9 things this adoptive mom would like everyone to know.

The adoptions of my two children are, quite literally, the two best things that have happened to me.

Ever. In my whole life. Nothing has altered the course of my life or meant more to me than becoming a mom to my kids.


My son, Mattix, and me when we met in December 2007.

Before them, I didn’t really understand what unconditional love was, nor did I have a clue how it felt. Now I know — twice over.

My daughter, Molley, and me, when we met in April 2009.

Adoption is amazing. And it’s complicated. It can bring great joy. And it can bring great pain.

Adoption is nuanced. And like anything else, it can be hard to see those nuances when it's not part of your life. That's particularly true when the media is so good at circulating adoption narratives that are a little problematic — like the baby left under the Christmas tree for his siblings to discover.

Photo by Clayton Shonkwiler/Flickr.

I get why people thought it was sweet: A precious new life was placed into an obviously loving family. But I still cringed. Partly because it felt uncomfortably similar to buying the kids a puppy for Christmas. And partly because it made me think of the commodification and trafficking of humans, which unfortunately happens sometimes in the world of adoption.

Thankfully, there are some really great adoption stories that circulate, too — like the one where a grandma lost her mind with excitement when she met her granddaughter for the first time. Beautiful! Most loving grandmas tend to experience unadulterated joy when they first lay eyes on their grandkids.

GIF via Laura Dell/YouTube.

As with most of the important things in life, talking about adoption is complicated.

But at the heart of it is something really simple: More than anything, we want our kids to grow into adults who are respected as the complex and unique individuals they are. Not just representatives of the "adopted kid" stories we see all the time.

There are many, many things I’d love for everyone to know about adoption. Here are nine of them, from an adoptive parent's perspective.

1. My kids are "my own."

"But are you going to, you know, have any kids of your own?”

Most people who ask this question have good intentions. They want to know if my husband and I are planning on having any biological kids. It’s a wording issue for most adults, but for kids who are struggling with attachment or working to feel secure in their families, those words matter.

When you ask this in front of kids who were adopted, you might be shaking an already unstable foundation the family has worked hard to build.

Adopting our kids was our "Plan A." We didn't want to have biological kids.

For other families, adoption may have followed a long struggle with infertility and it can be a painful question for them, especially coming from a stranger or casual acquaintance.

That said, know that...

2. Adoptive parents are approachable!

It's true that we don't appreciate being asked super-personal questions about adoption, especially in front of our kids. But that’s pretty much like most personal topics in life, right? Asking random questions — especially of a stranger — to satisfy your curiosity probably isn’t cool.

For instance, please don’t ask how much our kids "cost" or where we "got" them. A two-second google search for "how much does adoption cost," for example, will provide the info you need. I promise.

Asking respectfully because you really want to learn or have an interest in adopting yourself? That’s a different story.

I’m not an unapproachable lady (I'm even fun at parties!). I’ve been a resource for many people wanting to learn about adoption. I've given my phone number to complete strangers who want to adopt and would like to learn more. The best questions begin with, "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about adoption?"

That gives me a chance to say "no" if my kids are there or if it doesn’t feel like a good time for me. That also lets me know that if you ask something I don’t feel comfortable sharing, I can say, "I’d rather not talk about that" — and you’ll understand.

3. Yep, we’re all real.

“Do you know who your kids’ real parents are?”

I know what you mean — you’re asking if I know who my kids’ birth parents are. It’s not that I’m offended by the question, thinking that you’re implying I’m not real. My kids’ birth parents most certainly are real.

But the last time someone asked that in front of my sweet then-7-year-old son, he looked at me, the usually bright smile fading from his face, and asked in a quiet voice, "What does she mean? You’re my real mom too. Nobody can take me from you…" — long pause — "... right, Mommy?"

Of course, he knows the answer to that. We’ve been talking about adoption since, well, since the day he came home at 10 and a half months old. Back then, it was me talking about adoption to a baby that didn’t understand. I figured I’d start then to ensure we never stopped talking. And we haven’t.

But a child’s feelings about adoption change over time. So can their sense of security. And having their place in their family questioned at the wrong time can feel pretty unsettling to child who’s in the process of making sense of some of those feelings.

4. My kids' histories belong to them.

Sometimes the details of a child's history are simple. Sometimes they're pretty complicated. And, quite frankly, they're private.

Some birth parents place their children for adoption because they’re not ready for a baby. Some place because they’ve been coerced or pressured into it. Some place because of medical issues — either theirs or the child's. Some place because they don't know how they can afford a baby and there aren't enough services in place to assist them. Some place against their will because they're incarcerated. Occasionally, some truly don't want their kids.

Sometimes we have no idea who our kids' birth parents are or why they placed them for adoption. Sometimes our kids were abandoned. Sometimes our kids came from the foster care system and their family histories are very complicated.

Whatever the reason, it's not something we want to go around chitchatting about with anyone who's curious.

5. We might parent quite differently than you do.

It doesn't mean we're weird. Or coddling. Or over-parenting. Or trying to prove anything.

We’re just trying to give our kids what they need and deserve.

Adoptive parents have to learn about a bunch of things their children could face, and we have to learn how to best parent our kids. Attachment parenting, healing from trauma, sensory processing disorder, and many other phrases become more than just words for a lot of us. When we decide to adopt our kids, most of us put our hearts and souls into doing what's best for them. Sometimes what's best isn't necessarily what most other parents do. That’s OK.

I got up every half-hour all night long with both of my kids for at least six months after we adopted each one. I didn’t do it because I loved being a sleep-deprived zombie that would have traded a kidney for a solid week of sleep. I did it because in my son’s 10 months of life before us, nobody ever got up for him at night. He had learned, rightfully so, never to believe someone would. And when we were finally there to do it, he didn’t trust us. We had to work hard to earn that trust.

I went to my daughter all night long because she desperately wanted me to, but was terrified that I wouldn’t. The people who looked at me, exhausted beyond words, and told me I should just let my kids cry it out had no idea how hard we were working to build a foundation of trust. Ultimately, we were doing it so our kids could grow into adults capable of having healthy friendships and relationships with others.

Plus, isn’t that kind of a cardinal rule of parenting: Don’t offer advice unless it’s solicited?!

6. Those of us who have adopted transracially aren’t suddenly "super sensitive about race."

For 26 years, I lived in a blissfully comfortable color-blind bubble of ignorance. When I decided to adopt children transracially, I began educating myself and came to understand the world doesn’t work for people of color the way it works for me. Now that I’m a mom to two kids of color, I’m committed to being their advocate. I’m committed to being the person they know will always stand up for them when someone at school hurls a racial slur. I’m committed to calling out friends and family members for jokes they might think are harmless.

It’s not about being politically correct or raining on people’s fun parades. It’s about making sure that the world around our kids is as supportive as it possibly can be.

7. It's complicated.

There are three people (or groups of people) who are part of adoption: those who are adopted, those who place their children for adoption, and those who do the adopting. All of those people have feelings and experiences, and they might conflict. That’s OK!

My kids missing their birth parents and wishing they hadn’t lost their cultures, for example, doesn’t mean they love my husband and me any less. My wishing that my kids didn’t have to deal with the pain of loss doesn’t diminish the feelings of pure gratitude and joy I experience over getting to be their mom.

8. One of us doesn’t speak for all of us.

While some things in adoption are pretty universal, one adoptive parent doesn’t speak for them all. Which means that I’m well aware that not every adoptive parent will agree with everything I’ve written here.

And not a single one of us can speak for birth parents or adoptees. We can do our best to lend our voices to our kids as we’re raising them, but when it comes to sharing life from birth parents’ or our kids’ perspectives, that’s not our place.

9. We’re like any other parent in most ways.

I’m pretty normal (whatever that means). I have good days and bad days — days where I think, "Oh my gawd, if my child talks back one more time, I’m going to lose my mind!" And days where I think, "I couldn’t possibly be happier. This is everything."

Like every good parent out there, at the end of the day, we just want the best for our kids. And we’re doing everything we can to make it happen.

My totally adorable kids. And yep, I'm biased! ;)

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."