November 19, 2011

Why I Do This, Part Two

This probably won't make much sense unless you've read part one

So when we last left off, Eddie was a wee babe and I was faking it in the hopes I would one day make it in our open adoption with his birth families. I was confident open adoption was best for Eddie and sure that the internal struggles I was having with it were all because I was a horrible person. I was bound and determined to make this best damn open adoption ever, no matter how much I had to pretend that everything was happy and wonderful.

(This never would have worked, by the way. Kids can see through their parents' false emotional fronts like they have x-ray vision. And in the end I would have emotionally closed myself off to his first parents, which would have tanked the whole thing.)

Then at some point I found people writing about adoption online. There weren't many of them back then. It was an accident--a click off a click off a completely unrelated blog. For the first time I heard other adoptive moms expressing some of my deepest joys and sorrows about adoption and fertility, some of them things I hadn't even been able to put into words before. I read about open adoption from the perspective of first moms. From adopted adults I got insight about what it was like to live as an adoptee in a non-adoption world. Some of it made me feel defensive. But I kept coming back, because something told me the things that made me defensive were probably the things on which I needed to dwell.

Back then I especially needed to hear from adoptive parents who ahead of where I was emotionally and philosophically in this open adoption gig to help me get out of my stuck place. They weren't afraid of the things I was afraid of, like Eddie's first parents ever expressing regret or Eddie ever being sad about adoption (because, remember, I had been taught open adoption prevented those things). And they challenged me to see how being a confident adoptive parent meant opening myself up to the reality that I shared parenthood with my child's birth parents, that it was my job to make space for him to explore in whatever ways he needed what it meant to be a child of two grafted family trees. I was trying to stuff us into the box of "totally normal nuclear family, nothing out of the ordinary, just with some extra players" when we weren't that at all. We were an adoptive family--something equally valid, equally whole, but different.

It wasn't an overnight thing. Sometimes I'd click away from a blog, angry. Sometimes I'd read something brilliant that made everything shift into place and wonder why our pre-adoption training had been so shallow. But dealing with the fear and dealing with my narrow definitions of motherhood that weren’t going to work in adoption finally allowed me to relax in our adoption and embrace my adoptive parent role. It made all the difference for me.

The support I found online wasn't just philosophical, but also practical. It was my only window into what other open adoptions looked like, because I didn't witness any in a day-to-day way in my offline life. One small example: as I read posts from first moms writing about visits with their children, I noticed that a lot of them mentioned wishing they had time alone together, or how significant it was if they did get that time. We started looking for ways to build that into our visits, even if it was just finding an excuse to go to another part of the house when Eddie was a baby. It was something that had not even crossed my mind at that point, but hearing from another's perspective changed how we thought about our visits.

I owe a great debt to adoptive mothers like Karen, Dawn, AbebechAfrIndie MumLilysea; first moms like KateriPoor_Statue, Paragraphein, Claud; and adopted adults like Theresa, Mia, AddieHarlow's Monkey. My family is stronger because of the time and effort they put into writing online those many years ago.

But beyond changing my headspace, I needed peers. I needed "adoption friends," not just writers I admired from afar. That actually took much longer to develop. For a long time, years really, I was a lurker, only reading blogs without commenting or writing myself. (Which is fine, I embrace lurkers! You are more than welcome here.) I was getting a lot out of reading in the online adoption world, but it wasn't helping me feel less isolated in tough moments. I read posts like this one when I found myself sobbing in the bedroom during a weekend with Eddie's first mom and just want to reach back in time and give myself a giant hug. I mean, listen to me:
If I were someone else, I would tell me not to be embarrassed. It was where my heart was at at the time, and I needed to deal with it so it wouldn't affect my actions toward K. But I need to figure out some way to honor those feelings and work through them in a way that doesn't leave me feeling so isolated. More than anything this weekend I wanted a peer I could call who would tell me, "I've felt that way, too. It's ok. You're doing fine." Or tell me to get over myself if that's what I needed. The point is I wanted to know there was someone who had been there before me. ... I read stories of so many adoptive parents who express nothing but joy over their relationships with their children's first parents. They make me happy. They also make me wonder what is wrong that sometimes this is all incredibly draining for me? 
I've been hesitating over this post, not wanting to look like a self-centered tool. I can't seem to wrangle the words to express what I am trying to say. But I want to put it out there so that if someone else has found herself there she can know that she isn't alone.
I had been blogging in earnest probably eight months or so at that point. It was 2007. That might have been one of the first times I was really vulnerable about what I was feeling; you can see how hesitant I am, how much I qualify everything. And if you look at the comments on that long-ago post, people showed up and showed me that I wasn't alone. Some of them told me they had felt similar things (and some of those surprised me, because they were ones I thought felt nothing but joy). It was a turning point for me, the beginnings of my online community, people I could email (or Tweet or chat with) about challenges. And ever since then I've been able to move through our open adoptions knowing that whatever comes our way, people have my back. I'm not alone.

Part three coming on Monday

1 comment:

Mama C/Catherine said...

I am really appreciating this historically rooted reflection. I am on the cusp of some big shifts--and the interview project and your words here are really helping. I agree that the PEERS are so critical. And, I have so few of them in real time, it is such a struggle often.

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