Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Truth About Kids with Down Syndrome

Last week, I wrote about a case, reported on the CNN Belief Blog, involving a church’s effort to find parents to adopt an unborn baby believed to have Down syndrome. The biological parents planned to have an abortion if adoptive parents could not be found. After reading the church’s message on Facebook, hundreds of couples contacted the church with adoption offers.

While this outpouring of offers may have amazed some readers, Linda Nargi, executive director of the International Down Syndrome Coalition, was not surprised at all. A mother of four, Nargi of Colorado Springs, Colorado talked to me about children with Down syndrome and the public’s misconceptions.

Lynne: Why were you not surprised by the number of inquiries from people who were interested in adopting the unborn baby?

Linda: It doesn’t surprise me because the (Down syndrome) adoption community is small. We are very tight knit. We look out for each other. If a couple got a prenatal diagnosis and they knew they wouldn’t keep the baby, our community would rally. We saw that.

Sometimes the general public has a different view of people with Down syndrome because they just don’t know. We know their lives are precious and worth saving.

My 2-year-old girl, Lexi, is adopted. I found her on a Facebook post. She has Down syndrome. My 6-year-old, Lila, has Down syndrome as well. We got a prenatal diagnosis with her. She’s our biological child.

Linda Nargi with her daughters
Linda with daughters Lila, 6, and Lexi, 2. The girls have Down syndrome.

Lynne: Why did you adopt a child?

Linda: We weren’t looking to adopt at the time. It’s a very funny story. I was going through Facebook one day and saw a baby with Down syndrome who needed a forever family. I knew there would be a lot of people interested in adopting that baby. There are waiting lists of people waiting to adopt a child with Down syndrome. People don’t realize that.

A couple of months ago, our adoption attorney contacted me about a baby boy (with Down syndrome). All I did was make a Facebook post and I had 20 some people contact me (expressing an interest in adopting the boy).

Kids with Down syndrome are loved, cherished and wanted. That’s not just a cliché. It’s proven all the time when cases come up. People want to put their name in (to adopt the children).

Lynne: What do potential parents need to know before they adopt a baby with Down syndrome?

Linda: You have to be realistic and know raising a child with Down syndrome will have its challenges. It has a lot of joy and blessings. I also raised two typical kids and they were challenging as well. All kids come with challenges. (Linda laughed.)

Lynne: What are the misconceptions about children with Down syndrome?

Linda: I think it’s the age old, in-the-past idea, where when people with Down syndrome were born, doctors would say, ‘you have to put this child in an institution. The child has no potential.’ Now we know people with Down syndrome have lots of potential. They didn’t know that in the past. We’re starting to debunk those myths but it will take a long time.

That story (on the CNN Belief Blog) opened people’s eyes. The fact CNN grabbed on to that story gave it a lot of exposure.

Pet Adoption Opened My Eyes

One year ago this month, we adopted two little dogs. Believed to be a mix of beagle and dachshund, our girls are sisters who were given up by their previous owners for economic reasons. At least that was the story we got from the girls’ foster mom, a volunteer with an animal rescue organization in New Jersey. She assured us they don’t bark, they’re house broken and they won’t be any trouble at all.

 

Except for the “they don’t bark” part, the foster mom was right. Oh and the girls have had a couple of bathroom accidents in the house but nothing I can’t handle.  Oh and there was the antique chair that one or both of them chewed up. My husband, Tom, spent $100 to get the chair repaired. Guess what? They chewed up the arm again. After the second episode, we put the chair away.

phoebe and maggie looking cute
Phoebe and Maggie looking all sweet and innocent

Though they are not perfect, the girls have brought joy into our lives.  Maggie, the bigger of the two dogs, and Phoebe, smaller with more of a dachchund-like body, are sweet, loving dogs who enjoy running around the park, lunging at squirrels, wrestling with one another and snuggling up with their humans. These dogs give me unconditional love, which is more than I can say for any of the humans I know. It’s a pleasure to come home and get the rock star treatment from Maggie and Phoebe, who bark like crazy and compete for my attention by jumping all over me.

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Phoebe and Maggie like exploring the park off leash

I used to think dogs given up by their owners were problems. Dogs in shelters? I stayed away. I thought those dogs were bad news. Having had a golden retriever for close to 17 years, I was also partial to big purebreds.

Now I know wonderful dogs come in all sizes and shelters have many great pets just waiting to be adopted. You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on a purebred. Adopting Maggie and Phoebe opened my eyes to the joys of pet adoption.

If you are thinking of getting a pet, check out Petfinder to see the lovely critters waiting to be adopted in your area.

Open Records Help Adoptees Fill in Blanks

On a spring day in 2012, my original birth certificate arrived in the mail. What am I going to find out, I wondered nervously. Taking a deep breath, I opened the envelope from the state of Illinois. Inside, a non-certified copy of my original birth certificate gave me my mother’s married and maiden names (her first name is Lillian), her age (28), address at the time of my birth (Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago) and her birthplace (Washington, Indiana).

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My original birth certificate
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My original birth certificate with the first birth certificate listing my adoptive parents

Up until then, I had figured my mother was probably a teenager when she got pregnant with me so I was surprised to learn she was 28 years old. My husband, Tom, and I question whether she really was married. That seems fishy.

Of course, this document does not come close to answering all my questions, including one very big one: “Who was my birth daddy?” (He was “not legally known,” according to the birth certificate.) Still, it was thrilling for me to get answers to these very basic questions about my life, questions non-adopted adults never have.

Illinois is one of the latest states to unseal birth records, the Associated Press reported.  Some 350,000- adoption records were sealed in Illinois beginning in 1946 and, since 2010, close to 9,000 people have claimed their birth certificates from the state.

The Associated Press interviewed adoptees from Illinois who got in touch with their birth mothers. I haven’t done that. Other than visiting Ancestry.com and similar sites to learn more about my birth mother, I have not made any real attempt to find her. She could be dead for all I know.

I can only imagine how tough it must be to meet the woman who gave you life and then gave you to another family.  If you have made contact with your birth mother, I would love to hear your story.

Finding Biological Family on Facebook

In the Huffington Post, Courtney Hardy recalled accidentally finding out she was adopted as a teenager. As a young adult, she used official sources and Facebook to track down her birth parents and other biological relatives.

Hardy’s journey to find family took her to San Diego, Seattle, Phoenix, Ireland and England. Luckily, she got a warm welcome from everyone she met along the way. It’s an interesting story that apparently had a happy ending for the adoptive and biological families and especially for Hardy.

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Photo courtesy of Keoni Cabral

“Meeting my relatives has given me perspective on how profoundly lucky I am to have such wonderful and supportive parents, as well as an extended birth family in my life,” Hardy wrote in the Huffington Post. “In a way, through getting to know them, I feel like I’ve finally gotten to know myself.”

A growing number of adults who were adopted are using Facebook to find family members who share their DNA, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which conducted a comprehensive study on the Internet’s profound impact on adoption. The Adoption Institute believes the laws that make it difficult for people to access important information about adoption, including statutes that prevent adopted people from obtaining their original birth certificates, should be repealed.

According to the Adoption Institute, the Internet obviates the rationale for the laws, which was to keep the affected parties from learning about and finding each other. Makes sense to me.

Breaking A Boring Habit

Growing up, I ate plenty of cold deli sandwiches for lunch and, for better or worse, that habit has stayed with me. A sandwich consisting of two slices of bread, with deli meat and cheese, mayo and/or mustard tends to be what I have for lunch when I’m at home. It’s hard to get excited about something you’ve eaten hundreds of times so yesterday I decided to break out of my rut.

Naturally I had sandwich fixings in the fridge but instead of two slices of sliced sandwich bread, I grabbed a couple of tortillas. I took two slices of provolone cheese and cut them into strips, ripped a slice of ham into small pieces and dropped the ham and cheese on one tortilla. I covered it with the second tortilla and then poured a little vegetable oil in a skillet. When it was hot, I placed my creation in the pan. After a few minutes, I turned it over to make sure it browned on both sides and the cheese melted.

I enjoyed a warm and hearty quesadilla with mustard and sour cream on the side. What a nice change of pace from cold cuts on sliced bread. It only took 15 minutes to make but you could shave a few minutes off the time since you won’t be taking photos.

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Assembling the quesadilla
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Ham & cheese quesadilla with mustard, sour cream, fruit and pickle.

Lynne’s Ham and Cheese Quesadilla

2 six-inch flour tortillas

2 slices of meltable cheese, cut in thin strips (I used provolone but cheddar would be delicious, too.)

1 slice of deli ham, torn in pieces

One – two tablespoons canola oil

Mustard and sour cream, for serving on the side

Fruit and pickle (optional)

Place the cheese strips and ham pieces on one tortilla, then cover it with the second tortilla. Pour canola oil in a skillet. When it’s hot, carefully place your quesadilla in the pan, being careful to keep the filling between the tortillas.  Quesadillas should be flat so I suggest pressing down on the tortillas with a large glass bowl. Carefully turn over the tortillas after 3 minutes or so to brown the other side. If your tortillas are not flat, press down with the glass bowl. Remove from the heat after two minutes or so, when the tortillas are golden brown and the cheese is melted. Slide onto a plate and cut into four wedges. Serve with mustard and sour cream on the side. If you like, add fruit and a pickle.

Facebook Links Parents With Handicapped Babies

Yesterday I reported on how Facebook and other social media sites are being used by people seeking to adopt babies and birth parents looking for parents to adopt their offspring. Today I came across another fascinating  case, reported on the CNN Belief Blog, involving a Roman Catholic church that used Facebook to find prospective couples to adopt an unborn baby believed to have Down syndrome.

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Families use Facebook to find babies with Down syndrome to adopt

In a message that appeared on the church’s Facebook page, the Rev. Thomas Vander Woude of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Va., said a couple was pregnant with a child diagnosed with Down syndrome. If they did not find a couple willing to adopt the unborn baby by the end of the day, they would abort it, according to the priest, who happens to have a brother with Down syndrome.

According to the church, the message prompted hundreds of couples to contact the church with adoption offers. A local adoption agency, after screening the prospective adopters, presented the pregnant couple with three possible families.

Increasingly, families are using social media to find children with Down syndrome to adopt, Diane Grover, founder and president of the International Down Syndrome Coalition, told CNN.  After confirming that the story involving Vander Woude’s plea was true, the coalition helped get the message out using social media. That effort generated hundreds of calls.

I am amazed and moved by the response from the families. I also wonder what sort of counseling, training or professional advice was offered to the potential adoptive parents?

Going Online to Adopt

I guess it was inevitable. People use the Internet to shop, play games, find dates, review products, socialize – the list of online pursuits goes on. Now people are using social media to adopt babies or offer them for adoption.

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It’s a growing trend, according to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which recently released a report about the profound effect the Internet has had on the adoption process.

The Washington Post profiled a gay couple who had spent about a year trying to adopt a baby through a local adoption agency. Eager to get the process moving, they created a website and placed an ad on Facebook promoting themselves as wonderful adoptive parents. “Loving gay couple in D.C. area seeks open adoption of a baby. Contact us if you’d like to place your baby in a home full of joy.”

A woman who was five months pregnant spotted the ad and got in touch with the couple.  The three got to know one another corresponding by email and Skyping for several months. In October 2010, the two men assisted in the birth of the woman’s baby, who they ultimately adopted. On their website, the happy dads have posted photos of themselves with their little boy, Kyler. They would like to adopt another child.

The men stay in touch with their son’s birth mother, who told the Washington Post she felt very comfortable giving her child to the couple to raise. “Gay baby daddies are the best baby daddies,” the woman told the newspaper.

Based on what I read, I think this particular situation worked out well for everyone. I like the openness between the adoptive parents, the birth mother and the little boy, Kyler. I like knowing the two dads got to know the birth mother, and she in turn got to know the men, before the adoption took place. I even like the way the dads put themselves out there with a promotional website.

But in general, I don’t know how comfortable I am with using Facebook, Craigslist or other sites as adoption tools. While I understand the obvious appeal for eager would-be adoptive parents seeking babies and birth mothers who want to give up their infants, I wonder how wise it is to cut out the monitoring, professional counseling, and other steps that are part of traditional adoptions.

In its report, “Untangling the Web: The Internet’s Transformative Impact on Adoption,” the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute recommends that adoption-related websites be routinely reviewed for exploitation or other illegal or unethical practices by policy and law-enforcement officials.

How do you feel about using social media for adoption purposes?

Waste Not, Want Not

My husband, Tom, is the best food recycler I know. Today he whipped up an omelet for us consisting of six eggs, red bell pepper and tomatoes left over from last night’s salad, a scrap of red pepper from the fridge and a little red wine, also from last night. He sautéed the peppers and tomatoes and cooked a few small red potatoes in the microwave. He chopped up the taters and added all the vegetables to the eggs, which were already cooking. For good measure, Tom tossed a few drops of Tabasco in the pan. The result was a hearty and delicious omelet that I didn’t have to make. Even our son, Jake, who’s not much of an egg eater, enjoyed it.

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Tom’s always been enthusiastic about eating and lately, much to my delight, he’s taken more of an interest in cooking. He gets his “re-use, recycle” mentality  from his French mother, Hélenè, a wonderful home cook who loves using leftovers and hates wasting food.

“It’s a thorn in my side to see perfectly good food go to waste,” Tom says. “If you have a bunch of good ingredients lying around, why not use them?”

Using leftovers to make meals takes some thought. Sometimes it’s just easier to pitch those leftovers and make a meal using all new ingredients. But cutting down on food waste is a worthy goal especially when you consider roughly 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in this country goes to waste.

“In 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants, and homes never made it into people’s stomachs,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently noted.

The amount of uneaten food in homes and restaurants was valued at almost $390 per U.S. consumer in 2008, which the government says is more than an average month’s worth of food spending.

Those numbers are hard to swallow. They should make you think twice about tossing yesterday’s salad.

In June, the U.S.D.A. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with support from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, the anti-hunger group, Feeding America, the anti-poverty group, Rock and Wrap It Up!, and food manufacturers, introduced the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, a campaign aimed at reducing food waste through education and other activities.

Are you doing anything in your own home to cut down on the amount of food you throw away?

Explaining Adoption to Kids

Adoption is a complicated topic on so many levels. No wonder in some families, including my own, the subject never  came up for discussion. I grew up thinking my parents were my parents, my sister was my sister, we all were related by blood and there were no secrets. I thought I knew everything about our family. My parents never told me I was adopted and I didn’t find out until I was 38.

In today’s  New York Times, a mother takes a stab at explaining her own adoption to her 4-year-old biological daughter. I applaud the writer for being honest with her child. But even she questions her  decision to tell her little girl what adoption means.

“I worry that by answering her first innocent question about adoption and talking about my own history to a child so young, I have given her something new to worry about,” writes Nicole Soojung Callahan.

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“Before I told her about my adoption, she never had reason to even consider what it would be like to be given up, or given to others. Now she does.”

I don’t think adoption should be a taboo subject to discuss with kids as long as you talk about in an age-appropriate way. There’s no need to go too deeply into the details. What do you think?

The Dark Side of Adoption

Childless couples rescuing cute little newborn babies from sad situations and giving them a wonderful life filled with comfort, joy and love — that used to be my impression of adoption. Adopting a baby was always a feel-good kind of story filled with noble characters. It starts on a sad note of course with a woman, usually young and single, learning she’s pregnant. She’s distraught, doesn’t know what to do, but ends up having the baby. She surrenders her infant soon after birth, realizing it’s in her baby’s best interests to be raised by a nice married couple who can provide a stable and loving home. Of course giving up her baby hurts but this brave, selfless woman sucks it up. She makes the best of the situation and moves on with her life. Meanwhile, those married couples willing to open their hearts and homes to a baby who wasn’t their biological offspring were nothing short of heroes. The lawyers, adoption agencies, social workers and other supporting players were the good guys who made the happy ending happen. Doesn’t this scenario put a smile on your face?

Call me naïve (or stupid) but I did know about the dark side of adoption. Journalist and author Lynne McTaggart opened my eyes with her book, The Baby Brokers: The Marketing of White Babies in America (1980: Dial Press).

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My husband, Tom, gave me a used copy of this book for Christmas. Born in the 1960s,  I know very little about my birth mother and absolutely nothing  about my biological father. I know I was the result of a private adoption so naturally the book’s honest examination of private adoptions in the 1970s intrigued me.

To uncover the reality of private adoptions in those days, McTaggart posed as a pregnant single woman wanting to give her baby up for adoption and as a prospective adoptive mother. She encountered unsavory characters who took advantage of legal loopholes and figured out ways to skirt the laws. The best interests of babies didn’t figure into their decisions. These characters didn’t waste valuable time investigating the backgrounds of people seeking to adopt babies. They were mostly interested in making a fast buck at the expense of couples with the money to pay their fees. Birth mothers were not always treated with kindness.

I found the book disturbing. It raised questions in my mind about the circumstances behind my own adoption.  It also makes me wonder about modern-day private adoptions, particularly private adoptions in Illinois, my home state. What’s changed since the 1970s? I would love to hear from adoptees and adoptive parents.