Monday, July 7, 2014

Five

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.

Love,

Your birth mother Jill

Monday, June 30, 2014

Due

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 a 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.

Friday, May 9, 2014

(Good?) Advice

I've mentioned before that, for one reason or other, people in the adoption community will occasionally come to me for advice. Bad idea, people. I once advised a co-worker to take naps under her desk. I am full to bursting with bad ideas that amuse me. Which isn't to say that I intentionally give bad advice; rather that I seem to be incapable of giving good advice because it simply isn't in me. I, too, take naps under my desk.

I digress. People will ask me for advice and sometimes I will offer it. Today I am offering advice to a group who have not asked for it, because someone has suggested that I am uniquely qualified to do so. I was asked by someone who works with birth mothers to advise women who have recently placed children for adoption. I asked what "recently" meant and was given a nebulous response that I promptly threw out. For our purposes today I want to go beyond the weeks and months immediately following placement, because I've beaten the dead horse that is post-placement grief for these many years and I'd like to find another carcass to swat at. I want to talk to women who are out of the fog that settles when relinquishment papers are signed, but who have not yet hit the one-year mark. If you fit into this category, what follows is for you. (If you don't, all I can tell you is that life is full of disappointment.)

So, you've placed a child for adoption recently but you have reached the point where you are awake and dressed more days than not and you're no longer crying yourself to sleep. Good job! I knew you could do it. I wish I could tell you that it's a calm ocean and clear skies from this point forward but it's not. For the rest of your life, you're going to have little moments where it hits you that you once placed a baby for adoption and how could you possibly have done that? Who does that?

You did. You did, and it was awesome, and you're awesome. So what if a tiny lost sock at the grocery store makes you teary-eyed. You made a family. You win. And, hey, free tiny sock.

Anyway. I want to tell you some things today that no one told me when I was where you are. I don't know if they qualify as "Things I Wish I'd Known" but they are things to know, in any case, and maybe you'll find them helpful.

So. (A needle pulling thread ...)

You're probably at the point where people no longer have to drag you bodily to social functions. You find yourself wanting to go out and see people, even if you are slightly terrified that adoption or your baby will become a topic of conversation. Be careful where you go and with whom. I said in a previous post that your surprise pregnancy was a symptom of a greater issue. I believe that. I wasn't living a happy, wonderful life when I got knocked up. There were so, so many other things going on.

I'd bet a tenner that it's the same case with you. Hence my caveat. If you go back to the same friends and situations you were in before, I hope you've got the birth control thing figured out because if you don't you're likely to end up pregnant again. I know (and dearly love) a number of repeat offenders. I'm not saying it's easy to change your life or lifestyle. I'm just saying, be careful. Placement can be a fantastic re-set button. Whatever agency or organization you placed through should offer post-placement counseling (if they don't, they should). Use it. Become a better person. Therapy is a beautiful thing. Figure out why you ended up  where you did, and resolve to stay away from there from now on.

Here's a fun fact for you: for the rest of your life, people are going to misunderstand you and your story and adoption. It hurts right now when it happens. It bothers you a lot. It feels personal and offensive and is the catalyst for many a crying fit. You will hate everyone.

Here's another fun fact: it will bother you so much less as time passes. As you become more and more comfortable talking about adoption, correcting or dismissing people will take zero emotional toll on you. You will be much less defensive. You're still going to blurt out "placed" when someone says "gave up" but you won't tear up if they insist that their terminology is right or ask why you didn't want your baby. (I tell them it's because she threw up on my sofa. Bad joke. Sorry.)

You will also, in perpetuity, encounter people who think you made the wrong choice or that adoption damages children. Right now it hurts like hell when you hear this. It makes you angry and defensive and frustrated and you will rant. Oh, how you'll rant! But you will come to understand that it doesn't matter if everyone you meet for the rest of your life thinks you did a bad thing. You know you made the right choice, and your placed child is happy, and no one else's opinion matters or ever will.

Friends and family will ask about your placed child less and less. It will seem like you're the only one who cares or even remembers. This will bother you. Eventually this too will pass. I let it go with some people, and I brought it up with others. It turns out that many relatives weren't sure what I felt comfortable discussing. They weren't sure if mentioning Roo would be painful for me. The more I told happy stories about her and open adoption, the more questions they were comfortable asking. I still have relatives who pretend she doesn't exist. That's on them. I still love them and enjoy making them uncomfortable by showing pictures of Roo being her adorable self.

The media is never going to get adoption right. You'll be happier if you avoid movies and TV shows with adoption-related plots. I stopped watching the show "Glee" when a pregnant Quinn was counseled to give her baby to "Someone who really wants it." I knew when I heard that line that adoption wasn't going to be handled in a sensitive or accurate manner. I don't miss it.

I know some birth moms who go out of their way to watch movies and shows with adoption in them so that they know what bad ideas they're going to encounter and have to correct when they talk to people. If you want to do that, more power to you, but I hope you like the phrase "gave up" because you're going to be hearing it a lot. Also, let's compare our lists of things that "Juno" got so, so wrong. Mine is 15 items long.

Here's something I do wish I had known four years ago when I was approaching Roo's first birthday. It won't always be like this. The pain or the relationship or the need for visits and contact. It will all change, and it will be a good thing. My relationship with P and M is a continuously evolving thing. Because we are all adults and are willing to communicate openly and honestly, it gets better and better. I don't see Roo nearly as often as I used to. I don't need to. It's not that I wouldn't be happy to see her more often. It's more a matter of weeks and even months will pass and someone will ask when I last saw Roo and I'll think, wait, when did I see her last? The need to reassure myself that she's happy and healthy and loved is gone. The desire to see her and her family because I love them pops up every couple of months.

At some point you will realize that although your love for your placed child hasn't changed or dimmed a tiny bit, it fits into your heart differently. You feel that love for a person who is 100% someone else's child, someone you don't know as well as they do. You will realize it, and it will be beautiful.Your love won't feel like a beautiful burden. It will feel like a bird in flight.

I spent several years overwhelmed by the love that I have for Roo. There was so much of it and I didn't know what to do with it. I had a mother's love in my heart but I wasn't a mother. Then I saw this post on Humans of New York. A woman's dying husband told her to take the love she had for him and spread it around. I decided to do that with my love for Roo. It has made all the difference in the world.

There will come a time when having placed a child for adoption will cease to be most important thing about you. Your birth child will cease to be your whole world. It is scary and you might think it's never going to happen with you, because you love your child too much. But here's the truth: I love my Roo with every bit of my heart, and I will often pass several days without giving her more than a moment of thought.

It has to be this way. It's better for both of you. Your placed child deserves a birth mama who has used her experience as a stepstool rather than a crutch. Neither of you benefits if you spend the rest of your life obsessing and ruminating and crying. Even someone who loves and lives and breathes music has to turn it down sometimes and enjoy the silence. It's the silences that make music beautiful.

It's the time that I don't spend with Roo that makes our visits so precious to me. It's the weeks or months that pass without hearing her little voice that make every word she says my favorite word ever spoken. If I thought about her every second of every day, I wouldn't appreciate what a wonderful little person she is to think about.

When I was where you are now, I felt fractured without Roo. She was my whole heart and my whole life. She is neither of those things anymore. She is still infinitely dear to me and I think I'll always love her the best and the most. But I had to step back. You will too. Roo is P and M's daughter. For real. I had to let her be completely theirs to love her completely. I placed her on September 9th but I didn't let her go until nearly 2 years later. I didn't start to heal until then. I wasn't sure I would. I was afraid to step back and figure out who I was without her. I thought it would break me.

In letting her go, I became whole again.

You're going to get there, too. It's going to be beautiful. I can't wait for you to see.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visiting Hours

I just want to take a moment to express my stunned semi-disbelief at the fact that Roo will be five years old this summer. Five! You guys, seriously. I swear, she just barely learned to walk. 

I got to see her a few weeks ago, which was fantastic. I mentioned this to one of my friends and she seemed unclear on what happens when I do see Roo, and I got to thinking how many times people misunderstand openness as it pertains to me and my relationship with Roo. So let's clarify at least the visiting part of that, and let's use a lot more words than are necessary because that's what we do here at The Happiest Sad. Well, that and the occasional meme.


First of all, let's clarify the word "visit." I'm not sure when or where I settled on that word to describe spending time with Roo. The word "visit" conjures up images from my childhood of spending time with my maternal grandparents. "We're going to visit Grandma and Grandpa DeWitt," my mom would say, and there was always this element of formality where you had to sit in a chair and make polite conversation and you weren't allowed to ask why everything in the curio cabinet smelled like an improbable cross between dust and aspergillis. Those visits certainly weren't much fun. The only good thing was that my grandfather - eleven years older and three times more patient than his wife - would eventually take pity on Little Jill and give her one of those miniature ice cream cups with the wooden spoon that fitted into the lid.

I am thirty years old but when I see those little ice cream cups I swear I can still feel my grandmother's disappointment looming over me like a rogue weather system. Bless her heart.

I digress.

What I really do, I think, is hang out with Roo and her family, but it sounds weird to say you're hanging out with a four-year-old, because if I'm honest she and I probably have different taste in movies and the last deep conversation we had was about gummy bears. So let's go with the word "visit" and pretend we grew up with the kind of grandmother who baked cookies and showed love. Bless her heart.*

Visits with Roo and her family are my favorite and they are awesome. There is no formality to them. It's just time spent with my friends. I use the word "visit" to describe any time I spend with Roo's family. I have been to dance recitals, we have all gone out for breakfast (and often lunch, and once dinner), and we have spent many happy hours at parks and playgrounds. The latter is where we hang out the most because it's the most fun for the kids

Roo always says hello to me. She says, "Hi, Jill!" and she smiles and it is awesome. Her big sister says hi to me, too, and I usually get a smile from their baby brother. M and I will talk and catch up for a bit until Roo insists that I play with her. "Jill, I want you to come play with me," she has said, and how do I say no to that? I can't. At that point I basically just let her boss me around for an hour or two. I have gotten so, so much sand in my shoes. You wouldn't believe it.

She has a very good if imagination when it comes to play, but she also has favorite things. Every playground we have been on has been a pirate ship. Roo seems to like the idea of a pirate ship. Once we made sand angels - maybe that's an Arizona thing, but it's like a snow angel only you're in the sand - and Roo's big sister said, "Hurry, get on the pirate ship, you're getting covered in water!"

Roo was feeling stubborn. She did not want to stop making sand angels. "I'll be fine," she told her sister. "I'm a mermaid." She's a problem solver, isn't she?

We are very often mermaids, or pirates, or mermaid pirates or pirate princesses. A few weeks ago when we were pirate princesses we used our rainbow power to subdue a particularly mean eel.

Roo likes to swing and climb and I have held her little shoes many, many times so she could climb better with bare feet. I always tell her how proud I am of her and I try to compliment her on that sort of thing more than on her general adorableness. When she climbed high even though she was scared, I told her she was very brave and that I was proud.

She knows that I love her but she is still a little kid, so when it’s time to leave she gives me a cheerful, “Bye, Jill!” and runs off, and I usually have to stop her for a hug. I always ask first if I can get a hug and if I can give a kiss. She always obliges. I tell her I love her and she will usually reciprocate.

I dearly love her siblings as well and so I will give them hugs and tell them I love them, too, because it's true and because I don’t think any child can ever hear enough that they are loved. After my last visit – a few hours at a park, I told Roo and her sister that I had fun and that I always have fun with them. “We have fun with you, too,” Roo's sister said. So many warm fuzzies, you guys.

You might have noticed that at no point do I attempt to parent Roo or offer parenting advice to her parents. This is where a lot of people get confused. I think there's this misconception that openness is a shared custody agreement. So I want to be very clear: P and M are Roo's parents, one trillion percent. That's what I wanted for her. I'm just a friend of the family who happens to have birthed one of the family's kids for them. P and M are doing an awesome job at the whole parenting thing. It's not my place to interfere.

I have been asked, along the custody line of thinking, if I get Roo all to myself at visits. I don't. There have never been any just-Roo-and-Jill visits and I'm totally okay with that. I love her whole family so, so much. I would be sad if I didn't get to see and spend time with them too.

I end up seeing Roo and her family every couple of months or so. This works out well for all of us. M and I text pretty frequently and keep up with each other on social media. We've worked together on adoption-related events in the valley so I see her often, which I love.

The other question I want to answer is whether visits are emotionally difficult for me. They are not. When I first placed I was worried that visits would be like placing Roo all over again - I'd get a few hours with her and then have to let her go. But visits have always been good for me, from the very first one. They allow me to see the good that came from the choice I made to place. I get to see firsthand that Roo is happy and loved and has an awesome life. I get to know her and be part of her life. I do cry when I drive home from a visit, but they're happy tears because I feel like I don't deserve the blessing of this amazing open adoption and yet I have them anyway.

Let's be honest - I do a lot of stupid things. I struggle to be a kind and compassionate person and I'm more narcissistic than anyone has a right to be in their thirties. If life were about fairness I would never see or hear from Roo again. Every single day I thank God for these blessings I don't deserve. I thank Him for letting me have her for a little while, and I thank Him for letting P and M have her forever. I am so glad she's theirs.

Every time I see Roo with her family, I remember why I chose adoption, and why if I had to do things over, I would choose it again without hesitation. As badly as it hurt at first, it doesn't hurt anymore. And Roo's happiness is worth it.





*My grandmother loved me in her own way. She was just stubborn and set in her ways and didn't care much for my father, and I am like a short girl clone of my dad so I probably never stood a chance. She was a good mother to my mother and that's what matters at the end of the day, right?

Bless her heart.