A Month of Anniversaries

I love anniversaries. The happy ones, the sad ones, the ones I wouldn’t remember if it weren’t for Facebook’s “On This Day” feature. Anniversaries provide an opportunity to stop, reflect and celebrate. I try to appreciate what I have, where I’ve been, and spend a few minutes dreaming about what’s to come.

Every year as our daughter’s birthday approaches I take time to remember the events that unfolded in the month before she was born. We had waited over a year for our family to be chosen by a birthmother, and by the time our daughter’s birthparents were introduced to us, we only had a few weeks to prepare.

I think about the morning I decided to click through my junk folder instead of automatically deleting everything. If I’d followed my normal routine I never would have seen the adoption agency email about a couple expecting a baby girl. I think about how we sat at a table in a 24-hour restaurant a week later trying to get to know the people who would make us parents. And I think about the Saturday I let our four year old help me paint the nursery. (It turned out he and I made quite an efficient painting crew.)

And I remember struggling to put her crib together, on what turned out to be the night before her birthmother went in to labor. I wanted our daughter’s nursery to be ready and waiting for her when we brought her home.

So now every year as the days lengthen and the weather warms I celebrate the anniversary of those four short weeks before we finally met our daughter. And every year these events are a reminder of the thousands of decisions that had to align for the baby girl with big blue eyes to become our daughter.

Open Adoption -Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Eight years ago, faced with secondary infertility, we decided to adopt a child. After hours of research, we chose open adoption.

We learned a lot through the over year-long rollercoaster ride of adoption. And holding our newborn daughter in my arms I felt the euphoria of a dream realized and knew there was another woman beginning to deal with a tremendous loss.

As I read Amy Seek’s piece Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math in the New York Times this week I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my cheeks.

In rapid succession I relived eight years of experiences in the ten minutes it took to read the article. I lingered over some sentences, letting their meaning sink in and thinking about how those key lines related to our experience of open adoption.

Seek’s description of herself, a near Xerox copy of the birthmother I had dreamed up while we waited to be chosen, is very different from the woman who gave birth to our daughter.

Seek writes about the ‘exceptional commitment’ it takes the adoptive family to keep the adoption open. I don’t know if it was her intent, the bias I bring based on our experience or a little bit of both, but I cringed as I read and reread that sentence.

In my experience, it takes ‘exceptional commitment’ from the adoptive family as well as the birthparents to make an open adoption work. And in our case, no matter how hard any of us tried, parts of the relationship between our daughter and her birthparents had to be closed.

We still talk to our daughter about her birthparents. We openly and honestly answer her questions. We send pictures a few times a year to her birthparents so they can see how she’s growing and glimpse the person she’s becoming.

When we decided on open adoption, we thought we would have the opportunity to build a relationship with our child’s birthmother very similar to the one Seek describes. After reading the article, I find myself once again grieving for the experiences we will never have. And I grieve for my daughter, that she can’t go for walks in the woods with her birthmother and enjoy time alone with her.

I often wonder about our daughter’s experience of life and family. I wish I could crawl inside her head to see and feel the world as she does. I want to understand. I want to anticipate her questions so I can be ready with answers. And I want to know when the time is right to re-open what we had to close, so she has the opportunity to build a relationship with her birthmother.

Seek is right, there is no simple math in open adoption. There are simply too many variables. There is no way of knowing what the relationships between the birth and adoptive family members will be like. But there’s one thing for certain, there are many people who love the child at the center of the relationships that open adoption creates.

Ten Things I Wish I Knew About Open Adoption 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the open adoption rollercoaster. Strap in, hold on, and the ride will stop … sometime. Eight years ago, after a battle with secondary infertility and hours of Googling, we decided to pursue an open adoption. Looking back, even with hours of research, there are a few things I wish I would have known to smooth out some of the jolts, twists, and turns the ride brought with it.

#10 – You might want to quit.

The adoption process is long, emotional, and difficult to handle. There are multiple phases to the process and all are stressful. Your emotions will run high and you’ll lose patience from time to time. There will likely be moments you just want to give up and say “Screw it, my life is fine the way it is.” It’s understandable, don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a deep breath and hang in.

#9 – It isn’t always about your child.

Agencies want to make matches and finalize adoptions, so they may put the needs of the birth parents ahead of the needs of the child. It’s your job as the parent to put your child’s needs first.

#8 – Your family tree can explode with new growth.

It’s not only a birth mother you may be adding to your life, you could also fold in the birth father, and members of both of their families. Understanding the expectations of all these new people can be challenging. But remember, you have one thing in common, you love the child that’s becoming part of your family.

#7 – Not everyone is fit for a fully open adoption.

Open adoption means information is exchanged between birth parents and adoptive parents. Contact and information sharing may occur before and after the child is with their forever family. But not all birth parents are well-suited for open adoption. Those with cognitive, addictive, or personality disorders may have a difficult time understanding the boundaries of open adoption and may struggle greatly. And unfortunately, not all agencies screen out these birth parents. Openness and contact should be based on the individuals involved in each adoption.

#6 – Words will fail you.

We don’t have good words for the relationships created through open adoption and the adjectives can get lengthy. “Oh, she’s her birth mother’s uncle’s first wife.” And words will fail other people too, you’re bound to be asked about your child’s “real mom” more than once.

#5 – Theres no such thing as typical.

Everybody’s different, and therefore every birth parent/adoptive parent/adoptee relationship is unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all open adoption arrangement so tread carefully if anyone tries to convince you there is.

#4 – Don’t assume! Ask about the birth parents’ expectations early and often.

You need to know what the birth parents are thinking, what access and information they expect, and what role they see themselves having in the child’s life. Don’t just rely on your agency to give you the answers, ask the birth parents, listen to what they say, and follow-up if something doesn’t feel right to you.

#3 – Be honest about your boundaries from the beginning.

Talk to your agency about your expectations for the relationship you’ll have with your child’s birth parents. Then do your best to communicate openly with your child’s birth parents about the information you are willing to share and how often you’re willing to share it.

#2 – Be direct about the help you need.

Many of the challenges of open adoption involve deeply emotional issues, be kind, but direct. Be explicit with your agency, family or friends about what you need from them. If you have a problem you’re trying to solve, be clear about what you’re trying to achieve.

#1 – It’s scary as hell.

You decided to pursue open adoption because you want the best for your child and have love to give. Giving away your heart is scary and I won’t lie, you might get it broken one time, or ten, in the process. But believe me it’s worth it and your heart will heal.

The scary, wild roller coaster ride of open adoption was long and left us a little sore, but it was worth every single moment. Throughout the process, I worried there would always be a metaphorical asterisk next to my child because I was unable to birth her, as if the fact we adopted would matter. My love for her is true, deep, and everlasting. And there is no asterisk.

Oh s#@t! – A Six Year Old’s Attempt at Verbal Shock and Awe

“Oh crap!” our daughter declared as she walked through the front door after school and dropped her backpack next to the dining room table. “I forgot my lunchbox at school. Harrumph!”

“Well hello to you kiddo,” I said looking up and trying not to laugh. It was so hard to keep a straight face; her tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language were just the perfect balance of drama and genuine feeling.

“Oh kah-rapppppp,” she said as her eyes widened before she slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. “I guess I’m just gonna need to bring my lunch in a paper bag tomorrow. Dammit.”

The dammit came out in a barely audible whisper as she tried to steal a look in my direction. I saw the gears turning in her head as she hoped for a reaction.

“Whoa there sister,” I said raising my voice slightly as our eyes met. “You know better than to talk like that.” I paused to take a breath, barely able to hold back my laughter that suddenly stemmed more from shock than humor. “How about, darn I forgot my lunchbox? or Oh man, I forgot my lunch box.”

Just as I finished providing the alternative language, my husband entered the house.

“You are so lucky young lady that your mother didn’t hear what you just said. If she heard you she would be very upset. That language is NOT appropriate.” He stood directly in front of her, brows knitted together, his hands on his hips.

I looked at my husband in shock and confusion. His reaction seemed like an eight on the 10 point parenting scale. She only said crap and dammit … and I almost laughed … and how in the heck did you hear her, I thought.

“What’s up?” I asked totally bewildered and feeling guilty for finding such humor in the last 30 seconds. “What’d I miss?”

“I dunno,” our daughter said as she shrugged and walked out of the room the model of six year old innocence.

“I was grabbing something from the back of the car as she walked in the house. Didn’t you hear what she said?”

“Um, no,” I said raising my eyebrows at him curious as to what I missed.

“Her hand slipped on the doorknob and when it swung toward her she said “friggin’ door!”

“Ooooh, I seeee….” I let my voice trail off. That was something all together different. Although still a tiny bit funny. I tried hard not to smile, even a little bit.

In truth, if anyone else heard the crap, jerk, dammit, and friggin’ that we’d heard lately I would be embarrassed at the evidence of my obvious mothering failures. Although, admittedly the feelings of failure would be tempered by the knowledge that this was just another example of our daughter testing the boundaries and trying to get a reaction. How do you know the limits if you never bump up against them, right?

We’d been through a similar shock and awe campaign five years ago with our son. He too tested the limits of language, mostly in front of us, but from time to time when friends or family were around. We all survived and at almost 11 he isn’t foul mouthed, well, not that often anyway.

So bring it on Sister. Show me what you got. Test my self control. I’ll correct you, give you alternatives, and wait to laugh until you leave the room.

One Big Goal – One Step Closer to Completion

Last year, as I sat on the beach in Maui building a sand castle with my then five year old daughter, my husband and nine year old son snorkeling nearby, I decided to go after a goal I’d set three decades earlier.

Thirty years before, after learning S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders while still in high school, I decided I wanted to write a book. At the time I figured I had five or six years to pen my first novel and get it published. (I was ten and figured I could have it finished by the time I was 15 or 16.)

I had a three month summer vacation to fill, an active imagination, and loved the way writing made me feel. I also yearned for the attention a top selling novel would bring. So I grabbed a handful of notebook paper and a pencil, sat down at my small wooden desk, and began writing the next great young adult novel. I wrote five or six pages before I ran out of storyline, lost interest, and was distracted by riding my bike around the neighborhood with my friends.

Over the years I’ve kept journals, continuing to enjoy the relaxation and clarity writing brought. The desire to get my writing published never went away. Although my desire for fame did.

I want to achieve three things by publishing my memoir, The Making of a Mom:
1. Show my kids that with dedication and effort a goal can be achieved (even if it takes a long time).
2. Help someone on an adoption journey know they aren’t alone.
3. Hold a copy of my book in my hands as proof I can do whatever I set my mind to.

After a year of hard work, perseverance, and a few tears, the first draft is done. I wrote 159,876 words filling 473 pages. As a result, I gained both a better understanding of my journey and a greater appreciation for the life I’ve built. I also have more desire than ever to see this goal through to the end.

As I begin to refine the thousands of words and further shape the story, nobody is more surprised than I am that I’ve been able to see my goal through to this point. So hopefully I’ll keep my eye on the prize, maintain momentum, and by this time next year, be a published author.

Remembering My Own Advice

I enjoyed a busy week away from work. A staycation filled with trips to the pool to watch our kids’ in swim lessons, followed by an hour splashing around during open swim. Rhys and I had a Mommy-Daughter date and went to get pedicures while Theo enjoyed golfing with the Husband. On Friday we went to the movies as a family. The days sped by and I can’t believe I head back to work tomorrow.

The kids made great progress through the week with their swimming. Theo’s challenge was getting comfortable with his face in the water and not holding his nose when he jumps into the pool. Rhys worked on trusting herself and staying relaxed in the water.

The pep talks I gave before each lesson included “You can do this!” and “Show me your power.” and “You are brave and strong. Show me what you’ve got!”

Friday was the last day of the first session of swim lessons. Over the two weeks both kids’ confidence grew, they learned a lot, and made significant progress. Rhys can successfully back float and Theo’s breath stroke now includes a little time with his face in the water between strokes.

Most important of all, they both showed me how brave they were as the jumped off the blocks into the pool on the final day. And on a couple jumps neither of them held their nose, trusting themselves.

When I head back to work tomorrow, I need to remember to take my own advice. It’s going to be a busy couple of months as we work to deliver a few new programs. I am brave, I am strong, and I can do it!

P.S. Thanks for reminding me kiddos and I’ll miss spending time with you at the pool!

Remembering the Night You Were Born

The chapter I’m writing this week is about the night my daughter was born. It was the first time I ever stayed awake more than 24 hours. It was scary, joyous and magical all at the same time.

As I wrote about that night, that spilled into morning, my heart began to race and my palms began to sweat. I was transported back to the darkened delivery room, standing next to my daughter’s birth mother, doing my best to give her the support she needed.

A confusing mix of emotions rolled over me and then receded like ocean waves.

I was excited. I couldn’t wait to meet our daughter, hold her in my arms and wonder at the miracle of her.

I was sad. My heart was breaking for her birth mother who had nurtured her for nine months and was also waiting to meet her.

I was scared. Would the delivery go well? What would the days ahead hold for us? Would her birth parents change their minds?

I was filled with love. A new life was entering the world. There were so many people waiting to meet her, so many waiting to announce her birth.

About eight in the morning my daughter finally arrived. Her birth parents and birthmom’s parents there to greet her. My dad joined my husband and I in welcoming our newest family member.

At the end of those long, emotionally intense hours I held my daughter in my arms. The mixture of emotions all receded and I was left feeling only love and awe.

My beautiful baby had finally arrived and our family was complete.