I spoke at a terrific adoption conference this weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina put on by Southern Piedmont Adoptive Families of America (SPAFA), a grass root local/regional adoption support group. I arrived at 9:00 on a beautiful Saturday morning. Signs were up, rooms readied, chairs arranged, coffee and donuts set out, day care/ nursery workers in place, and registration well under way. This meant that many folks (Kim Dillen, Melissa Axton, Jennifer Van-Strahlen, Karen Crump, Antoinette Stein, and lots of others)had arrived long before 9:00 to do all this sign putting, room readying, chair arranging, coffee/donut setting, and registration organizing. And the work on that day pales by comparison to all the work that went on in the months and weeks before required to pull off this conference.
The day was packed with couples and singles just beginning to consider adoption. Folks who were at that weird place of excitement tinged with fear; hope mixed with anxiety– all in need of information to help them decide on moving forward. The conference was a huge success. How could it not be after all this time and effort.
Most of the people who organized this event have already adopted. They are busy parenting, busy with registering for summer camps, attending piano recitals, scheduling swimming lessons… busy getting on with life. I’m sure they had a list a mile long of things they needed to get done on that beautiful June Saturday. But instead, they chose to spend it organizing, arranging, and sharing their adoption experience. They were paying it backward because they remember being in that place of confusion, fear, hope and excitement. Not a one of these folks were paid a dime—they were each and every one a volunteer.
It’s not just the adoption community that benefits from selfless volunteers. To name just one example, I am blown away by the hundreds of hours spent by the co-chairs of the Resolve Infertility Advocacy Committee. These women, Lee Collins and Renee Whitley, spend an unbelievable amount of time tracking legislation, writing position paper, talking with state and federal representatives, and organizing advocacy campaigns all so that the infertility treatments that gave them their children will be around for you and others who come after you.
Paying it backward doesn’t have to involve weeks and months out of your life. Sometimes all it takes is five minutes of your time. If you go to the Creating a Family Facebook Support group on any given day, someone at the beginning of the process will post a question and usually four or five (and sometimes many more) been-there-done-that parents (either through adoption or infertility treatment) will jump in with a response. For example, yesterday there was a post from a woman thinking about becoming an older mom and worried that she might regret this decision later. Her fear is real, and while no one can nor should tell her everything will be just fine, several “older” moms are sharing their experience. This sharing takes time. The person who spends five minutes typing a comment doesn’t necessarily benefit, but our group has been enriched by their effort.
Paying it backwards is time consuming and in many ways thankless, but each of us has likely benefited by someone else clearing the path and answering our questions. I know I certainly did. I wish I knew the names of the people who put on all the conferences I attended back when we were at the “thinking about it” stage. I don’t and can’t thank them in person, but I can do my best to pay it backwards to those that come after me.Image credit: chooyutshing