June 28, 2007

Going Dark

We're heading off for a few days of relaxation at the coast. It's pouring rain, but here in the Pacific Northwesterners we take that in stride.

There will be no internet access. Apparently that is relaxing for some.

Don't let anything important happen while I'm gone, you hear?

Becoming Known

Puppy is in the middle of a vocabulary explosion. He babbles his way through the day, repeating what we say and practicing the words he knows. As his verbal skills grow, we're seeing more and more of his extroverted nature. He is constantly telling us little "stories" about his day, wanting to share things that have happened to him (usually mere minutes before).

"Nana! Hi! Hi! Nana! Buf! Hans!" (translation: "Nana came over! We read the book with the hands in it!")

"Truck! Baby! Truck! Uh-oh! Down!" (translation: "I was playing with the truck! I dropped the truck!")

I love seeing his personality emerge, observing the things he's interested in and the ways he connects with his world. Early in our marriage, T and I sometimes tossed out wishes for our hypothetical future kids' personalities and talents: T's musicality and athleticism, my love of learning. The projection goes both ways. Two generations of women in my family have wielded this curse when at the end of their rope with a stubborn daughter: "I hope someday you have a child just like you."

Of course, in adoption one never has a child "just like you." But because of that, we have a unique joy. There is a certain freedom in watching your child's personality unfold as an adoptive parent. I have no expectations for what he should be like, no unconscious hope that he will be a miniature version of us. I'm not eagerly waiting to see if the unique things I love about T were passed onto Puppy.

Karen of Chookooloonks once put it perfectly:

There's something quite freeing about being a parent to a child who was adopted-- you never have to look to see if your child inherited some special gift that you have, or an unusual talent that your partner has. Every unique, special and wonderful aspect of your child is revealed to you at the same time it is revealed to her, and it's as much of a surprise to you as it is to her.
My mind has been returning to that idea so often during this stage of Puppy's life. We do affirm the parts of his first parents that we see in him. But it doesn't carry the emotional weight for me that it would if he shared our genes. I'm not anticipating which traits of K and R he inherited, but rather acknowledging them as they emerge. There are no expectations, no pressures, no hopes to be dashed. Instead there is the thrill of having the unknown made known.

Puppy is unlike me in so many ways. My boy lives in exclamation points. He never walks when he can run, nor sits when he can move. His anger, frustration and hurt come out in a burst of pure, intense emotion--then he shrugs it off and moves on. Over the years we will discover more of him, the special gifts and talents that are just his. There is no blank slate here--he brought his own heritage and personality with him. And we have the joy of seeing it work itself into fruition, together with him.

June 26, 2007

My Gifts to You

Because I'm a giver, here are two shiny links for you--one adoption-related, one not:

Here's your chance to get in on the ground floor of a forum for anyone connected to/thinking about openness in adoption: Open Adoption Support. Join it, use it, love it.

I heard about True Jeans at Susan Wagner's fashion blog. You punch in your measurements and some style preferences, and it gives you a list of specific jeans for your body type. I tried it a few weeks ago, rolled my eyes at all the suggested jeans which cost more than a week of groceries, and promptly forgot about it. Then while cruising through Macy's this weekend I noticed one of the reasonably-priced pairs from my list and tried them on. THEY FIT PERFECTLY. Un-frickin'-believable, people.

June 25, 2007

Extended Family

This weekend we went to a birthday party for the three-year old daughter of some friends of ours. I jump at the chance to attend any outdoor function at their house. They own a landscaping business, and standing on their perfectly manicured lawns always makes me feel classier than I really am. Eating in their (gorgeous) yard in back of their (gigantic) house, I imagine myself as part of a home and garden magazine feature, instead of the "before" picture in a "Give This Mom a Makeover!" article.

It was a big party--all sorts of grandparents, aunts and friends in attendance. Our friend's sister is a first mom to a 9-year old boy, and he was there, too, with his family--mom, dad, and little sister.

I shared a dinner table with the little boy, his sister and (adoptive) mom, and his (birth) grandma. I noticed the two siblings were wearing souvenir shirts from a landmark in the South. "I took a trip to North Carolina last month and visited there," the grandmother told me. "I brought back a t-shirt for each of my grandchildren."

"My grandchildren." Not just the little girl in curly pigtails whose birthday we were celebrating, the parented child of her eldest daughter. But also the boy who had earlier mugged in front of her camera, the placed son of her youngest daughter. And also his younger sister, no blood relation to anyone gathered, but who she considered her grandchild just the same.

I know there were years of effort behind her words. The first few years of the adoption were rocky, as an adoptive mom's lack of confidence clashed with a first grandma's strong desires and a young first mom's grief. But everyone hung in, and their agency helped, and by the time the couple adopted their second child, they had become family to one another. And so that little girl became family, too.

One family, formed by choice and by chance. That is what open adoption can be.

June 21, 2007

3BT #3

Three beautiful things...
  1. Curling under the covers as the morning light streams in, listening to a baby babbling to himself over the monitor
  2. Sharing a popsicle with your kiddo on the deck
  3. Realizing that despite all your worrying and overthinking, your life is pretty damn good just as it is

June 20, 2007

Adoption as Reproductive Choice

I read an essay the other day which argued that adoption was not a matter of reproductive choice. Because adoption can only happen after childbirth, it--along with matters like access to health care, child care, etc.--simply couldn't be labelled a "reproductive issue." The author was trying to make a point about a first mother's right to privacy not being pertinent to the open records debate. But what stuck in my mind was her separation of voluntary relinquishment from other reproductive choices.

To me, reproductive choice is not just about preventing or terminating pregnancy. It's about choosing when and how you become a parent--which is only possible when we as a society support families' access to housing, health care, food, jobs and child care. If you are pregnant and feel like parenting isn't an option because you lack the support, then you don't have really have reproductive choice.

Parenting, adoption, and abortion are not equally valid options for every person. If a woman wants to parent but is struggling to figure out how to make that work, then talking about abortion or adoption doesn't make sense.* If a woman's personal convictions rule out terminating a pregnancy, then obviously abortion is not a valid option. If a woman does not want to carry a baby to term, then adoption isn't appropriate. But while each one may not be a valid choice for any particular woman, all three are equally important to maintaining women's reproductive freedom.

If planning an adoption is seen as a reproductive choice, then it must be available not just when a woman cannot parent, but when she chooses not to parent. I grow nervous when people argue that adoptions should only happen when a woman is deemed incapable of parenting. I see parallels in attempts to restrict abortion to cases of rape, incest, or medical necessity. Behind both seems to be the idea that abortion and relinquishment are morally reprehensible acts, that only certain women can be absolved of responsibility for them.

I think what makes me nervous is that such attitudes leave little room for a woman's agency in controlling her reproduction. There seems to be underlying assumption that women are incapable of understanding what they are doing, that others know what is best for them. I'm not saying that predatory adoption practices don't need to end, that unbiased counseling isn't vitally important, that women shouldn't consider parenting as part of planning an adoption, or that there aren't relinquishments that shouldn't have happened. It's just that I respect a woman's right to make a fully informed adoption plan, just as I support a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.** Neither choice should be sugar-coated, taken lightly or even encouraged. But they should be available.

What is tricky for me about upholding adoption as a choice is that the adopted person lives with the results of that decision their entire lives. I don't know how to factor that in, how to balance the trauma of adoption against women's rights.

This isn't coming out as clearly as I'd like. What it comes down to is that, for me, supporting access to abortion, family preservation programs and ethical adoption services is the same thing. It's supporting women in their reproductive choices. I am acutely aware that--as a woman with fertility problems--I will likely never face these choices myself. But a working reproductive system is the only difference between me and the women who do.

* I'm deliberately focusing on women, who ultimately bear the brunt of responsibility for these reproductive decisions.
** I hold this position as an evangelical Christian. No, really. But that is a discussion for another day.

June 19, 2007

A Little Vulnerable

No matter how secure I feel about Puppy's adoption day-to-day, there are always these (mostly) irrational, crazy fears rolling around in the recesses of my heart. They have little to do with reality, just the conjecture of an unfettered mind as it drifts into sleep. Maybe all adoptive parents have them. I kind of hope so, because I'm about to share fourteen of mine with you:

  1. Someone somewhere forgot to sign something and we're not really Puppy's legal parents.
  2. I will get pregnant and we won't finish the second adoption/Puppy will feel he was a placeholder until our real kid came along/all the peoples of the world will collectively point at me and say, "I told you so!"
  3. K and R wish they hadn't placed him.
  4. They wish they hadn't placed him with us.
  5. They make fun of us behind our backs.
  6. I would be a better parent if I had given birth.
  7. K or R will let Puppy down.
  8. We will let K and R down.
  9. I will let Puppy down.
  10. We will all let each other down until we're just one big pile of disappointment and dashed hopes.
  11. Puppy will grow up and feel like a stranger in his first family.
  12. Puppy will grow up and decide we're not really his family.
  13. Puppy will grow up to become the leader of the adoption abolition movement, denounce me on the internet (which at that point will stream directly into our brains), and sell t-shirts with "Adoptress!" scrawled across my picture.
  14. The t-shirts will include a link to this blog.

And you?

June 15, 2007

What T Wrote

I found this while proof-reading an essay T-Dog wrote for our adoption application:

Though I learned about the benefits of open adoption from our agency, just from being [Puppy]’s dad and thinking about the questions he’s going to have and who he is, I’m so grateful that we know and are in contact with [K] and [R] because they can provide answers for him. In fact, just being in his life they are answers.

I love that last line.

June 14, 2007

Extroversion in Action

Puppy is a wee, walking extrovert, so when something excites him he immediately wants to share it with someone. This is handy, because if he ever gets into something he's not supposed to, he trots right over to show me.

So far today he has brought me:
  • a kiwi
  • an orange
  • a set of gift tags
  • several Pixie sticks from a party goodie bag
  • a roll of wrapping paper
  • a work file from my desk
  • a broom
  • T's guitar
  • a box of matches
  • a candle (to go with the matches, obviously)

When he tried to show me how to strike the matches, I started thinking we may need to be a little more careful about putting things away.

Adoption Language

I feel the need to come clean about my adoption language, although it's not like I've been hiding anything.

We use both "birth parent" and "first parent" in our house. Most of the time we just call K and R by their first names, so the labels don't really come up much. We aren't in many situations in which people don't already know who they are, but in conversations or introductions I sometimes use "birth parents," sometimes "other parents."

We have the luxury of being able to talk over language with K and R, so I use "birth parent" and their first names knowing it's what they prefer. I don't know how Puppy will refer to K and R when he's older; that is up to him. Nor do I know how we will refer to our second child's parents, since we haven't met them yet. Although K uses "birth mom" for herself, she refers to her first mom as her "biological mother." That fascinates me.

I talk about the people who might look at our profile as "parents considering adoption" or "expectant parents." Our introduction letter just starts out, "Hello."

I think "real parent" is pointless as a label, since it describes both sets of parents.

When I initially heard "first mom," I didn't like it much. It made me think of "first wife" and "second wife." That made me think of divorce, in which one person stops being the wife and the other starts, and I didn't like the connotation of K's motherhood stopping. It also made me think of polygamy, where there is generally a hierarchy among the wives and I didn't like that image either (especially since I was #2!).

I use "first parent" when I write not to make a statement (although I don't mind if it does). I started using it out of respect to those who are troubled by "birth parent." Over time it has grown on me and I actually prefer it now. K and R were taking care of Puppy before T and I ever knew he existed. They created him, they determined who his everyday family would be. They continue to be his link to his origins. "First parent" encapsulates those things for me. I'm identified as "mom" every day by friends, strangers, family, and Puppy himself. What is the harm in acknowledging that I'm not the first one to hold that title?

June 13, 2007

I Think She Has It Backwards

Overheard in the dressing room at Target:

"Ugh, try the bikini. Only people who are super skinny can wear a one-piece."

June 11, 2007

Strange Silence

In the weeks approaching Mother's Day, it was impossible to cruise through the online adoption world without coming across a blog post or forum discussion about the holiday. It's a complicated day for first moms, adoptive moms and adopted adults alike. There was a lot for people to sort through and express.

Tonight as I put together our Father's Day gift for Puppy's first dad, I couldn't help but think of the difference. Here it is five days before Father's Day and I've read almost nothing yet about it as it relates to adoption. I know the basic underlying reasons (more women talking about adoption online + fewer men actively involved in the placement/adoption of their child). But still it makes me sad.

If any adoption stereotype has a stronger hold than that of the unstable birth mother, it's the deadbeat birth dad who couldn't care less about his adopted child. It's just not true of all first dads. So visit a first father or two this week and read his story. Pick up a book on the experiences of birth fathers in adoption. Read about the latest study and its recommendations for strengthening men's rights and responsibilities in adoption. Let's remember them this week.

June 10, 2007

At the Copy Store

We needed to make some copies of adoption-related schnee today. There is a certain vulnerability for me in pushing adoption-related paperwork over a store counter. I feel exposed, like I'm sharing more information than is appropriate with the stranger who picks it up, looks it over, runs it through the machines. We talk prices and paper weights, while between us the paper screams, "Hey! We're adopting!" I wonder what they think about that.

The woman who picked it up today stared a little too long. "We're in the process of adopting," T offered, trying to fill the void.

"My son is adopted," she said.

"Oh, did you adopt him or did you place him for adoption?" T asked.

She had placed him, ten years ago. She knows he was placed in our state, she thinks she might know the city. No contact. No names. Just that he's with a "good Christian family."

She wanted to tell her story. She asked about K, wanted to talk about her and R and their place in our family. "That's good that you're doing that [open adoption]," she said, "I didn't know..."

"There was so much we didn't know either," said T. "There's just so much pain, you know?"

She said it's her pride that's keeping the adoption closed (she didn't elaborate), but that she thinks she could contact the agency at some point. "I know the love is there. We'll connect in the future, I just know it."

Somewhere there is a ten-year old boy who doesn't know that his first mom was talking about him today. Doesn't know that she has dreams for their future. Are his adoptive parents wishing they knew how to contact her, like so many parents I've met? Did they want things closed? Are they scared of what her return to his life might mean?

So many more people than I ever realized are caught up into adoption. Sometimes I feel that adoption is a lonely thing, something that sets me apart. Other times it seems it's all around me.

June 06, 2007

Advertising in Adoption

There is some chitchat around the blogosphere right now about adoption advertising, mostly spurred by the recent media attention given to a couple who posted numerous billboards about their desire to adopt an infant.

What's my take on it? The whole thing creeps me out. Even laying aside my deep concern at some specific statements made by the couple about domestic adoption and the rights of first mothers, the billboards make me uncomfortable. Were they the most progressive people on the planet in regard to adoption, I would still disagree with their use of advertising.

The primary defense of this couple is that, while billboards may be a bit unorthodox, they are just another form of the networking that prospective adoptive parents do all the time. They are no different than posting your profile on the internet, sending letters to doctors' offices, or advertising in the back of a magazine. I actually agree with that--which is exactly why I think they are inappropriate.

Our first agency encouraged waiting couples to do personal networking. They viewed it as a way prospective parents could be pro-active during their wait. T and I said "no way" and that was the end of that for us. We both found the whole idea too personally distasteful. We felt that it inverted the placement process by putting the focus on our desire for a child rather than on a woman's process of considering her options. It was important to us that choosing us be one of the last steps in a woman's decision to place, not the inspiration for it. The profiles should come out after an initial decision to place has been made, not before.

My discomfort with advertising ties into my bias toward agency adoption in general. I'm absolutely not saying all agency adoptions are perfect and non-agency adoptions are not. I've witnessed wonderful private adoptions and agency adoptions which are disasters. But I think well-run agencies are our best shot at making sure that the education, counseling and support that are essential to successful, ethical adoption are available. Adoption is far, far more than matching up waiting families with people who need to place. To me, direct advertising like this focuses on that one step at the expense of the others.

I do realize that I am culpable as an adoptive parent for adoption advertising to a certain extent. Even though T and I did not personally network, our agency did network itself on our behalf. Agencies (or adoption lawyers, for that matter) have to put their names out there somehow in order to do their work, even if it's just grassroots networking within their region. I'm actually glad our current agency advertises locally, because their primary mission is options counseling and the vast majority of clients do not make an adoption plan. Organizations which connect people with parenting resources and support are vital. But there is absolutely agency advertising targeted at expectant parents that I feel goes way too far. It is impossible to visit a commercial website about adoption or do a google search about adoption without coming across it.

I don't have all the answers, but I am interested in the conversation. What kinds of advertising by individuals do you think are appropriate? By agencies and lawyers?

Thinking it Through: Openness

Openness was the one thing I didn't expect to be deliberating as we started our second adoption. Over the past two years, we've only grown more convinced of the value of open adoption as we've experienced it in our family. Yet T and I have probably spent more time discussing openness than any of our other recent choices. It's become a matter of balancing principles and practicalities, wishes and reality.

When we were waiting for Puppy, we had a kind of "we'll take as much as we can get" attitude about openness. Our agency simply didn't do closed adoptions, so we at least knew that wasn't a possibility. While we wanted the full-blown-visits-relationship-integration-etc. kind of openness, for some reason we didn't think we had much control over whether that happened in our match. The thought that someone might actually choose us to raise their child seemed like enough of a miracle to hope for without adding more. Also, we felt that a woman has the right to control her adoption plan, including the amount of contact. So I think we figured we would just meet the first mom who chose us wherever she was at. If that meant a more distant relationship, then so be it.

Then, of course, the hypothetical adoption became Puppy's adoption, and the hypothetical people became K and R. Over a restaurant table the first time we met in person, I took a deep breath and laid out our hopes for an ongoing relationship. K said she wanted that, too, and so it began.

My desire for openness initially was for Puppy's sake. While it is too early yet to know exactly what K and R's presence will look like in his life, I am glad to be establishing a foundation for a future relationship. Puppy is the primary beneficiary of all this. But over time I've come to see the value of openness not just for Puppy, but for us as his parents. It is difficult to express how having them in our life has affected me. I feel that I better understand some of who Puppy is by knowing them. And their presence makes me more secure in my parenting role. Hearing K refer to me as Puppy's mom is infinitely more validating than any legal document could ever be.

All those experiences from our first adoption have influenced the way we're approaching our second. On the one hand, they convince us that, for our family, another open adoption is the right thing. It is strange to imagine having one child who has all this connection to his birth families and another child without that. If we believe it is the healthiest form of adoption, then how can we not pursue it again? On the other hand, having experienced the practical realities of open adoption, we wonder if we can responsibly take on another. Open adoptions require investments of time and emotional energy; I don't see that as a negative--it just is what it is. Right now we're balancing separate relationships with K and R's families at a distance, trying to maintain Puppy's connection to them. I'm glad to do it. But thinking about juggling yet another set of relatives when it comes to holidays and travel schedules, etc., honestly feels exhausting. We are human. There are very real limits to our time, emotional energy, and financial resources. I worry that if we add yet another family (or two) to the equation we will end up shorting everyone. That is the last thing we want.

That is the bind we find ourselves in: philosophically committed to fully open adoption, but worried that we won't be able to do more than one well. Where do we compromise? What is right for our family?

In all our discussions, T and I keep coming back to the fact that there are no guarantees. Most families we know with more than one domestic adoption have a mix of closed and open adoptions. For some it was that way from the beginning, for others one of the relationships drifted shut over time. We know that open relationships evolve, so what we have now with Puppy may not be what we have ten years from now. And we know that every adoption is unique, so our second won't ever be exactly like our first. But in the end we decided that there were some things we could do to give ourselves the best shot at success.

First, we decided that the only way we can do this well is if our second child's first parents are fairly local. This meant switching from the national agency we used the first time to one which focuses in the Pacific Northwest. It is only in hindsight that I see how helpful it was that we lived close to K and R that first year. I am a doofus on the phone and horrible at corresponding by email, and we don't have the resources to do a lot of travelling. Being able to meet face-to-face enabled us to establish our relationship in a way I couldn't have done from a distance.

Second, we think it will be important to wait for a match with someone who wants to go for full openness from the get-go. Someone wanting to be connected not just to her child, but to Puppy and to T and to me. To partner with us in the adoption.

These decisions seem small as I write them, but carry some real consequences. There were some financial costs associated with our agency switch. And because we are looking for someone local-ish who wants a similar level of integration into our family (and hopefully into their family), the pool of potential matches is smaller. Our wait may be longer because of that.

This is where the challenge always comes--in putting principles into practice. And the challenge is not over. There is still the possibility of being chosen by someone who doesn't want much contact, even given how upfront we are about our desires in our profile materials. Until we're faced with that situation, I honestly don't know what we will do. Are we really willing to say "no"? It is easy for me to do so theoretically, but surely much harder when faced with actual people and an actual child. When someone says "You are the family I choose for my child," how do you say in return, "You are not the right person for us"? In the end I can only hope we will do what we think is right by both our kids, the one with us now and the one we have yet to meet.

June 05, 2007

Are You There, God? It's Me, Heather

As an undergrad I had a Chicana Literature professor who conceptualized of her menstrual cycle as nothing less than a goddess, a direct connection to Mother Earth herself. Each month she and her friends lifted glasses of ruby red wine in a toast to the lunar forces at work in their wombs. (If you can't figure out how that information would possibly come out in a lecture, you have never taken a feminist literature course.)

My cycle is no lunar goddess nor kindly Aunt Flo. I have the laziest, bitchiest menstrual cycle on God's green earth. She's a teenager arrested in the snottiest part of her development. Apparently quite busy with the demands of sleeping late and pretending I don't exist, she half-heartedly tosses off a period when she feels like it. Five, six , seven weeks--why do I have to be such a bitch all the time and expect her to do things on a schedule?

I periodically throw some progesterone at her lazy ass to see if I can rouse her long enough to clean her room already. Sometimes she'll throw her clothes in the closet for a day with an eye-rolling, "Are you happy now?" Other times it's all slamming doors and "I HATE YOU!" and I'm knocked down for a morning with back pain from hell.

The wannabe of every queen bee she meets, she's eventually tagged along with the cycle of every female roommate I've ever had. Several times she has taken off backingpacking in Europe to find herself or some such shit, returning a year or so later just the same as before.

I've always been a late bloomer, so for years I figured I'd just wait it out. Give her some space and surely she'd grow up one day into a mature, responsible young woman, right? I'm beginning to think she may be a lost cause.

June 03, 2007

Batting .500

It's been one of those weeks, the kind that scoops you up on Monday and spits you out at the other end with your head spinning. Many things going on with no real time to talk about them.

We had dinner yesterday with three other couples--high school friends of mine and their spouses. With two zillion kids between us, it was a task of monumental proportions to coordinate schedules and babysitting. But by some miracle we found ourselves gathered together child-free for the first time in four years.

Two of the women are pregnant, due in autumn. I sat with them over dessert and talk drifted to the stuff of pregnancy--obstetricians and ultrasounds and due dates. I listened for awhile, feeling the familiar loneliness of waiting to adopt. Thinking that I'm going to be a mom again, even if the world can't see it. I might have another child this year. Or I might not. Change is happening in my family, too, even if I don't know exactly when or how.

I realized awhile ago that when I'm feeling isolated by adoption or fertility, I can wallow in that or I can do something about it. People (usually) aren't trying to make me feel left out. Adoption is just not the norm. So I jumped in and asked them how they were preparing their older children for the sibling's arrival. (If anyone knows how to get a toddler ready for a baby due to arrive anytime between next month and two years from now, please let me know.) And soon we were talking about that and popular baby names and other things we had in common.

It was silly and small, but I was proud of myself for speaking up, for looking for commonality instead of splashing in self-pity.

(Not all my speaking up went well. I have been driven batty since moving here by being constantly referred to as a "girl" despite being a 32-year old woman with rapidly sagging breasts and a mortgage. When someone asked which of the "girls" wanted to join in a board game, I smilingly said I would play as long as I wasn't called a girl. My attempt at lightheartedly drawing attention to it completely failed. When the other women in the room immediately respond, "Well, he didn't mean anything by calling us girls," you know you picked the wrong moment. Awkward.)

So, speaking up. Not always effective. But worth it.

June 01, 2007

We've Trained Him Well

I am sitting on the living room floor, puffing away into an inflatable wading pool. It's slow-going. Feeling a little lightheaded, I stop with a sigh and say to no one in particular, "Man, this is exhausting."

Puppy looks over from across the room and stops what he's doing. He wanders into the kitchen and I can hear him rustling around.

Soon he's walking toward me, basket of strawberries in one hand and a Mike's Hard Lemonade in the other.

So I put him down for a nap and took him up on his offer.
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