I remember in high school, all grade 12 students in our youth group could submit a photo of themselves as a baby. The idea was to see who could guess which student matched which baby photo. Even then, I remember thinking, “What about people who don’t have a photo of themselves as a baby?” While this could be the case due to a house fire or similar accident, even as a teen, I was thinking about children of adoption. It had always been a dream of mine to adopt one day, and for some reason, I have always been a bit more in tune with adoption issues. What about those who have no baby adoption photos?
For many children who have shuttled through the foster care system, pictures may be lost in the multiple moves between placements or even through moving back to the birth family, only to be taken into foster care again at a future date. In my foster parent training, we were instructed to keep Lifebooks as a reminder of milestones, and these were to include photos and mementos. I have always sent photos and other special items back with children returning home or children transitioning into another situation. It would be reasonable to assume not all foster homes are diligent in this. And I think it makes sense that if a child is moving around a lot, things unintentionally get left behind. Just recently, I found the hat of our foster son that had moved over a year ago in the storage compartment of our quad. It may seem like a small thing, but it still wrung my heart, just a little. Who am I to determine what holds sentimental value to a child in care or a child of adoption? And how much more precious are photos, especially baby adoption pictures? A good friend and mentor of mine, who is not on Facebook, created an account simply to reconnect with some of her first placements from 26 years ago to give them some photos of their baby days and childhood (for more on connecting through Facebook, see this link). What a gift! No value can be placed on childhood and baby adoption photos.
For most of us, looking through old photo albums is a walk through memory lane. We smile, laugh, and maybe even cry at the old memories. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to have nothing. No comparisons to see what you looked like then compared to now. No photos to see what styles were in place, and what activities you did as a toddler. No photos of a baby shower, or coming home from the hospital. This is a loss that many foster children and adopted children experience. Children of adoption always experience some degree of loss, and that is the loss of the ability to be parented by the biological parents. For some adoptees, this may be handled with relative ease while others may struggle and suffer from this for years to come. I believe it is very important to acknowledge the losses of an adopted child – for more information on loss in adoption, see the following articles:
Not having baby adoption photos can create a milieu of emotions for an adoptee which can continue to be a source of pain in life, especially when it comes to things such as high school yearbooks (and baby photo comparison games that are popular at graduation), family tree or genealogy studies (again, the desire to compare how you looked like a child with how your grandparents looked might be there, but the photos might not be), or even just the space on the bookshelf where you imagine your baby/childhood photo album should be. An adoptee’s children or grandchild may ask to see photos of her as a child, and the pain is brought up all over again.
What can be done for a child—or adult—who does not have baby adoption photos? It’s time to get creative. Where it would normally be a photo that is needed, maybe consider drawing, or having an artist draw, a complex and beautiful heart design containing elements (words or ingrained images) that are important to the adoptee. Or, for a light-hearted take, if the adoptee is up for it, a cartoonish self-portrait of a baby they feel represents them? For the more tangible family tree issue that can come up in school projects, consider these creative ideas:
Take the lead of the adoptee, if possible. They might have a way in mind to represent themselves, and that would be incredibly unique and special. Be prepared for emotions to come up and be open to talking AND listening.
When we received the call about possibly taking a newborn baby as a foster placement—a baby that we totally fell in love with after just hearing her name, and we would later go on to adopt—we were asked by the social worker if we could go to the hospital to take some photos of her so she would have baby photos of herself later on. What a special and caring worker. Not all cases work like this, and it might not be carelessness or apathy. Many child welfare workers are completely overworked and are given totally inadequate funding for the job they need to do. But I will never forget this case. My husband and I went down to the hospital that evening, took turns holding Emma, and took lots of photos. We took imprints of her hands in clay to save and wrote down her milestones for the 18 months she was our foster daughter. We were so blessed to then be able to adopt this amazing little girl, but had we not, she would have had a whole container of photos—her birth, coming home to us, first smiles, first steps. This is a precious treasure, and I wish that all children from hard places could have it. We have gone on to do the very same thing for other babies we have fostered as newborns. Some have moved on, some have stayed, and we have adopted them. But ALL from this house have photos to take with them. I make sure to back the photos up on memory sticks or a cloud so that if they are lost or misplaced, we will have the ability to make or send copies. I feel so much joy in being able to do this. It feels like giving a gift that is so deserved, and I am privileged to hold on to this precious material until it is needed.
But really, why stop there? Why not go big and do something amazing? We tracked down photos of our adopted children’s birth parents and made photo books through Shutterfly. The books include information about their birth parents and their first days with us. We went even FURTHER after that and got photos of extended family and labeled them. Our children can now look through an album and see who they look like and where they come from. I do realize that for children of international adoption, this might not be possible. Sometimes, in countries such as China, babies are abandoned in a public or semi-public area and then placed in orphanages. There are no photos and likely no way to ever get them. Think past it—can you Google the orphanage and print off pictures? Before you bring the child home, can you take photos of a caretaker or the grounds? This may or may not be allowed, but it is worth asking. If there are a lot of strict rules, consider taking photos of your journey to the country you are adopting from. Document it all! Your plane tickets, where you stayed, what you ate. You may be missing photos of the child as a baby, and it may still cause pain, but at least you have done the next best thing. Keep doing the next best thing! No matter where your child is from or what his or her story is, start taking your own photos NOW, lots of them! Print them often, display them, decorate them, put them in fancy frames. You can’t get back what is lost, but you can forge new ground for the future.
My husband and I adopted a baby this fall through direct placement adoption (without the use of an adoption agency but with some help from a child welfare agency). To know that you are adopting a baby is an incredible opportunity to do baby adoption photos and to do them well. Definitely ask the birth mother what she is comfortable with if you are at the hospital with her, and DEFINITELY take photos of her with the baby, if that is something she can handle. If not, do the next best thing. Take photos of your baby’s hands and feet, first bath, first snuggles with you, anything and everything. I think for myself, who am not an adoptee, I take so many things for granted. Your adopted child may need more photos than other children. So go, take some pictures!
Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.