As the summer revs it’s engine in my seaside locale, I’m fraught with anxiety. It’s been a struggle, these past few weeks, with chronic anxiety issues.  With work becoming steadily busier, a change in our household schedule, a change in dietary habits & other regular life stuff, I’ve been a little squirrely.

The other night, for instance, I went out to see some live music for the first time in years. I went after work, tentative plans to meet acquaintances. I ignored the stomach acid sloshing around as I headed down to the restaurant, talking myself into doing something social.

I took the first seat I could find, which was unfortunately in front of a mirror. After I ordered a coke, I caught my reflection across the bar: slightly disheveled, ruddy from elevated blood pressure.  A full-on panic attack loomed.

Despite my best intentions of trying to power through it by ordering food & focusing on my friends who had now started to play, it was too late. My squid arrived, beautifully plated & crispy perfection. But vaguely threatening. I felt like I was on fire.

When the bartender passed my way, I stuttered for the check. There was already $20 clutched damply in my hand.

I lasted about 20 minutes, total. It was embarrassing. I was embarrassing. I failed.  That’s how I felt that night, anyway.  I know I didn’t really fail. I made an effort over just having an intention. And that’s ok.

Routine is a big part of what keeps me on an even keel, and our lives are all about creating new routines at the moment. It’s disorienting & scary & frustrating. I spend time consciously controlling my breathing, getting through the day 30 seconds at a time.

Everything will even out eventually, I know. Three weeks, a month from now, we’ll be heading into the Full Summer Swing, where days run into each other, and this rough spot will be an anecdote over breakfast.

the floor you can’t fall below

While scrolling through my feeds one afternoon recently, I read something utterly catastrophic. One of my fellow birthmothers’ sons died unexpectedly, of an apparent suicide. Because that’s not sorrowful enough in & of itself, my friend discovered this tragedy via social media.

Let that sink in. Go on. Chew on it for a moment. The adoptive parents couldn’t be bothered to notify her that their (collective) son had died approximately a week earlier.

As the night unfolded & she posted more, including her son’s obituary, I cried on her behalf.  My friend’s adoption experience has mirrored my own in many aspects – so much that one of my first reactions to reading this incredibly sad news was “this could have been me”.

But this isn’t about me. This is about cruelty.   I could care less if the adoptive parents are ashamed or grieving. This is simple human decency. If the adoptive parents couldn’t bring themselves to contact her, surely a relative or member of the clergy could have reached out on their behalf.

Pieces of paper are legally binding, but do not dissolve our lifelong  concern & love for our children.  And while one would hope this viciousness is an isolated incident, it’s not. Anyone who’s read “birthmother blogs” for any length of time can attest to this. Admittedly, thankfully,  most often not to the degree that my friend is currently enduring.

It is unconscionable on the adoptive parents’  part, this cruelty. The perceived power struggle that closes so many adoptions or silences contact for a number of years is ultimately damaging to everyone involved.  Many birthmothers are all too familiar with the powerlessness that can be all consuming when communication ceases in  open adoption, especially when all of the “rules” have been followed.

I hope my friend can grieve, again. Eventually find peace, again. In adoption, loss & grief can be  relentless, formidable opponents even in the “best” situations.  My heart continues to break for Erica, for her younger son, for her family’s loss.


What Matters

One day he grew up. I chalk it up to another milestone that I missed.

I saw a photo, and he was unrecognizable to me.  All of the oxygen left my body in one rush and that metallic taste crept into my mouth,  my stomach went sour. Who is that kid, and what makes him tick?

We have sporadic contact, mainly texting. I have no idea  what he’s about, what inspires him, what defeats him. If I think about it long enough, ten minutes or more, it becomes an endless source of angst. Given that it’s “birthday season”, and the “off season” in my seaside locale, I find myself in this place more often. There’s a fine line between being “interested” & a creeper. A very fine line, which I try to walk respectfully & carefully.

While fairly at peace with myself, at least with the version of myself that made this decision, I’m not yet at peace with the outcome that we may never have a relationship. But it’s a reality that I need to consider.

I am reliable in my efforts, every few months, open ended questions that don’t demand any taxing emotional thought. I divulge small, inconsequential bits of personal information if the exchange warrants. My therapist taught me well.

What adoption has taught me, over these nearly 17 years, is how to wait. How to be patient beyond all personal expectations & previous experience. How to really stretch & flex those emotional endurance muscles.  The trick is how to live, actually build a life, while waiting. And there’s no chapter in the Birthmother Handbook* on that topic.

*yeah, there’s no “Birthmother Handbook” either.

To Spite Your Face

“What you think about me is none of my business”

This was first said to me about fifteen years ago as a way to get the last word in a difficult exchange. And it worked. I was stumped for something further to add to an already awkward conversation. Because it essentially cut me off at the knees, I’ve been thinking about it. For fifteen years.

I think this is a fine, reassuring statement for a child or even a teenager. A more civilized version of “I don’t care what you think about me! NYAH NYAH!” I see & hear it everywhere now. Makes me cringe.

At what point as adults should we care about what others think of us? Because I certainly DO care what you think of me and it should be my business to build & maintain a reputation of sorts: in my relationships, in my marriage, with my family, at work and even online. I value my employer’s viewpoint in my skills and weak points. It pains me when I hurt someone’s feelings. If someone is upset with me, I want to know about it, so we can fix it. Or at least talk about it and attempt to come to a mutual understanding, even if it takes some time & distance.

That quote isn’t one of self-empowerment as I see & hear it used, but of dismissal. A verbal flip of the hand. And handily enough, it absolves the quoter from responsibility, as it’s now the recipient’s problem solely.

Is it just easier to say we don’t care? Even when we do? Especially when we do? Who does it serve?
I know, I know. You’re rubber and I’m glue.

Blessed Are the Ignorant

adoption tweet


I found this gem last evening. I get this guy’s point – He & his wife are looking to adopt. I find myself caught between being fundamentally appalled at his Neanderthal approach to finding an expectant mother considering adoption for her unborn baby and laughing my fool head off because of his language. Probably the latter.

I mean, it’s a shame that he & Allison can’t just go down to the cabbage patch & pick out a shiny new infant.

While God may have “called them to adoption”, he certainly didn’t bestow on them common sense or ethics. It’s not as if there’s a Birthmother Boulevard where an expectant mom is waiting on each corner, looking to “give up her baby”.

On the flip side, part of what I find so laughable is the complete lack of guile. He’s saying exactly what he wants. He doesn’t know any different. Because he doesn’t see “birthmothers” as people.

Vaya con Dios on your “journey”, mister.


subtitle: “pre-birth matching”, “picking a family” & other subtleties with coercion in open adoption. I don’t pretend to have any answers or solutions. It’s simply an idea to consider.

It’s one of the benefits, they say. It’s one of the reasons many women, myself included, choose open adoption. You choose the family. And in doing so, while awkwardly wielding this Club of Choice & Capability, you’re unconsciously chipping away at your own sense of self.

When enough forms have been completed & a “reasonable” level of intent revealed, I got to The Books. The Books of Waiting Families. In earlier posts, I’ve made dating analogies about “picking a family” in 1997. Books full of profiles of Waiting Families (very rarely single folks, always 2 or more implying ‘family’) trying earnestly to be The One. I flipped through the books over a 2 week period.

“No, no, no, shudder, gah, maybe, no, no”

What I saw repeatedly over those two weeks were “families” who were better educated, had better jobs, nicer cars, their own home, money for vacations & ponies at their fourth birthday. Over & over & over & over. As I searched the books, sometimes arbitrarily (i.e. anyone with cutesy stationary was immediately discarded), I was reminded sneakily of what I didn’t have.

I’m wondering if “pre-birth matching”, this touted benefit to open adoption, is an emotional scam. It plays on the expectant mom’s shaky sense of self. For about five years after the Kid was born, I’d tell people (if asked) that “the Kid deserved someone better than me” or “deserved a better life”. And obviously a pony at his fourth birthday.* I had convinced myself that Betty & Barney were better because they had “more” , and must have their shit together because they passed their home study. So that’s official, right?

“Picking a family” reaches its emotional zenith at the First Meeting. Let the bonding begin! Become emotionally invested in these strangers because it’s one more reason to go through with it. Because of the intent, they’re expecting you (literally), think-how-disappointed-those-nice-people-will-be. That nice family. Maybe you start thinking of Impending Baby as “our” baby not “my”.  Say goodbye to a another little piece of your heart, babe.

You “pick them”. You become “their birthmother”. And you still have 10 weeks before your due date.

(Part One of multiple installments)

(*I know nothing of ponies at birthday parties; this is merely an example)


Digging Heels

I saw this post come through my Facebk feed a few times before I read it. Hooray! An article from The New Republic about open adoption which paints a more realistic view of “birthmotherhood”. But a few things made me cringe, and that was before I even read the comments.

The past decade has seen the rise of a broad and loose coalition of activists out to change the way adoption works in America. This coalition makes bedfellows of people who would ordinarily have nothing to do with each other: Mormon and fundamentalist women who feel they were pressured by their churches, progressives who believe adoption is a classist institution that takes the children of the young and poor and gives them to the wealthier and better-educated, and adoptive parents who have had traumatic experiences with corrupt adoption agencies.

I’m quoting the entire paragraph here to ensure my point is not made out of context. I believe adoption is very classist, but I don’t believe for a second that it’s solely marketed to the young & poor. I’m sure there are stats on this, but just ask my Jr High Math teacher: numbers just aren’t my thing. I know my experience. Most of my “birthmother friends” are white, middle to upper middle class, with families who would have been supportive (or come around to being supportive). Smart young women with uncertainty that is natural with any expectant mother, exacerbated by unpleasant & often temporary circumstances. With a volatile mix of personal doubt, work stress, financial troubles, family/religious/social/societal shame & growing a human being, there is a market for redemption. We’re told that we build families, but often at the expense of destroying our own.

While the ubiquity of open adoption—today 95 percent of all adoptions include some kind of contact between birthparents and children—is universally seen as a step forward, it can present its own challenges. Pregnant women, encouraged to choose and bond with an adoptive couple before the baby is born, often get the impression that they and the couple are going to be “kind of co-parents,” says Kathryn Joyce, the author of The Child Catchers, an expose on corruption in the adoption industry. But then, when the baby is born and relinquished, the couple closes ranks, wanting—understandably enough—to cocoon as a family. The birthmother is left feeling like, in Joyce’s words, “’you were all over me when I was pregnant, but now that you have the baby you don’t want anything to do with me.’”

Let me make this perfectly clear.  Perfectly clear. At no time, ever, before I had The Kid or after, did I believe I was or was going to be a “co-parent”. This statement infuriates me into next week, as it paints me (I can only speak for myself) like a dolt who doesn’t understand the finality of the Termination of Parental Rights. With that you invite the “that stupid woman wants it both ways! she’s not the Real Parent! the Real Parent is the one who is holding Junior’s head over the toilet at 3am! but she wants the ‘good parts’ of being a parent!“. The reality of that is ridiculous. I know who I am.

There has been a bit more progress on open adoption. Fewer than half of U.S. states regulate open adoption agreements. In the rest, openness depends on the whim of the adoptive parents, many of whom soon tire of feeling they’re sharing their child. In Mills’s case, a supposedly open adoption became “don’t call us, we’ll call you,” she says. Georgia enacted a law in May that makes open adoption contracts legally binding, meaning birthparents are guaranteed access to their children as often as their agreed-upon contracts specify. Utah passed a similar measure earlier this year, but only for children adopted from state custody.

This. Yes. But more work needs to be done. Open adoption needs to be legally binding. And you know what that amounts to in many, many cases? Pictures & a letter once a year. Once a year. How hard is it to keep that simple commitment once a year? We gave you our children, our babies, in an act of supreme trust because we believed at the core that you were better. All I ever wanted to know (at the basest level) was that The Kid was loved, having fun, growing into an exceptional human being. When I went for years without hearing a peep, it was devastating. It is unnatural to believe it would be otherwise. I’m his mother.

The only universal experience in this is loss. Each woman’s story is as different as their DNA, and there’s no right or wrong way to cut a path. Making an incredibly painful decision livable is not a time-based test. It’s about making it right for yourself in the end, however long and by whatever means.

City of Lost Shoes – Muriel

pink shoe


Muriel had been saving for this vacation for almost a decade. Nickel by nickel, stealing away a dollar here, five dollars there for nine & a half years. It would be daylight soon.

She looked in the mirror above the vanity in the hotel bathroom & sighed. If they had been like everyone else, they could have just charged the vacation to their MasterCard & worried about the payments for the next two years. But Brian didn’t believe in credit cards. They had one, a Visa, for emergencies only. And Brian kept it in his wallet, in his name.

Muriel could hear him snoring in the bedroom, the air conditioning cranked to Meat Locker Cold despite the soothing temperatures outside. He insisted on the air conditioning. Didn’t want to wake up soggy from the sea air, he grumbled the previous night.

She crept to the dresser near the bed in an exaggerated cat burglar motion that nearly made her giggle, imagining herself in a black stocking cap & cartoon villain mustache.  She froze as Brian mumbled, then farted loudly in his sleep.  Smothering laughter in the crook of her arm, she grabbed her pink slip-ons, her house shoes according to Brian, and released the deadbolt to the hotel room.

Muriel crossed the quiet beachfront avenue, the sun beginning to rise over the northeast end of the island. At the path leading down to the water’s edge, she removed the slip-ons, the house shoes, leaving them close to the tide line. The ocean was cold and dark as the first streaks of sunlight hit the horizon. She waded up to her shins, lost in thoughts she couldn’t articulate.

The water was calming, shifting the sand around her ankles, leaving her so spellbound that she never noticed the left shoe rolling out in the tidal pull.  A nearby group of seagulls tussling over a pizza crust startled her from her woolgathering. Now well entrenched in the sand at the shoreline, Muriel clumsily extracted her lower legs from the cold, wet grip. She peered around for her shoes.

With a grunt, Muriel slid her foot into the right shoe, the sand chafing her skin. She stood there mindlessly for a moment, a woman on the beach at dawn in one shoe. Brian would be angry that she lost a shoe, because everything in this town was “too damn expensive” and now they’d have to skip lunch so she could buy a pair of cheap rubber sandals. She could hear him clearly, his endless needling, blaming, whining over the generous continental breakfast the hotel provided with their stay.

Muriel removed the shoe, leaving it at the water’s edge, hoping it would go out with the tide like the other.  Like how she herself would like to be swept out in the current.

Parting Gifts

As living, breathing humans we are energy. When we die, the energy changes. Doesn’t dissipate, but moves.  The past year has taught me that lesson in spades. With the loss of beloved teacher, friend & all around good guy Paul Mathis, I was afraid that the hollow pit in my psyche would open up & swallow me whole, like a snake that can unhinge its jaw to envelop prey. And haven’t I been pleasantly surprised?  It’s been just the opposite.

I’ve been introduced to some wonderful, creative people as a result of this loss. People who inspire me, who tap into that thing that makes me tick, who encourage me to laugh. Some of these are not new introductions, but a reawakening of friendships that have fresh life, fresh energy, fresh forces at work. In both cases, I am incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon these folks at the right moments, when all planetary alignments are in my favor.

With a full rush of creative ideas & opportunities, I’m looking happily into the next year. While never the religious sort, Ecclesiastes 3 has been banging around in the back of my head for several weeks now:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace

It’s time to build, to laugh, to dance, to speak, to heal, to plant. It’s time that I put my talents to use. The loss of  many family & friends this year has provided the impetus for change. Thank salsa for the stardust & merde.

If Not For You

He had the uncanny ability to find that thing, that spark that made us tick & extract it. Most of the time we didn’t even know that such a spark existed, that we were harboring a gift, a talent, a light that could change us.  I can hear him from the peanut gallery, bellowing as he crossed the aisles, “You can DO this Barbara! TAKE THE RISK!”.

Take the risk. Famous words of Paul Mathis.

While he gave us R. Buckminster Fuller & Hunter S. Thompson, Aristophanes & Wagner (and Wagner’s daughter Friedelind by default), Joseph Campbell and his Power of Myth, the Song of Roland & the Who’s “Tommy”, he gave us gifts much more impressive — belief in ourselves & each other. He taught us to trust ourselves, our talents and maybe even our dreams. Even 20+ years after leaving his classroom & theater, he encouraged me to constantly take risks with my skills.

My FB timeline is awash with other former students feeling the same grief upon learning of his death. As my friend Aimee said “I am but one in a chorus“. While incredibly sad, I’m also incredibly hopeful. My friend Jimmy sent me message that reads in part, “We have known so many great and interesting people. People that it is worth being a part of their legacy. What people like Paul leave behind are people like us!!! And THAT my friend, is FUCKING AWESOME!!!” And Jimmy is right.

We are all part of Paul Mathis’ legacy. Every kid who passed through his doors in one way, shape or form. Knowing that one man can affect & shape so many lives in such positive ways gives me hope. And I can hear him in the peanut gallery bellowing “YES YES YES!” I bet you can as well.

Paul James Mathis October 30, 1951- June 17, 2013

in his natural element
in his natural element

photo used with permission from Terri Wolak-Cannell