March 25, 2008

Nothing to See Here

We're in the middle of spring break 'round here, so the lot of us headed out to visit Ms B this afternoon. Much holding of Firefly ensued. We stayed through dinner and dessert, then drove home with two sleepy kids in the back seat and a cooler of expressed milk in the trunk.

I really have nothing more to add. There were no uncomfortable moments. No weird comments to analyze. No post-visit angst for me to sort through. No debriefing between T and I on the drive home. It was just a nice, uneventful, mildly boring time hanging out with Ms B and some of her friends as they enjoyed Firefly (who obligingly showed off several smiles).

And that's a report I'm really happy to make.

Review: "Healthy Child Healthy World"

It's not something I talk about much--ever, really--but I live with a chronic pain condition. I doubt most people in my real life notice how it affects me in ways both small and large. But because it was likely caused in part by environmental factors, I'm daily reminded of the long-term effects of our increasingly toxic world.

I was raised a basic-level environmentalist in the recycling/conservation sort of ways. But my diagnosis and the havoc it wreaked with my fertility made me determined to go further to create a safer environment in our home once I became a parent. Doubly so now that I have a daughter, who I hope will grow into a strong, healthy woman. How do I give her the best chance of escaping some of the issues I've faced?

I've been piecing together research and making incremental changes since Puppy was born, mostly in some of the easier areas: cloth diapering, using safer cleaning products, reducing certain types of plastics, using no-VOC paint, selectively buying organic food items. But I've really wanted a more comprehensive approach to what we can do to reduce our exposure to environmental toxins.

Enter Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home by Christopher Gavigan, CEO of the non-profit advocacy group Healthy Child Healthy World (formerly CHEC).The book is broken down into specific areas (pregnancy, cleaning, food, beauty products, children's products, yards, water/air, pets, home improvement, activism). Each chapter discusses potentially harmful chemicals and contaminants and suggests ten practical steps you can take to make your home safer.

Written in an accessible, sound-bite style, the book is a fast read. Gavigan is determined to keep readers from feeling too overwhelmed, so doesn't spend much time on the research behind the suggestions. He breaks things down into achievable steps and offers alternatives when the best practice (like buying all organic kids' clothing) will probably be too expensive for most. The separate tips that seemed to pop up on every other page were a little distracting, but usually useful. My favorites were some of the "recipes" sprinkled throughout for everything from homemade air freshener to finger paint. There are also some good checklists designed to be copied and cut out as quick references for things like natural cleaning options or which produce is best to buy organic.

Much of the information I had seen elsewhere (a lot of it at the Healthy Child website). But it also highlighted some areas I hadn't yet considered (like simple steps to improve the air quality inside our home). T and I started talking last night about some of the suggestions for keeping our yard chemical-free. And I've already found myself using some of the tips, like the one for remembering which plastics are safer. I like having it all in one book I can pull off the shelf whenever I have a question, like the child rearing books I reference when my kid comes down with a rash or runs a fever. Having read through it once I definitely see myself coming back to certain sections as I make purchasing decisions. If the mark of this book's success is how much it is used in the reader's daily life, then it's off to a good start in our house.

The book is full of testimonials from celebrity parents about how they've replaced their carpets with bamboo flooring and give organic crib mattresses to all their friends. They're touted on the cover and I think they're supposed to engage readers, but frankly they annoyed me. They broke up the flow of the text and after awhile I realized I'd process the core content of the book better if I just skipped them. I like reading People magazine as much as the next person, but I'm not about to look to random celebrities for advice. I would have much rather seen profiles of regular folks from a variety of economic backgrounds. What choices do different families living on a budget make, how do they prioritize? Also, the frequent mentions of certain brands and the shopping guide in the back--although useful for finding green products--made me wonder about possible product placement. But both that and the celebrities can be fairly easily ignored.

Don't expect an in-depth look at the research about environmental toxins, although this book does point to some websites and books where you can find that information. But if--like me--you're already convinced about the dangers and want a comprehensive look at practical steps you can take at the household level, Healthy Child Healthy World is an excellent place to start.

This review is part of a Mother Talk blog tour. Head there to read what other bloggers thought of this book.

March 22, 2008

Building Blocks

Today Puppy overheard T talking with Ms B on the phone and so just had to call his birth mom, too. He told K about the egg hunt at church this morning and she told him she loved him, then he went about the rest of his day.

Sometimes I come across parents who are willing to send letters and pictures to their kids' first parents from the start, but want to hold off on direct contact until their child is "old enough" to understand the relationship. Sometimes that means 6 or 7 years old, sometimes 4 or so. They argue that contact before then wouldn't mean anything--the child isn't old enough to even remember. Why bother?

I've struggled to understand this line of thinking, because when I see something like Puppy phoning K, I see the building blocks of a real relationship. He won't remember this conversation twenty years from now. He probably won't even remember it a month from now. But in a few years when those long-term memories start to form, he will be drawing on these early years. He'll have the head start of familiarity. And at the most basic level he'll already know that his first parents are part of the constellation of people who make up his family. Why pass that up?

March 19, 2008

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

It's a meet-up! We're getting together on the evening of Saturday, March 29. If you blog, comment, or even just read you are more than welcome.

Email me for the details if you're interested. Some really cool people are going to be there--and me!

March 17, 2008

I'm Classy Like That

On Saturday I attended a baby shower for a woman in our playgroup. It was at my absolute favorite cake shop in town, which made me happy-happy.

Since the shower-ee has a son and is about to have a daughter, she asked for baby girl clothes. I am committed to the principles of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle lazy, so instead of buying a gift I gathered up some outfits we weren't going to use from Firefly's stash of presents. A little voice inside my head said, "You know, Heather, most of the women who are going to be there tonight were at your shower. It's going to be really embarrassing if you regift something one of them gave you." "No, no," I told myself. "I am smart and pretty and perfect and checked the email invitation to see who was invited."

Regifted items in hand, I headed off to the party. Sometime between the small talk and the party game I realized that the woman sitting next to me (a) hadn't been included on the email invite, and (b) had given me the sleepers I was about to hand over. Oops. "Ha, ha. Told you so," said the little voice inside my head. "Shut up!" I told that stupid voice. "It will be fine! It was weeks ago! Maybe she won't remember! Maybe she'll leave before gifts are opened!"

Perhaps I was imagining things, but when the shower-ee pulled those particular items out of the gift bag, I swear the woman next to me quietly leaned forward and narrowed her eyes as if to say, "Haven't I seen those before?" I just concentrated really hard on my piece of cake.

The worst part? I haven't yet written the thank you note for those sleepers. The ones she now knows I totally gave away.

March 12, 2008

It Has Begun

My family leave time, that is.

Four months of dinking around online bonding with Firefly. Whee!

I suddenly feel like I have oodles of free time. (It's probably an illusion, but I'm running with it for now.) You should all come visit me. We'll hold hands and skip through fields of wildflowers. Or drink tasty coffee and gossip about celebrities. You know, whatever happens.

March 10, 2008

Say Anything Else

I have enjoyed introducing Firefly to our little community. I have not enjoyed some of the things people are saying to us. What ever happened to, "Congratulations"?

Typically I don't mind people's ill-thought-out comments too much; heaven knows I've made enough of them myself. But I've been a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of them lately--and by the fact that the exact same ones keep falling out of folks' mouths:
  1. "Where did she come from?"

  2. "I thought she would be darker."

  3. "So are you going to have to do cornrows and beads?"

  4. "You adopted [Puppy]? Really?"

  5. "How nice for you that you did this the easy way."
I know that we'll hear less of these as the novelty of Firefly wears off. But even just a week off would be nice right about now.

At least I've gotten my responses down pat.

March 05, 2008

How It Happened

Lisa asked this on the post about Ms B's pumping awesomeness:
I am wondering how you and Ms. B thought of/decided to do this. Did she offer or did you ask if she would be willing?

I am just curious because this is an option I never even thought of.
My response turned out to be pretty long, so I'm posting it here instead of in comments.

It was Ms B's offer. Our agency provided the context for it. It's pretty common for families at our agency to use breastmilk, usually through adoptive breastfeeding or milk donors. It's also not uncommon for placing moms to nurse at the hospital and there been several first moms who pumped for their kids after placement. So there was precedent for it and a supportive culture.

We talked about nursing at the hospital during our mediation. Ms B had absolutely no interest at that point. We said be completely supportive if she did want to. I think I also mentioned that we thought breastmilk was great and were a little bummed because adoptive breastfeeding isn't an option for me and we don't have any friends who could/would be milk donors for us. But also that Puppy had been exclusively formula-fed (aside from a handful of times he nursed with my sister-in-law) and was just dandy. It was all in the context of talking about a hospital plan and adoptive breastfeeding. There wasn't any hidden motive to try to convince her one way or the other.

I had met a first mom from the same agency who pumped for her twins and so had the idea in the back of my mind. It was one of those things that I figured would be awesome if it happened to come about, but over which I really had no control. As much as I would have liked to float the idea with Ms B, I think it would have been crossing a line as a prospective adoptive parent. It wouldn't have been any more appropriate for me to ask her to pump than to share an opinion on her choice about pain medication. That's my gut feeling about it; I'd be interested in hearing what different birth moms think. But I suppose we did let her know we were open to creative arrangements.

Then shortly before the birth Ms B told us she was interested in pumping. I was surprised because it was such a turnaround from her earlier feelings. I believe it came out of conversations with her agency counselor. From what Ms B has shared, I think she honestly hadn't known about the benefits of breastmilk. Once she learned that her body would make something perfectly designed for her daughter, she was really interested. When Ms B told me she was thinking about pumping I thought it was great. I still didn't hold my breath because pumping regularly isn't easy and I can't imagine what it's like to do it when you don't have custody of your child.

But it worked out and I'm thrilled. Her agency counselor loaned her a pump and a friend she is living with has been helping her. I don't know what will happen when she returns to work in a few weeks, but even if this is all Firefly gets it's an astounding gift. She told us she was bringing some milk to the visit, but I had no idea it would be so much. Like many have mentioned, it's a testimony to Firefly of Ms B's love for her and hopefully an affirmation for Ms B of the unique connection she has to Firefly as her birth mom. Ultimately it's a great example of what open adoption makes possible.

March 04, 2008

The Visit, Puppy, and Me

The Visit
When we were initially exploring open adoption, I imagined the first post-placement visits as terribly tense and uncomfortable. Maybe they are in some circumstances, but that hasn't been true for us. Not to say there wasn't an iceberg of emotion underneath the surface on Saturday, but we had a pleasant time together. Ms B came along with two dear friends we are also getting to know. There were gifts and pictures and much agreement over Firefly's perfection.

We're still getting to know one another, so we don't have the benefit of being able to read the other people well. I'm trying hard to not overanalyze the time, because I will only fret over how much I don't know about what Saturday was like for Ms B or exactly how many times I put my foot in my mouth (likely many).

I've read that gaining a sibling through adoption often is an impetus for adopted kids processing some of their own adoption. Puppy is barely over two years of age, so I didn't know how much that would be true for him. But I've kept it in the back of my mind.

Because we were out-of-town longer than we expected when Firefly was born, my parents ended up bringing Puppy to us for a night. He visited Ms B and Firefly in the hospital and saw them together. (I had gone back and forth on whether that would be helpful or not. It ended up being fine.) Soon after we returned home with Firefly he asked why Ms B hadn't come home with us, too. I think he understood that Firefly belonged with us and also belonged with Ms B, and was trying to make sense of that.

Then on Saturday, he and I were hanging out with Firefly before Ms B came over. He knew we were getting ready for her visit and that she was coming to see Firefly. He looked at Firefly and got thoughtful.

"[Ms B] coming? She her birth mom. [Firefly] have birth mom. I have birth mom too? [K]. [K] birth mom." (When he's deep in thought he speaks in sentence fragments.)

He paused, so I said, "Yes, that's right."

"I miss her," he told me. This is the first time he's verbally expressed anything like that. (He and I decided we should call K on the phone.)

I think it is beginning to sink in for him that there is a break in continuity when a child is placed for adoption. And maybe he is starting to work out for himself what it means when we say that he was with K and R before he was with us.

Lately after every visit with K or Ms B I want to have a biological child. I get mopey and gruff. It only lasts for a day or two, but it's driving me up the wall.

What really gets me is that this is pretty much the only time I feel this way. I'm proud of our family and beyond content with my children. Heck, half the time I feel bad for all those pregnancy-only moms out there who don't know how amazing adoption can be. So I'm not coming by this desire honestly, because if I were I would feel it other times, too. Not just after hanging out with my kids' first families.

I don't imagine I would love a non-adopted child any more or less than Puppy and Firefly. But I'm guessing there would be differences in my experience of raising a bio kid, because there wouldn't be the added layer of adoption. I can't change (and don't want to change) the fact that my kids have dual family trees. Yet sometimes--like after a visit--I'm hyper-aware that most parents don't need to do what we do. There is no adoption to navigate. And my mind escapes to the unwanted fantasy of having a bio child. I don't think it's really about the hypothetical child at all. It just seems so enticingly...uncomplicated.

March 02, 2008


(ETA (3/11): Welcome to the (Breast)feeding Carnival visitors! Firefly is my recently adopted daughter and Ms B is her birth/first mom. You can read the story of how Ms B decided to do this here.)

This is my freezer after our visit with Ms B yesterday:

That's breast milk for Firefly. Everything you see (well, aside from the peas). Enough for multiple feedings a day. Ms B has been pumping since she got home from the hospital because she "just want[s] what's best for her."

Don't ever think for a second that my daughter was unwanted. The pregnancy was unwanted. But not her. Never her.
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