Category Archives: Family Formation

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.

entrustmentceremonyquote2An Event to Remember

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.

Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

Two men and a baby: Navigating parenting and partnership in a two-dad family

By KALW reporter Jen Chien

 Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

Credit Phyllis Christopher / phyllischristopher.com
Mickey, Alicia and Amos Lim

When Amos and Mickey Lim met in 1995, they had no idea they would someday have a daughter together. It just didn’t seem possible. They lived an ocean away from each other, and didn’t know if they would ever even meet face-to-face. That’s because they first connected online, on a gay discussion group.

“Someone was talking about long-term relationships, how there’s no such thing as long-term relationships,” Amos says. “Probably because we don’t see the role models out there.”

That was certainly true for Amos. He’s from Singapore, a country where homosexual acts are still against the law. Mickey was living in Bakersfield at the time.

“I think that when I came out I kind of had the idea initially that I would just be that bachelor–the uncle,” Mickey says. But over time, his views changed. He says it wasn’t until five or six years after he had come out that he decided to stop restricting himself mentally. “I can do anything I want,” he says. “The question then becomes: do I want a long-term, lifelong relationship? Do I want to have a family? Do I want to have children? I couldn’t conceive of any reason not to, other than I hadn’t met the right person to do it with.”

So Mickey wrote back to Amos, and shared his own experience. They started corresponding. Long emails turned into long phone calls, and a couple of years later, Mickey went to visit Amos in Singapore.

“We met and immediately realized well, oh, we’re in love!” Mickey says with a laugh. The two have been together now for over 20 years, and their love plays out in an everyday way, in the home they’ve made together with their six-year old daughter Alicia.

On a recent morning, Amos gets Alicia’s lunch ready and makes sure the kitchen is clean, as Mickey struggles to get her to brush her teeth. Once that’s done, Mickey will drop Alicia off at school, then drive to his job as a pharmacist for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Amos is the volunteer director of a nonprofit, but he calls himself a stay-at-home dad. He says he and Mickey share responsibility for domestic duties — there’s not a clear division.

“I don’t see it as a 50/50, i see it as 100/100,” Amos says.

Mickey agrees. “I think we both want to participate in the raising of our child. … Nobody gets any down time here — it’s all go.”

They share duties like this for a reason. When Amos first came to the US in 1999, he was on a series of temporary visas — his status was often uncertain. Because of that uncertainty, and because Amos first came in on a student visa, they were by necessity a one-income household.

Mickey says that could have created an imbalance in their relationship, but they don’t look at it that way. “What we’ve done and what we continue to do now is that you contribute to the house [and] the family, that which you’re capable of,” he says. “No one thing is one person’s job, it all has to get done. Some things I’m better at than he, and there are things that he’s better at than I am.”

Amos finally got his green card in 2006. He and Mickey felt stable enough to consider adopting a child together, something they had both dreamed of. They were matched with Alicia through a foster-to-adopt program when she was eight months old.

At this point, Amos was working full-time in nonprofit management. They were each able to take a month of parental leave, and after that they just rotated, especially since Amos’ job allowed him to work from home part of the time.

When the economy tanked, though, Amos lost his position. Alicia was receiving therapy for developmental delay — six hours a week — so they decided that Amos would stay home with her. Mickey once again became the sole breadwinner.

“It worked out that way, and sometimes I’m jealous, and sometimes I’m grateful,” Mickey says.

Mickey and Amos both say that the models of parenting and partnership that have been handed down to them don’t always apply to their family.

“We don’t fit into ‘I’m the husband, you’re the wife,’ or ‘This is what husbands do and this is what wives do’ — because we do both,” Amos says.

But both men say they’ve felt the discomfort of not conforming to traditional expectations. When filling out an application for Alicia’s social security card, Mickey discovered the the form only had fields for “father” and “mother.” He says the clerk was not very helpful — she asked them to just pick one. Since he had taken Amos’ last name when they married, and therefore had a “maiden name,” he put himself on the form as Alicia’s mother.

For his part, Amos says it can be challenging being the only dad in a roomful of moms, like when he volunteers at Alicia’s school. And there’s the fact that he’s an Asian man with a blonde, blue-eyed white child. He says he’s felt people’s suspicion at times when he’s at the playground with Alicia, and she throws a tantrum because she doesn’t want to leave.

“People take a second look… and you know, I’ve got somebody come up to me and say, ‘Should I be worried?’ I’m like: ‘No you shouldn’t be worried, she’s my daughter.’”

Mickey says they have also been surprised by the way some friends have reacted to their decision to raise a child together. “I think that the straight couples with kids are actually more accepting or more shrugging-their-shoulders of it than gay people without kids,” he says. “We had friends who were at our wedding when Alicia was two, and like, never saw them again.”

Mickey says he thinks these friends probably disapprove of his and Amos’ decision to follow what seems like a traditional or conventional path, but he sees it differently. “I think it goes back to not understanding that you can make it whatever you want. You can have the life that you choose to have. Not the life that you ran away from, but rather, the life that you’re walking and running toward.”

These two fathers are walking and running toward a life that they once could barely even dream of, and are now defining on their own terms.

Trust & Fear of the Unknown in Adoption

This is the happy story of a new family being born through unexpected circumstances and an almost magical lining up of the stars. Little did we know that a short 6 years after meeting, we’d be fathers – let alone be living in California!

15-IMG_9625The story began when we met on university campus in Montréal, Québec back in 2007. It was love at first sight. We never really discussed having kids until much later in our relationship. We were still young (none of our friends had kids yet) and wanted to travel the world (which we did)! Gabriel always wanted to have kids but Pierre-Luc pretty much had given up on the idea at a young age.

Our life changed when an unexpected job offer in California came for Pierre-Luc. First, we had to overcome the fact that we’d have to immigrate as strangers to each other as the work visa would not recognize same-sex couples. Gabriel would have to find a job, his first job right out of school. To this day, we would rather not think about what would have happened should Gabriel have failed in his search. We are very happy about the supreme court decision to declare DOMA unconstitutional as it will save a lot of stress for futures couples that are in similar circumstances.

By 2011, our relationship had matured and so did our lives. Some of our friends and cousins had started having kids and frankly, this ignited something inside of us. The looming 30th birthday anniversary for Pierre-Luc did also helped: the clock was ticking! This is when we began our research on how to build our family. One thing was clear: we wanted a newborn, to be the only parents from day 1.

There were a few options available to us in California: surrogacy and adoption. As we concentrated on adoption for financial reasons, we discovered a rich world full of love for the children being adopted. As we kept reading books on the subject of gay parenting and adoption in general, it became clear to us that an open adoption was the way to go. We visited a few adoption agencies and got started on the paperwork in September of 2012.

We learned that openness is positive for all participants. For the children, it helps developing their identity far removed from the unknowns associated with closed adoption: who are my birth parents, why did it happen, etc. For the birth parents, after the grieving period, it’s an immense relief and joy to be able to see that the child they brought into this world is being well taken care of. And for the adoptive parents, having access to the medical history of the family is one of many advantages, should a problem arise.

IMG_5743We had concerns about inviting hypothetical birth parents into our lives: it felt weird to create such an intimate relationship with complete strangers. Will they judge our parenting? How will their life choices impact ours? In retrospect, it was all about the fear of the unknown. When we were first contacted by the future birthmother of our child in March 2013, it put a face on the strangers. As we exchanged many long heartwarming emails over the next month, we developed an understanding and it was the beginning of a relationship we hope will flourish.

We consider ourselves lucky to have been matched very early in the pregnancy. We had more time to bond, and this also meant that we were able to fly to meet her in person in Missouri and attend the OBGYN visit where we all learned that we were expecting a girl. Over the weekend, we met with her family and all of her friends. She has a wonderful circle of support and everyone was onboard with her plans. We felt like rock stars: she had talked about us to all of them and they were all genuinely eager to meet us.

For interstate adoptions, there is some paperwork to be processed which usually means that you are stuck in an hotel room with a newborn for about 10 days. When Sophie was born in September 2013, we ended up overstaying that period because we wanted to spend a little bit more time with the birth family. We had finally met the birthfather at the hospital and this was a unique chance to create a bond. As the family came to visit birthmom in the hospital, they also visited us – the new parents – to congratulate us and meet the newest addition to our family. We created memories we will always cherish.

In retrospect, we can now say that our fears about adoption were unfounded. As the birth parents pick you, you also end up picking them and it is up to you to establish your personal boundaries. Working with an experienced adoption agency like the IAC really simplified things for us and for every party involved. They offer great support for the birth family and helped everyone understand their role in this child’s life.

The key to success is trust. While we jungled with the uncertainty of the adoption going through, we trusted deep down that the birthmother would do what’s best for her child. She also trusted us enough to select us from a big list of potential parents and we found that this trust helped us through the daunting first nights with a newborn.

Pierre-Luc Beaudoin & Gabriel Millaire