Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Entrustment Ceremony – Creating meaningful ritual in open adoption

By Leah Sheldon
Originally Published by Adoption Connection
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Ashlee (left) and adoptive mom Bobbie exchange vows and bracelets at the entrustment ceremony of daughter Fait

Rituals have always been used to signify a change or rite of passage, or to mark a transition in the life of a person or community. Although they are often interwoven with religious traditions, rituals can be anything that symbolizes and celebrates a life change.  We mark birthdays, baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs, and weddings with a special ceremony, so why not open adoptions?

The transfer of parental rights from one family to another in an open adoption is bittersweet. The birthmother is giving up her role as caregiver while the adoptive parents are gaining a new family member to love and nurture. The role of a ritual–or entrustment ceremony– to honor this event is becoming very common as adoptive and birth families feel empowered to create open and trusting relationships.

Just as each open adoption unfolds differently, each entrustment ceremony is unique and can be tailored to fit the needs of the birth and adoptive family. Ideally, the ceremony should emphasize that the two families are now creating a new, extended family connection that will forever honor and respect the birthmother’s biological bond to the child.

Tips To Planning an Entrustment Ceremony:

  • Make sure that the ceremony is directed as much as possible by the birthmother and her family. (It is okay if it is planned by the adoptive family, adoption agency, or clergy member if it suits the situation.)
  • Invite key contributors: the birthmother and selected family members of her choosing, along with the adoptive parents and the baby.
  • Make sure everyone has a role in the celebration, however small. Poems or religious passages may be read, or perhaps both the birth and adoptive parents can speak about their hopes and love for the baby.
  • As with all festive rituals, flowers, food, candles, and meaningful music can all be a part of the ceremony.
  • There is no right or wrong way to plan an entrustment ceremony. Do what feels right and what will contribute to connection and meaningful memories.

The Ritual Unfolds

Adoptive parents Karen and Chris suggested the idea of creating an entrustment ceremony with Denise, their son Jonah’s birthmother. Before the ceremony took place, the couple videotaped Denise holding Jonah and saying her goodbye on camera. (She had said a private goodbye the day before.) The family brought in a local pastor to lead them in a few readings, and the adoptive family shared an oath and a commitment to raise their son in a strong and loving home. Flowers were exchanged, and birth and adoptive grandparents and friends were present to witness the special ceremony.

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Eric and Robin originally planned on a ceremony at the hospital as well, but plans changed when Shelly, their daughter’s birthmother, had an unexpected Caesarean section. Much of her family wouldn’t be able to make it. They decided to meet at the birth family’s home the day after Shelly was released from the hospital, when her extended family could participate. Shelly and her mother were able to print and frame pictures of the baby taken at the hospital, as well as images of family and friends to display around the house. The birth grandmother ordered a sheet cake with four candles for the four days of life their daughter had had. Eric says, “We called it a ‘Celebration of Life’ so it wouldn’t take on a religious tone, and it really was a celebration. The family had put together family heirlooms for us to take home for Madison, including Shelly’s silver baby rattle.”

Eric and Robin knew that Shelly and her family were private people, so instead of speaking publicly at the party, they gave her a letter that they had written the night before.  “We wanted to let her and her family knows how thankful we were for them and how much we love our daughter,” says Eric.

Bobbie and Eli and their birthmother, Ashlee, waited until two weeks after their daughter’s birth to host a ceremony. It coincided with the signing of Ashlee’s relinquishment papers, making the adoption legally binding. Bobbie says, “Waiting those two weeks felt like a good decision for everyone because leaving the hospital was such an emotional experience for all of us.” During their ceremony, Bobbie and Eli presented their birthmother with a special bracelet that was inscribed with the words “Faith, Hope and Courage,” which matches one Bobbie wears as well.

Birth grandfather and poet, Paul, incorporating a special adoption poem during the legal relinquishment process of his daughter creating important memories and a keepsake in their open adoption process.

Take the Long View

An entrustment ceremony isn’t going to be possible for every adoption, but Lynne Fingerman, Director of Adoption Connection, believes adoptive parents can do little things in the hospital that can ease the transition and celebrate the birthmother’s love and care. “Whether you send flowers to your birthmother or have her family participate at the hospital in feeding the baby, there are things you can do to create trust and ongoing tradition… things that you can tell your child about later on.”

When Bill and Danielle adopted their daughter, Cassandra, their daughter’s birthgrandmother wanted to be the first to hold her. The adoptive family made it as easy as possible for her by finding a room next to the nursery where a rocking chair would fit so that she could have some quiet moments with Cassandra and be the first to hold her.

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When Bridget chose to place her son with Erik and Christina, she was hesitant to go forward with an entrustment ceremony at the hospital. “I was initially scared and only agreed because Erik and Christina wanted to do one,” she says. “But it turned out to be very powerful for me.” Since both families were Catholic, the couple brought in a member of the clergy to say a few words during the ceremony.

Bridget would definitely recommend a ceremony to other birthparents. Her advice? “Be open-minded to the adoptive parents’ ideas and just let them plan it if you feel overwhelmed.”

Taking pictures and videotaping the event are also good ideas. When adoptees start to ask questions about where they come from, they want to taste, touch, and feel as much of the early stuff as they can. Having a video or pictures of the entrustment creates a legacy of caring and love for the child. Just as importantly, it can show the growing child that his or her adoption was a deeply loving choice based on a conscious decision.

Straight Talk From a Lesbian Mom

Judy Appel and Family (Oakland Tribute Pictures 1)I am a real live lesbian mom. My wife and I have been together for 23 years, way back before we could even think of being wives. We have a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

We are pretty much like any of you and your families. We get up every morning, make lunches for our kids and then scramble to get them out the door to school on time. Then, my wife Alison and I rush off to work, texting when we can catch a moment during our busy days to navigate the chores and details of dinner, shopping, dentist appointments and the ever changing complexities of our kids’ schedules. At the end of our work day, we rush home, make dinner, help with homework and, like many other parents these days, nag our kids to put away their electronic devices. When we are lucky, they share their struggles and their triumphs with us. And, in between all of this, we worry about our kids. Actually, we worry all the time, for all the reasons every parent does.LesbianMomPullquote1

We are fortunate in that we live in a place where our kids are growing up in an oasis of inclusion, with a community of friends and family that span the rainbow of sexual orientation, gender identity, race and class. Inside our bub  ble there is a culture of acceptance. Lesbian moms are hardly worth noticing, certainly far less noteworthy to our children and their friends than our questionable fashion choices or embarrassing dance moves.

But, our bubble is transparent, and both the awesomeness and the ugliness of the world are right outside. Our kids are tuned into American culture through social media, literature and Hollywood movies; but, until very recently, they saw little, if any, reflection of our family in the media, on television, on the web or in the books they read. However, partially due to the popularity of shows like Modern Family, Glee and The A-Bs outsideFosters, this has begun to change. Now that marriage equality is cascading through the blue states, and even some of the red ones, corporations like Coca-Cola and Chevy are clamoring to embrace family diversity to grab a piece of the market share and consequently, send a message out to the world that change is no longer coming, it’s here.LesbianMomPullquote2

Unfortunately, there are some that still react with fear and hate to families like mine. The conservative opposition continues their 50-year crusade leveraging the anxieties of well-meaning straight people, advancing the tired and unfounded notion that somehow gay people, like my wife, and me, will harm their kids. They continue to demonize our families with unfounded truths like, “Kids need both a mother and a father to be well-adjusted members of society” or “Children will be harmed if they grow up in gay or lesbians families.” These statements are slightly watered down version of the repressive Russian laws that led to an international outcry as LGBT families were pushed deep into the closet and out of their homeland. The same way of thinking leaves American children of LGBT parents vulnerable when they are denied legal connections to both their parents in so many states.

Our families are scattered throughout the United States: a quarter of all same-sex couples are raising kids in the American South. Salt Lake City has the highest ratio of same-sex couples raising children. States in the South and Midwest that have the highest percentage of same-sex couples raising children, also have the most precarious legal protections for their families. We have become accustomed to the one step forward and two step backwards pace of achieving equality. Yet, I feel confident that our path is inexorably set and that we will ultimately, some day, triumph in the Supreme Court.

LesbianMomPullquote3The battle for acceptance is not solely taking place in the courts, but also at playgrounds, schoolyards, little league games, chess tournaments and in churches, synagogues, mosques, everywhere LGBT families are quietly going about the business of raising children and living their lives. LGBT parents are your neighbors. We are your kids’ coaches, team managers and fellow carpool drivers. We can be people you rely on, people you turn to, people you trust with that most precious being, your child. We don’t just stay in our bubble and neither do you.

The only way I know to start paving the way for a future of full-scale equity, one that goes beyond marriage equality, is for us to reach our hands across the playground and really meet one another. I ask you to put away any discomfort you might have about my family or other families that are different or simply don’t look like your own. Welcome that two-dad couple when they come to Back-to-School night; take the leap and let your kid attend my kid’s birthday party. Let’s get to know each other. It is the only path to real change.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post blog

A Night Out to Remember

By Jessica Israel Cannon

cannonsatprideFor the past five years, Our Family Coalition’s Night Out has been an annual favorite event for the adults in my family. We get dressed up, head into San Francisco and enjoy a festive date night, while supporting OFC’s amazing work.

As an elementary school administrator and a bisexual mom (married to a transgender dad), I know firsthand the power of Our Family Coalition’s professional development to empower educators. They work hard to bring inclusive curriculum to many schools throughout the Bay Area, including the one our son attends. And they are fiercely dedicated to creating truly welcoming environments for all our children and families, helping many of us to embrace and celebrate our full selves.

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One of our favorite Night Out traditions is to invite our son’s teacher to attend the event as our guest. We know how hard these teachers work and inviting them to the Night Out festivities is our 20131129_124541way of saying thank you for all they do for our family. We have been so lucky to have one caring, inclusive educator after another. Each of these dedicated individuals has been completely open to our unique family story and has gone out of her/his way to make sure all families are represented in the classroom. The teachers we have invited share a huge sense of connection with the other guests at the event and are proud to be a part of Our Family Coalition’s work.

My husband Ali and I are so proud of being part of this family that, after our first year as attendees, we decided to become Table Captains. In this capacity, we have been able to share the inspiring stories behind Our Family Coalition with other queer parents, co-workers, extended family and numerous straight allies. I cannot describe the feelings as I sat at the event next to my straight father-in-law two years ago, watching his eyes fill with tears as he realized how much this organization has done for his family. That same year, one straight couple was so moved by what they witnessed at Night Out, that this year they are captaining their own table.

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Best of all, Night Out is fun!  It’s a great opportunity to meet other queer parents and educators, and catch up with old friends who we may not have seen in quite some time. The hotel is exquisite and the food delicious. We also enjoy competing in the Silent Auction knowing that all the money we spend will go to support such a fabulous organization. The emcees, such Marga Gomez and more recently Alec Mapa, bring unforgettable queer humor to the event. And, the awardees, from Jesse Tyler Ferguson to Betty Degeneres to the Bay Area’s own Jill Rose, have been inspiring leaders in promoting visibility and equality for all families.

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Each year, my husband and I leave Night Out feeling a renewed sense of community, commitment and connection. It is an amazing experience to be a part of something that so benefits our family, but is also so much bigger than we are.  Night Out celebrates that work and reminds all of us of the tremendous possibilities for social transformation when people are truly able to celebrate who they are.

We are looking forward to this year’s celebrations and we hope many more families will also be able to share OFC’s amazing work with their own family and friends!