March 31, 2007

Feeling Better

Things are much lighter today in my world. For starters, these taste like little doughnuts without the grease. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

Even better than warm muffins, a friend from our California days (the one who gave the most kick-ass open adoption blessing ever) came for a visit this morning. We were finishing our seminary degrees at the same time and used to swap babysitting and have long talks about culture and adoption (she's an adoptive single mom to a little girl from India). I miss her. She's writing a chapter about sensory integration issues for a new anthology on intercultural adoption (she's also an occupational therapist--the woman is gifted). I'm excited that her voice will be out there. Too much of Christian writing on international adoption has the "rescuing children from their heathen homelands" vibe.

Puppy seemed to remember her and kept bringing things to show to her. Then he climbed up on the couch and made sure she saw each of the pictures hanging on the wall. I love that kid.

March 30, 2007

Unexpected Stop

A friend who has adopted both through an agency and through the state system once compared his experiences for me. "The agency adoption was like a long train ride. It was slow, but we knew the stops along the way and our final destination," he said. "The public adoption was like a roller coaster. Sometimes we were creaking up an incline, then suddenly speeding through a curve, and we never knew when we would be thrown upside-down."

We chose the long train ride for Puppy's adoption and now again for our second. We've settled into our seats with our books and snacks and begun ticking off the stops as they roll by. Training workshop--check...intake interview--check...first home study visit--up next.

Yesterday we were spiffing up for the home study appointment when our social worker called. An expectant mom, due any day, had contacted them about possibly placing her child. Her pregnancy is the result of a horrifically violent act that no one should ever experience. For 38 weeks she lived in secrecy and shame before finally confiding in her family. I cannot begin to imagine the grief and pain she is experiencing. She is unsure she even wants to look into her baby's face, much less pursue an open relationship. Because of some particular requests she had, we were the only family currently working with the agency who matched her preferences. Would we be open to the possible placement?

After some long talks and soul searching, T and I realized we needed some more time as just Puppy's parents before bringing a sibling into the family. Through her networks, our social worker was able to find other families willing to come alongside this woman should she choose to place, so I am grateful she has other possibilities. And our agency's primary mission is options counseling, so they will assist her with resources should she parent. Our brief involvement ended in less than a day, just an unexpected stop on our train ride.

But it has left me feeling spent and angry. I'm angry about a world in which women are ra*ped. I'm angry that the man who did this will never be punished. I'm angry that this child, adopted or not, will have to struggle with the knowledge of how they were conceived. I'm angry they will never know their biological father's name. I'm spent from crying for this woman, from knowing that adoption won't bring the closure she seeks. I'm spent from thinking about how open adoption must sound to an expectant mother who can't even bring herself to look at her baby's sonogram, how naive my arguments of love and moral rights seem in this situation. I'm angry at feeling that there is little I can do to help her. I'm tired of bickering over perfect world scenarios when we live in one where things like this happen. I'm tired of praying for justice, praying for change day after day and not knowing when it will come.

March 27, 2007

"Pugnose Has Two Special Families"

"Pugnose Has Two Special Families" isn't the slickest children's book about adoption you'll ever see. It's bound with staples, needs a bit of editing, and sometimes tells when it could show. But I absolutely love having it in our home library for several reasons.

First, the main character is an adopted mouse who has ongoing contact with his birthparents. "I have two families--my birthfamily and my adoptive family," he says. "When we are all together, it seems like one big family." Children's books that mirror the openness of many domestic adoptions are not easy to find. It is nice to see it reflected here.

Second, the birthparents are actual characters in the story. Sometimes first parents are mentioned in children's books, but not included in the illustrations. Pugnose's first parents are shown several times, both before and after his birth. We see them with interacting with Pugnose and he talks about traits he shares with them. Even more unusually, the birthfather character is included. Since Puppy's first dad is part of his life, it's nice for us to have a book which includes a birthfather.

Third, it acknowledges that Pugnose had a history prior to his adoption. So many adoption books for kids begin at the point of placement and make it seem as if their adoption was a forgone conclusion from the moment of their conception. Pugnose's birthmom tells him stories about when he was growing inside her and how much she loved him. He tells us, "She thought about trying to be my mama herself, and she thought about adoption, too. She finally chose open adoption so she could see me as I was growing up."

Finally, it touches on the sorrow that accompanies adoption. Everyone is happy Pugnose has been born, but also sad. His birthparents are sad they are not ready to parent him and because they will miss him. His adoptive family is sad because they know his birthfamily is hurting. It's a good example of how sadness can be acknowledged even in what is overall a positive presentation of adoption.

I've seen this book listed for ages ranging from 4-10. I'd probably bump that range down a few years to 2-8. It's still a little wordy for Puppy right now (at 1 1/2), but he enjoys the colorful pictures. As in every adoption book, not all the details will apply to every family's situation (for instance, there is an adoption agency involved), but the general outline of the story will likely fit most domestic open adoptions.

(written & illustrated by Karis Kruzel, R-Squared Press, 1996)

March 26, 2007

Half-formed Thought

Sometimes in discussions of open adoption boundaries and such I hear the idea floating around that adoptive families should never do more than they’re comfortable with. So if they aren’t comfortable with visits or only want communication to go through the agency or whatever, then that’s all that should be expected of them. Essentially that we adoptive parents shouldn’t have to do anything that doesn’t feel right for our families.

I have heard of some situations where there are good reasons for stricter boundaries or buffers between first families and the adoptive family, as hard as that may be. Fully open adoption isn’t the right answer for every situation. But more often I get the vibe that some people are trying to avoid dealing with some of the emotions that come along with the fact that their child has another family. And I wonder if they’re setting themselves up for some really difficult conversations with their child down the road when they have to explain their choices.

I know that if I only did what made me completely comfortable, our adoption would look different than it does. I remember one of our earliest times together with Puppy’s first mom after his placement was at his dedication service at our church. My parents and T’s parents were there, as was Puppy’s godfather and K and her family. It was the first time many of them had met K, so I was a little anxious, expecting maybe some awkwardness and hoping no one would say anything hurtful to K. As people started joining our little group waiting in the church lobby, I overheard someone say, “You must be [K].” “Yes,” she replied, happily pointing at Puppy. “He’s mine.”

Her words were an unexpected punch in my gut. I stopped breathing for a moment. I wanted to grab Puppy tight and say, “No, he’s mine!” I was horrified at my internal reaction. Here I thought I was totally committed to open adoption and yet my heart was acting like a baby snatcher from the 1950s.

In the moment, I didn’t respond externally at all. (I was only overhearing a conversation K was having with my mom, and my mom’s response was to immediately gather her into a giant, welcoming hug.) But I spent a lot of time reflecting over my reaction later. I realized it was connected to my grief over the fact that I hadn’t given birth to my son. That particular loss had affected me much more than I had anticipated once Puppy was home. And now, three months later, it had suddenly flashed out at K. I reminded myself that even though being around K brought that grief to the surface, she was not the cause of it. And I thought about the fact that T and I weren’t just like “regular” parents to Puppy. We had other people in our life with just as much claim to the title. Pretending that wasn’t true wouldn’t change anything. He is hers and he is also mine, and that’s okay. (And obviously he’s a human being, so he doesn’t belong to either of us, but you get my point.)

There were other moments like that in those first months, when being around K brought out my sadness that I wasn’t my son’s only mom. I suppose I could have tried to avoid feeling some of that sadness by avoiding being around K. But it wouldn’t do Puppy any good for me to have this lingering grief related to his adoption that I hadn’t dealt with. And it’s also not any good for him if I push away his first parents in an effort to protect my own feelings.

My point is that my heart is going to feel what it’s going to feel. I can’t always control it, and I can’t always predict it. I don’t always know how my heart will react in any given moment. But whatever my emotional reaction, I know I can still do what is right. Right for Puppy, right for K and R, right for all of us.

I guess what I’m saying is that openness sometimes requires me to step outside of my comfort zone. It can feel uncomfortable or unfair or just plain weird every now and then. I suppose you could say that the interaction with Puppy’s first family causes the weird feelings, but to me it seems like it is just drawing out things that are already there under the surface. And it is that same interaction that helps me work through those feelings in the long run. The other day I was sorting through pictures from our recent visit and captioned one of Puppy, K, and me “[Puppy] and his mommies” without giving it a second thought. My heart has come around; I just had to give it enough time and a little prodding. But I don’t think it would have happened if I had tried to protect it by pushing K away.

(No judgment on anyone else here; just reminding myself.)

March 23, 2007

Scenes From a Visit

I took Puppy to storytime at the library this morning and realized a whole week has passed since we were there with K. I've had trouble writing more than fragments about the visit.


K is curled in front of the bay window while I lounge on the couch, Puppy playing on the floor. We are talking about television or something equally trivial, laughing at the Pupster's antics. She is quiet for a moment. "When I planned the adoption, this is exactly how I imagined it," she finally says. "This is what I wanted."


She tells us some things about the weeks immediately after Puppy's birth that she hadn't been able to share with us before. Feelings of depression and anger at R. Things I suspected, but which she kept to herself for a time. In bits and pieces over the four days we are able to talk about the past year and a half, things we appreciated from each other and things we wish had gone differently. We make promises to one another for the year to come.

She tells us that friends say to her, "So you made a mistake. But now you can move on." She shakes her head. "I just can't think of Puppy as a mistake. I didn't mean to get pregnant. But he wasn’t a mistake. He was never a mistake."


It isn't perfect, since we're all imperfect people. There are some patience-testing moments, but none of it is adoption-related. If I have to hear one more word about her freeloading, emotionally abusive, unstable loser of a boyfriend (not R), I think I will scream. Depending on what hour it is, she is either breaking up with him or sure she will marry him. The longer she talks about him, the more I start channeling Oprah: "He brings nothing but negative energy into your life! You are a woman with power! You need to use that power to free yourself from him! He says he loves you but the things you're describing are not love!" K is a bit perturbed that I had made our photo session appointment at the ungodly early hour of 10:00 a.m. We get over it.


We're at the table, eating enchiladas. Puppy tastes sour cream for the first time and delights in it the best way he knows how; soon his hands and face are covered in beans, sauce and sour cream. He starts making faces at us, holding up messy little jazz hands above his head. Soon we are laughing uncontrollably. Puppy beams, basking in all the love.


When Puppy was born, we lived about 30 miles from K and R. From our first conversation we were upfront about the fact that we were planning to move out of the state; we didn't want them to feel that we had promised to be local then run off once the adoption was finalized. Even so, when it came time to leave last summer, it was hard. I was sad that we wouldn't be able to just get together with a simple phone call, that K and R wouldn't be able to easily come to birthday parties or school recitals. I still feel that something was lost when we moved, but I see now that we also gained some things which are unique to extended visits. K was able to be a part of our daily routine for a few days, seeing the rhythms of Puppy's life first-hand. There was time to talk about the many things on our minds. I taught her how to make shortcake and she took me on a tour of her MySpace world. We had adult time together after Puppy was in bed.

It was a good visit. It left me looking forward to the next one, which, in the end, is the best thing you can hope for. It didn't have to be perfect, it didn’t have to be everything a visit can be. It just had to be the first visit.

March 22, 2007


Today was one of those days when you're changing your kiddo's diaper and you turn away to reach for something and when you turn back your kid is in the hallway squatting over a patch of wet carpet. And while you're trying to clean THAT up suddenly a corner of the new diaper is off and now there's poop on the floor (is it too much to ask for five minutes without a bodily function?) and you're trying to explain that although it may look like brown playdough, it's really not something to touch, only it's coming out more like, "NO! DON'T TOUCH! NO!" and the whole time you're thinking that you used to wear business suits and discuss multi-million dollar budgets and now you're losing an argument with a toddler. About poop.

March 19, 2007

A Real Mom Opens Her Hands

I know the Real Mom meme means to be uplifting, exposing how moms in reality are nothing like the ideal mother. Yet any sentence beginning with the words “real moms” is bound to exclude someone. It is true one hundredfold for women involved in adoptions. For many of us, few phrases can trigger more pain, anger, or fear. Realness is murky. If "real" motherhood were only a matter of legal rights or wiping noses, adoptive moms would never feel threatened. If it were only a matter of genetic connection or birthing a child, first moms (birth moms) would never be marginalized.

Soon after our son was born, we held a small, private ceremony along with his first parents to affirm our commitment to one another and, most importantly, to our shared child. During that time, a dear friend spoke a blessing over all of us which continues to challenge me. She prayed that the image of open hands would become a metaphor for our interactions with one another. Not just open hands giving or receiving the child being transferred from the care of one family to another, but open hands throughout our lives. Open hands providing and accepting support. Open hands allowing our child to grow into his own person, the expression of both nature and nurture. Open hands to honor the unique connection each of us would have with him. Open hands to embrace the other real parents in our child’s life.

As I have tried to live that out, I have learned: a real mom opens her hands.

A real mom opens her hands to let go. She lets go of her expectations so her child can have independence. She lets go of the idea that she alone can meet all her child’s needs in order to give room for others' love. She lets go of the desire to control what her child thinks of her.

A real mom opens her hands to receive. She accepts help, because no child can be raised by just one person. She is open to learning from others, including her child. She welcomes validation however it comes. She receives so she can give in turn.

Whether she became a mom by birth or by marriage, by adoption or by surrogacy, a real mom’s hands are open. My son's first mom's hand are open. So are mine.

March 18, 2007

3BT #2

Three beautiful things from this weekend...
  1. Cherry trees in bloom
  2. Finding out on St. Patrick's Day that your child is 1/4 Irish
  3. A young boy running as fast as his toddler legs will carry him toward three laughing adults sprawled on the sunny lawn. In that moment there is no awkwardness, no tension, no confusion. Just three parents full of love for their son.
I want to write more about the visit later. But it was good. It was really, really good.

March 14, 2007

T Minus 15 Hours

Tomorrow afternoon Puppy and I will head off to the airport to greet his first mom, K. I'm so glad the day is finally here.

I'm trying to keep the "schedule" low-key. K is coming primarily to see Puppy, so I'm working off the theory that keeping him happy is one of the keys to a good visit. My favorite moments with Puppy often happen when we're doing something he enjoys and he's filled with that unadulterated toddler joy. I'd love for her to have some moments like that with him, too. So on Friday we're going to storytime at the library, riding the carousel and playing in the park. Saturday we're having a St. Patrick's Day dinner with my parents (there is not a holiday that goes unmarked in my mother's home). I made an appointment for K and Puppy to have their picture taken (an idea I got here). She's especially excited about that.

An online friend was telling me about her first extended visit with her son's birth mom, how the three adults stayed up late that first night sitting around the kitchen table talking about the adoption, the child they shared, and just life in general. I think some version of that is what I want most for myself.

We are doing that frantic, last-minute house cleaning you do even though you know your house guest doesn't care. It's late and we're tired but full of nervous energy.

She's coming, she's coming!

March 10, 2007

3BT #1

There is an English woman who, believing that "happiness is found mostly in small things," began recording three beautiful things she saw or experienced each day. The resulting blog, which she has kept since May 19, 2004, is a testament to the power of simplicity.

When adoption or fertility are especially on my mind, I can sometimes get bogged down in the in the sorrow and loss which are attached to them. I think it's right to grieve for yourself or others, or to grow angry at injustice. But, for me, there is a danger of losing sight of joy. I owe it to myself and to the people in my life not to let that happen.

I am not ambitious enough to record three beautiful things every day. But I would like to note them here from time to time, for my own sake, to balance out some of the heavier things on my mind. May they be a reminder to me of the ever-present joy.

Three beautiful things for today:
  1. The daffodils which have lately emerged from from their underground rest
  2. Homemade vanilla ice cream
  3. Lazy afternoon frolicking with your husband while your child is with his grandparents

March 09, 2007


A blogging first mom's wonderful account and pictures of finally meeting her son face-to-face yesterday has me thinking about reunion. On the surface, reunion doesn't seem to have much to do with open adoption. Since the point is to have an adopted child grow up in ongoing contact with their first parent(s), there isn't a need for search or reunion. In Puppy's case, both his first mom and dad are in his life, so unless one or both of them closes the adoption from their side, there will never be a time he does not know how to contact them. And our hope is that it will go beyond simply knowing how to reach them--that he will have a solid relationship with them.

For many reasons, most reunions in closed adoptions occur once the child who was adopted reaches adulthood. A whole childhood has passed, one in which the adoptive parents alone filled the parental niches. Reunion rocks that world, and it is perhaps understandable (though regrettable) that adoptive parents' reactions range from selfless support to outright hostility. Their grown children, now independent, are taking the initiative to bring their families of origin back into their lives.

Right now, and throughout Puppy's childhood, it is the adults in his adoption who build and maintain his connection to his families of origin. Because the four of us believe it is in his best interest, we do the hard work of open adoption. His first parents are already integrated into the only life he knows; there will never be a time when he did not know them.

Puppy did not have a voice in that decision. But there will come a time when he slowly crosses into adult independence. At that point, it will be up to him, not us, to maintain those relationships. As I looked at the snapshots of that first mom and her mirror-image son brimming with joy at being in each other's arms again, I realized that I want a version of that for Puppy and his first parents. Not reunion after forced separation, but to one day have a relationship with them that he has chosen. To have them be such an important part of his life that he takes the initative to share his life with them independently of T and me. Right now he shares in the bonds that K, R, T and I will always have with one another. I hope one day he will rejoice in the bonds that he himself has forged with the ones who loved him first.

March 07, 2007

About K

We just got off the phone with the Pup's first mom, K. She's flying up next week for our first ever overnight visit. She was near giddy with excitement. We'd been persistently inviting her up since the move and were so glad when she finally took us up on the offer. It will be our first time alone with her since Puppy's placement (other visits have involved varying degrees of extended family). I'm thrilled for the chance to deepen our relationship with her and her relationship with the Pup. I can't wait to see the two of them interacting again. I am also terribly nervous, wanting so badly for the visit to go well and wondering what it will be like to share the same space for four days.

I am often envious of adoptive moms who talk about their child's first mom like a sister or best friend. I have a deep, fierce affection for K. But long chats on the phone, sharing a sense of humor, talking about common interests--those things just aren't part of my relationship with her. We are not people whose paths would likely have crossed had it not been for the adoption. She enjoys clubbing, boys who don't treat her well, and putting off adult life for as long as she can (all by her own admission). Things far removed from my own experience, even when I was her age. We talk a lot about the various ongoing dramas with her friends or arguments with her parents.

But there are times I have a glimpse of a different woman. When we talk about the adoption she shows a grace and maturity that far exceed any I had at that point in my life. She is honest and vulnerable about her feelings in a way she never is when talking with me about other parts of her life. As she interacts with Puppy I see a mother unsure, yes, but tender and focused. It's as if the rest of it is a persona she must set aside to make room in that moment for something so important and dear to her.

When people ask me what K is like, I think some may expect to hear about a woman more like the first. Perhaps she meshes with their idea of a birthmother a bit easier. But it is that second woman who comes to mind. A woman imperfect, like me, but who found a new side of herself when her son was born. "He's changed me," she once told me. And when Puppy and I slowly rock in the evening, as I remind him of the far-off people who love him, it is the second woman that I share with him.

March 06, 2007


We did not choose openness because it is easy.

We did not choose openness to become parents faster.

We did not choose openness to try to make Puppy's first parents feel better about placing him.

We did not choose openness thinking we could just close it if things got hard.

We did not choose openness because it magically erases the loss which is at the root of every adoption.

We chose openness because Puppy has the right to know his family--all sides of his family.

We chose openness because we see parts of Puppy's first parents in him. Knowing them will allow him to better know himself.

We chose openness because Puppy's first parents have a moral right to know their child, even if their legal rights were terminated.

We chose openness because we won't be able to answer all of Puppy's questions about the beginning of his life.

We chose openness because a child can never have too many people loving them.

We chose openness because it is what is best for Puppy.

50 Things

  1. I was born in New England.
  2. I only have one vague memory of living in New England. It involves snow and tall trees.
  3. My parents were not planning on having me.
  4. They were drunk when I was conceived.
  5. I turned out fine.
  6. My father did not want to have children because he was afraid he would not be a good parent.
  7. He changed his mind after I was born.
  8. My mother always wanted a big family.
  9. I have one younger brother.
  10. My father is an oceanographer, so we always lived near a coastline.
  11. Neither my brother nor I can stand seafood.
  12. I grew one inch every year from sixth grade through my first year of college.
  13. I am now 5’ 7”.
  14. I ate (only) an orange for lunch every day from 8th grade through high school.
  15. I never had a cold from 8th grade through high school.
  16. My family moved to the Pacific Northwest when I was three.
  17. We lived in a very white city.
  18. I went to college in Los Angeles one year after the riots.
  19. I was certain I would return to the Pacific Northwest when my four years of college were over.
  20. I stayed in Los Angeles for fourteen years.
  21. Living in Los Angeles changed me in some really good ways. It also made me more cynical.
  22. I recently moved back to my hometown, husband and toddler in tow.
  23. I miss L.A.
  24. My first official boyfriend is now my husband.
  25. We knew we were going to get married before we ever were engaged.
  26. I wanted to propose. So did he.
  27. On a beach in Malibu I asked him to ask me to marry him. He did.
  28. My husband and I both changed our names to [first name] [my last name before marriage] [his last name].
  29. My father-in-law has never forgiven us for changing my husband’s middle name.
  30. I still miss my old name.
  31. My husband and I met during college on a summer trip to Ghana.
  32. We went to Ghana to work at a school.
  33. My husband got to go back to Ghana last summer. I was jealous.
  34. We discussed adoption while we were still dating.
  35. I have an annoying medical condition that causes chronic pain.
  36. It is not the reason we adopted.
  37. It does make it tricky for me to conceive, carry, and birth a child.
  38. I do not know whether or not we will have a child who is genetically related to us.
  39. Most days I am okay with that.
  40. I have a graduate degree in theology.
  41. I have thought about pursuing a doctorate.
  42. I love to read.
  43. I hate to write.
  44. I spent two years as a campus minister at a Southern California college.
  45. I miss preaching.
  46. I have two pet rabbits.
  47. They live inside the house and use a litter box.
  48. I hate competition.
  49. I vote in every election.
  50. I cannot stand the sound of other people chewing.

March 05, 2007

The Girls Who Went Away

Last night as my TiVo® recorded the Cold Case episode about the maternity homes of the 1950s and '60s, I climbed into bed to finish the true-life version told by Ann Fessler in "The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade."

I am not a gifted enough writer to describe how heartbreaking and disturbing this book is. Its stories have settled themselves deep within my heart. Fessler provides an excellent overview of the history of American maternity homes and the social trends which contributed to an incredible increase in the number of children surrendered for adoption in the decades following World War II. The true soul of the book, however, is in the first-person stories of the women who placed children for adoption during that period. Fessler does a fabulous job of stepping back and letting their stories speak for themselves.

And, boy, do the stories speak. They yell and scream and cry and shout and tear at you with the truth of what it is like to be told you do not deserve to raise your own child. It explodes the persistent myth that first parents can just walk away after relinquishing and return to life as if the pregnancy had never happened. "Signing the papers" does nothing to sever a mother's connection to her child.

One of the dominant themes in the women's stories is the feeling that they didn't have a choice. Though on the suface it may have seemed that they willingly signed the papers, in reality they had been left with no other real options by their families, boyfriends, or social workers. Many times women were lied to when they asked about their legal rights, or threatened with expensive bills for the maternity home if they refused to surrender their child.

It's tempting to say that things are different now. Contraceptives and abortion are legally available. Single parenting is more accepted. There is not as much secrecy in adoption. But so much has not changed. As long as sexually active women--but not their partners--are called "sluts," as long as "welfare mom" is still a political slur, as long as financial stability is considered an indicator of parenting potential, as long as a pregnant teenager is still something to gossip about, many first mothers will feel that they did not have a choice. Even when great care is taken to eliminate potentially coersive tactics used by agencies/lawyers/adoptive parents/etc., there is still the weight of society bearing down on them. As an adoptive parent, it's difficult to express how uneasy that makes me.

(by Ann Fessler, The Penguin Press, 2006)
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