Category Archives: Open Adoption

18 Carat

18 can be a magical, mythical number for some women, like me, who chose adoption for their children. In closed, semi-closed, or unsatisfying open adoptions it’s a thread of hope that contact can be made someday, a relationship with our kids possible in the future, legally free & clear. A carrot to keep us on the path.

I know it was for me. When the Kid was a primary schooler, 18 was a beacon to get me through the long nights, an idea to clutch when I felt like I had little else. Now that I’m standing on the threshold of the Kid’s birthday (give or take a few days), I know differently.

Eighteen years was how long it took for me to come to terms with the consequences of my actions, to mourn a lost motherhood, to set free the person I was “before”, to grieve the loss of my son.

I hear my friend Paul in my head regularly “But Barbara, what did you learn? What’s the lesson here?” And for the past six months or so, I’ve been answering it honestly, consistently. It’s neither a startling revelation nor a heart-warming conclusion tied with a pretty ribbon.

False hope is worse than no hope, which is not the same as hopeless. What has served me best is an almost unrelenting pragmatism on any possible future relationship with the Kid. I say “almost” because I am a human being, after all. I expect nothing from him. This is not to say that I don’t care, as I care more than I let on, but I no longer wait on scraps of information from the Kid or his parents. It’s an exercise in continual disappointment, which is exhausting & demoralizing. It will probably never be a satisfying relationship for me, and I’ve come to accept  it. My life is littered with unsatisfying relationships – it’s familiar territory.

I chose adoption for my son because I convinced myself he deserved better than me. While I haven’t viewed his adoptive parents as “better than me” in quite a number of years, I know he has had many opportunities that I could never have financially afforded. I suspect he’s an overall good kid. So I guess I did my job as far as picking parents for the Kid, despite my relationship with them, which has bordered on adversarial at times.

There’s no Certificate of Completion for this class, no finish line, no closing ceremony. But I don’t follow the carrot. There are far more interesting paths to travel. That was the lesson.

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.

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.

Fissures

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.

It’s Almost Too Easy

The amazing Lilysea of Peter’s Cross Station (among other things) posted a tweet yesterday referring to an agency’s website & practices & how she couldn’t even begin to address what’s wrong with their information.  Because I love a good chance to mock & feel a bit righteous, I perused their site, got fired up, wrote a really long post that waffles between two main outrages and slept on them, and decided to split the issues/posts.

The agency promotes adoption as a Regret Free Decision.  Go on over.  I’ll still be here when you get return.

Mission Statement:

Our mission is to help pregnant women in Louisiana make a regret-free decision for their child and themselves. Making an adoption plan is a loving and selfless choice, one that you can feel at peace with and be proud of. It is a process.

 

Four major words any woman considering adoption wants hear: Loving, Selfless, Peace, Proud.  (I will not rail about their grammar, I will not rail against their grammar).  When everyone else may be raining hellfire, guilt & shame on a woman unexpectedly pregnant, these words are extremely seductive.  They offer redemption.

And what’s a process? What’s the nebulous “It”?  Making an adoption plan? Choosing adoption in general? Dealing with loss, grief, regret & whatever else may come down the pike?  Shit, the whole damn THING is a “process”.

But tell me, Director, tell me how I can make this “regret free decision” you claim! It sounds like magic!

When a birthmother first arrives at St. Elizabeth she’s typically confused, frightened … looking for someone to help her to make that decision and to do it in a way that gives her hope, that not only will she be able to make this choice and do it, and come out on the other side feeling good about it, but that she will have hope for the future ... (director)

We run our program around our birth mothers. We want them to be as comfortable as possible and tell us what they want and how they want things to go. Because it’s all about them (social worker)

You’re able to pick the level of openness. You’re one hundred percent responsible to decide what family you’re going to place your child with. There’s no ifs, ands or buts. We had one hundred percent say-so in that. And I thought that was amazing. (birth mother)

By promoting how vast an expectant mom’s power extends, they’re showing how In Control you can be.  How ALL CHOICES ARE YOURS! OPEN ADOPTION IS SOOOO EMPOWERING (and AMAZING).  The SW’s claim of it being “all about them” (birthmothers) made me chuckle and mutter “duh”.

But Director, tell me how you can assure my Regret Free Decision, because that’s a mighty big claim.  Apparently it’s all about EMPOWERMENT & “being a strong woman” and a “better person”.  HELL YEAH!

As they go through the process, they go through all the stages of grief, and it is absolutely amazing to see them come out the other side — stronger, more sure of themselves, relaxed, and at peace with their decision. And it’s sometimes just absolutely phenomenal to see what they do with their lives — which the really couldn’t have done, had they kept that child and had to deal with that child on a day-to-day basis.  (Staff member)

HALLELU — wait a second here. “which the really couldn’t have done, had they kept that child and had to deal with that child on a day-to-day basis”?  THAT child? THAT CHILD? “Had to deal with….”  It’s called PARENTING.  And “that child” is “her child”.  Asshats.

I haven’t met a young woman yet here who didn’t have something she wanted to be. And so our goal becomes to help them get there. Sometimes it’s as little as I want to have a driver’s license. Sometimes it’s as big as I want to have a career. And so we just try to find what she’s hopeful for. And help her to get there. (Director)

Ding Ding Ding Ding! WE HAVE A WINNER!  “And so we just try to find what she’s hopeful for. And help her get there”.  

“If you give us your baby, we’ll take you to the DMV”?.  Sounds like an even trade to me!  Look at me! I can drive now! Adoption IS AWESOME and EMPOWERING!

I truly feel for the women of Louisiana who consider this agency.  It’s implied that their birthmothers aren’t the brightest bulbs in the bunch.  And always “birthmothers”, from the word “go”.  Slap that label on from first sight & the medicine will go down a lot easier, dear.

Promises of comfort, warmth, understanding should come from the people in the expectant mom’s life, not an outside source that really only has the unborn kiddo at heart.  It’s not the birthmothers that keep agencies like this operating, it’s the fees from prospective adoptive parents.

But don’t worry your pretty pregnant little head, cherie, they also offer emotional support.

As a birth mom, you can expect to go through a complete grieving process. You’ll be indecisive, you’ll be scared. You’ll cry. You’ll change your mind. And then you’ll come back to a feeling of pride that you can do it; and the knowledge that, in making a placement plan for your child, you are being a good mother. And because you have opted to make a placement plan for this child, you can also have a beautiful future for yourself. (Staff Member)

So much to vomit, so little time.

Thank you St. TerribleAgency for tossing me these slo-pitch softballs of adoption jackassery.  On then next post I’ll be discussing Birthmother Borg.*

*The Borg are a collection of species that have turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the collective the hive, pseudo-race, dwelling in the Star Trek universe. (ref: Wikipedia)

Drones of the collective hive.  You heard it here first.

Color, Revisited

Six years ago, I wrote this blog post, titled “color”.  Just another little piece of a memory regarding a tie-dyed onesie I’d bought soon after finding out I was pregnant.  More or less.

And until a few days ago, that onesie still resided with my other “Kid birth” stuff.  I noticed it when moving around art stuff.  I shook my head at it when I picked it up.  “It’s time, you”, I muttered.

A tie-dyed romper has no business being a manifestation of my loss.  Who can possibly grieve wearing tie-dye?  The colors spread in a pattern like a flower.  It had become my touchstone of what I didn’t have, and would never have.

This is ridiculous.

My friend is ready pop with her third kiddo.  The tie-dyed onesie is going where it should, to be laughed in & pooped on & encasing a little body who’s ready to grow.  It should bring joy rather than a reminder of sorrow.

While I’m not ready to give up the other hospital bits & pieces, I can let go of these dreams unrealized.

 

The Unrecognizable

The Kid sent me a pic of himself via text yesterday. First time ever.  Wanted to show me his new haircut.

He was unrecognizable to me.

Two months ago, i picked through thousands (and I mean THOUSANDS) of photos from his chosen sports’ regional event.  The uniforms didn’t have names or recognizable symbols and I didn’t even know his team’s colors for salsa’s sake.

“Is that him?”  I’d show the screenshot to Chris.  “Do you think that’s him?”

“Maybe”, Chris said. “It’s hard to tell”.

I found him, in the very last section I checked.  It was his brother that I recognized first, and figured the Kid couldn’t be far behind.  He wasn’t.  And the pictures made me so proud, yet oddly out of sorts.  He won awards for his achievements.  Again, chest-bursting with pride, but strangely hollow.

He is my son.  He is not my son.  But he looks like me.

In a few months time, with what I imagine a wicked spot of puberty & a new haircut, I do not recognize him, even though HE sent me the photo.  I no longer see the comforting near carbon-copy of me in boy form.  It’s what I’ve always considered mine.  “At least he looks like me”.

I wouldn’t know the sound of his laughter or probably the timbre of his voice.  Parent friends/readers, can you imagine life without the sound of your child’s laughter?  I didn’t think so.

There’s no “One & Final Loss” in adoption.  Not for anyone involved.  It’s truly like the bad gift that keeps re-gifting in an office holiday exchange.  Loss comes up in new wrapping, the same ball of lead at the base of my skull.  I keep thinking I’m reaching new levels of acceptance, but with that comes new challenges rooted in loss.

Laughter.  I would love to hear the sound of his laughter.

 

2min45sec

Like I mentioned in the previous post, I was so put out by Bethany’s “birthmother day video e-cards”.  So I decided to do my own.  I twittered something about “personalized video e-cards with snark” and got a handful of requests.  Over the past two days, I’ve been creating ridiculous videos to make my “birthmother” friends laugh.  And a couple of adoptive parents.

Because they were “personalized”, everybody’s “video e-card” varied in length, topics covered, costume and soundtrack.  I wore weird teeth, hats, sunglasses, stickers. Only two people got my real voice (I think).  I dunno, it was fun.  Like focusing on doing something amusing to keep the sadness away.  I mean, when is a porcupine puppet NOT funny?

It was like getting backhanded by Thor’s hammer.  Make it into something amusing instead of just being pissed about it & a sulky bitch?  I mean, that’s my MO right there.  It was a turning point.

I feel like I’m entering a new stage in this crap, detached & resigned.  This is not how I feel about The Kid, but just how I feel about adoption in general & even the attitude toward my own situation.

But it feels good. Maybe I can finally get some things done.  I’ve been waiting.

*OHEMGEE, DID I FORGET YOU ON THE VIDEO LIST? TELL ME & I’LL RECTIFY THIS SITUATION IMMEDIATELY.

The Dreaded Second Weekend in May Post

There has been some witty banter on my twitter feed the past few days regarding “Birthmother’s Day” (the very special day BEFORE mother’s day, because heaven knows we aren’t really mothers & need our own day for relishing our decision & “healing”).

I don’t know where to start, I’m so full of hilarious disgust.

Let’s start with Bethany Christian Services & their special “video e-cards”.  Clicky Clicky.  When you care enough to send the very best, don’t think about what adoption means to you when thinking about the woman who gave you her child.  Let Bethany’s kind & tuneful e-cards do the talking.  Bottom line: thank you for giving us your kid OR thank you for giving me to others.  The tagline I see on twitter is “tell them how much you care”.  Yes, tell them with a sappy 2 minutes of dreck.

My FAVORITE find of the week was The Vessel.  A seriously pro-life & Christian site run by two birthmothers  claiming to “bring the story of the birthmother to the forefront to make the case for validity and benefits of adoption as an option for  unplanned pregnancy”.  Whew.  That’s a mighty big mission for a non profit dehumanizing women right off the bat  by calling them “vessels”.  In some banter, I told my friends I’d like to be a frigate if I was going to be a vessel.  Like seriously, sisters? Vessels?

Now that I’ve given you some links to ponder in your free time, let me get down to my take on this coming weekend.  To me, there is not one damn thing “healing” about having a separate day to celebrate my “birthmotherhood”.  It’s just another thing that keeps me from feeling like a “real” mother.  And since most of the time I don’t consider myself a “real” mother, I hate Mother’s Day with a passion.  I just want to be left alone.

I wish I still drank the Kool Aid.  I wish I could be happy & “stoked” as one Twitter-er wrote about “Birthmother’s Day”.  You know, where I’d cry a little, look through pictures that weren’t taken by or don’t include me, overload on carbs, write inspirational little notes to my other Birthmom friends.  When I would celebrate MY fabulous role in adoption. Part of me wishes I could still be like that, like the first few years.

I don’t need either day.  I know who I am.  The Kid knows who I am.  Betty knows who I am.  And so do you.

Edited to add: I’ll be creating my very special personalized Birthmother’s Day video e-cards. Let me know if you’d like one.  There is a 99% chance of snark involved.