Beth O'Malley's Adoption Lifebooks

Success Stories

It’s important to hear from other adoptive parents in the same boat. The adoption lifebook boat .... the ups and the downs. What worked..... How Long.... How it feels. Does anyone ever really finish?

What were the obstacles? What held you back?

Here are some of the many responses I received. Thanks for sharing, everyone.

If you’d like to add your thoughts please email me at lifebooks@earthlink.net. Put "Success Story" in the subject line.

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My daughter just turned 10. Last year, surrounding her 9th birthday, she had many issues and feelings about abandonment. I struggled to help her until I learned about life books. We began working on one and, while not finished, did get the basics down with a little more.
     This year she seemed much better. I did find her reading through the book a couple different times with close friends, some who were also adopted, and one who was not.
     I think it was therapeutic or her to review, but also to share her stories with selective, trusted friends, so they could better understand too.

~ Kim

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I purchased your lifebook book about a year ago. It was recommended by another adoptive mom. I read it through and was immediately convinced that I needed to do a toddler book for my child, then 18 months.
     I started with the text for an older version and then shaved it down for my little one. I used photos for now, since she couldn't help. We read it often. I know that it is helping me get comfortable with talking about her story. And she loves to see photos of herself.
     I chose some of the pages from your examples (because your wording is so great — thanks), changed them a bit, and fit them to our story. I think every adopted child needs a lifebook, or two. Many thanks for sharing your experiences and expertise.

Another older mom,
Teresa

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I love your material!! Thank you..Thank you...Thank you... My girl was just adopted from foster care just a few months ago. She is now 2. I've been journaling all along and creating a lifebook for her since her birth. Your tips and childlike wording are amazing and I pass on your e-mail newsletter to many other pre-adoptive families I know.
     Thank you for caring about kids enough to speak truth, even when it's hard for adoptive parents to hear. Kids need identity connection to their birth families. Being an adopted 2 yr. old myself, I know that it helps them grow stronger because they know more of who they are.

Sincerely,
Amy Clark
Springfield, MA

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I had emailed you a few times with some questions about doing my foster/adoptive daughters life book a few months ago.
     Well, I had to let you know, I finished! I feel like I gave birth to another child in the process! Since my daughter is 8 she was able to help by giving her comments and insights on her own life…..I was able to shape "her" story of the last 8 years before she came to us.
     There were times it was not an easy process. The material was difficult to write and even more difficult for us to read together.
     I remember reading in your book about not "sanitizing" their life story. True but so hard to do.
     I wrote it as simple and factual as I could. I tried using more mature language since she is not a baby or toddler.
     I feel so relieved to have the "story" done and be able to focus on here and now.
     Oh, and she officially becomes ours on Mother's Day weekend. Yeah for me!

Thanks again for all of your help!
Cathie De La Rosa

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I just want to tell you that I’ve finally finished completing most of my five-year-old daughter Jess’s lifebook.
     In February I read all the Lifetips you’ve sent me over the last two years, your books and articles. I wanted to start this project three years ago but kept procrastinating as I don’t have much info about Jess’s birth parents, didn’t want to ‘deal’ with it.
     Reading your articles made me feel better as you describe so well all the reasons why adoptive parents might put off this task even while knowing how meaningful it would be for their child.
     It took three weeks of focus and a lot of pretty papers and stickers; as you suggested I also made sure that the written information was prominent because it wasn’t meant to be a scrapbook.
     My husband and I hope to sit down and discuss her adoption story in the near future and get her input for some of the pages (photos, drawings, answers). I know you mentioned that you wanted to get the child involved from the start of the book but I wanted to get all the info down first because knowing Jess she’d probably want to go through the whole story in one sitting. Hopefully it will form the basis for much communication.

Thanks again, Beth.
Regards,
Patricia Lobo
Toronto

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Several years ago, I contacted you for help on my daughters lifebook.
     Well, I just wanted to drop a quick belated note to say thank you for your telephone advice. I did put the lifebook together and then stored it away. I planned on bringing it out when Helen was 6 or 7.
     I figured that was the time she would start asking questions and wanting to know the details of her adoption. Boy was I wrong!
     Last month (Helen is 3 1/2), she asked me why boys aren't born in China? When I explained that lots of boys are born in China she then said,"then how come none of my friends who are Chinese are boys? Why don't they live in the big room with all the other babies and come to the United States?"
     My heart just stopped and I realized that it was time to show her the lifebook. I am so glad that I had it done cause if I had not, I don't know what I would have done. We now read it together whenever she wants which is about once a week.
     One ante dote to this story, is that my daughter went to preschool and announced that she has "two mommys!" Well, in San Francisco (where we live now) that is an entirely different family structure. Her teachers got the biggest kick out of her "outting" me. My husband is still trying to figure out where he fits in to this new picture!!
     Thank you so much for your great resource book and then going the extra step to talk to me on the phone. I am sure you do not remember me but I do remember your help and kindness.

All the best,
Catherine
proud mommy of Helen

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Creating my son's lifebook has been so rewarding. This lifebook project is the perfect way to introduce my child to his birth and adoption story at a young age. It never felt right to my husband and I to have "the talk". We just always wanted him to know, at an age appropriate level, what his story is.
     I felt such a sense of accomplishment when I'd completed my sons' Lifebook. Not from the standpoint of "whew - it's done" (well, maybe just a little bit!), but more because I know I did the right thing. My efforts will be a huge benefit to my son as he grows, and that is what excites me. So, just get started... keep with it... ad you will be giving your adopted child a precious gift!

Lisa Schwarz

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I attended your workshop at Pearl S. Buck, International last year. My daughters (now ages 3 and 6) were born in China. I am working on their lifebooks, focusing more on the one for my older daughter, as she is old enough to discuss the issues and contribute to her book, in a meaningful way.
     Because I am using top-loading scrapbook pages, and doing the pages on scrapbook paper, which can be moved, I don't necessarily have to do each page in order. I do pages as ideas come to me.
     Of course, we have no brithparent information. What I did was to do two facing pages. On one I wrote "sometimes you will think about your birthparents, and you will wonder what they look like. We don't have a picture of them, so we don't know for sure. Children usually look like their birthparents. So when you want to know what they look like, you can look right here."
     Underneath I glued a mirror, which I took out of an old compact.
     On the facing page, I had her draw a picture of what she thinks her birthparents look like. I am also using, literally, a red thread (lightweight yarn), across each page, with a scrapbooking sticker explaining the significance of the red thread at the beginning. Your book and the information from the workshop are very helpful.

Sharon Whitney

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I am writing to introduce myself. My name is Carol and I am on 2 sides of the triad. I am an adoptee and a birthmom.
     Growing up my adoptive parents did a construction paper "lifebook" which social services here were amazed by. I have always kept it.
     It was more of a book about what sort of family I would be joining. It let me know about my new family (I was 10 when I was adopted).
     The small book helped me feel like I belonged somewhere and was wanted.

Carol—adoptee & birthmom

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Writing my daughter's lifebook is always on my mind. I'm always worrying and struggling with how/when will I write it. One night, Anna was having a very difficult night, crying a lot, and I was up several times with her.
     Finally I decided to sleep in our living room on the couch, so that I wouldn't disturb my husband by getting up so many times (OK - he does snore, so I was also there for my own sake...).
     Anyway as I was lying there trying to sleep, all these wonderful words started coming to me for Anna's lifebook. I was so tired and just wanted to sleep...
but then I realized that maybe this difficult night was a kind of gift. To give me some undeniably quiet time when I really could just think and write. So I sat up, turned on the light, grabbed a pen, and wrote and wrote and wrote....
     It was definitely a stream of consciousness kind of experience. When I look back on what I wrote, it was so pure and perfect....I never could have planned to write it that way.
     So - that's the beginning of Anna's lifebook - it came from my heart which is how I want the whole thing to be. Now I don't feel the stress of having to sit down and plan something to write.
     There's still much to be done, but I guess I feel good that I can build on what I have already written. I have kind of a quiet confidence that the rest will come to me just as this first part did. That has taken the stress off.
     I've heard people talk about keeping a pad and pen next to their bed to write down their dreams...so maybe we can use the same idea to record our thoughts for our children's lifebooks. Maybe this will help others - I hope so.

Thanks again and Happy New Year.
Meg Arbo

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What do I think held me back from starting or completing my child's lifebook?
     My daughter's lifebook..... a nightmare adoption process, an adoption agency from hell, the adoption trip from hell, a tormented child, a child that waited TOO LONG and will never be normal ....finally finished....told myself I couldn't start on my third and final adoption until I finished her lifebook.....53 pages....the politically correct China version. My son's lifebook.... two kids in diapers, my daughter's adoption and troubles, THEN the BIGGIE (for an international adoption)....I did a birthfamily search and actually found his birthfamily...mother, grandmother, bunch of siblings, aunts and uncles....
     It's been a year but I'm still sorting thru this... Lifebook....I've completed and then revised about 15 pages is all....still have a bunch to do.
     What I did accomplish? Both kids EACH have a 10-page book about them that includes two adoption pages. They LOVE their books. They're just three and almost three so this is really enough for now.

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Thank you for your mails. They are full of great ideas. My daughter is 1 and a half years old. I have the adoption story but I am looking forward to doing a lifebook with her too.
   I practice the beginning with her already when I am putting her to bed, "once upon a time" etc. It helps me feel comfortable and matter of fact about her situation.
     Of course I don't get much feedback but she listens intently and when I'm done she says 'digger', to have her proper goodnight book which is full of excavators! (diggers is an english term)

Thanks again,
Clare from England

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I am an adoptive mom as well as a Parenting Coach here in northern California.
     Many months ago, one of my clients brought me a copy of your Lifebook. Today, we have a group of moms that, after taking a one evening introduction class from me, meet one Saturday morning a month and work on their creations.
     It is proving to be not only a bonding experience for them but helping them to process and heal so much of not only their child’s story but their own feelings about adoption! THANK YOU! It has turned out to be a much more therapeutic tool than I ever realized.
     My adopted daughter is 24 and this past summer had her own baby. The pregnancy, delivery and having that baby put into her arms for the first time triggered another level of her own story.
     As an adolescent she had done some of her processing and healing but another major piece opened for her. She is actually taking the lifebook class and creating her own Lifebook. Her situation is obviously different than the others in the class, but it is turning out to be healing for everyone.
     She hears from them--What it is like to walk in their shoes as adoptive moms. And they hear from her--- what it was like to be in her shoes. Everyone is benefiting. Needless to say it is a very rich time when they come together. I feel blessed to be able to facilitating such a process.
I hope you will take a moment and look at my website and then be in touch.
     I would be happy to donate an hour session for one of your raffles if you would ever like that. I coach people from all over the United States. It is always amazing to me that many families find their way to me and then it comes out that both of us are adoptive families. Why am I surprised I always ask myself….
     Well, I just wanted to write and say hi and THANK YOU for what you have brought to the many families of adoption.

Sincerely,
Barbara Joy
Parenting Coach
www.parentingwithjoy.com

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I'm happy to say that I have finally written the text for my daughter's lifebook using your book as a template. I'm in the process of *illustrating* it using a combination of photos, art work and other scrapbook type approaches.
     Lianna, who will soon be 5 has had a good time helping me make decisions on how this all should look.
     I started the process almost a year ago and hope to have it finished by her birthday in Nov. Getting started was the hardest part but once I read through your book and thought just a little about how to approach it I became nearly obsessed.
     The worst thing was when I lost all the text when my computer crashed. Thankfully, a first draft hard copy had been printed out.
     Giving my daughter something tangible with her information is what has motivated me and the feelings it has stirred in both my daughter and I have been very interesting and meaningful on many levels. I thank you for the inspiration!

Susan Fogg
Mom to Lianna adopted at 14 months from PRC

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At the present time I am a Resource Foster Parent. We have been blessed with a beautiful little girl for 13 months now.
     She still has visitations with her biological mother and I was motivated to start her lifebook when one day I had to take her for an evaluation with the biological mother and the baby started calling both of us mommy.
     I realized that no matter with whom the baby stays with, she needs to know everything that I can tell her about her life. She has been with us since she was 5 months old.
     I'm just starting now, so who knows how long this is going to take me.'

Thanks for all your tips.
Betty Santiesteban
P.S. Congratulations on the new addition to your family.

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What motivated me is the thought that I might loose the details....and the mounds of paperwork brought back from the adoption trip....
     I wrote in 2nd person.." you were placed..." because I think that the book is a gift..to the child, to the family.
     It took me almost 3 or 4 months to collect, sort, and then place the items in order...I took sticky notes, and made lists, where I was missing, or knew I had a source for additional information. The yahoogroups for the orphanages give a lot of information, that maybe one person couldn't absorb, or didn't have access to while on the adoption trip.
     I would strongly suggest reading a little about lifebooks, and make a list of items to gather, BEFORE you leave for the adoption trip. Take detailed notes each night- who where when.....so that IF you don't get to journal that book for your child for a couple of years, you will have the correct spellings, names, places....
     The lifebook is a process, not a book to put together in a weekend. It takes time to digest information, sort it out, and decide on wording & what presentation you would like to make in the book , that will tell your child his/her history.
     Hope this helps all those just getting started!

Kay Graap
Atlanta, Georgia
adopted from China 2002

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When was it that I finally decided to start writing the lifebook? What motivated me? How long has it taken?
     I decided to do a lifebook for my daughter even before I met her. I had heard about them from different adoption email lists. I did lots of shopping and collected things I thought might be good embellishments for the pages - I love shopping so this was lots of fun for me!
     It took a bit longer to actually get started on it! When my daughter was 2 1/2, one of her daycare teachers was pregnant and that led to many questions. My daughter loves being read to so I decided I really needed to get the book done so we could read it together.
     The process of writing it and putting it together took only about 2 weeks. I sat down one evening with the 2 books about lifebooks, "When You Were Born in China", "Kids Like Me in China", and the "Coming Home" book.
     And I just started writing. Following the outline and ideas in the lifebook books and looking to the other books for help with wording. I finished writing it out that night.
     A few days later, I typed it up; editing as I typed and breaking it into pages. Then it took a few days (and another trip to the scrapbook store) to embellish the pages and put it together in a book. It's probably not perfect, but it's done and that's what's important.
     I made it like a book - a picture, die cut, or clip art at the top of each page and a line of type on the bottom.
     Jensen has had it for over a year now and goes through cycles of wanting to read it. Her favorite page, by far, is the one with a die cut of a pregnant woman.
     She takes great comfort in knowing that she grew in a woman's body just like every other child in the world.Thanks for the tips you send out every month! I can't wait to get started on the lifebook for my new daughter!

Linda Bigelow,
Jensen's mom (almost 4, Changzhou, China)
Taryn's mom-to-be (almost 2, Maoming, China)

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I "finally decided" to write my children's lifebook well before they arrived home. The moment I saw Beth O'Malley's book at an adoption conference I knew this was something I MUST DO! I didn't really feel that I had a choice in the matter. I also felt that it was a positive and healthy way, (as well as tangible) for us to validate their heritage, history and linkage to their country of origin, the circumstances surrounding their adoption placement, and their biological parents, whether or not one has names.
     We are truly blessed to have our children and we feel we owe this positive validation (although some of the details may indeed be painful and confusing) and crucial self-esteem builder to our children.

Joan Thomas-Mello, M.Ed. New Bedford, MA

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I wrote my son's (domestic newborn adoption) Lifebook when he was just 3 months old, using your Lifebook book as a guide. I did it this early because there were a lot of complicated details about how he came home to us.
     I was afraid I would forget if I let too much time pass. I also knew that I'd be getting real busy as he got bigger, and I'd have less time. It took me a month to get it done.
     Some of the parts were very, very hard to write, like why his birthmother could not raise him, and about his birthfather who we have virtually no information about, not even a picture.
     I used Microsoft Publisher and art from Clipart.com. It turned out great!
     I had my Mom read your book and then read what I had written to make sure I put the suggestions to use properly. I ended the book in a way that suggests we (my son and I) add to it as he gets older and is able to contribute; he's almost one year old now.
     We expect to bring a daughter home from China by the end of the year. I will be collecting as much information while on our trip as possible for her Lifebook, which I hope to start soon after we return.
     Your book is great, thanks for your insights!

Annette Acrosley

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I plan to start my daughter's lifebook soon. She is 10 months old and came home when she was 8 1/2 months, from Korea. I have just started to gather information on how to do it. I don't think I will have a problem committing to it and finishing it. I have started other things for her already:
     - A journal detailing our feelings about her, her arrival, her birth and foster families; it will include anecdotes and humorous things she says and does as she grows up.
     - A photo album, including family pictures from the past, very old photographs, and dozens of new ones since her arrival.
     - A color copy of the "birth family album" which we had originally made when we were waiting for a domestic adoption.
     I also bought the book When You Were Born in Korea. I think it will be a nice complement to the lifebook.

Kimberly Kennedy
in Kentucky

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When was it that I finally decided to start writing the lifebook?
     I decided this past Winter time after attending a workshop, not on lifebooks, but on discipline, and someone talked briefly about them. I had done some reading on them and had wavered back on forth on doing one. I really didn't know if it would be healthy for our daughter to have all that information or not. I also read some posts online on the APC group and was finally convinced that I should do this.
     What motivated me? I realized that it would probably be a valuable tool for raising our daughter adopted from China.
     Although I don't necessarily agree that all the info should be presented to children at such a young age (such as how babies are made, birthmother terminology, abandonment details), I included all the info but wrote to a 6- 8-year-old level. I will "edit" it as I read it now to my 2-year-old and then include the info at the age-appropriate time. But the info is all there and I don't have to worry about adding to it later when I certainly won't have more time. I was also motivated by the fact that as time goes on, you forget details. I wanted the info to still be fresh in my mind.
     How Long has it taken? I started in May with my outline and worked on it pretty consistently thru June. I finished it the end of July.

Sincerely,
Michelle Miller
(mom to Chloe adopted 10-16-02,
Zhangye SWI, Gansu Province, China)

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