Monday, November 3, 2014

Some Thoughts on Why I Chose Adoption

November is National Adoption Month. Yes, again. I swear it was just National Adoption Month like a week ago but you know how these things sneak up on you. I mean, here we are, already a full month into Pudding Season and it barely feels like a day. But I digress.

I had this wild idea on November 1st that I was going to post every single day this month, just like I did that one year. Then I laughed at myself, because if my ADD has reached the point it has where being paid isn't motivation enough to get work done at work, I sure as shoelaces don't have the brainpower to post thirty times this month, particularly when I haven't even managed to post once a month this year.

I think that sentence made sense. Also I don't know if "sure as shoelaces" is a thing but the phrase that came to mind included a word that, while it begins with the same "sh" sound as "shoelaces," is not one I have ever used on this blog before to the best of my knowledge because my mother raised me better than that.

Of course I'm sure she also thought she raised me better than to have a baby with a guy I met on MySpace, but there you are. Roo got here how she got here and she's my favorite, so ... you know.

I'm just full of asides today. Positively bloated with them in fact. Sorry.

I turned 31 last month. It was a much more low-key celebration than 30 last year. My mother took me out to lunch, and I had dinner with some friends. My favorite part of the day is the time I spent with Roo and her family at a park. I took off my shoes and ran - "ran" - around the playground with Roo and her sister. We pretended we were some sort of fairies from a cartoon both of them seemed familiar with but that I had never heard of. It was great fun.

I let the girls lead me on a long walk to the far corner of the park and back (I think we were meant to be on some sort of fairy rescue mission) and on our loop around to the playground I ended up walking next to Roo.

As a general rule I've never seen any notable physical similarities between me and Roo. She is a tiny, adorable girl clone of H. Her eyes are a different color but the shape and poetic depth match his - I always thought his eyes held galaxies. It sounds almost unbearably saccharine to say that I got lost in his eyes but it's the truth. Roo's eyes have that same sort of dreamy quality. She inherited H's ridiculously long, dark eyelashes, too. I wish that H and I had gotten along as well as our genes did. Roo is excellent work.

As I said, I don't see much of myself in Roo at all but I had this moment walking next to her, when I realized she was walking fast like I do, when I wondered if a casual observer would have spotted any similarities in our strides - or our ear shapes, or our postures, or our hands. Would Roo look like she were mine if someone didn't know any better?

I don't need her to. I don't necessarily want her to. I just wondered. Because as we walked it hit me, the magnitude of what I did when I created life. Here was this perfectly formed person, a complete and unique entity. A life. A whole human, complete with hopes and dreams and a sense of humor, and I made her from scratch.

I say this not to wound any of you but because it was a vaguely terrifying thought. I had no idea what I was doing when I got pregnant, I really didn't. These teenage girls who think they're just having babies - they have no idea, either. Babies grow up. One minute you're going to the doctor to hear a heartbeat for the first time, the next minute you're pushing a five-year-old on a swing and watching her point her toes as she tells you you're not pushing hard enough. "I want to go higher," she'll insist, and it will hit you that this is only a fraction of what she wants, and then you'll begin to understand the enormity of what you undertook when you created life.*

This is why I chose adoption for Roo. Because I knew I could give a baby what she needed but, as the saying goes, babies don't keep. People who tried to talk me out of adoption insisted that today's parenting magazines and websites were misleading me - babies don't need much, and they need love most of all. I won't argue that. But babies grow up. Toddlers need more than babies, and grade-schoolers need more than toddlers, and then they become adolescents, and then, heaven help us, teenagers, and the older they get the more they need - not just temporally but emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.

I knew that I could provide everything that a baby needed. But I also knew that my baby would grow fast, and I knew that my ability to provide wasn't going to grow proportionately. I didn't want Roo to struggle or suffer while I tried to figure out how to make it work. She deserves better than that. I wanted more for her than that.

As I walked next to her, this perfect little person with dirty feet and a messy ponytail and a few blades of grass stuck to her leg, I had the thought that this was one of those rare, beautiful, perfect snippets in the space-time continuum. It was a beautiful day, warm for October, with an overabundance of bright sunshine and fresh air. I was walking across a field of slightly prickly crabgrass, matching strides with my favorite person in the whole world, and we were both very happy.

If I had to choose a single moment to live over and over again, I would have a hard time picking just one but this moment on my birthday would be a top contender. It was maybe twenty or thirty seconds from start to finish but for that short stretch of time absolutely everything in the world felt okay. I haven't felt that in a long time. It was glorious.

If I were Roo's mother** I am sure that I would enjoy countless such moments. I would. Roo and I would have great fun. But our lives would be so, so difficult. Those moments would be a sharp contrast to the constant struggle to stay above water. I could have done it. I could have kept her and been her mother and somehow made it all work.

But this is so much better - the way things are, I mean. Whatever else happens in her life, Roo got the best possible start. She's got the very best parents who love each other so much, and who love her and her siblings deeply and forever. Roo is confident and secure and well-adjusted and kind and buoyant and about six hundred other adjectives that I can't even use to describe myself at thirty-one. Adoption was the best choice I could have made. Roo herself is the proof.

I get uncomfortable when people try to pretty up what it means to be a birth mom or turn the choice to place into some kind of fairy tale. There can be so much beauty in adoption, but there is always pain. No woman sets out to become a birth mother. I don't think it's the first choice for very many women. It's beautiful and it hurts.

I am not brave or selfless or an angel or a saint. I'm not extraordinarily strong. I'm not a hero. I'm a bundle of flaws and good intentions and fleeting hope and once upon a time I fell irrevocably in love with this small person and every single day I was her mother she broke my heart because I knew she wasn't going to be my daughter forever and it terrified me. But I always knew.

I don't know if I've ever said that before on this blog, but there it is. I knew the second I first saw her tiny body in an ultrasound that my baby wasn't mine. When I was settled into a hospital room to recover from my c-section I looked up into the doorway every few minutes for at least four hours, waiting for someone to come in. I didn't know what they looked like then but I was watching for Roo's parents.

When I saw their picture for the first time, I knew. I saw their firstborn in their picture and I thought, that's Roo's sister. I saw P and M, and I thought Oh, there you are. And it scared me.

Adoption is scary. It's one of the scariest things I've ever done. But it's also my favorite thing I've ever done; it's the thing I am most proud of. It's brought me the most joy.

That flawless moment walking next to Roo at the park didn't fill me with any kind of desperate longing for her to be mine. There was no sadness that the fantastic little girl matching my steps isn't mine. I was happy because she was happy, and she was happy because she has a happy life. Not a perfect one, but a happy one. She bounces back quickly when things don't go her way. She notices the lovely little things in the world and they fill her with joy. She looks around and sees possibilities. She dreams.

That's what it's about, isn't it? Everything else is just filler.

I want to be like Roo when I grow up.

*I posted a picture of my three-year-old self on Instagram last week and when my mother saw it she said, "That's my baby," and she had this look on her face as though she were blindsided that that baby had just turned 31 - as though I had just been three and she couldn't quite account for the passage of time.

**Please don't comment and argue that I'm still her mother. Please just don't.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Some Thoughts on Adoption, Five Years Post-Placement

Greetings, Blogland! I haven’t blogged in pretty much forever, which is weird. I used to blog so much in the early days after placement and it seems kind of weird now that blogging was such an integral part of my life. It’s not even something I think much about anymore, which is good. I mean, if I do stop to think about it, my brain kicks into overdrive and I end up with thirty drafts of new blog posts, so it’s probably just as well.

I'm trying to be less of a perfectionist so I'm blogging today even though I feel that my thoughts are disorganized and not particularly pretty and I don't even want to read them for proofreading purposes. Allow me to apologize in advance for the scattered messiness that will follow. I probably should have taken a Ritalin. Thank you for reading and I'll try to disguise my ADD better next time.

Roo is five, you guys! Holy cow. She started kindergarten and is doing so, so well. M had her call me to tell me about her first day. Roo was really excited about lunch and recess, and a few weeks ago M told me that Roo has memorized all of her vocabulary words for the year and then some. She is pretty much the cleverest kid ever and I am very proud of her.

I got to hang out with her a few days after her birthday and we had so much fun. She is very imaginative and very chatty and happy and easygoing. I was such an anxious child; one of my fears for Roo was that she would inherit my worry (I worry about worry). But she is SO not anxious. Every good thing about her I credit to her amazing parents. I don’t want to start a nature-vs-nurture debate but I know what I was like as a kid – I was born worried – and I feel confident that Roo is the way she is because of the way she’s being raised.

I love that she has the parents she does. I didn’t know how awesome they were when I picked them but I couldn’t possibly have chosen any better. I’m probably making myself a target here but adoption has been the best thing on earth for Roo and so I count it as the best thing on earth for me. I know that mine is a best-case scenario and that tons and tons of birth moms and adoptive couples aren’t so lucky. Every day that I spend any time at all on the internet I am reminded of that.

Roo is doing very well. I, on the other hand, have what I will euphemistically refer to as “things going on.” I feel happier now than I have in a while but pretty much the first nine months of my 31st year were rough. I was attacked by a feral pack of feelings and I had difficulty in fending them off. I still have problems with them at times but I am making progress in that area. Being an adult human female is hard sometimes.

A few weeks ago was my five-year placement anniversary. It was such a non-issue, you guys, you wouldn't even believe it. M texted me and we had a lovely conversation that way but most of my feelings on the 9th were about my dad because I’ve been missing him like crazy lately. Five years is a pretty good chunk of time for a birth mom, I think, and I thought that maybe I ought to write about my feelings about adoption these days. As I said before I think Roo’s adoption was the best thing in the world. But other than that, you know what? I don’t think about adoption that much. I just don’t.

I know a lot of birth moms who feel this lifelong connection to adoption. Many of them are in school for social work. Many of them spend a lot of their own time and money and a lot of effort in assisting expectant and birth parents, and I respect them so much for it. I’m just not one of them. I still talk at high schools on occasion but I don’t feel this deep need to make an adoption my life’s work. My inner 10-year-old wants to be a writer, thankyouverymuch, and and while adoption is a part of me because Roo is, my feelings are for her and her adoption, not every adoption and every person involved in adoption. I don’t feel the need to connect to a greater sisterhood of birth moms. It's not what I need at this point in my life. I have dear friends who are birth mothers but the ones I'm closest to get me on a level that has nothing to do with adoption and everything to do with who we are as human beings.

I don’t think that being a birth mom is the most interesting thing about me and I don’t want it to define me. I don't like a lot of what I see various adoption communities becoming on the internet. I don’t like the way that there’s this us-vs-them division between birth and adoptive parents, I don’t like the way birth moms get idolized or vilified or any of that. A birth mom was a fleshed-out person before she placed, and placement doesn’t change that about her. There’s good and bad in all of us and I’ve been beating back the “hero” label for years because I’m not a hero, I’m the 0.10 % who got pregnant on the pill, who carried and delivered a little girl she loved more than life itself, a little girl she loved enough to give a better life, even though it wasn’t with her. 

Blah. I'm probably making enemies left and right here, aren't I? It's not that I object to there being this greater adoption community, or that I don't think people should let it be their life's work. It's just not *my* life's work.

Five years post-placement, I don't think about adoption much at all. I think about Roo, who happens to have been adopted, but that does very well for me for now.

She really is the most fantastic little kid and I feel privileged to get to watch her grow up and spend time with her. She saved me. I don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn't gotten pregnant when I did. I don't like to think about it. But I've had to lately. I've gotten myself into a few messes lately and wondered what's going to save me this time. I felt for a few months this year that perhaps nothing would; that I was finally just going to self-destruct.

But one of the things that I have come to realize about myself during this difficult year is that for as much of an emotional train wreck as I am there is some part of me that refuses to give up. There is some part of me that made myself get up every morning and go to work and smile when people said hello to me and continue to exercise most days even though all I wanted to do was sleep for the next five years until my current problems work themselves out.

I didn't used to have that inside of me. I know that I didn't because nine years ago when I started therapy it took very little to break me into pieces. 22-year-old Jill would have cracked starting last November, with almost no provocation. I am profoundly grateful for this strength I've found, and I do believe that it grew from placement.

I've wasted a lot of bandwidth comparing the death of my father to the placement of my daughter. My general conclusion is that my father's death was harder because I still can't make it okay, because I don't see any good that came of it. I haven't necessarily changed my mind about that but I do feel strongly that adoption required more of me than pushing through my grief did, and for precisely the reason that I always concluded my father's death was harder: because adoption was a choice. I chose this hurt. I chose to smash my heart into bits, even though it felt like little of it remained after my dad died.

I placed Roo on purpose, and it changed me fundamentally and deeply and forever. It hurt worse than anything in the world has ever hurt me and I can say for certain that it is the best thing I have ever done in my life. It made me stronger in a way that nothing else could possibly have done.

Roo saved me the first time around and placing her made me strong enough that this time I can save myself. I don't know how I'm going to do it but I know that I can.

I'm not sure of many things. I don't know what the next year of my life is going to look like. I'm not entirely certain what the next week is going to look like. But one thing that I know for sure, as Oprah would say, is that if I had to live my life over a thousand times I would place Roo for adoption a thousand times more.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Dearest Roo,

Today you are five years old. How did that happen? I swear you just barely learned to walk and now you're reading chapter books and dancing and playing tennis and starting kindergarten in the fall. How did you grow up so fast? You're taller every time I see you, and smarter. You are the most fascinating little person I have ever met. Everything about you is interesting to me. You are my favorite in all the known world. There is a light in your eyes that fills my soul. When you smile, it seems impossible that there's anything other than joy in the world.

Do you have any idea how amazing you are, Roo? Everything about you is a miracle to me. I haven't found the words in any language to properly express how much I love you. It's not something I can explain. It's something that I feel. I didn't know I could love anyone on earth even half as much as I love you.

I was scared when you were born. You were brand-new and tiny and I knew what I wanted for you; I knew what you deserved. I was scared that I didn't have a way of making sure you had everything in the world that you deserved by merit of the love I felt for you. I wanted to be the best mother in the world because you deserved it.

I couldn't do it. I certainly couldn't be the best father in the world. You deserved that, too.

As desperately as I loved you I could never quite shake the feeling that I was raising someone else's child. The moment I first saw you my heart claimed you but some ineffable part of myself wouldn't settle down. A few hours after you were born, when I was recovering in a hospital room and you were burrito-wrapped in your bassinet, I found my gaze moving from your sleeping face to the door. My rational mind expected no visitors but the waiting part of myself kept watching the doorway. I didn't dare use words for what I was anticipating at the time but the truth is I was waiting for your parents to come in.

I took you home and you were mine for nine fragile and beautiful weeks but the entire time, I knew.

I have never fought anything in my life as desperately as I fought to be your mother. I warred with myself for the first seven weeks of your life, searching for some way to change what I felt in my heart. I wanted you so badly! I had already been through so much pain. I had already broken so many times. I couldn't bear the thought of shattering again. I loved you so much! How could I not be your mother?

Then I found your family. I saw their picture on my computer screen and the part of me that waited in my hospital room stopped waiting. It wasn't your dad or your mom that did it, either. Would you believe, darling Roo, that the first member of your family I found was your big sister? I was ready to keep looking at profiles and reading letters but I saw your sister in that photograph ... I looked at her dear, perfect little cherub face and I thought, that's Roo's sister. I knew she was your sister. I knew. I looked at your parents after that but it didn't matter who they were, because if they were your sister's parents they were yours as well.

No matter what else happens in my life, no matter what I believe or disbelieve, no matter what circumstances change, I will never believe anything contrary to this: your sister was meant to be your sister, and you were meant to be hers. I have never known anything to be true as strongly and solidly as I knew that the two of you were meant to be together when I saw that picture, and nothing anyone ever says is going to change that.

I love that you girls are such good friends. I hope you always will be. I hope that you always take good care of each other.

There's more to your story that your parents have told you, or will tell you when you're older, and more that I need to tell you as well, but I'm saving that for you and only you. But today, on your birthday, I want you know two things for sure.

The first is that there's no doubt in my mind you were meant for the family you've got. You belong together. I couldn't have placed you with any family in the universe but theirs. I couldn't have done it! I tried. I met with other families and I wanted them to be right but none of them were and it wasn't until I met your family that I knew why no one else would do.

The second is something that I hope is already a solid and immovable fact in your mind: I love you. How inadequate those words sound! They're overused. They've lost meaning. But in the absence of any others, I'll use them over and over again and hope that repetition will lend them weight. My dear little Roo, I love you. Nothing in the known universe will stop me from loving you. Any good thing I ever accomplish in the world is because of my love for you. Any improvement I make, any happiness I find, any good and worthy thing I do is a manifestation of my love for you. My task as your birth mother is to take the love that I have for you and spread it around.

Never doubt, not for a second, that you are loved. There's no one else in the world for whom I'd break my own heart. Only you.

You were worth it. You always will be.

Happy birthday, darling girl.


Your birth mother Jill

Monday, June 30, 2014


I've had a lot of feelings lately and I'm going to address most of them in my next post, but today I want to talk about one set of feelings in particular.

I haven't been happy for a while now. It began with what my father used to describe as "general malaise." Then my discontent started creeping into other areas of my life, slowly and a little at a time, the way that hot cheese will escape the end of a Hot Pocket when you cook it too long. 

I was talking to a friend about feeling unhappy and she asked what changes would need to happen in my life for me to feel happy instead. I thought that a good start in answering was to list the things that I felt were contributing to my unhappiness, and I had an epiphany of sorts about the way that I've been seeing myself. In order to get you there, let's go back a few years.

Five years ago, June 30th was a Tuesday.

I wish I could say that I know this because I have the savant-like ability to name the day of the week that any given date fell on, like the girl with autism in that one Baby-Sitter's Club book that handled the issue of autism badly, even for a children's book from the 80s.

Alas, that is not the case. And parenthetically, precious few of the books I loved as a child have held up well over time from a literary standpoint.

I remember that June 30th, 2009 was a Tuesday, because it was my due date. Roo's due date. I knew that she wouldn't be born on her due date, because pretty much no one delivers on their due date. But the date still felt significant, because it was the date I'd had in my mind for nine months, and reaching it felt like a great accomplishment. So even though I knew she wouldn't be born that day, I felt like something should happen to mark the occasion of my due date.

Nothing did. It was a perfectly average Tuesday in every way, except for the fact that I was really super-duper pregnant and Roo kept kicking me in the kidneys (they must be pleasantly squishy or something, because she always kicked them). She stayed snug and warm in my belly for another week, and absolutely nothing happened on my due date. Despite my expectations, my hopes, and my timeline, all I got was a backache.

To quote my friend Rob, isn't that just like life?

I got to thinking about that the other day - about expectations and plans and mental due dates. How many times in my life have various due dates come and gone with nothing to show for them? Dozens, at least, if not a hundred or more. But despite a dearth of any savant-like skill with dates, I do tend to remember them, and more often than not I use them as a way of measuring my progress, or more specifically my lack thereof.

Three years ago I realized that it had been a decade since my high school graduation (May 24, 2001) and I quite naturally took inventory of my life in that space of time. It was an eventful decade, but I still felt like a failure, because I was single and fat and working part-time for $8 an hour. I always thought I'd have a college degree and a husband and children and a Volkswagen by the time my ten-year reunion rolled around. I had nothing to show for the decade that had elapsed since high school. It's been thirteen years now and I've still got nothing to show.

Even the revised life plans that I made when I placed Roo didn't come to fruition. I knew where I wanted to be when Roo was 1 year old, and 2 years old and so forth, and I am not in any of those places or stages of life. But, I told myself, that's okay. I just need to adjust my timeline. Change my when-Roo-is-four goals to my when-Roo-is-eight-or-nine goals.

I'd been feeling better about things last August, but then I took an online survey. I don't typically do that but at that time every single Target receipt I got had an invitation on it, and I needed to kill time while my cupcakes were in the oven. Nothing cuts to the heart of your insecurities quite like answering demographic questions. I already knew all of these things about myself, but it wasn't until Target asked me on one page that I thought, I am in my late twenties, I am single, I have never been married, I have no children, and I make less than $30,000 a year. That cheered me right up, let me tell you. I was glad to have cupcakes to look forward to; I needed them.

And then last fall I hit another due date, another deadline I set for myself. I turned 30. It wasn't as scary as I thought it might be. I actually had several days of birthday, culminating in a party where my fantastic friends surprised me with this cake:

(How you doin', Tom Selleck?)

I should mention that the very first thing I did in my thirties was put my contact lenses in, and then put my glasses back on. Isn't memory loss supposed to start in your forties? Anyway. After my week of birthday, I thought, well, shoot. I'm 30 now, and all I have to show for it is half of Tom Selleck's torso.*

All of those demographics that Target reminded me of (and more) kept coming to my mind. No husband - not even a boyfriend (not since the Bush administration, how's that for a frame of reference?), not much income, no children, thighs like a t-rex. It's a depressing way to look at your life, and the other day, when I thought about changing things, I wondered - at what point do I stop defining myself by the things that I lack?

Because that's what I've been doing since my birthday and probably my entire adult life. When I look at these due dates, at these deadlines, I feel that I've fallen short because of what I don't have. (And before you suggest counting my blessings, know that I actually have a list of my blessings. I am a compulsive list-maker; if you ever want to know what my faults are I have a Google doc I can show you.) I didn't used to do that. When did I start? When did I stop seeing myself as a whole person with innate value and start seeing myself as a collection of empty spaces?

My only consolation, if you can call it that, is that I know I'm not alone in this. I think it's a societal disease, this idea that who we are is what we're missing. I know plenty of other women who are put into boxes marked Single and Childless. How messed up is that? I've written before about how labeling birth mothers dehumanizes them. It's true for everyone, and especially when that label implies that they've come up short, that something is missing.

I want to get married. I want to be a mother. But I want to be happy even if neither of those things ever happens for me. I want to feel whole just the way that I am now. I want to see myself as the sum of what I do have, good and bad, and not as a list of unfulfilled dreams. I want to be enough. I want the woman that I am right now, right this second, to be enough for me to be happy.

When I was a child I was focused on what I could do, what I did well, and what I wanted to do. I didn't ever feel like I wasn't enough as I was. What changed in the past twenty years? I mean, obviously plenty of things have changed, but who I am fundamentally, as a human being, as a child of God - what's really changed? Nothing has changed. If I was enough then, I'm enough now.

I don't mean to imply that there's no room for improvement. I want to end each day as a better person than I was when I began it (how's that for an unattainable goal?). But I'm tired of feeling inadequate because of the things I don't have. Here's the thing - I'm never going to run out of due dates. I'm never going to stop having occasion to mark my progress and reevaluate my life. I don't have a lot of control over that. What I do have control over is how I let these due dates affect me.

Roo will be five in a little over a week. Another milestone - another deadline. I am light-years away from where I wanted to be when she turns five. I may never get to where I wanted to be at this point in my life. That doesn't have to matter. I can still be happy with where I am.

I know I'm not going to get there right away. It takes time to change the habit of being dissatisfied. But I want to start now. I want to learn to be happy with myself and my life, no matter what. It's time. I'm due.

*The left half. Well, my left, his right.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Parenting and Being an Adult

Roo's birthday is coming up in a few weeks. I'm not sure where the last five years went but she's starting kindergarten in the fall and she has already started reading chapter books and is generally much smarter than any five-year-old has any right to be. She is my favorite.

That Roo has the parents she does feels like a gift to me. The more I get to know people the more I realize that P an M aren't just excellent parents. They are exceptional human beings. The world could use more people like them. I look up to them in so many ways and I hope that if I ever grow up, I end up being their kind of person. The only downside I can see to Roo being their daughter is that children so rarely appreciate their parents. I hope that Roo is the exception and that as she gets older she realizes how amazing her parents are and how blessed she is to be their daughter. I hope that as she gets older she knows that I wouldn't have placed her with just anyone, and that in fact I couldn't possibly have placed her with anyone on earth but P and M - not for a second.

I have never worried even once about whether Roo is happy and healthy and loved. She has such a good life and such a good family. I used to wonder if, as Roo got older, I would wish I had parented her but the opposite is true. The older she gets, the more I love my choice and the less I care what anyone else thinks of it. Things people might say that used to offend me just make me laugh now. I wish that I were this certain of every decision I've ever made in my life!

But even though I don't regret my choice, I do still wonder sometimes what life would be like for me and Roo if I had parented her. I don't consider things too deeply because I can't wrap my mind around custody arrangements and child support and I honestly don't know where I would be living or working right now. But I do think, if I had parented, I would have an almost-five-year-old now. I would have registered her for kindergarten. How scary is that? I don't have a clue how any of that works. How do you know you've found a good school? A good teacher? How do you prepare a child to go from preschool to kindergarten?

I'll confess to ignorance in pretty much the entire realm of childcare at this point. I have no idea how much a child is supposed to eat or how much sleep they should get every night. I don't know when naps stop. I don't know what you're supposed to teach them and when. How much TV is too much? Do kids still get chicken pox? So many questions.

I know that most people don't know any of these things when they have a baby. They just figure it out as they go along, which is kind of a terrifying thought, isn't it? All these people who haven't a clue what they're doing are raising children, and those children are going to be adults someday whether they're raised right or not. It sounds like a terrible idea. Who came up with this? Somehow it works and enough of us make it to adulthood (relatively unscathed) to keep the world going. I'll never understand it.

P and M seem to have the whole parenting thing figured out. They're not perfect but I think they do a better job of it than anyone else I know (although I will admit to a slight bias in their favor). I think it's because they were ready for parenthood when their firstborn was placed with them. They were absolutely ready to be parents. They were prepared. They stay calm. They make rational decisions. They are adults.

This is, I think, my problem with the idea of me registering a child for kindergarten. I don't feel like enough of a responsible adult to be trusted with that kind of decision. I know myself. I do stupid things more often than I remember to eat and I make bad decisions almost exclusively. I had to have help picking a health insurance plan and I don't actually understand any of it. I once ate half a can of chocolate frosting in a single sitting. My mother could make a list entitled Ridiculous Reasons My Daughter Has Phoned Me and the Equally Ridiculous Questions That Followed. (I once left her a voicemail that went something like, "Hi Mom, this is Jill, your youngest child. I think I poisoned myself. Will you call me back when you get a minute? No rush.") I will make it through an entire day off work without remembering that I'm supposed to eat regularly. Last year I bought a t-shirt with a pattern of unicorns on it and I wear it to work (also, ask me about my whale shirt).

The idea that I am a both a registered voter and a government employee should terrify you. I am thirty years old but make no mistake, I am not an adult.

I used to bristle at the idea that as a birth mom, I chose adoption because I wasn't ready to be a parent. "I was ready!" was my battle cry. I thought that I proved it by parenting Roo for nine weeks. I think I even blogged about the not-ready-for-parenting school of thought, because I remember writing the phrase "I was absolutely ready to be a mother."

But what I've come to realize in the past little while is that, no, I absolutely was not. I wanted to be a mother. I wanted it desperately. But that doesn't mean I was ready. Looking back I can see that. And what's more, I still don't think I'm ready.

I want to repeat that because when I realized it, it hit me with great force. I am not ready to have a child. I'm 30. When I'm in a quiet room I can't hear my heartbeat because my biological clock is ticking too loudly. I am jealous of pregnant women I see. My insides feel all squishy when I see babies. My mind is blank of every thought but one: I want one of those! Babies are awesome and at my age, when I see one I am biochemically predisposed to want one of my own.

But that's not enough. What on earth would I do with one? For the most part I'm no better off than I was five years ago. I make a lot of the same stupid choices and I have some of the same bad habits and I am an absolute child about things for the most part. The biggest difference between the Jill who placed Roo and the Jill who is typing this is that the latter is five years older and needs a haircut.

I don't want to discount any personal growth I might have done. I am a slightly better person right now. But I don't think I'm any better prepared to be a mother.

I already know I'm going to get comments from mothers telling me, "Nobody is ever really prepared for parenthood. Nobody is ever really ready." People are going to tell me that you figure it out as you go along, that you get ready as you parent. People are going to point out that plenty of people who aren't ready to be parents still have kids and make a decent go of it. And I believe all of that.

But believe me when I say that if I met an amazing man tomorrow and we fell in love and got married, I would think long and hard before having a child right away. I have more issues than Newsweek. I know I'm not ready to be anyone's mother. And isn't this the perfect time to figure that out, now, while I'm not anyone's mother?

I wasn't ready for Roo and I'm still not. I am so, so grateful that her parents were ready, and still are. I couldn't have placed Roo with just anyone. I love her too much for that. I could only have placed her with them and I'm so glad I did!

I think there will come a time, maybe a few years from now, when I stop panicking every time a bill comes in the mail, when I do my taxes before April 15th, when I give up napping under my desk at work, when my therapist no longer calls because he's worried about me ... there will come a time when I unironically describe myself as an adult, when I will see babies and think not only of how much I want one but of how much I have to offer to one as a mother. It's going to be a good day.

I'm just not there yet.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Let it go

Last night I attended Roo's last dance recital. Dance is boring, she says, so she's going to try something new in the fall. She danced pretty well for a four-year-old. It looked to me like she knew the choreography better than any of the other little duck-costumed preschoolers on the stage. Her face really sold it for me, too. This girl was serious about her duck dance. M and I sat next to each other and we both took video of Roo dancing. It was one of those moments that could have been photographed for a PSA about open adoption.

After the recital M found Roo among the lines of tiny dancers filing out of the auditorium, and my heart felt full to burst. To someone who doesn't understand the beauty possible in adoption this will sound weird or even awful, but it makes me so, so happy that M is Roo's mom. They belong with each other. I see the two of them together and I think, that's what I want, if I ever have the chance to be a mother again.

I don't feel a smidge of sadness about the almost-five-year-old who danced so enthusiastically in a sparkly duck costume last night. She's got as good a life as any little girl could ever hope to have. She's pure sunshine - goodness and sweetness in human form. She makes me happy. It's impossible for me to feel any pain where she's concerned. In that sense, as far as placing a child for adoption goes, I am way beyond “over it.”

But this afternoon I got a reminder that there are some things I might never get over. It's a reminder I've gotten several times before but I keep managing to push it out of my mind. And, just like so many of life's disappointments, this one is because of laundry.

I was a mother for nine weeks before I placed Roo for adoption. When you've got a baby, you've usually got this entire collection of things for the small human in your care. It's quite amazing how many things accumulate for such a tiny person. I had a crib and a car seat and a stroller and a Pack and Play and crib bedding and blankets and burp cloths and dozens of teensy little outfits and socks. There were pacifiers and miniature fingernail clippers and bottles and stacks and stacks of other things that modern society says are required for the well-being of a ten-pound person. I spent every penny I had on accouterments for my baby. And I was happy to do it. I loved every last accessory.

Then one day I didn't have a baby anymore.

But I still had all this stuff. Scads of it. Boxes and boxes worth of baby things. Most of them I was able to put aside without an overabundance of pain. Clothes were a different story. The last load of little laundry I did, the one after placement, just about killed me. I folded up clean Onesies and sleepers and knew that I wasn't going to put them on my baby ever again. I didn't have a baby to put them on.

Eventually all of Roo's things were packed into Rubbermaid storage boxes, which were labeled and tucked away into a back corner of the garage. The crib was taken apart and bubble-wrapped and nestled with the mattress on top of the boxes. The car seat and stroller were mummified in plastic and hidden with the rest of the proof that I used to be somebody's mother.

My mother consoled me with the idea that in a few years I would likely be unwrapping and unboxing everything with my husband, getting things ready for the child we were expecting together. I clung desperately to the idea of this storage being a temporary thing. I thought, I will be a mother again before this pink-patterned car seat expires.

But I wasn't. Roo turned two and her baby things remained untouched. I considered selling them but I panicked when I tried. I wasn't ready to let them go. If I ever thought of the boxes after that I decided to worry about selling their contents when Roo was three. I would be ready then. But I didn't think about the boxes very often. I wasn't at my mom's house very often and I certainly wasn't spending time in her garage. Roo's third birthday came and went and her baby things never came to my mind.

I found some way to block from my mind the existence of those boxes and that shrink-wrapped furniture. I would see baby clothes at Target and have vague memories of how, in my early twenties, I used to collect little outfits here and there for some future child but my mind never jumped from that collection to the storage boxes. I managed to forget about the sad reminders of my interrupted maternity until last month.

My sister-in-law is pregnant and due in August. This pregnancy is something of a miracle and, with more than four years having passed without a new niece or nephew, I am almost desperately happy at the thought of holding a Barber baby again. My sweet nephew Elliot died two years ago, before he was born, so every day Becky is pregnant with this little girl is an answer to prayer.

My brother and his family were in town for Easter. They're getting ready to move to Texas this summer and somehow or other it came up that they were going to have to buy a new crib and mattress for Baby Girl. My mouth knew what to say before my brain did.

“I've got a crib and mattress in the garage. It's yours if you want it.”

They said that they did, and I loved the thought of their miracle baby sleeping in Roo's old crib. I felt ready to let those things go. I was proud of myself. I was finally ready! They reassured me that I could have both items back when I needed them but I said I didn't think that day would come and they were welcome to keep what I gave them. And then the conversation moved on, and again I forgot about the things in my mom's garage.

Today my sister-in-law sent me a text message asking if my offer of the crib and mattress was still good. I said that it was. She asked if I still had the bedding and I said I had everything. When I used the word “everything” I was thinking of bumpers and blankets and I was ready to part with it all but then Becky asked what I meant by “everything” and I suddenly remembered the box of baby Roo's Onesies and sleepers and I lost it. I went full-on Kim Kardashian with my ugly crying.

I want my sister-in-law to have the crib and mattress. I want her to take the box of bedding. I'm ready for that. But those tiny clothes … will I ever be ready to let them go? Roo starts school in the fall. How am I still haunted by her gingerbread jammies? How is it that five years later the thought of her pink polka-dot Onesie reduces me to tears?

I have a box full of baby clothes that I'm not using, that I may never use. I want to let it go. I want to want Becky to take them. I don't want tiny striped socks to have this kind of hold on me. What's it going to take for me to be ready? How long will it be before the ghost of the baby who was mine stops casting a shadow over a box of clean laundry?

I don't know. I know plenty of birth mothers, including several who parented before placing, but none who placed before I did. I don't have anyone to look to as an example of what trajectory my grief hoarding might follow.

I've passed the point where I'm hanging on to little laundry for some future baby. I wasted a lot of time with motherhood as my only life's goal. It would be fine if I were married or expected to marry but I have to think differently as a single woman in my stage of life. I have to plan for a future where I'm the only one who's going to take care of me because there are no guarantees. I know that I wouldn't marry me right now. I've got too much baggage and I probably always will. I expect to unpack it on my own.

The memory of the newborn I placed is strong enough to keep that box of baby clothes in my mom's garage. I just wish that the thought of the five-year-old that baby became was strong enough for me to let the box go. I'll get there someday. Someday I will be able to open that box, to save a pair of jammies or two as a reminder, and let the rest of it go.

Maybe that day will be sooner than I think. The crib and mattress will be loaded into a Texas-bound van in July. And a few days before that, Becky and I will open the boxes that I haven't touched in five years. We'll pick out sheets and blankets for her tiny miracle. Becky is one of the strongest women I know. Maybe her strength will make me brave and we'll open the box that hurts me the most.

I've cried alone over these things for so long. Maybe crying over them with someone else will give me the courage I need to finally let them go.