Friday, October 15, 2010

Southwest Regional FSA Conference, Day Two, Part Two

The following is long, and self-centered, and mostly for my benefit. You have been warned.

I think I mentioned on Friday that at the dinner, I met both of the couples I considered placing with when I was pregnant. One of the couples, I've seen many times since then. There's no awkwardness. The other couple, I haven't seen or heard from since I didn't choose them.

I don't think I mentioned on Friday that when I saw N, the wife in the second couple, I almost cried. I don't know if it's ridiculous or not, but I felt terribly guilty exchanging pleasantries with her. I wanted to apologize profusely for not choosing her and her husband. I wanted to beg them to forgive me and tell them it's not personal, I liked them very much. It just wasn't right. Do other birth moms ever experience this? I don't know how many birth moms have ever run into couples they didn't pick after the original meeting. I don't know if my reaction is normal or not.

I mention this mostly because at lunch I once again met up with the first couple I talked to, the ones with whom I am very comfortable. Their little girl just had her first birthday. They came over to talk to me and Breonna, who also considered placing with them (small world, eh?). If my awkward interaction with N is atypical, I can only imagine how abnormal my relationship with the first couple is. I could have talked to them for hours.

It's a funny thing, but as much as I enjoy their company, as long as I could have talked to them, as comfortable as I feel with them, I know I wasn't supposed to place with them. They know it, too. If I had, they wouldn't have their little girl, and they wouldn't trade her for anything in heaven or on earth.

After lunch it was time for Mrs R's adoption advocacy class for birth moms. There wasn't enough time for all of it, really - there were so many comments and experiences packed into that room, we could have talked for hours, not just 50 minutes. Maybe next year? I got a few minutes at the end to talk about doing outreach at schools. I think I may have noted before that public speaking doesn't bother me like it does most people. I think that, given a subject and a few minutes to prepare, I could probably address the United Nations. School outreach? No problem. Fifth Sunday presentation? Easy. Adoption Academy? Birth mom panel? Kid stuff.

My problem with public speaking arises when I'm called upon to address my peers. That's when nerves set in. I felt confident until I stood up, and looked around the room. All birth moms, at least two of whom don't like me; strong women who had as much to say about advocacy as I did, but it was me up front. I felt inadequate. It didn't help that this was Mrs. R's class.

I don't know how many of my blog readers have met Lindsey. If you saw her pushing a cart in the grocery store, you would probably hate her, because she is this tiny little thing, pretty and well-dressed and obviously not poor. But hating her would be unfair. She's also genuine, and friendly, and has been through her share of hard times. I felt this immense pressure not to say anything stupid, because I didn't want to take away from what she'd had to say.

In the end, I did what I usually do when I'm nervous - I spoke fast and used polysyllabic words in the hope that people would only hear half of what I had to say, and sat back down. Next time, if there is a next time, I'm going to rein in these ideas I have about winging it.

Before the conference, I agreed to facilitate one of the classes. I was told that all I'd have to do was to introduce the speaker, give him or her 10 and 5 minute warnings, and, at the end, hand out the thank-you gift. I thought, I can handle that. But it turned out, the class I was supposed to facilitate wasn't actually a class, but a panel. The birth grandparent panel, more specifically. There was a red folder in the room that had the biographies of the panelists and a list of questions for me to ask them. There were four nametags on the podium, and four chairs set up. There were two panelists there. The third was going to be a few minutes late. Was there a fourth? I was confused. Despite the absence of the third panelist, I didn't want to start late, because I know that panels tend to run long as it is. I didn't want to read the panelist bios for the same reason - besides, their bios were in the folders that everyone had picked up upon signing in that morning. It seemed both redundant and a waste of time for me to read the lengthy bios of all of the panelists.

I introduced them and started with the first question. From the back of the room, someone I love dearly but who will remain nameless in this accounting, called out, "Jillybean, why don't you start with having them all say why they're here today?" Which was irritating because obviously, they were here because they were birth grandparents, and humiliating, because I felt like a child with both the nickname and the direction, as though I weren't clever enough to moderate a panel. I already felt I wasn't clever enough, and the suggestion certainly didn't help. Dare I say it shattered my already fragile calm?

But the suggestion had been made, and the first panelist started, and basically told her story and answered most of the questions on my sheet of paper. The third panelist (there were only three, despite four nametags and four chairs) came in at this point, and I gave her the appropriate nametag, which she set on the fourth chair next to the Kleenex box.

It became apparent that instead of questions being asked and answered, this was just going to be the birth grandmothers telling their stories. Which was fine by me, except that there I was, standing at the podium like a jackass (and no, jackass is not a bad word. I heard it on "Matlock," and Ben Matlock would never swear). I wanted to sit down, but the fourth chair had things on it that I would have to hold if I sat there, and if I sat in the audience I might have to pop back up if there was time for questions. So I stood there the entire bloody hour, feeling like the dumbest person on earth, cultivating a strain in my neck from looking to my right where the panelists were seated, and trying desperately to figure out if I might be able to sit down somewhere. I leaned over the podium as much as I could so I didn't stand out. I tried to be invisible. I failed miserably.

I almost cried, too, which was even worse. The first panelist spoke frankly about her anger at being told her single daughter was pregnant. And I swear to you, as she spoke, her rage was palpable. For some reason, hearing her speak made me think of my own mother. The idea that my dear old mum might have harbored similar feelings of anger toward me just killed me, and I teared up. My mother has been really and truly angry at me once in my life, and the occasion constitutes one of my least favorite memories.

(I asked my mother Sunday night if she'd been angry at me when I told her I was pregnant. "Oh, honey, never angry," she assured me. "I just felt so bad for you! My heart broke for you, but I wasn't angry." I was terribly relieved.)

Personal awkwardness aside, the panel went well. I think it was impactful, if that's even a word. Birth grandparents have an important perspective and I don't think they're heard from enough. Anyway, When the panel was over, it was time for cake and ice cream and then the birth mother panel. The cake was made by a local birth mom who has been to culinary school. It looked amazing and tasted pretty darn good too. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of it.

The birth mom panel is usually the biggest draw and the best part of any adoption academy or conference. I was super excited to see that two of my favorite birth moms were on the (4-person) panel. I go to group with both of them but I never get tired of their stories. One of them, my friend A, was only a backup panelist, but the fourth panelist was a no-show so she got to be on the panel! I was super excited for her, and she did an amazing job. She is both a single mother and a birth mom, so I love her perspective. A needs to speak more often. She is awesome.

After the panel, there was a raffle. I did not expect to win. I've won a raffle once in my life. The prize was a Spice Girls cassette tape - their second album. But lo and behold, not one but two of my ticket numbers were called! I won a beautiful hair clip from Ruby Jane Boutique and a gift certificate for a free consult, x-ray and treatment from a local chiropractor. I've never been to a chiropractor before, so that will be interesting.

And then it was time to go.

I can't talk about the conference without mentioning Andrea and Josh and the amazing job they did putting everything together. I don't think Andrea slept at all for about three months before the conference. Dare I say her lack of sleep was worth it? The conference was fantastic. I can't wait for next year!

And if you've read through my excruciating, self-centered rundown of the conference, you deserve a prize.

I mean, you're not going to get one from me, but you certainly deserve it :)

No, wait, here. Have a platypus.


Lara Zierke said...

That's the best platypus anyone has ever given me.

jgirl said...

I've always wanted a platypus, thanks! You are amazing Jill and deserving of all things wonderful in your life (((hugs))) ;0)

Rachel said...

I want a Spice Girls cassette tape!!

I don't think I would be angry with my daughter if she got pregnant; I don't really understand that emotion. But, I've never been there, so who knows...

kristinanne said...

I think that you were a GREAT moderator. If it helps any, I don't think that we in the audience noticed at all any awkwardness from you. We were too fixed on the birthgrandparents. LOVE YOU and your ability to forge the deep regardless of it all.

A Life Being Lived said...

I wanted you to say that you won the Liberace CD! ;) I am amazed and had no idea there were these types of conferences...I am beginning to think that my adoption experience is very rare...more rather that people in my position are usually often encouraged to raise their children as single mothers (which can definitely be done but wasn't right for me) and the fact that there is a lot of stigma, misconceptions and general little education about adoption in the mainstream world. I say mainstream because face it, people who don't have a church community in their lives may not also have other resources such as an encouraging community, family members, etc who can help them if/when they are curious about adoption. The LDS community does an amazing job as I have found out through learning more and more about adoption and sadly adoption (deciding to place your child, not adoption as aoptive parents) as an option for unplanned pregnancies does NOT seem to be an option that is talked about or suggested enough. Just my two cents.

hope2adoptbaby said...

Loved reading all about your time at the conference! Shelby

Deanna said...

I just wanted you to know that you don't know me but I read your blog and have for some time and think it is really great that you are able to just speak from your heart and tell it like it is. I was excited to see you at the conference on Fri/Sat even though I have never officially met you. I am sure you know how it is when you follow a blog you feel like you know them. My husband and I went to the grandparent panel - It was really good! and don't worry I never for one moment thought you seemed stupid or even realized that you had to stand the whole time but I can totally see how you would feel that way standing there...I am sure that there are many like me that think what you did for your little girl was and is admirable and selfless not discounting for one minute how courageous and strong you have had to be and are for her. I have so much respect for you and other birth mothers the more I learn. Truly remarkable...

Dan and Emily said...

Awesome post, thanks for being a real person Jill! You don't make your posts so dramatic that they don't seem real nor do they discount reality. Love it! Thanks

CCmomma said...

You crack me up! Love the platypus reward:)
I think we often think more about ourselves and our imperfections than others think about us. We are our worst critics oftentimes! You rock, Jill and don't forget it!

Shane, Meg, CJ, RJ, and AL said...

Yes! I love the platapus! And I am so excited I got a SWEET mention on your blog! Lucky me! :)

I had a thought I wanted to share as I read this post. I have a feeling that the birth grandmother who shared anger feelings was probably angry about the situation, and not as much angry for real all at her daughter. I'm sure everyone involved has a whole host of emotions sweep through them, I know we adoptive couples do. Just a thought, though I wasn't there to hear about it.