adoption books out there...way more than you'd suspect or would find with a casual search.  Try searching at the listmania lists on amazon).  Kids get to an age when they want to talk about family connections and figure out who is in what role.  For us, that was at around 2.5-3 years with our son, so at that time we were able to do a lot of talking about dd's birthmom, about the adoption process, and all the rest of it.  By the time dd reached an age where she could ask questions, it was already a comfortable topic in our family.

 

For really getting into the discussions with dd, the best thing has been her lifebook.  I found that it was difficult to get going on that project, but really--once you start writing, it gets better.  Dd loves hearing her story, and looking through the pictures of her birthmom and where she was born.  I'm glad she had that book before our newest baby arrived, because it seemed to help her take a lot of pride in her own arrival to our family, and also to really understand the differences in a comfortable way.  Every time we read the book (usually at her request), she wants to talk for a little while about her adoption.  At this point (3 years) it's simple stuff...she wants to talk about her mother's name, about being in her tummy, about Korea, about the long airplane ride, etc.


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#7 of 18 Old 12-29-2010, 02:57 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Polliwog--I was thinking of doing the same thing.  I just need to find (make!) the time to do it!  I'm a writer, so the idea of writing a book just for Willow seems natural.

 

Masel, good point on secrecy vs. privacy.  I hadn't thought of that, and they are certainly different.  Practically speaking, though, they kind of play out in the same way, don't they?

 

RedOak, thanks!  I really do need to start working on that lifebook.  Adoption is something we're definitely comfortable with, in our heads and hearts.   I just need to figure out how to make it a natural part of conversation with her, somehow.  I'm an introvert and not a talkative person at home in general! 

 

I do believe Willow's old enough to understand on some level.  I recall reading an excellent blog by an adoptive mom, before Willow was born, and she had some amazing stories about what her toddler seemed to be apprehending, understanding (although her situation was different, in that her daughter saw her first mom regularly and was black while her adoptive family was white) and processing.

 

I'd love to find some adoption picture books that are not written in the second person (I believe that's what I disliked about the Jamie Lee Curtis books).  I dislike second person (you/your/etc.) in all childrens' books, actually.  It seems to me like it would be a bit confusing for the child, and might give them the idea that this is the exact story of their OWN adoption and not a story about someone else's.  I have a lot of other issues with the picture books I've seen, but that's one obvious one that I run into a lot.


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#8 of 18 Old 12-30-2010, 09:34 AM
 
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We love the book "A blessing from above".  It is a little golden book and I think I have read it to DD a million and one times.  It is very basic concept about a mama kangaroo that wishes for a baby of her own and one day a baby bluebird falls from it's nest and into mama's pouch.  I think it is a great introduction into the understanding that mama's get babies from different places.  DD is only 22 months so she really doesn't understand anything yet about her BM, whom she sees about 1-2 times a month.  She knows her name but not that she is her birthmom or tummy mommy etc.  She only knows me as mommy for now and that is OK.

I can tell you the story of when older DD, now 7, talked to me about "not being my baby".  She came up to me when she was 3+ and said "I am aunt Jacque's baby".  I told her that no, she was my baby.  She told me "well, I grew in Aunt Jacque's belly" ( I don't know who told her that, probably my ex step daughter...grr)  We never planned on keeping it a secret that my sister was my surrogate, it just never came up I guess.  So anyways, I showed her the scar in my belly from my hysterectomy and told her that my belly was broke and that Aunt J let her grow in her belly for me.  She only replied "Oh, that was nice.  DId I kick her?"  and the conversation then turned to how babies move in the belly. 

I think introducing the concept of babies with different mommies like the kangaroo and bluebird are a great start to talking about it.


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#9 of 18 Old 12-30-2010, 10:20 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Astrea View Post

Masel, good point on secrecy vs. privacy.  I hadn't thought of that, and they are certainly different.  Practically speaking, though, they kind of play out in the same way, don't they?

 


Yes but how you react to them can be so very different. Secrets are unkind and loaded with shame. Privacy is a fact of life. You protect your online identity not out of secrecy but out of a need to keep your resources safe (for example). You LO's birthmother's identiy is private because that woman has her own story to tell. 

 

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#10 of 18 Old 12-31-2010, 10:52 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I don't think secrets are inherently bad or shameful at all. Sometimes they are, but sometimes not.  A surprise birthday party is a secret from the birthday person; Christmas gifts' contents can be secrets; lots of people keep pregnancies secret for the first trimester or so. ;)  But I can see how it could seem like a loaded term.

 

I absolutely agree with you that "private" is a better word for Willow's birth mother's identity, though.

 

Melissa--correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like the book you mentioned basically says the baby drops out of the sky into its adoptive familt's lap?  I avoid adoption books with that type of narrative, because they seem to either negate the birth mother's existence completely, or propagate negative ideas about birth families (the baby bird falling out of the nest suggests the mother bird was negligent or uncaring, since she couldn't or wouldn't protect her), or else give the impression that the birth mother exists to provide a baby for the adoptive parents, which are not beliefs our family subscribes to.


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#11 of 18 Old 12-31-2010, 05:29 PM
 
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Melissa--correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds to me like the book you mentioned basically says the baby drops out of the sky into its adoptive familt's lap?  I avoid adoption books with that type of narrative, because they seem to either negate the birth mother's existence completely, or propagate negative ideas about birth families (the baby bird falling out of the nest suggests the mother bird was negligent or uncaring, since she couldn't or wouldn't protect her), or else give the impression that the birth mother exists to provide a baby for the adoptive parents, which are not beliefs our family subscribes to.


Astrea, no the baby doesn't fall from nowhere.  Another baby bird stretches out it's wings and knocks the baby blue bird from it's nest and it falls into mother roo's pouch.  Mama blue bird knows that her nest isn't big enough for all her babies and is happy to see her baby in a warm and snuggly place (yes we have read it that much! hehehe)  I guess you could look at it in a negative way, that the mama bird didn't want to have to deal with so many birds in the nest.  I don't think it gives the impression that the mama bird was only there to give a baby to the Roo.  I also don't think that it gives any negative idea about the mama bird.  It even says that mama bird was happy to see her baby in a warm snuggly place.

 

I guess I take the book as an introduction to a baby having a different mother than the one it was born (hatched) to and a mama that really wanted a baby and now she has one to walk in the fields with etc.  I think you could tear apart any child's book on adoption and look at it as having negative ideas if you look hard enough.  We love this little book, love the happiness that mama Roo and baby bird share because they are together.  I guess I also like the book because even though the mama bird loved her baby, her nest wasn't big enough and mama roo was going to take good care of the baby bird.  It follows our adoption story.  BM knew she couldn't care for another baby and so she found a loving home that would care for her baby.  I speak for our BM here but I think she is happy with her choice in parents for her child.  She has become part of our family and we get along great.  I know she has good times and bad times but after almost 2 years she is still a part of our lives and we are happy she is in it.
 


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#12 of 18 Old 12-31-2010, 06:09 PM
 
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my daughter is 4 1/2 now. she was also adopted as a newborn (private open domestic adoption). i think the thing that has made the biggest difference for her is having a little scrapbook about it. we have alot of pictures though - of her birthmom pregnant, her in the hospital with her birth mom and at their house with her family when she was a newborn, pictures of us in the hotel with her and at the airport and then her first day home. if we are talking about babies in bellies or pregnant women at all we mention her being in melaya's belly.

 

we also have this book - http://www.amazon.com/How-Was-Adopted-Mulberry-Books/dp/0688170552/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1293847360&sr=8-15  which is about a domestic infant adoption.

 

and imo absolutely have the pictures out for her.  when marvel was that age she was crazy about a picture we had of her birth sister so we lamenated it and put it in a wallet size frame without the glass. we had another copy though. you could scan and copy it and give her a copy.

 

i'm sorry you haven't had more contact with her birth family. :-( maybe they just need some space or time or growing room. hopefully that will change some day.


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#13 of 18 Old 01-01-2011, 01:21 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks Melissa, that does sound like a nice book. I'll check to see if the library has that book and take a look at it!  I'm a writer so I'm super picky about books and language by nature--way more than most people, probably.

 

Thanks for chiming in, aja-belly.  I'm going to prioritize making a nice scrapbook or lifebook or something like that for Willow within the next few months.  It does sound like it would be really helpful.

 

And thanks for the last paragraph.  Honestly, I'm very sad that Willow's birth family is not involved.  When I think about it, it almost feels like a form of grieving.  Maybe that's weird or selfish of me, I don't know.  For some reason I feel shy about sharing those feelings.  I just really wish we knew them, for so many reasons. 

 

 

 


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#14 of 18 Old 01-03-2011, 09:44 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Astrea View Post
...Honestly, I'm very sad that Willow's birth family is not involved.  When I think about it, it almost feels like a form of grieving.  Maybe that's weird or selfish of me, I don't know.  For some reason I feel shy about sharing those feelings.  I just really wish we knew them, for so many reasons.

 

 

 

You're not alone. We were chosen partly b/c the birth family really wanted an open adoption, but were "willing" to agree to no contact if the adoptive family was otherwise "perfect" for the baby. We were not only deemed "perfect" due to our religion and our circumstances (that I would be a SAHM, that we were living in the same town, that we had certain hobbies that the birth family liked....) but we were more than open to contact. We WANTED contact. We stressed that from the beginning, and talked openly about how we thought it would be difficult for all of us, but that we also thought it would be the best way for DS to understand what had happened and why he was adopted and that he has TWO families who love him dearly. They agreed, but ultimately when it came time to visit, we only saw them at court dates and once the adoption was about to be finalized, they said no more contact til he's an adult. It was just too hard for them, and they backed off, saying he could look for them when he's older if he's curious. I sent them a picture and an email, thanking them for all their support during the process, and said that if they ever change their minds about contact, we would leave the door open. We haven't heard a thing from them since. It makes me feel awful that ultimately something that they were so certain was the "right" decision is causing them so much pain. I know there are other issues going on that contribute to the pain, and I can't claim to know exactly what the story is, but I still feel like I almost have a familial obligation to "help" them since they "helped" me become a mom. Our family and theirs are eternally connected, even if we never see or hear from them again. And I do grieve for my son's loss and also a little selfishly b/c it might have made things easier on me to explain adoption to DS. But not everything is easy, right?
 

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#15 of 18 Old 01-04-2011, 07:03 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I hear you, mama.  Thanks for sharing.  It makes me feel less alone!  I feel very much the same way.  I imagine it's even harder when the family initially expressed a desire for contact and then changed their minds later. 

 

Adoption is never all unicorns and rainbows, is it?  It's great to be able to share some of this with people who understand that.


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#16 of 18 Old 01-06-2011, 09:32 AM
 
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mama, You love your daughter and she loves you, that's what matters. because of this, There is no wrong way of talking about it. I was adopted at 10 weeks, and don't remember ever NOT knowing I was adopted, but cant recall any particular conversation. My parents told me the very basics- that I didnt grow in mommas belly but in her heart and another momma helped make our family. When you make sure she knows by talking about it while shes young,it becomes a background fact of life, instead of a focus. This is a good thing. When she is older, if she is curious, you can share more, keeping it simple now is a good thing. i love the idea of a picture book!
You are doing a great job! You can Stop thinking of yourself as an adoptive mom, you are a MOM, thats how your baby sees you, and she always will. having the bio mom out of the picture does make it easier to some extent, so dont feel bad about this. My adoption was closed, so this was never an issue.
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#17 of 18 Old 01-31-2011, 07:59 PM
 
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I found the best advice on this was in a book about open adoption ( I think Adoption from the heart) it said that ideally, your child should never remember when they were told they were adopted. It should be something that is woven into their life from early on and that should know about it and know it is part of who they are....That said, I too, have a photo of my son's birth mom pregnant with me holding her belly. Clearly you don't have that, but if you h ave anything I would put it in a frame or inthe life book. I have a ton of the adoption books for kids (I had only two months to prepare, but I obsessed!) And I don't love most of them. The chocco book is cute and I think he'll like it soon. We read a lot together and lately he's pulled the Todd Parr book "The Family Book" out and it's all about different families -- single, step, straight, gay, people who like like one another, people w ho look like t heir dogs (he loves that part) families who live close to one another, far apart, families who live alone in their house, people who live with others etc. etc. but there is apage about adoption and I just add "And mommy adopted you!" and we move on to the next page. He is 16 months and I bet your little one will like this book,too! Thanks for posting and for starting this thread. Very helpful.

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#18 of 18 Old 02-08-2011, 08:14 AM
 
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Our son was placed with us when he was almost 6 weeks old, through domestic private adoption. He's 4 now. His birthmom placed him, then decided to parent, and then placed him again. We have never met her or had any contact from her, as well, despite it being an open adoption. We do send pictures and letters, however.

We have always talked with our son about his birthmom. We know very little about her situation, but we know she loves him and cared for him the best she could at the time. We have always talked to him about when he was in birthmom's belly (especially when we've had friends who were pregnant). And talked about how his birthmom couldn't parent him, and chose for us to adopt him and be his parents. When friends are pregnant, we specify that they are also going to be the baby's parent (if that's the case), and we say it in a value-neutral way, because, really, we don't judge his birthmom for not being able to parent, and it's true that when anyone gets pregnant/has a baby, they make the choice to parent that child or not.

 

I've always tried to say how happy we were to meet our son, but also remember to talk about the birthmom's feelings and his feelings - "we were very excited to meet you, but I bet you were a little confused because you didn't know who we were yet!" and I always mention his birthmom on his birthday and point out that she must be thinking about him and that maybe she misses him. And we also say that his birthmom is happy that we are his parents and that he loves us and likes having us as his parents. No, she hasn't said this, but I think it's important that he both understands that the adoption process is sad, and also that his birthmom wants him to be happy where he is. I'm going to assume this to be true until she tells us otherwise (which it seems unlikely she'd ever say)!

 

In terms of pictures, I think it would be great to put up a pic of her birthmom in her room, along with other family pictures. My son's birthmom did not provide us with any pictures, but she did have some pictures publicly available online, so we made the choice to print them out and give them to him. He had been talking about her (around age 3), and was having a hard time understanding who this person was without any pictures. The pictures really helped, and he carried them around for a few weeks, and then has basically not looked at them for a year. He talks about her sometimes, and likes to talk about when he was a baby and how he liked to snuggle with his birthmom, and stuff like that. Which I think is great, because it means he understands that he lived with her and that that was a happy time for him, as well.

 

Adoption is so complicated, even if the process itself was pretty straightforward. We have ideas about why his birthmom couldn't/didn't choose to parent, but we don't really know. I think it's important to impart to my son that his birthmom (and birthdad, though we don't know anything about him, or even if he knows he has a son) love him. and that his birthmom was his parent for a little while, and, as his parent, made the choice to let us be his parents instead. I feel totally comfortable saying that I wish his birthmom could have parented him, and also that I'm so very happy that I am able to do so. I also feel it's important to acknowledge feelings that my son might have. Sad, mad, missing her, happy, scared, etc. i don't feel that I'm goign to give him "ideas" by musing about the possibility of having such feelings, even if he doesn't currently have them. The most important thing is for him to feel comfortable having his feelings and talking to us about them, so if we've already talked about how he might have these feelings, he'll feel better about them if he does.

 

Your daughter is definitely the right age to start talking about it. as long as you are matter-of-fact about it, and don't make it a Big Thing, she will grow up knowing it as part of her life, and not feel like it's some big surprise or secret. And making a story for her sounds awesome!

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