September 30, 2008

This Isn't Covered in Any of My Books

You guys are amazing. Really, really amazing. Thank you for being so nice.

I think I misled you a little when I said we had an odd combination of first parent interactions. Each separate interaction wasn't odd, it was all of them happening on the same weekend that felt so bizarre. It was adoption overload for awhile there. Two interactions were completely normal and understandable, just required us to be very emotionally present. One was unbloggable. The fourth was quite unexpected. I'm a little unsure about writing about it, but I think I can fairly share the bare bones of the part that trickles into my world.

Puppy's first mom, K, is four months pregnant. As a ges.tational surr.ogate.

In my wildest imaginings, I did not see this one coming. After I got over my surprise at the news, I had a couple of reactions.

I'm concerned that carrying, birthing and handing over the baby to the intended parents could trigger difficult memories and emotions connected to Puppy's adoption. Emotions for which she is not preparing and for which she has little support. That worries me.

I'm frustrated that everyone else in her life allegedly thinks this is a wonderful idea with no possible downside.

I keep thinking about this phone call from last year.

But what really has me thinking is how this might affect Puppy. Because, in the end, as much as I care about K's well-being, it's not my responsibility. But Puppy is my responsibility and I don't know how to explain this to him. I feel like I would know where to begin with other scenarios: pregnant and parenting, pregnant and placing with us, pregnant and placing with someone else. But this? I'm casting about for a place to start.

We will be seeing her in a few months when she'll be quite far along. And even if Puppy didn't notice the pregnancy (he can be pretty clueless about body shapes) I know it will come up in conversation when we're with her, not to mention in years to come. I'm not going to make a big deal of it with him, but I do want to be prepared to talk about it.

We talk about his adoption with him in different ways, but frequently come back to some basic elements: you grew inside of K, K and R took care of you then, after you were born they decided we would be your parents and you came to live with us. At his age, we are trying to communicate (a) that K and R are important to us because his life started with them and (b) that his movement into our family had their blessing. There is a picture of the four of us in his room from the day T and I met R and K while K was still pregnant. If you ask him where he is in the picture, he points at K's mid-section, saying, "In there!" All that to say that his understanding of adoption right now is pretty focused on the pregnancy-birth-placement progression.

Now we have a situation which, on the face of it, looks exactly like adoption as it's been explained to him. I don't know how to communicate to a three-year old the difference between surrogacy and placing a newborn for adoption:
  • there is a baby growing inside of K, where you grew
  • but that baby is not your sibling
  • nor is that baby K's baby
  • and when that baby is born, he/she will go live with his/her parents
  • but K won't be that baby's birth mom
  • and this is not what happened with you
The difference has to do with intentionality, genetics and technology, all of which are a little beyond his ken. I don't anticipate an intense emotional reaction from Puppy to this, although one never knows. But I'm worried that this will minimize the significance of first parents in his mind. That he'll think birth moms are essentially equivalent to surrogates.

Or maybe he'll just take it all at face value and not make a connection to his own story. But the way he wanted to talk again and again about Firefly's placement makes me doubt it.

So, what would you do?

September 29, 2008

Come On Over

Oh, adoption-y friends in the computer, I very much wish you could come over to my house tonight. I would pass around tea and my famously tasty chocolate chip cookies. Then I would tell you about the past 36 hours, just lay it all out for you, and you could say encouraging things and tell me exactly what to say and do.

Or we could just watch How I Met Your Mother and Gossip Girl. Your choice.

We had the oddest combination of interactions with all four of our kids' first parents this weekend. Any one of them could have had my overly analytical brain clicking away for a week. The four of them together have left me with a drained heart and a mind spinning with confusion.

In my experience, there are two broad reasons people say they could never adopt. The first is that they see adoption as some sort of pale imitation of "real" family; people who buy into that concept just aren't worth my time. The second is that they have taken an honest look at some of the unique realities of adoption--whether ethical or emotional--and feel that they are not up to taking them on. Today I say to those people, "Dude, I so get it."

September 25, 2008

Loose Threads

Some time ago, one of my children's first moms mentioned that she thought she had found her own first mom on MySpace. As in, the mother who placed her for adoption when she was a few days old.

I went to look at this woman's page once or twice. Her age was right. The state made sense. She wrote proudly of her children, but never mentioned just how many she has. She had a quote about not living with regrets. Her name was the same, but only if she kept her last name when she married. I don't know what sort of confirmation I expected to find.

Mostly I looked at her picture. "This is my child's grandmother," I thought. "Maybe. Huh."

We embraced open adoption hoping to ease the divisions that adoption imposes, to somehow contain them as fractures instead of breaks. We imagined an overlapping of families and unity between past and present. We didn't expect openness to bring the residue of closed adoption along with it. Family trees, already multiplied by two, further truncated and split. My children, coincidentally both second-generation adoptees, technically have sixteen grandparents* between them. We know fourteen of their names. They have met nine.

I sometimes imagine writing to this mystery woman smiling up from the scren. "Hello. I may be the adoptive mother of your grandchild through the daughter you placed for adoption..." I never would, of course. I know enough to realize how utterly inappropriate it would be. This is in no way my business. We used to talk about her first parents fairly frequently, but the last time I asked about her search, she cried. So for now I stay quiet.

Instead I click over to the MySpace page again while the rest of my house sleeps. I find it's now set to private. I wish I had copied it while I could.

* My parents (2), T's parents (2), their first dads' parents (2 each), their first moms' adoptive parents (2 each), their first moms' birth parents (2 each)

September 23, 2008

Tooting My Tiny Horn

A vintage post of mine about wee Puppy's shoes--Orange--managed to make runner-up in the Scribbit September Write-Away Contest. A small, but happy thing in my week.

At the risk of oversharing: my whole life I've heard Mr. Rogers singing "I'm proud of you, I hope that you are proud of you, too" inside my head whenever something good happens. This is what a lifetime of PBS has done to me. Does anyone else have a childhood song you just can't shake?

I also want to point you to one of the other runners-up, who coincidentally was fellow adoptive parent Tongga Mom. She wrote an excellent piece about race, colorblindness and transracial parenting: Seeing Color. Definitely worth clicking through to read.

September 22, 2008

Family Member Follow-up

I wanted to pull a couple of things from the comments to my post on supporting family members who are adopting. A number of people made similar remarks and as soon as I read them, I was slapping my forehead saying, "How could I have left that off?" That's what I get for writing after midnight. Like I am right now. Ahem.

A theme quickly emerged in the comments: respect.

Respect our decision-making process
It never fails. Anyone adopting domestically gets told, "You should go international." Anyone adopting internationally gets asked, "Why not adopt a kid here at home?" People choosing out of fertility treatments get encouraged to "try this procedure I saw on Oprah" and those choosing treatments get asked why they don't "just adopt." You may think you're offering a much-needed piece of advice. But unless asked, don't offer. There are many, many choices we each face on our paths to parenthood. Trust that we've considered them and know what is best for us in this moment.

You rarely know someone's whole story. And the parts you don't know are often more important than the ones you do.

Respect the other triad members
A number of commenters brought this up, and I completely agree. There is no such thing as an isolated individual in adoption. The child your family members will adopt already has a history and identity--even if he is an infant. She has a family of origin and perhaps another country of origin. Speak positively of those people and places. Respect the privacy of her adoption story by not prying for details and not sharing the ones you know.

Also, the first family members. Birth families are not mysterious folk--they are regular people you likely meet every day without knowing it. The stereotypes about them in popular media are pretty absurd. Any assumption you make about them is likely to be wrong. If you're lucky enough to be part of an open adoption, take the time to learn about them as full-fledged people, not just characters in your family members' adoption stories. In closed adoptions, acknowledge their importance in the child's history. Use positive language and respect their privacy (you would not believe the personal questions people ask me about my kids' first parents that they would never normally ask). Even in more difficult situations, such as cases of abuse, remember that they are still the child's biological family and kids will absorb any comments you make about their first family as comments about themselves. It's possible to be honest without demonizing or insulting.

September 17, 2008

This Just Doesn't Sit Right

I'm assume most people reading here know what safe haven laws are and how they work. Most states put limits on the age of a child that can be legally abandoned, say 72 hours or 30 days. Nebraska, perhaps feeling out of sorts for being the last state to enact such a statute, decided that it would go all the way and set the limit at 19. As in 19 years. In Nebraska, you can take your teenage kid to a hospital, turn him or her over and walk away the same day with few questions asked.

I don't want to get into a debate about the efficacy or philosophy of safe haven laws (this Donaldson report is an interesting read). And I absolutely do not want to vilify people who use them. But even laying all that aside, I can't fathom what Nebraska's legislators were possibly thinking. Abdicating yourself of responsibility for a child who is old enough to find her own way back home should be a more difficult process than, say, returning a sweater, for pete's sake.

When the Nebraska law went into effect this summer, a lot of the folks I talked to thought the age limit was strange, but figured it would probably still be used mostly for infants in practicality. Well, it was used for the first time this week, in two separate occasions. And the kids dropped off? Two boys ages 11 and 15. In a kicker for the adoption community, the adults involved were an adoptive mom (kinship adoption) and an aunt who was acting as a legal guardian. Making this at least the second time each of these boys has lost a maternal figure. In both cases, behavioral issues were cited--everyone seems to agree that the kids weren't in any immediate danger.

I just don't know how anyone who cares about the emotional health of these kids can think a law that allows this is a good idea. Even if the courts eventually do decide that it's best for them to be in a different home, the manner in which they were allowed to be abandoned is deeply troubling. We as a society need to value our kids--no matter their ages--enough to make such dramatic changes to their lives with seriousness and deliberation.

September 15, 2008

My Girl, Seven Months Today

She is a ball of chub growing rounder by the day, bulking up in the way so many babies do before they start crawling. Her tummy pokes out quite a ways and she regards it, along with her feet, as a plaything conveniently attached to her body. When sitting, she slaps her tummy like a drum yelling, "Ah, ah, ah, uggah!" If on her back, she pulls her feet up toward her head and holds on to her toes as if they're a cliff ledge from which she dangles for her life. She's always charmed by her feet, so surprised to find them there. The girl has the memory of a goldfish.


Some babies chew on their toys, others study them in detail. Firefly is a pounder. Her first means of exploring most any new object is to pound it against everything that is handy: the floor, another toy, her leg, her other hand. In her high chair she pounds on the tray, in your arms she pounds on your chest. Last week she figured out that she could also pound her hands together (aka clapping). She holds her arms straight out, clapping away while happily babbling, "Abaababa baaba."


When she sits on the floor, she presses the soles of her feet flat together like hands folding for prayer. She loves to have the bottoms of her feet kissed. Although she's quite averagely sized in most other ways, her feet are itty-bitty. Tiny and narrow, they swim in any shoes we put on her.


She has desperately wanted to eat solid food for some time now. She grabs for the food on our plates and waves her little arms around, trying to get some service. A friend took a picture the other week that perfectly captured Firefly's feelings on the subject. In it, both kids sit on T's lap. Puppy is nibbling on a chip and Firefly is glaring at the chip, completely exasperated that someone is eating right in front of her, again.

The other day I granted her wish and offered her some sweet potato. She flapped her arms with joy and opened her mouth wide like a baby bird, leaning in toward the spoon, so excited to finally get to try this forbidden food. The moment the potato hit her tongue, she scrunched up her face in disgust as if to say, "What the hell? This stuff is horrible." Not that it stopped her from repeating the whole act again the next day, and the next. Again, the memory of a goldfish.


From her earliest days, she has stuck out her tongue if something pleases her. First comes the smile, then out comes the tongue. We call it the Tongue of Happiness. It appears most often for her two favorite things: eye contact and singing. While being held, she'll throw herself backwards until she's upside down just to catch the eye of someone standing behind her. And if you look her in the eye and sing to her? You become her favorite person in the whole wide world.


Right before she falls asleep, she catches her breath and holds it for several long moments before releasing it in a deeply satisfying sigh.


When Puppy was this age I remember feeling like I knew his personality really well, that I could picture the little boy he would grow into. Maybe I've lost the focused pride of first-time parenting, or simply learned how surprising children can be, but I feel that Firefly is still an unknown in so many ways. We know her patterns and preferences inside and out, can interpret her gurgles and cries. But the core of who she is and who she will become still feels like a mystery she carries inside her. One I'm so grateful to be able to watch unfold.

September 13, 2008

This One's Got Something for Democrats AND Republicans

I dressed Firefly in her new Obama shirt today.

She rocked it. I snapped a few photos.

Then she threw up all over his face.

(PS A few people requested access to the picture blog last week, but didn't leave an email address. Just let me know your email address and I'll be happy to add you.)

September 11, 2008

Remembering Together

Mel has arranged a group remembrance of September 11, 2001, at Bridges. Each single post is a 100 sparse words by a different blogger, appearing every half hour--a mosaic of memory.

After seven years of so many seizing onto that day for political and personal gain, it has been moving to read these snippets and remember the rawness of our collective experience that morning.

September 10, 2008

Supporting Family Members Who are Adopting

A (long) while back, a reader asked what I thought adopting parents need/don't need from family members as they go through the process. (I need to take a second to tell you about this cool woman. She's not adopting--someone in her extended family is--and she's reading adoption blogs to learn what waiting families need or want from their extended families. Don't you love her? She's reading through all of our navel gazing for the sake of someone else in her life. I just want to give her a hug and clone her for other waiting families.)

With the caveat that this is just me speaking out of my own experience and each person is different, here are my thoughts on how to support family members who are adopting:

Don't treat us differently
We're bringing another grandchild/cousin/niece/nephew/etc. into the extended family. Period. More than anything we want our kids to be welcomed with open arms by you, their new family. It troubled me when family members treated us differently than my siblings-in-law who have non-adopted children. Partly because it hurt my feelings, but mostly because it seemed that they were putting my children-to-be into a different (lesser) category. Was our new family not worth celebrating, too? Whatever you've done for other family members when they added to their families--whether it's hosting a shower, knitting a blanket, offering meals, or even just calling to check in along the way--do it for adopting parents just as you would for birthing parents.

Remember that adoption is different
I realize this seems to contradict what I just wrote. But while you're busy treating us the same, remember that we're going through a unique process. Understand that adoption doesn't exactly parallel the pregnancy/birth process, so our reactions and emotions along the way won't always be the same. Adoption often brings up a lot of conflicting emotions. There is immense joy in adopting, but also sadness, stress and uncertainty. On top of the usual adjustments to parenthood, we're also working out what it means to be an adoptive family in a non-adoption world. I hesitated to share those layers of emotion during our first adoption because I worried that people would think adoption wasn't as valid a way of creating a family. I was much more open during our second adoption and discovered that most people appreciated getting that insight into a process they hadn't experienced first-hand. Just having people acknowledge the emotional complexity without judging it meant a lot.

Educate yourself
Learn some basic adoption terminology. If you know the agency, lawyer, or facilitator they are using, visit their website; most will provide at least a basic outline of their adoption process. Needing to explain every step or term to one less person can be a relief. And they'll be impressed when you know the difference between the end of a revocation period and finalization.

Don't ask how much it costs
Seriously, it's tacky.

Let us interpret the things that happen to us
Once, when we had a potential adoption not happen, a friend said to me, "Oh, so this is like a miscarriage." My mom said, "This just wasn't the baby you were meant to have." While those sentiments may have been appropriate for others, they didn't match my response to the situation at all. Being told how we should think or feel about events can be frustrating and isolating, especially when coming from people who haven't been through the adoption process. A simple, "Congratulations," or, "I'm sorry," is usually adequate. When in doubt, a sincere, "Tell me more," is a good response. Then, just listen.

Stick up for us
Sure, we can stick up for ourselves--and we will always stick up for our kids--but knowing someone else in the family has our back feels wonderful. My mom is a superstar at this. She fights for our privacy by deflecting nosy questions (contrast that to another family member who makes up reasons why my kids were placed because he apparently can't utter the words, "I don't know"). More importantly, my mom has defended our adoption decisions to family members who questioned them. Because she's fighting those battles, I don't have to.

I'm sure I've just scratched the surface. I'd like to turn it over to the rest of you. What kinds of support did you appreciate from your family members? What do you wish they had done differently?

ETA: You can find the follow-up to this post here.

September 08, 2008

It's Been One Year

We went to our adoption agency's annual picnic on Saturday (where I got to hang with some pretty cool folks).

The picnic made me go all inwardly thoughtful, remembering last year. This week is when it all began. The day before last year's picnic I answered the first of a series of phone calls that would lead to us meeting Ms B and, eventually, to Firefly. (The whole Firefly adoption story is under the category Adoption-It's a Process.) I remember chatting with other parents under the tall pine trees and secretly wondering if we'd have a baby with us the next time we gathered.

I've been through a handful of those phone calls (aka "The Call" among adoptive parents) during our two adoptions and they're always the same. Heart pounding, thoughts racing, scribbling bits of information onto the closest piece of paper. Information that later, when the descriptions have turned into real people and the people into relationships, will seem so oddly superficial. Trying to listen to the social worker and the whole time wondering, "Is this how it's going to happen?" And the moment of stillness after hanging up the phone when you realize that, in your little little corner of the world, you alone know what just occurred. It's amazing how instantly everything can change when you're adopting.

Day of Blogging for Community Organizing Justice

At the risk of exposing too much about my offline life, I'm going to tell you a little something about the people I work with.

One is a woman who grew up in a squatter community in a Southeast Asian country. When the government bulldozed her entire neighborhood, she created a joint savings program with her neighbors and together they obtained governmental permission to purchase land on which to rebuild.

One is an MIT graduate who could have had his pick of any number of jobs upon graduation. He now lives in a slum in Asia, where he has helped establish a micro-enterprise program that gives individuals trapped by economic injustice the opportunity to start small businesses.

Another couple left careers in business that earned them seven figures a year. In a Central American country they worked with their neighbors to set up a commercial center that provides the community with stable jobs and much-needed services. It is now so successful that it donates to local charities out of its profits.

Still more make their homes in the inner cities of the United States, where they partner with their neighbors to run tutoring programs, drive out destructive businesses, and prod local government agencies to bring much needed improvements. They've protested unjust housing policies and spoken up for the disenfranchised. Sometimes government officials partner with them, other times they work against them.

Instead of seeking to elevate themselves, as much as they can they do their work behind the scenes. They're ultimately trying to work themselves out of a job. Because their goal is to empower struggling neighborhoods and communities to lead themselves. They advocate for the poor among the influential and equip them to advocate for themselves.

It can be risky work. Just in the last month one of my co-workers was threatened at gunpoint by a local gang threatened by the influence of his work. Two others had their apartment secretly searched by the police. Another had to comfort and protect her young children when a man was murdered in the street outside their home. But they press on because they believe in a cause greater than themselves.

They are community organizers.

You know what? A good number of them will probably vote in November for the party who has made a political strategy out of mocking their work. And that's their choice to make. I may disagree with them on many political issues, but I have the utmost respect for them and what they do. I'm proud to call them my friends. And if any of them moves on to elective office one day, regardless of their political party, I think they will weigh every decision against its human cost and effects on the most powerless among us. Because right now they live, day in and day out, with those who are struggling.

I don't care if it's a Democrat or a Republican doing it, anyone who dismisses the work of community organizers doesn't know the first thing about true power, true justice, or true service.

September 05, 2008

Standing Up

Two weeks ago, a beloved professor from my seminary days died of colorectal cancer.

At the beginning of each term for the past several years, he would slowly enter the classroom and arrange his tired body in a chair at the front. Looking across the rows of expectant faces--his classes always filled to overflowing--he would say in a voice made raspy from treatments, "There is something I need you to know. I have an incurable disease." After a brief explanation, he would begin teaching with his characteristic passion and expertise, never mentioning it again.

Even had he not passed, I would have been thinking about him during these past couple weeks of political bickering. He was a tireless, influential advocate for the right of women to teach with authority in the Church. During his decades of advocacy, he faced unbelievable levels of hatred and vitriol from those who disagreed with him. He had an extraordinary ability to remain both civil yet unyielding in the midst of debate. Indeed, he was known for developing relationships with his ideological opponents. In an interview he once explained his secret: “You have to have a good sense of yourself in your own convictions, so that in any relationship, you never feel threatened.”

Every class he taught, every sermon he preached, every moment he was present with his family after his diagnosis in 2002 was a stand for hope in the face of life's end.

He was only 70 when died. He had years of scholarship and service left in him. Cancer took that from him. Cancer took that from us.

So I'm grateful that Hollywood, in all its glitz, is gathering to raise money for cancer research today. For my former professor. For my grandmother, a breast cancer survivor. For Judy. For Whymommy. For Lillian. For all of us who have been affected, directly or indirectly, by the disease.

September 03, 2008

A Moment Observed

On Friday we took the kids to the state fair. It was a wonderfully sunny day that we filled with with farm animals and dairy wives' ice cream and playing in the kids' zone.

At one point, we were doing who knows what with the kids (probably just trying to move from point A to point B, which inevitably requires several stops for child wrangling) when I was suddenly aware that a couple standing near us was watching us. They were close to our age, a man and a woman with wedding rings on their fingers. From the corner of my eye, I could see them staring as we interacted with the kids. The woman in particular couldn't take her eyes off of Firefly in her mei tai perch. After awhile they walked off and I chalked it up to the undeniable cuteness of my children.

A few seconds later we turned to cut through a back way so that Puppy could check out some farm equipment (tractors! combines!). There was the same couple, locked in an hug, her hands over her face and her head buried in his shoulder. He was stroking her hair as if to comfort her. As we passed by, I heard him say, "Hey. Listen. It will happen for you. It will happen for you one day."

My heart jumped into my throat. I'm sure any reader here can easily guess what sprang into my sub-fertile, adoptive parent mind. Part of me wanted to tell them that I know what it's like to be waiting and hoping. That I know what it's like to be surrounded everywhere you go by the very thing you're missing.

But I also know what it's like to have to stop reading as a favorite blog morphs from an infertility blog to a parenting blog. Or to offer sincere congratulations for a friend's long-awaited pregnancy, then have a good cry when you're finally alone. Sometimes even the people who can empathize are too much to be around when your present is now in their past.

It only took a moment for me to see them and walk by, pushing the stroller forward and leaving them behind. Maybe I was wrong and it had nothing to do with babies at all. But as we passed I was suddenly so grateful for the family I was with.

September 02, 2008

Pictures and a New Blog

There are some new pictures of the kids up at the not so secret blog.  Feel free to contact me if you want access.  I haven't turned anyone down yet.

I also started a part-review, part-things-I-think-are-nifty blog awhile back.  Don't worry, it's not part of some big business plan.  I  just enjoy swapping gift ideas and baby gear gossip in real life.  And if something is fun offline, it's twice as fun online, right?  Anyway, if you'd like to come hang out with me over there, you're more than welcome.  We can all find some good holiday gifts together.
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