February 28, 2007

Putting a Few Things Out There

Because we are using a different agency this time around, T and I must go to their pre-adoption seminar later this month. I was mildly annoyed at first, since we already attended a similar workshop prior to Puppy's adoption. I understood why the agency was requiring it of us, but it seemed like a waste of time. I am lazy, and taking two days off in the middle of the week is a lot of work. Also, a large portion of these types of workshops is usually devoted to working through fears and myths about adoption, especially open adoption. And, to be completely honest, I was not excited about listening to people spout the stereotypes about all birthmothers being teens on drugs, babies being kidnapped by birthfamilies, and children growing up confused about who their parents are. After all, I'm an enlightened post-adoption parent. I certainly don't need to go back to Adoption 101.

Yeah, right. Don't worry--I woke up to how arrogant I was being. I decided it would be more pleasant for everyone if I went to the workshop as a learner, open to receiving from the agency professionals and (gasp) even the other prospective adoptive parents. Our adoption is young and I still have so much to learn. And if I have to sit alongside people while they work through their fears, then so be it. I'm glad they're facing them and educating themselves before there is a child in their homes. I know that part of taking on a posture of learning will be not offering unsolicited advice. There are few things worse than someone who can't stop talking about their own experience with something. So, to prepare myself, I need to get out some of the things I am dying to say to those prospective adoptive parents:
  • Please don't refer to the first mother of your adopted child as "our birthmother." She does not belong to you. I know this can be tricky if you part of a pre-birth match, since "the mother of the child we will adopt if she chooses to relinquish" can be cumbersome. Consider calling her a "prospective birthmom," "expectant mom," or "woman we've matched with." Always remember that she, like you, is far more than her label.
  • As hard as the wait was emotionally, the match and placement were harder. I know it seems counter-intuitive, since the very thing I'd waited for was finally happening. But, for me, as the family I'd dreamt about came closer to becoming reality, I also became more aware of how easily it could slip away. It was a time full of conflicting emotions. I wanted Puppy's first mom to have every chance to decide not to place, yet also wanted so badly for the adoption to happen. I struggled knowing that a joyful ending for us meant grief for a another family. I didn't know how to communicate that we would be thrilled to parent Puppy and had already begun to love him, but also that we respected her right to parent. I wanted to be joyful and excited like an expectant mom, but simultaeously wanted to guard my heart in case of disappointment. It was, by far, the most difficult time of the adoption process for me and the time I felt most alone. I know it was hard for K and R (Puppy's birthparents), too.
  • Your adoption process will be part of a collective experience. Learn from the people who have gone before you. Read books and blogs, join the adoption forums, talk and listen to others in the adoption triad. In all of our stories there are threads of loss, joy, grief, anxiety, exultation. The more you prepare yourself, the easier it will be to recognize those themes as they emerge in your own story. It can be incredibly encouraging to know that you aren't alone in your feelings, and it can keep you from doing or saying things you might later regret.
  • At the same time, your adoption story will be unique. Don't try to force your experience to mirror someone else's. Let it be your own.
  • It's okay to have expectations of your child's first parents. I don't mean micromanaging their lives, asking them to conform to your standards, or pressuring them in any way. But as we talked with K and R about what our future relationship would look like during the match process, there were things I didn't think I could say. I deeply hoped that they would continue to be present in Puppy's life, not always wait for us to initiate calls or visits, and not close the adoption during harder times. Unfortunately, I thought that the discussion should be about what they wanted us to commit to them, not also about what we hoped they could commit to us. I felt that they were entrusting their child to us, so who was I to ask for anything more? Thankfully, we are developing the relationship I had hoped for. But I should have voiced those hopes earlier, so they knew they were there and to give them a chance to respond. There will be many times over the years in which you'll need to those kinds of conversations. If you don't allow yourself to voice your expectations prior to the birth, it will only be harder after, and there is a good chance you will be disappointed.
  • Like any other relationship, a successful open adoption requires honesty, trust, and respect from everyone involved. They are your child's family and will therefore be your family. If you don't feel like you can respect and trust prospective birthparents prior to placement (or vice versa), it may be better to walk away.
  • Be yourself. I know the whole thing feels like some kind of messed-up competition sometimes. It's not easy to have your life on display or to wait to be chosen from a pool of families. It's tempting to present yourself as who you think someone would want as an adoptive parent, rather than who you really are. Resist. First, it's dishonest. Second, later on it will be more reassuring than you can imagine to know that your child's birthparents chose you just as you are and because of who you are.
  • Don't settle for just conforming to the letter of the adoption law. Consider also what is morally and ethically right.

Phew. That felt good. What do you wish you could say?

February 27, 2007

Is It What You Expected?

(Inspired by this wonderful post.)

I expected parenting to require a lot of sacrifice. I didn't expect how easily I began putting his needs before my own.

I expected that an infant/toddler would require a lot of attention. I didn't expect to go entire days without crossing anything off my "to do" list.

I expected to want continued relationship with my son's birthparents for his sake. I didn't expect to want it for my own sake, or to care about them as deeply as I do.

I didn't expect how deeply the words "my child" would affect me when they finally became reality.

February 23, 2007

"The Day We Met You"

"The Day We Met You" was one of the first adoption books for children that I bought as we were going through the adoption process. Its simple words were ones I read to Puppy as we rocked in the twilight during his earliest days home.

"The sun shone bright the day we met you," begins the story. The adoptive parents, having received a phone call saying they would be the child's parents, prepare their home for the baby's arrival. Diapers and bottles are procured; friends and family bring blankets and toys. Flowers and a mobile brighten the nursery. Everything finally ready, the adoptive couple meets their child for the first time. The closing lines brought me to tears as I spoke them to my newborn son: "The minute we saw you, we knew that we loved you. You felt like the sun shining inside us."

Preparations like the ones described in the story were powerful symbols for me in the weeks leading up to Puppy's birth. While the child who might become our son was being loved and cared for by his first mother, we were preparing our home. Unable to touch a swollen belly to prove he was real, I folded and refolded clothes, smoothed craddle sheets, stacked diapers and thought about him. Each item I touched became a tailsman of hope.

The book is clearly not a comprehensive look at adoption. It makes no acknowledgement of birthfamilies or the infant's life prior to the adoptive parents' arrival. I do think that the piece it does touch on (i.e. the adoptive parents' loving preparations and excitement) it does well. (It's my personal philosophy that our library as a whole should bear the burden of touching on all sides of the adoption story, not each individual book.) It is a very simple picture book, with only a handful of words on each page. The age range is listed as 2-5, but I think it is a better fit for the board-book years. Puppy's attention span is just right for it now and it's been a favorite over the past year. The story is vague enough to apply to most domestic infant adoptions. The adoptive parents and the child are all Caucasian.

(written & illustrated by Phoebe Koehler, Aladdin Picture Books, 1990)

February 22, 2007

Apparently There is Such a Thing as a Stupid Question

"Do we have any white bread."

"Ugh, no. Why?"

"I want to make a fluffernutter."

"You can't use the multigrain bread?"

"Just stop talking."

February 19, 2007

Answering for Another

It happened again this weekend. Someone asking, after a reference to Puppy's birthmom, "So, how is she doing with all this?"

The question is loaded with subtext. Their "all this" encompasses the entirety of the adoption, the placement, the openness. They want a peek behind the curtain of relinquishment and I am the closest they can get. Some wonder how K goes on when a piece of her now lives with us. They question whether our ongoing contact can bring anything but pain to her and worry to us. They're looking for a hint that, surely, this open adoption is just a bit too much for everyone. Others want to hear that she has "moved on." They want affirmation that in this adoption there were no losers.

It is difficult to know how to answer. K has been honest, if not detailed, with us about the fact that not parenting Puppy has brought her times of deep grief in the past year. She has also said that she has not once regretted her decision. I know that we are likely not the ones with whom she would share her doubts. Our relationship is too young, and the stakes too high, to put those "what if"s on the table just yet. Of course I wonder if they are there, or if they will be there in the future. But what else can I do but take her at her word? Who am I to second-guess her emotions?

My answer must walk the tightrope of adoption myths, for my slightest mistep will trigger them in their minds. Dwell too much on the grief, and she twists into a bitter mother hating herself for giving up her child, hating us for taking him from her. Too much emphasis on what is going well and we are suddenly in a shiny, happy adoption in which everyone has moved on and nobody hurts, isn't life wonderful? I resist reducing her, and us, and the complicated thing that is our open adoption to a stereotype.

In the end I remain vague, uncomfortable answering on her behalf. I say that I only know what she has told us, and it has been difficult but she is doing well. I talk about how much we enjoy having her in our lives and how glad we are she is committed to being in Puppy's life. I try to bring her to life as a real person. But every time I answer I feel I have somehow let her down.
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