on education and openness

•February 16, 2013 • 5 Comments

It took some time for my approach to openness in adoption to evolve.

At first I had no real idea what it involved, what it was, what it looked like. I worked to overcome my initial fears and insecurities about opening my heart as I learned more about truly child-centered adoption. Then I had to envision and process how openness might work in practice and what it would mean for our family. Today I am still adjusting to the complexity of living in a fully open adoption with our daughter’s family of origin, with all of its joys and struggles.

Self education has been key to my evolving views — e.g., from reading books and blogs at the start, to sharing experiences with other adoptive parents, to insight gained from talking with families extended and blended through adoption, especially birth family members and adult adoptees. Of course now living it is my primary source of learning and evolution. I am constantly opening my eyes and heart to the joys and challenges inherent in parenting a child through adoption, and open adoption in particular.

This evolutionary process is among the most powerful and important journeys I’ve made in my life (the others being our struggle through loss and infertility to parenthood, and the natural evolution of sharing half a lifetime with a partner). And I’m still on it, every day.

Looking back I realize how far I’ve come. It’s hard not to look at people just starting out now and think wow, I wish I could share with you all that I’ve learned. I know everyone on this path has to find their own way, but it helps tremendously to have guidance and support. I was once at the beginning of our journey too, at the start of the learning curve. Back then I wasn’t so sure about the extent of openness we would be willing and able to offer.

Early on, I remember thinking we should honor an expectant mother’s wishes about the level of openness she might want for her child, even if she wanted limited contact. It seemed respecting her wishes about her adoption plan was the “right” thing to do. Plus, like many other prospective adoptive parents, maybe I secretly wondered if I wouldn’t have been slightly relieved to have more limited involvement, which would presumably be easier or less complicated. Yet I recognized that line of thinking stemmed from fear and insecurity, and even a (futile) desire to control (and control is merely an illusion).

The more I read, the more people I spoke with, the more families I met, the clearer it became that in most cases, openness was best for the child. I knew openness wasn’t possible with every family. But if we wanted a truly ethical child-centered adoption, then agreeing to a closed adoption wasn’t really an option. We found an ethical professional to help navigate the system and ensure support to any expectant parents we encountered (including exploring parenting as an option). Her focus was educating prospective families and expectant parents about a child-centric approach, about grief in adoption, the significance of openness and the inherent value of birth family remaining a significant part of the child’s life. If we met a woman — or couple — who didn’t want the same level of openness, then we could hope they might expand their view or agree that it would probably not be the best “match” for us.

I think some mothers (and fathers) fail to appreciate the significant role they have in their child’s life after placement — or sadly, maybe they’re just not afforded the respect and opportunity to fulfill it. Education is critical here, too. Expectant parents considering placement need to know beforehand about the lifelong impact. They shouldn’t be sold the fallacy that they will just “get over it,” presumably after they quietly disappear or assume some marginalized role. Adoption professionals should ensure that expectant parents understand how vital their involvement is. Openness should not be used to lure parents into placement, but rather should be prioritized and practiced in the child’s best interest. This requires real education on all ends of the adoption spectrum — reading about the complexities, talking with families living it, and support for people doing it.

When we met the woman who became our daughter’s birth mama, she knew she wanted to remain part of her child’s life. She did not know to what extent that would be possible or likely, and of course she didn’t know what it could look like, or how she would feel after placement. The first professional she consulted, a lawyer, downplayed the significance of openness. When we shared our philosophy — that our future child had a fundamental right to those connections and we had no right or reason to restrict that love, and that we were committed to building a strong relationship — she seemed a bit surprised and at ease. We made it clear that we would welcome ongoing involvement, that it would provide something essential to our child’s well being. While she hadn’t necessarily considered being treated as family, certainly that was our vision. To be clear, this was so much easier once we met, i.e., when we could envision extending our family to this outstanding young woman and those who loved this baby. Thankfully, she needed little encouragement. Reaffirming our open invitation has been an ongoing work in progress.

I should point out that it hasn’t been as simple or clear on the other side, trying to maintain openness — at least in spirit — with our daughter’s biological father. We struggled from the start to open the door and establish a foundation of trust. We did finally meet him two times, though we have not spoken with him in over a year or seen him in three years — since before Jaye was even walking. While we do maintain a connection to his mother, our daughter’s other birth grandmother, there is no consistent presence as we’ve had with her maternal family.

Still, adoption is hardly a static thing. Our relationships are dynamic, ever changing and evolving. And as our curious intelligent daughter is growing up, her questions are only beginning. So I continue to educate myself about adoption, how it can impact all participants, and how openness can shift over time. I continue to seek out information to help me become a more understanding and empathetic parent to our daughter. I read blogs and books, I talk with first parents and adoptive parents. I listen to adult adoptees who share their stories, even when they are hard to hear. Because some day that information, those perspectives, may help me support my daughter as she begins to integrate her own story. They already do. These voices help guide as we navigate through complex relationships and issues. They encourage me to take that extra step beyond my comfort zone, to try to make our daughter’s path easier. Each of these things are so supremely important that I’m grateful for the chance to do them.

invisible badge

•February 13, 2013 • 9 Comments

So there’s a boy at Jaye’s preschool. He’s a darling four year old kid, new to the school, very sweet and chatty. He’s my new buddy.

Let me back up a minute. Jaye has been going to preschool three mornings a week since she turned three, and she’s never once looked back. Unlike the kids who cry at drop-off and run to greet their parents at pick-up, our Jaye begs to stay longer and go more often. (Aside: We may try two full days to see how she does, but for three days the rates jump so that’s not happening.) When I pick her up mid-day, the kids are usually playing outside unless it’s freezing or storming. I head out back with Baby Z on my hip and we begin the song and dance of what it will take to get Jaye to leave so her little sister can eat lunch before her afternoon nap. It’s tough, because she’s having a blast and the rest of the day isn’t usually as exciting, even if I have something fun planned. Normally I’ll let her play a few minutes before trying to bribe drag coax her out the door. A good sign, really. The girl loves her school. So far, anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, we were all playing in the big sandbox when the new boy — let’s call him Dex — came over to us. Dex was instantly drawn to Baby Z and wanted to play with her. He asked lots of questions about her. He wanted to touch (or pet) her. Now Baby Z has quite a little fan club already. All the kids know her. A few have little siblings of their own. Many of the three-to-four year old girls are enamored by the “baby” and her cute little outfits. The two year olds are too small and the five year olds are too busy being big girls. Mostly the boys are too busy being, well, boys. But Dex was different. He was entranced and really trying to engage Baby Z.

So I asked Dex if he had a little brother or sister at home. He was such a natural with her, so gentle and kind. His response was equally sweet. And a little heartbreaking.

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”

It’s impossible to convey the innocent sweetness in his little voice. It was as if I had asked him if he had any bananas in his lunch bag and he was apologizing because he ran out or something.

“Well, you must really like babies,” I said to him. “Because you are so sweet with Z here. Did you know Z is Jaye’s little sister?”

He did not, because he asked me which one was Jaye. So I introduced them. Jaye agreed Dex would be an excellent big brother.

Dex continued to want to play, though I was trying to get Jaye out of the sandbox and ready to go. When Dex asked if he could hold Z’s hand, I nearly shed a tear. This boy was so sweet, so gentle.

“I do really like babies!” Dex told me. “I love them a lot!”

He followed us inside to say goodbye. Just as we were headed out the door he peeked his head out.

“Can I come over to play some time?” he asked.

Sure, I told him, any time. I was excited that Jaye maybe had a new friend. But later one of the teachers told me that Dex had wanted to come over to play with her baby too (not her four year old). So it wasn’t Jaye he wanted to play with; it was Baby Z. The boy loves babies. Ever since that day, whenever Dex sees me at drop-off or pick-up, he comes running to say hi and play with Baby Z. Just the other day he asked if he could hug and kiss her goodbye. (He asked! The girls don’t even ask, they just do.)

On the way home that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think about Dex’s parents. Did they want another child? Had they tried? Were they still trying? Did they quietly let that dream go? Or did they just want one?

I know a number of one child families. Sometimes that was the plan all along. Sometimes the plan changed somewhere along the way. Sometimes the kid came as a surprise. Sometimes they wanted more but couldn’t or didn’t. I know more families — through the blogosphere especially — who wanted more, who hoped for more, who prayed and wished for more. Who tried and tried for more. I wondered which kind of family Dex’s was.

Last week I met Dex’s mother, a lovely woman with an easy going manner. I told her how sweet Dex is with Baby Z, what a kind and gentle boy he is. She smiled and said yes, Dex does love babies. He adores them, we agreed, and he’s very good with them. While I didn’t say it outright — I would never, knowing what a sticky subject it could be — clearly he would make a wonderful big brother. I wondered whether Dex himself had asked for a sibling. And did he ask just once, or does he ask often? It’s none of my business, I know. But I just couldn’t read her. I couldn’t tell whether there was longing there, or just something she’s used to hearing. She didn’t share and I didn’t ask. I would never ask.

There’s something about this badge of infertility I wear. It’s still there, but no one can see it anymore. So strange. It’s such a huge part of me, who I am, how we got here, how I became a mother, and how I parent my girls every day. It affects most every interaction, especially with other parents. Yet on the surface, it’s invisible. Here I am — seriously, so many years and tears later — with an amazingly clever and adorable preschooler and a cute baby on my hip. Unless you knew my age (can you say oldest preschool mom?) or saw my scars (those things are never going to heal), you’d never know what I’ve been through. You’d never know how many years and how much struggle it took to build our family. How many miracles and dollars and prayers to the universe. How neither child might have ended up as our daughter, yet here they are. It is truly nothing short of a marvel, how our family came together.

Yet to a stranger or new friend, we’re just another family of four like so many that came together so effortlessly.

People have no idea.

Back to our little friend and his mom. I always treasure opportunities to share our story, but I keep it guarded too. I love being able to support someone in the midst of such life-altering experiences — i.e., infertility, loss, adoption, etc. And while I have no idea if this woman is in fact suffering at all, I do know that I too cherish my privacy. I would never presume anyone was in a similar situation or that they would want or need help. Yet I am always listening for clues, looking for openings. If I noticed any sign of anything relevant I would recognize it as an invitation. I remember making little comments here and there to offset probing questions. But I think I was also fishing for a lifeline. At the time I knew so few people in real life to talk with that I would engage anyone who showed the slightest interest. I felt invisible then too. I was always waiting for someone to say “I know, I’ve been there, it’s hard.” So desperate I was for affirmation and any form of support. But you know what I got? Mostly nothing. Awkward silence. Change of subject. Unwelcome advice or assurances. Hence, I turned to the blogosphere, where I met fellow travelers and kindred spirits and felt welcome and heard and supported during the loneliest stage of my life.

And I made it through. My goodness, I made it through that darkness triumphantly with magnificent blazing chariots soaring over rainbows. These marvelous girls that brighten my face each day mask the sorrow that once was. They are my invisible cloak now. They shield my badge.

One thing my experience has shown me — and there are so many things (really, some day we should list All The Things) — is the significance of support. The impact of a simple affirmation can not be underestimated. It means you are not alone. It means you are not a lunatic or freak. It means someone to help you look at something in a new light. It means someone to share that burden, if only for an instant, to help make it lighter.

Real life support is so critical. So why is it so hard to find?

seven

•January 31, 2013 • 14 Comments

I didn’t even write about the six year anniversary of his death. I must have thought I had said it all at five.

Seven years this weekend.

The anticipation used to be far worse than the anniversary itself. A sense of dread would build as I’d count yet another year without him. As the day drew near, I’d replay those bleak winter days in my mind until I’d feel it in my gut, when I knew my body was failing him, that all hope was lost. I’d re-live it until my stomach twisted and my heart sank and I’d need a reminder to breathe. You’re still here, you still need to breathe, I’d think. He’s gone, but you’re not.

Then the day would come and maybe I’d write something or light a candle, or maybe I’d speak only to my heart. Always, I’d think what he’d be like now. The day would be sad yet peaceful.

Now, while the thought of him is never too far away, it does seem to get a little farther each year. Never forgotten, of course. Just a little more distant with time and space. Inevitable distance.

Seven years gone.

I used to hold on to that pain, thinking that if I could no longer feel it that he would no longer be with me. As time passed and the space between grew, eventually I became detached from that raw anguish. I know now that is a survival tactic, for self-preservation, yet once the pain of loss was all I had. That lingering grief — as soul sucking and life-changing as it was — was oddly comforting, like the remnants of an old warm blanket. I held it close as it was all I had. To let go would be to lose all connection to my son.

I still grieve for our lost boy, the child we never met. For years, I pictured him running with his cousins, playing on the floor, learning to ride a bike, chasing the dog. I tracked milestones and birthdays that would never be. Yet unlike those early years, I no longer weep. I still shed some tears now and again when I think of him, of what we lost. But no longer do I fall to the floor gasping between sobs, clutching my belly as it ached with emptiness and loss.

Just over four years ago, I wrote about how my inability to become a mother added another layer of complexity to my grief. Along with our son, I grieved everything infertility stole from me — e.g., the children we would not create, the babies I could never carry and nurture, the family we envisioned. This concept of convergence — i.e., that the sum of my losses merged to form another dimension to my personal grief — made a lot of sense to me. When our son died — as became evident after trying and failing to conceive again — I also lost my chance to become a mother, or so I thought.

Seven years since he left us, I have the unbelievable good fortune to be graced by the smiles and laughter of two marvelous daughters. They fill my days with love and light where once there was only darkness. Three years after our son’s due date, we welcomed Jaye into our hearts and I was humbled when she was entrusted to our care. Two years later, I was mystified when my body defied all odds and grew Baby Z for 33 weeks (that’s 12 more than before, a whole trimester). Loving these amazing girls is what made me a mama, or Mama.

I know that losing our son enabled both of these wondrous children in my life. Somehow after so long, we found each other, these girls and I. Seems so strange to say it, but somehow our family became complete even without him here. Without him, there would be no them. I accept this as basic truth. The very paradox of loss is that while you may suffer tremendous sorrow, you are also forced open to new beginning. While one door slams shut — leaving behind all possibilities for a particular reality — another very different life begins anew. There is truth in the Joseph Campbell quote on my sidebar for years: “We must let go of the life we have planned so as to have the one that is waiting for us.”

These words would have brought no comfort then, of course. Nothing could. Only now, with distance and perspective, can I clearly see the impact he left. His existence fundamentally changed me. To start, what I felt for that baby boy helped me to see myself as a mother, even when I didn’t feel like one.

The fact that he was here has been neglected by so many simply because they didn’t have to acknowledge his life or tragic death. Perhaps to them he was just an idea, an abstraction long since forgotten. Yet to me? He was my first. He never made it to this world. No photos of him grace our walls. We never gazed into his eyes or heard him cry. But he was real, our baby boy. He was loved.

Now, the pain of loss has subsided and the distance is no longer unwelcome. My grief remains tucked away for safe keeping, and I’m OK with that. Still certain triggers can set me back, such as when a family member notes the distinct age gap among cousins or that the boys are outnumbered, or when someone faces pre-term labor. Or when I realize that I’m the oldest mom at preschool and most every kid has an older sibling, when many moms are a decade younger than I am.

But mostly I just wish I knew him. Especially now that I’ve met his biological little sister, I can’t help but wonder about this boy. Would he share her mischievous grin? Would their cries and laughter sound similar? In some way knowing Baby Z makes me feel like I might have known him just a little bit better. This makes me sad yet at the same time offers some strange comfort.

waxing nostalgic

•January 22, 2013 • 13 Comments

Recently we inherited something rather extraordinary: a lifetime collection of vinyl records, acquired by a real music lover throughout several decades of her life, beginning in the mid-1950s when she came of age. Five bags of glorious wonder now sit on our floor, just waiting to be rediscovered ~ truly an epic collection.

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The gift was beyond generous and entirely unexpected, though the sudden illness and recent passing of our lovely neighbor has prompted deep discussions here at Casa Luna (our 3.5 year old has raised some fascinating questions and observations – so interesting to watch their little minds at work – but that is the subject of another story, another day).

We’ve started sorting through it, taking mental inventory of many gems and surprises. Such a spectacular set of recordings, ranging from the French jazz singers of the 50s to some classic albums from the 60s and 70s – rock, folk, soul and blues, with a definitive San Francisco bent – as well as dozens of classical recordings.

I don’t know what’s more astonishing – the scope of the collection itself or how it ended up in our home, so many years after each record was first enjoyed by its owner. It’s such a privilege, really. It sort of feels like trespassing into someone’s historical space.

I’m old enough to remember records. I had my own collection, nowhere near as extensive as my brothers’, who listened mainly to 70s rock, or my parents, who listened more to light jazz and rock, folk, Motown and soul. I remember buying records and rock posters for my brothers’ birthdays. They’d usually pull me aside to describe just what they wanted. Back then, buying an album meant walking into a shop — a local one downtown or small chain at the mall. Listening to music  blaring while thumbing through row after row of records. I suppose you can still experience some of that thrill buying music in a store today. But let’s face it, there aren’t too many stores left and hardly anyone buys records anymore.

Opening up a vinyl LP for the first time, well there was a ritual to it. Some of those magnificent albums with the elaborate covers – when cover art was still a true art form with gorgeous photography, painting, illustration, comics and storytelling – especially those double albums that opened up, well they were just magical. Surveying the songlist and lyrics, wiping the needle clean and letting it drop. The anticipation of listening to that space in the groove when it just crackles before the tune begins. Then again between songs. With so many phenomenal advances in music today, as perfect as a modern recording may sound, some might say that something is lost.

Listening to records just evokes a warm sort of cozy comfortable feeling for me. Perhaps it’s because listening to music then was an all sensory experience – it had to be seen, heard, touched, felt. It was tactile as well as aural. It vibrated. Your sense memory connected to another time and space. The listening experience offered a sense of presence, of purpose or inspiration. As with a wonderful live performance, music would just wash right over you, warming and moving with emotion, transporting you to another place.

I bought my first CD player when I was 14, which I played through high school and college. The first thing I did was replace some of my favorite albums. Now we listen to i-Pods and playlists. We download mp3s and stream webcasts. We buy our music online and store it on microscopic electronic cells (and the storage capacity per tiny square inch is amazing). Who knew?

Yet it is still magnificent to behold a dozen classic albums by Bob Dylan, borne of his most prolific years from 1963-1975. Say what you will about him now, but this was his era. Some of these songs are arguably among the best ever written.

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I once had a great collection of Beatles albums, but no longer (why, oh why didn’t I save those?) Here’s an early release of The Beatles White Album with “The Beatles” embossed on the cover (it was later replaced by print letters), and Rubber Soul (one of my faves) with the plastic still mostly in tact.

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And this treasure? So cool to discover this one featuring early vocals by Janis Joplin with late 60s artwork by Robert Crumb.

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Here’s another gem. Considering this is one of my favorite concert films of all time – even though Levon Helm was apparently not a fan (Hey Barb, They got it now, Robbie!) – you should have seen my face illuminate when I unearthed this classic. Seriously, I heard the gospel choir sing from my basement floor. Eric Clapton and George Harrison, two of my most favorite musicians from that era, both cite this pivotal album as being quite transformative in their musical careers. I’ll bet you can practically hear the creaking floorboards of that old Woodstock barn through the vinyl. This may be the first one I need to spin.

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And who doesn’t love a little Joni Mitchell? Wait, don’t answer that. I don’t even want to know.

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Fan of Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez or Linda Ronstadt? Got you covered. Like, perhaps the complete collections of each.

How about Van the Man? Or Taj Mahal. Oh how I loved these.

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And oh, the soul! Otis Redding has got to be one of my absolute favorite singers. Let’s not forget Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. We’ve even got Ike and Tina.

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It’s supremely difficult to convey the magnitude of sifting through such a treasure, each delightful find making me smile or wonder, knowing it was gifted to us for such pure and beautiful purpose. Poring through these piles you can’t help but sense a lifetime in relationship to music. In essence it is a collection of memories, capturing momentary glimpses in time. Spanning decades of growth, it marks the cultural evolution of one woman but also reflects the world as a whole. These were tumultuous times. Yet there was profound power in music, both as an escape and to unify. There is very much a sense of yearning for peace through music.

I can’t wait to listen to (and re-discover) some of these. We’ve already separated a pile for priority listening. While the records are generally in great condition, they are old and dusty. We’ve pointed out to our daughter Jaye the significance of this collection of old school vinyl, of some of these classics. It was our first real “back in our day” and “they just don’t make ’em like the used to” conversation. I wonder how yet another generation will process such a unique listening experience.

In any event, it looks like we need a turntable.

a tale of two families

•January 9, 2013 • 29 Comments

Well it’s not the full story, but what ever is?

What follows is a minor study in contrasts of how two different families may approach adoption to build their families.

One set of parents is a bit older than the other. They struggled to conceive and carry their first child, a preemie born at 24 weeks. She was born just a few months before Kaye gave birth to the baby who would become our daughter. At the time I remember thinking oh no. The odds were not good. Miraculously, their little girl not only survived four months in the NICU but at nearly four years old she is thriving, though with developmental challenges. They have since lost several (high risk) pregnancies as they’ve tried for a second child. Finally reaching their emotional limit, they are now considering adoption to complete their family. We were set to meet to discuss our adoption over a year ago, but I ended up on hospital bedrest before delivering Baby Z early. (When they heard she’d be 33 weeks, they assured us, “don’t worry, she’ll be fine.“)

Recently over brunch our girls played while we chatted for hours. These are family friends but we’ve never spent time with them socially. Yet with infertility, loss and preemies in the NICU, we had a lot to talk about. Like many just starting out, they are unsure about certain aspects of adoption. They share some common concerns and fears — e.g., fear of an expectant mother choosing them and then deciding to parent, fear of being thrown into new relationships and extending family to unknown people, concerns about the resources necessary to maintain real openness, fear for their child of the adoption closing.

We talked about the risk of feeling vulnerable with emotional investment. We discussed how, as you focus on the needs of the child, you realize that when an expectant mother decides to parent it is often best for her baby. We talked about how when you meet the “right” person, openness can feel so natural, even when it’s hard. We talked about focusing on the process rather than the outcome.

The mother in this first family is a woman of color with a sister who joined her family though international adoption. She has seen up close how adoption — and closed adoption in particular — can affect an adopted person. She offered to help her sister try to find her family of origin. With this kind of empathy, it’s clear she is entering into adoption with her eyes open. While she has fears, this mother knows why she wants an open adoption for her second child.

The second family includes a beloved relative and his partner, so fertile she conceived their first while they were living in separate states. Their second child is just two years younger, a ‘let’s just see what happens’ on the first month baby. A couple so fertile I’ve blogged about them and how it felt to stand in their full house as the only childless woman in the room. This is a woman so clueless about how to be a compassionate friend to another woman struggling with loss that she had to be schooled.

So why would this family choose to adopt a child? I don’t honestly know. I can make assumptions but none are necessarily accurate or fair. At least one of them would like to care for another child. They’d like to have a boy, since they have two girls. They were interested in foster care but determined they lacked capacity for it. I thought they might consider international adoption, but recently their focus shifted to domestic infant adoption. They are now considering what route to take with an agency or lawyer and outreach, before a home study is even completed.

Now this family I expected to approach me about adoption. I’ve spoken with so many people, some interested in learning more, others actively pursuing that path. I’ve talked with friends and family, friends of friends, colleagues and their relatives, nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers. I’ve talked with dozens of bloggers I’ve never even met to help them navigate decision-making and the transition from loss or treatment to adoption. I’ve offered resources, education, guidance, tools, general support. You’d think that people so close to me would at least try to consult, even in some small way, with someone who’s been through it, someone who could draw on an an invaluable community of people and families living in open adoptions. But no. It’s not that I’m insulted, though that they choose to ignore such an available resource is a bit troubling.

Yet I’m even more put off by their whole approach, by the gender preference. I’m disturbed by the idea that they want to “save” a child, when it’s unclear if they understand the need to keep infant adoption as a last resort for expectant parents. This is not a family looking to adopt an orphan from another country, or a child from foster care, or an older child who could be harder to place. And let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting they should, either. I’m simply trying to assess their understanding and approach.

Above all, adoption should be about the needs of the child, not the prospective parents.

Yes, like many, we turned to adoption because we wanted to love a baby. We worked with the most ethical professionals we could find. We provided a loving home for a child in need, offering “peace of mind” to her first mother (her words, not mine), as we fulfilled our dream of becoming parents. Yet while we had personal decisions to make along the way, our process was intently focused on the needs of our future child and his/her first family.

I can’t help but wonder whether this second family knows what this path entails. I worry they have unrealistic ideas about adoption. And perhaps we’re partly responsible for that. They have seen our adoption up close, not the details or the hard work, but the relative ease with which we “matched” and our subsequent joy and extension of family. They saw how easily we embraced Kaye and her family into our lives. They’ve watched as we celebrated Jaye’s milestones together. But they don’t see the difficult parts, the anguish and loss. They don’t know how complicated adoption can be. They don’t see what Kaye goes through herself; hell, we don’t even see a large part of that. They don’t have to delicately field our daughter’s curious questions. They don’t know how hard it is to wonder if your child will ever see her biological father again, or what impact it may have on her. I fear that seeing only the positive has enabled them to put up blinders to the more complex aspects of adoption. While I haven’t been asked for input, I’ve still encouraged a lot more education and preparation.

I also wonder whether they can embrace real openness, when they seem to already lack capacity to extend themselves beyond their family unit. I worry that, should they adopt a child, there would be minimal openness with little chance for much more — not because they’re bad people, but because they seem so stretched already.

Now I know it sounds like I’m judging. I guess I am. I try not to, I do. But I have so many questions and I don’t like the answers I’m left to presume because they choose not to discuss it. I’ve made myself readily available with nothing from them but questions about outreach. I’m upset about the lack of engagement of other family and friends too. It’s not that I expect them to involve anyone in their decision-making. I certainly don’t. And I know better than to question something so personal as a choice to build a family (or not).

And yet. Still, I question.

Who am I to say what’s right for them? I can’t. But I’m thinking about the little boy they would bring into their family. While no doubt this child would be loved, we know that love is not enough. Just because someone may be a great parent does not necessarily mean they would be a good adoptive parent. That takes awareness and dedication and the ability to put your child’s needs above yours in a way that inherently exceeds the bounds of traditional parenting.

Who’s to say whether or not adoption is an appropriate path in either of these two instances? Being an adoptive parent makes me no more worthy of an opinion than anyone about how these people choose to build their families. It’s really none of our business. On one hand I feel obligated to share what I can — i.e., the benefit of my experience and knowledge, resources, etc. — and I’m honored when someone asks. But on the other hand it’s simply not my place to impose my views unless invited. I may seek to educate and enlighten — as I think everyone connected to adoption has an interest in ensuring child-centered ethical practices — but I don’t know how to broaden the scope of a discussion that someone is unwilling to have.

on the brink of a new year

•December 31, 2012 • 7 Comments

Once again we face a brand new year, ready to leave the past behind as we look ahead to what the future may hold. Time for reflection and contemplation. Time for new beginnings. As we bid a (perhaps not-so) fond farewell to the the year that was — our struggles and victories, large and small, the joys and the losses — we consider the year that will be. And while we endeavor toward our future hopes and dreams, we pause to reflect on the bounty of here and now.

It has been a tough year in many ways. Yet I feel such profound gratitude for this moment. Here I sit, stealing a few moments alone in the dark. Just beyond the walls on either side of me, a small girl child lies barely asleep, one sick with fever and the other with cough and cold. Yet a few rough days is just that. My life is so different than it was five years ago when I created this blog. What I feel in this moment is a tremendous sense of awe and deep gratitude for this life, the one I doubted to my core that I would ever get to live. This magnificence.

Another year passes. Five since I wrote my first post. Nine since I started on this journey. Four since I met the woman who made me a mother. Twenty two since I began a new life with my dream heart. Twenty seven without my dad. Three since I nearly lost my mom. Another year passes as it inevitably does.

This past year I had the incredible fortune to be mama again to a newborn. The experience I thought I would only enjoy once in this lifetime — challenges and all — somehow I had the unbelievable chance to do it all again. Even the sleepless nights, the tiresome mornings, the character-building moments which continue to test my limits, even through all of it I know without question that I am so fucking lucky. Every day in some way I remind myself of this fundamental truth. Forty three years old and mama to two beautiful souls whose little lives are unfolding right before me. Sisters. Such a privilege.

These girls are my miracles, both of them. One so curious and playful, sensitive and clever, who loves to paint and sing and climb and jump, who at just 3.5 asks questions like what happens when you die, who brings tears to my eyes when she says she loves me. One so bright and strong that I often ask her where she came from, so determined was she to be born, who still hasn’t taken her first steps or said more than a couple of words in her nearly 16 months yet makes herself well understood. My heart is filled with love and awe.

This month we celebrated our 22nd anniversary together. 1+1=22, I wrote in a card. “Bonds forged in fire are far stronger than those not,” he wrote to me. This is truth, I know. It is our truth, our story. Today I am mindful of my incredible fortune in life and love. While once I felt cursed, today I feel blessed.

The coming year will inevitably present challenges. Some I can sense on the horizon. My mom, whose fight until now has been fierce, is slowing as her disease progresses. Mac’s parents are aging and unwell. Times are tight. Some relationships in our lives seem broken beyond repair. The world seems like an ever unstable place, at times, filled with unimaginable sorrow.

And yet.

We look to love and light. Because we must.

Wishing you all the best in 2013 ~ Peace. Love. Joy. Contentment. Passion. Justice. Health. Life.

xo

on love and fear and grief

•December 17, 2012 • 10 Comments

I should be working right now, in the few spare hours I have while one daughter plays at preschool and the other naps quietly in the next room. I should be doing any number of things. But I can’t.

Like so many, I just cannot stop thinking about it. An act so horrific that it is truly unfathomable. Incomprehensible. Senseless.

The merciless deaths of twenty innocent children and six courageous guardians who tried to protect them. Pure lights of joy, forever extinguished by the vile act of a madman.

I think of their families — parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins. Their friends and neighbors, their community. I think of the teachers and the nurturing stories of love and courage and I just want to hug every one of them. I think of the first responders and wonder how they managed to do their jobs that day.

I can’t think of them without weeping.

I can only hope they felt no fear, no pain, that they knew love.

I grieve for the families from a place so deep it aches. I’m holding them in love and light and wishing for comfort and peace in the impossibly difficult days ahead. For them, this horrific nightmare will never end.

I grieve for the loss of innocence of these amazing little people, for the survivors, for every child who now wonders or worries whether they are safe.

I grieve for the loss of humanity that could result in such horror. I grieve for a world in which such abominable things simply don’t happen.

Many people are talking about fear. Afraid they can’t keep their children safe. Scared to send their kids to school. Fear of that which we cannot control. A random act of violence, of terror.

Others are talking about love. The goodness in the world. The helpers. That which keeps us going, that guides us through. The light in the darkness.

I think about fear and love and loss and my gut twists and I feel sick and the tears fall. There is risk in loving, in living, I know. We are all vulnerable. Safety is an illusion. Yet this sort of fear and anxiety wasn’t even in our lexicon of awareness. Though unimaginable just days ago and still wildly incomprehensible, we now know such a thing could happen anywhere, anytime. Yet for me, to succumb to the fear would be madness.

Instead I dwell in the loss because grief I can understand. While I cannot possibly know the deep anguish of those personally affected by this senseless act, I know their lives have been irrevocably changed, shattered by immeasurable grief. There is little solace.

Yes, we are all vulnerable. But we are also all connected. We need to protect each other, especially the most vulnerable among us. We need to love one another, if only to affirm the basic humanity we share. Truly, we are all affected.

Sending prayers through the universe for healing, for peace, for love. For change.

five years here

•December 10, 2012 • 36 Comments

Five years here.

In spite of my best intentions, I don’t think I can justifiably call myself a real blogger anymore, sadly. I think you actually have to write to be a bona fide blogger, not necessarily one who earns money but one who simply writes. You can’t merely think about writing; you actually have to do it.

At the moment there are several solid posts swirling around in my head ~ thoughts and ideas requiring contemplation and clarification, words that need articulation. I process so much through the written word that my thoughts themselves become stunted when I don’t take the time to sit and focus, to tease them out by stringing words together, often in a big jumbled mess yet sometimes like the free flow of water rushing through a stream. And I truly miss it ~ the time I once had to write and the act of writing itself, and especially the connection created through the power of shared words.

Five years ago tomorrow I began sharing words in these pages. No doubt it was one of the best things I’ve done for myself, ever. Nearing 40, childless and infertile, grieving the loss of our son, losing hope, I felt alone ~ trying and failing to build my family, struggling to reconcile my infertility and life, to overcome my body’s betrayal, searching for understanding and compassion, seeking information, affirmation. I just needed to write, to reach out, to connect.

In the first six months I wrote 101 posts (including an all-time favorite from five years ago this week). By one year I had another 100 posts (201 total). Coincidentally, my first blogoversary was also the first day we heard from Kaye, our future daughter’s birth mom. At two years, I had another 100 posts (301) and a six month old baby. By three years, I had a toddler and was lucky to write a few times a month. Then last year on my fourth blogoversary, I was still in shock with an unexpected preemie at home and barely able to catch a breath with an energetic 2.5 year old. Still, I tried to convey my gratitude for the readers and friends who had stood with me for so long:

“Without you, I don’t know how I would have survived these past four years — ranging from the deepest sorrowful lows of infertility, to the uncertainty and complexity throughout our adoption, to the confusion and angst associated with this most recent pregnancy, and now the joys and challenges of parenting after infertility and loss. The compassion, connection and understanding your support has provided has been tremendous, invaluable. Ironically, there really are no words.”

Today, I’m barely able to publish a word. Yet I am no less grateful for this space and the amazing people I have encountered along this journey. The evolution of this blog has reflected that of my journey to parenthood, moving beyond what I thought my life was ‘supposed to be’ to embrace the unbelievable awe and beauty that is. Five years ago, while I always hoped for hope, I never could have imagined my life today.

There is still so much to say. Yet these days I find myself reading far more than writing. Honestly, I lack the time, energy and focus to write, with so many interruptions and compelling distractions. Most days I am nearly exhausted. Aside from one glorious weekend, I haven’t slept more than about three hours at once in over 15 months. That’s over 450 days with very little sleep. Between two small children and trying to take a few hours of work when I can get it, most days there is just too little left to bring here. My challenge in the new year will be to bring it more often, to make that time, to finish those half drafts and start those unwritten words flowing. It won’t be easy, with so many things I should be doing instead. And so for now, to bed.

Rather than sending anniversary wishes, please be so kind as to share something about your own writing process. It can be something to get yourself in the right frame of mind, some sort of inspiration, something you compromise to make time to write, or perhaps something you gain from stringing those words together. Anything. And if you don’t write, then maybe share why you follow along?

Thank you ~ for this, and everything else along the way. xo

planting the seeds

•October 24, 2012 • 8 Comments

These riveting conversations around the kitchen table always seem to catch me off guard.

Yesterday Jaye stayed home after being up all night with a high fever. Though she rarely gets to watch TV, she spent much of the day on the couch watching Curious George. Poor girl was burning up with chills and wrapped in blankets yet couldn’t sleep. TV was actually just what her glassy eyes needed. After her meds kicked in, she finally fell asleep and awoke hungry. (Note her illness is irrelevant to the rest of the story, except to illustrate how surprised I was by the lucidity of the following conversations, given that she was babbling and semi-incoherent for hours.)

Over a snack, we were talking about names and family and friends. We had spent Saturday with a family from our adoption group, who have kids the same age as ours (side note: it is amazing how we turned from a group of four to eight in just over two years). I told Jaye that her friend Elle was adopted just like her, that she had a birth mama named Shana in Texas where she was born. Then we were discussing another family whose little girl is about to turn four. Isa was adopted too, I told her, just like you and Elle. Isa has a birth mama named Kelly in Sacramento. Drawing the connections in her little head, Jaye started talking about where she was born too.

“Yes, you were born at Grandma Bea’s house after you grew in Kaye’s belly,” I told her, once again. “Then Mama and Dada became the luckiest people in the world because we got to be your Mama and Dada.”

She smiled and did this thing where she turns her head to the side all cute-like, then nodded, as if ‘yeah, I’ve heard that part before.’ Then she promptly changed the subject to the plants in the garden that needed weeding. Right.

Later, over dinner with Mac, we were talking about babies and family. Jaye likes to point out how Baby Z was born in a hospital in SF, but that Jaye was born at (her grandma’s) home a few counties away. I imagined she might have been thinking about our earlier conversation, though I don’t know. At not yet three and a half, Jaye still has no real concept of adoption and what it means to have been adopted. I’m always looking for opportunities to plant the seeds of understanding, to lay a foundation that should feel comfortable and familiar, so that one day when she does begin to comprehend what it means, the ground won’t crumble beneath as we help her navigate her truth, her story. Once again, I saw an opening and tried to stumble through it.

“Babies can be born into families, or they can be adopted into families,” I explained, “like you and Z.”

But what came next was not at all what I expected.

“But how do babies get into mamas’ bellies?”

Uh, gulp. Yikes.

Once more, my eyes darted across the table to Mac, who tends to think of these lovely simple answers while I offer an initial “well, that is a very good question” and try to quickly think of a response myself.

It hasn’t come up before, the fact that it takes two people to make a baby.

In Jaye’s case, it took several people to make us a family. She knows Kaye, of course. She knows I am her Mama, and she knows her Dada. Yet she has no idea about her biological father. We have met Vic twice, when Jaye was 5 months old and again at 8 months. She has seen photos in her book, including one of him holding her the first time we met. She has asked about him but only in wondering why we have a photo of someone she doesn’t know and we don’t ever see. We haven’t spoken with him in well over a year. While an email from his mother (Jaye’s other birth grandma) awaits my reply, likely to discuss her plans to visit next year, we don’t know exactly where Vic is and we have no real way to reach him.

Embracing Kaye’s significance in our lives is far easier than explaining who Vic is. First, while adoption is still too complex a concept for Jaye to fully grasp, she has heard the story of how we became a family many times (though I don’t know how much she understands yet). She knows she grew in Kaye’s belly, that Kaye brought her into the world and asked us to be her parents, that we became a family when she was born. But that’s just it. Kaye and her family are our family. We celebrate birthdays, we have brunch, we talk about family resemblances. But Vic? We don’t have that. For now, he is not a part of our lives like Kaye is. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that maybe it’s been easier this way. Yet I am aware it may not be this way forever. I want Jaye to have access, some day, if Vic is capable. But right now? Right now it’s hard to even say the words: he is your biological father. Really hard. And even more difficult to explain what that means. Still, I know we have to find a way to plant that seed too.

So yeah, I gulped when she asked how do babies get in mamas’ bellies.

Thankfully Mac had a simple answer for her, for now. “Well, it takes a little part from a Mama and a little part from a Dada to make a baby. These two little parts come together and grow and become a baby, and it grows and grows until it’s born.”

And then she promptly changed the subject.

we never forget

•October 15, 2012 • 17 Comments

He would be nearly six and a half — our son, had he lived.

Yet he never drew a breath of air. He was never welcomed to this world, on the outside. I never heard his cry, or his laugh. I was never even able to gaze into his eyes. I can only imagine what he’d be like today.

Once again, it’s Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance (or Awareness) Day. Of course I don’t need a special day to remember. Neither do you, I imagine. Yet many remain blissfully ignorant of how such loss affects us, as women, as well as our partners. People don’t consider the pervasive impact the loss of a much wanted baby has on our families.

If you too have suffered a devastating loss, I hope you are surrounded by compassionate people who do in fact care, who remember with you. Yet many others will never stop to think of our lost children, those who never came to be or who left too soon.

To you who have loved and lost, I honor the memory of your lost babies, today and every day.

To you who have never had the misfortune of losing a much wanted soul before his or her time, please take a moment and remember with someone who has — perhaps a friend, a sister, an aunt, a neighbor, a colleague — everyone knows someone, even if you don’t know you do.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone you’re thinking of them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Trust me, you aren’t raising something painful yet long forgotten. Chances are someone might appreciate the gesture, to share a story that others have forgotten or that was invisible to the rest of the world yet left an indelible mark nonetheless.

We will never forget.

How could I possibly forget my first child, my only son? How could I not wonder about him and what our family would look like had he lived? I still do, nearly every day.

And please, the next time you encounter someone who has lost a baby, by all means, tell them you are sorry for their loss. But please, never begin with “at least” — e.g., at least you know you can get pregnant, at least you have another baby, at least you are still young. There is no “at least.”  There is only “at most” — i.e., at it’s core, a loved child was lost, a part of the family missing, a piece of one’s heart gone forever.