September 30, 2009

Oops, God Did It Again

Probably everyone by now has heard about the inept fertility clinic which transferred another couple's embryos into a woman, forcing her to choose between becoming an unintentional gestational surrogate or terminating the pregnancy. (She chose to continue the pregnancy and the resulting baby boy was handed to his genetic parents at birth.) Just a pretty crappy situation all the way around. Most coverage I've seen agrees that (a) both families deserve a lot of sympathy and (b) the people running that clinic are idiots..

Every time I come across a headline about this mix-up, my mind jumps to adoption.  The story fits best under the category of surrogacy on a technical level, but it's impossible for me to not read it through my adoption lens, because the intention of surrogacy was never there. Relinquishing a child was the furthest thing from this couple's mind heading into this pregnancy; it was a decision forced by crisis. (The crisis here being the clinic's inexcusable mix-up.) I hear such parallels of adoption loss in the interview with the couple linked above.
[T]he Savages say that the memory of the child they gave up will always linger. 'I know that tug will be there every day wondering if the baby's happy, healthy and OK," said Carolyn.

"We want him to know that it wasn't that we didn't want him, but too many people wanted him," said Sean.
Even more, it brings to mind those who try to explain adoption to children by chalking it all up to divine/cosmic will. As if a child's time with her first parents, however short, was only an unfortunate detour on the way to her ultimate destination, the family she was actually meant to be in. Perhaps most crassly summed up by Rosie O'Donnell's infamous comment that her adopted children "grew in the wrong tummy, but God fixed that." As if convincing children (and ourselves) that we have some retroactive claim to parenthood helps make sense of the complicated fact of their relinquishment.

I suppose I hope that this example of a baby who really did end up in the "wrong tummy" can help people see how the "meant to be" narrative simply can't encompass the entirety of someone's adoption story. How little room it leaves for those adoptees who want to consider the "what-ifs" or explore what it means to them to have two families. How much it diminishes the very real contribution birth parents make to adoptees' identities--even if there is no contact and that contribution is "only" genetic. If we can recognize the fuzzy emotional lines in the Savages' situation, how much more should we see how blurred the lines are in adoption. To honor my adopted children, I have to honor all of who they are. I personally can't reconcile that with saying that they may have grown in their birth moms' uteruses, but God knew they were really mine all along. They weren't in the wrong tummies, because if they had been in any other tummies they wouldn't be the Puppy and Firefly I know and love. Their first parents weren't God's unwitting surrogates and sperm donors.

If only we could find ways to talk about adoption and the ineffable mysteries of God's will without reducing God to an incompetant fertility doctor.

September 27, 2009

EnviroMom Meatless Supper Club: Northwest Vegetarian Chili

One of my favorite online reads is EnviroMom, a blog by two Pacific Northwest women about the little and big steps they're taking to green their daily lives. On more than one occasion they've gotten me re-thinking my usual approach to something (like birthday parties).

Now EnviroMom has gathered a group of bloggers (including me!) who will post once a week for eight weeks about a meatless dinner our families ate--or, rather, whether they ate it. Todd and I have tried to do vegetarian dinners several nights a week for years now, a decision tied up in a lot of intersecting values, including living simply (sometimes out of necessity and other times out of choice) and concerns about the environmental and social impact of our diets. We've never made the jump to a full vegan or even vegetarian diet. (For mostly selfish reasons--we really, really like meat. And cheese. And eggs. And ice cream.)  But it's one small way we try to live out our beliefs.

We had a solid set of vegetarian recipes that we used. Then we realized that our daughter is allergic to cow's milk protein. And suddenly any cheesy, creamy vegetarian dish wasn't going to work for our household anymore. So now we're on a quest for kid-friendly, dairy-free, meat-free meals that also make the adults in the household happy.

This weekend we made a vegetarian chili, one we've dubbed Northwest Chili because it includes an item held in great esteem by many in these parts: beer. Also because all the veggies in it are grown around here (and are in season right now). But mostly the beer.

The results: Two big thumbs up from the adults. The beans made it very filling. It was a success with the kids, too. Our preschooler actually complimented it, unasked. We strained away the broth for the toddler; she ate everything except for the beans. (She refuses to eat most all beans, so that wasn't surprising.) Our sides were corn bread and a tossed green salad (gotta use up those CSA produce box greens!) The corn bread was probably the highlight of the meal for the kids.

The verdict: A definite keeper. Filling, fairly quick to prepare and, except for the zucchini, it uses ingredients we usually have on hand year-round. It made enough for two meals for us.

Recipe below the jump!

September 26, 2009

In Her Second Autumn

(The password-protected post below is the same as this one, but with pictures.)

Firefly is one-and-a-half years old now, nineteen months to be exact.

She started the summer as a baby and ended it as a toddler,stretching out into the body of a little girl and hurtling around with a bow-legged walk. Now that she spends most of her time on two feet, she's interacting with her world in new ways, exploring shelves and rounding corners. At the library the other day she darted down a row of books while my head was turned and set my heart racing when I couldn't see her for several seconds. (This, from the girl who cries when we so much as leave her to go upstairs at home!) She loves the flat, wide aisles of stores, where she can trot along without tripping. She stops, smiling, to jog in tight circles, her little arms flapping.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this stage with Puppy. The stretch from right about eighteen months to right around the second birthday. The new ways they start to express themselves and interact are a hoot. Just one nap to plan the day around, finally. And, good heavens, are they ever cute at this age, all bobbling giggling miniatures.

She pats my arm when we hug, her arms not long enough to pat my back the way I do hers. Sometimes at bedtime we hear her singing wordlessly to herself in her crib as she falls asleep. In the mornings she stands up and holds her blanket out to us, asking to be wrapped up for a snuggle to start her day. She loves meat, fruits, tomatoes, and all sorts of carbohydrates, but acts offended if you serve her beans of any kind.

I think what I like the most about this age is the way different parts of children's personalities start to reveal themselves. Firefly is showing a certain carefulness of spirit more and more. Not so much a cautiousness born of fear (although she certainly wants us near at all times). More about wanting to take in as much as she can of a new person or situation before she decides what she thinks. It's something that's always been a part of her, but we're seeing it being expressed in new ways. We went to the park the other night, a gorgeous September evening that had drawn several families out to the playground. She spent a long time in the middle of the playground just watching, standing impassively while the other children swirled around her in play. Finally she was ready to put herself in motion and play in her own way. I think this will always be a part of who she is in life, someone who takes the time to study and think until she is ready to engage on her own terms.

The speech therapist was here the other afternoon, over enunciating and trying to convince Firefly to work on her basic sounds. She handed her a baby doll (B-B-B-baby) and a tiny toy bottle (M-M-M-milk). Firefly pulled the baby into her lap and worked very carefully to get the bottle into its plastic mouth. She fed the baby for quite awhile, concerned when the doll would slip a little from her lap, staying focused on it long after the therapist had moved on to other things. I had never seen her play that way before, practicing what it is to think about someone other than yourself and try to meet their needs. It was nothing exceptional, just a toddler playing in an ordinary way with a cheap doll, but I felt like I was watching her decide to take another small step forward into the world.

Protected: In Her Second Autumn

September 24, 2009

September 18, 2009

What I Thought I Knew

Today Grown In My Heart is hosting a carnival on the topic "what no one told me about adoption." Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm pulling out something I wrote (and a meme at that!) way back in October of 2007, before we had even met Beth, much less Firefly. Hence the Puppy-centrism.

Four things I thought about adoption when I was a child:
  • For awhile I thought couples went into an orphanage and more or less selected a child off of a shelf. I used to play adoption agency with my friends. We'd line up all my dolls in pretty dresses, then one of us would be the adoptive parent and the other one would be the orphanage director. We even drew up little adoption contracts.
  • Because I knew all the words to the songs in "Annie," I felt I knew quite a bit about adoption. Clearly.
  • I thought adoptive children should be pitied for not having a real family and adoptive parents should be pitied for not having kids of their own.
  • I was glad I wasn't adopted.
Four things I've learned since then:
  • Movies and novels aren't the best sources of information about adoption.
  • A person's history from before they're adopted matters as much as their story after. Being adopted doesn't hit a reset button on their life.
  • There is still quite a bit of work left to be done to make adoption (both international and domestic) a more just system.
  • Adoptive families can be just as awesome as "regular" families.
Four silly things people have said to me about adoption:
  • "How did you manage to get a white baby?"
  • "You did it the right way--you got a kid and didn't have to be pregnant."
  • "It's almost like you're his real mom!"
  • "If you really cared, you would have adopted a foster kid or gotten an orphan from some poor country."
Four things that are hard about adoption:
  • Trying to act ethically inside a broken system.
  • Getting past cultural models of family, which don't really have a place for more fluid family structures like ours. Things made a lot more sense when I realized that we were a "non-traditional" family, despite our outward appearance.
  • Convincing people that open adoption isn't confusing, dangerous, or an act of charity.
  • Not knowing what Puppy is going to think about all this when he is grown.
Four ways my adopted child/placed child has surprised me (or how your adoptive/first parents have surprised you if you're an adoptee):
  • He has picked up some of our mannerisms. I had prepared myself to raise a child who was completely different than us. But he is like us in some ways and like his first family in other ways--and uniquely himself in still more ways.
  • He was white. I mean, we knew Puppy was going to be white, but we were expecting to adopt transracially.
  • He is starting to notice more about family structure than I thought he would at this age.
  • He makes parenting a lot more fun than I ever expected it to be.
Four things I wish everyone knew about adoption:
  • You don't have to be directly involved in adoption to care about adoption reform. If you care about reproductive rights, parental rights, family preservation, civil rights, poverty, racial inequality, or global inequity then you should care about adoption reform.
  • You can confront the darker stuff in adoption (loss, regret, need for reform, etc.) and still be optimistic about adoption as a whole.
  • Closed adoptions are a fairly recent invention in American history. Open adoption isn't some crazy new fringe idea.
  • All of us--adopted people, first parents, adoptive parents--represent a wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances. The stereotypes about us, both positive and negative, are pretty useless.

September 14, 2009

After the Visit

Puppy's first dad, Ray, came to stay with us for a few days at the end of August. It already feels ages away, and I hate that I haven't had space to think or write about it in the last few weeks. Trouble is, I'm a slow writer. Sloooow. Slow like honey on a cold morning. But I want to get some thoughts down before too much time passes. So I'm going to force myself to write something out in one go--forgive me if it's a little jumbled.

There are two thoughts that keep coming to mind when I think on Ray's visit. First, Puppy adores his birth daddy. Ray hangs the moon and stars as far as Puppy is concerned right now. Then he comes and more or less spends all day playing with Puppy--it's a pretty good formula for attaining rock star status in Puppy World.

The evening Ray came in, Todd and Puppy went to pick him up at the airport while I stayed home with Firefly. I heard them come through the front door, came down the stairs to see Puppy proudly pointing out the "Welcome, Ray!" poster he had made. (The "welcome" was implied, as Puppy's writing still bears a striking resemblance to squiggles.) He told Ray he wanted to show him the new swing set in the backyard, shyly touching Ray's hand and looking up at him with a face that just glowed. 

I saw their sidelong smiles at each other during meals. The way whenever someone would mention a favorite food or color or something, Puppy would turn to Ray and ask him his favorite color, food, etc., like he was collecting data on his birth daddy. Ray's hand reaching out to caress his blond hair so many times as they played. Ray is his, and he's special to him. Every affection Ray shows to him, Puppy gives back tenfold. I am grateful these positive times together will be part of Puppy's foundational memories.

The second thought, which is not exactly the opposite of the first but is certainly correlated, is that this--this adoption, this loving--is hard on Puppy.

Todd wrote about the drive back from dropping Ray off for his return flight, Puppy's tears and quiet on the way home. I could see him drawing in on himself as the trip to the airport approached that day and he knew Ray was leaving. The several days after Ray left were hard. Really hard. He fell apart at the slightest disappointment. He was short-tempered and loud and easily frustrated. I think he was full up of emotions that even people far more emotionally mature sometimes have a hard time managing. All the joy and sadness and frustration that come from being with someone important to you, then having to say goodbye all over again. Todd bore the brunt of his outbursts, by far. It is only speculation on my part, but it its hard for me to look at that and not see a little boy testing the love of one beloved daddy while missing another. (It went on for a few days, then abruptly stopped over that weekend.)

In the calmer moments, just me pushing him on the swings, he was able to say quietly, "I miss Ray."

Puppy thus far has treated most conversation about adoption in a very nonchalant, matter-of-fact way. But he does have this, these two men who both get part of his daddy love. We spout platitudes about love being multiplied, not divided; or kids having enough love for multiple grandparents, so why not love for a birth dad and an adoptive dad. It's not that those sentiments aren't true--they are, and they can help counter mis-truths about adoption. Puppy has both Todd and Ray in his life, he is creating lovely memories with both,  he will be able to tease out someday things each one passed on to him. And he loves them both so very much. But the simple, unalterable fact is that he can't have them both with him all the time. His beloved birth daddy is in his life, but he is not in his home. His family will always be a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces he has to try to make fit together--something that becomes true for all of us as we move into life as independent adults (and for kids whose families aren't intact for reasons other than adoption), but has been true for Puppy from the very beginning.  Every time a visit ends it drives that point deeper.

It's a lot for a three year old to sort through. Hell, it's a lot for an adult to sort through. As Todd and I tried to meet Puppy where he was at in those rough days right after the visit, I think I understood in some small way the adoptive parents who freak out and cut off contact. Not understood in that I agree with what they did. But if all you've been told is that successful open adoption is about love being multiplied and children growing up happy knowing how much their birth parents love them, comfortably secure in their identity as an adoptee? Then stuff like this could scare the crap out of you. I can easily envision him a few years hence, feeling the same tumult of emotion after a visit, saying to us, "I don't like seeing Ray. I don't want to go visit him anymore." I've watched so many parents throw up a wall at that point and say "That's it. Visits are over."

Discomfort isn't always bad. Healthy doesn't always mean easy. There is a disconnect at the root of all adoptions, whether they're open or not. Out of an infinite range of possibilities, this is one way Puppy is experiencing that disconnect right now. I think open adoption pushes that to the surface while also being one means of addressing or exploring it.

You will never convince me that it would be better for Ray to not be in Puppy's life right now, that avoiding the hurt afterward is a worthy trade. That night Ray arrived, it was almost as if Puppy was breathing more deeply. Open adoption gives him so much. But closeness has its own harsh edge. It's not always easy trying to wrap our arms around that as his parents.

September 06, 2009

Three Beautiful Things #15

Three beautiful things, I'm-riled-up-and-need-to-find-the-calm-still-center edition...
  1. The tiny, deliberate voice of a one-year old carefully practicing her newest word

  2. Piling with a book under a warm duvet cloud while rain falls in the dark outside

  3. Finding yourself in the middle of not one, but two lovely books
And you?

September 05, 2009

Life, In Seventeen Syllables

Universe? Last week?
When I sighed, "This life is good"?
That was not a challenge.
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