Philip owns PSG Photo Solutions (“Let Us Help You Tell Your Story”). Designing a Lifebook for his adopted sons led him into using photographs and the stories they tell to create Lifebooks for other families. - Cathi Nelson
Value of Adoption Lifebook
by Philip Griffith
I describe a Lifebook as saying, “I’m real.” When children are babies or toddlers, there’s all this stuff going on, but they don’t remember any of it. When they see pictures of places and people and particu- larly themselves, it makes all the stories you tell them real. It’s like when you are looking at your own family photo album, and you see yourself as a baby, see yourself being brought home, and you’re hearing all the stories your parents tell you about what happened at the birth and what happened when you came home.
I, as the adoptive parent of two boys, don’t have those stories for them. What I might have, depending on the situation, are pho- tos. Or, for us, we had hospital letterhead that had details about the birth and who the attending doctor was and the nurse. We have something that is physical that demonstrates that, just like everyone else, you were born. A lot of adopted kids say it doesn’t seem real to them. Lifebook makes it real. The pictures make those things real. I was like everyone else. When I first heard about a Lifebook, I thought right away, “I need to do this. I want to do this for my child.” Then you get into it, and it’s hard. You have to face the reali- ties of the loss that the child is going through. You remember all the emotions and the journey. You have to put that all aside to be able to tell a child’s story. Sometimes our children have gone through some really hard times.
As you make the Lifebook, you have to acknowledge those hard times and figure out how you want to talk about them in a way that won’t be crushing to a child, but in a way that is not hid- ing it from them. It all depends on the age of the child. Later in life, when they are ready for the whole truth, you don’t want them to feel you were hiding anything.
International adoption is especially difficult. In China, you have no information prior to the abandonment. You may not even know the birth date. You have other countries where orphanages were just horrible, and the child was left alone. Those are hard things. I realized that making a Lifebook is as much for me, the adoptive parent, as for my child. I needed to become comfortable with telling my child’s story truthfully yet not painfully for him. At this stage of my sons’ lives, I have to get the Lifebooks out and sit the boys down and say, “We’re going to do this.” They are starting to ask questions and want to get beyond the book that was written for them when they were three, four, and five years old. Those books functioned well when they were children.
I’m encouraged by the questions. It means they are thinking about things. The Lifebooks are still a place to go to start asking questions and a place to go to open the conversation. It gives my sons and me a point of reference, something that we can look at together and be on the same side — as opposed to feeling like we’re on opposite sides, fighting over something. I don’t know if l’m expressing that well. I’m thinking of when your child starts questioning: “Why was I adopted?” You try to figure out if he is asking “Why was I adopted?” or “Why was I adopted?” What’s the real question there?
It doesn’t end with the Lifebook. That’s merely the start of the process. We’ve continued to make books about our family and about each boy. We’re saying: “Yes, you were born, and now you’re growing up, and here’s your life. Just like everyone else, you are part of a family, you’ve been to these events, and we’ve celebrated these birthdays. Look at all the things we’ve done and the places we’ve been to.” Those are the kinds of things that give children a sense of identity and stability. That’s really what the Lifebook is supposed to be — a touchstone. We all need to see ourselves within the context of the family and the community.
I was at a teachers’ conference and felt it was important to tell their teachers. They are now teenagers. This is the time when adoption issues come up. I wanted their teachers to know in case something comes up in class. It turned out that one of the teachers was adopted, and she said there are several other kids in the class who are adopted. She also said that it has come up in class, and both boys have been very open about it. That was gratifying for me. I talked with them and used the Lifebook to help
them rehearse their story and understand where they are from and the adoption process they went through so that they would feel comfortable talking to other people about it.
My son Carlos said, “A Lifebook helps me to keep my past and to know how lucky my future is.” Christopher said, “The Lifebook gives me a sense of my heritage and culture. It answers questions that I have about my birth parents.”