Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Ghost of Christmas Past

It's Christmas tomorrow. In a few minutes, really, as it's almost midnight. I should be asleep. I wish I were asleep. I'm sick (I think Santa misread my letter because I know I didn't ask for sinusitis) and the urgent care doctor said I should get plenty of rest.

He also said I had tonsilitis, despite the fact that I don't have tonsils, but I've decided to believe that he knows what he's talking about anyway. Hey, maybe my tonsils grew back. Can tonsils grow back? I need to ask Google.

But I can't sleep, and not just because my head is a mucus factory (that mental picture is my Christmas gift to you). I keep thinking about Christmas. Not tomorrow, but last year, the year before, the year before that, and twenty-some-odd years of Christmases past.

(This post isn't going to be about adoption, in case you were wondering. This post is about my dad.)

Some families have stars, but we put an angel on top of our tree.

(Please excuse the inadequacies of my mobile-phone photography)

My mom bought it from the Avon catalog probably before I was born. It was always the last decoration to go up, and although my dad didn't make a big deal of many things at Christmas, he made a big deal of this. The tree wasn't complete without the angel. If I close my eyes it seems like just a few years ago that I was holding the angel carefully in my little hands while my dad picked me up to reach the top of the tree, telling me, "Hold on tight, okay? Don't drop it." My brother Chris and I would fight over who got to put it on. There were a few years where my dad would lift Chris to put it on, then he'd take it off and give it to me so I could put it on. I suspect that in those years, after I'd been put to bed (always first, since I'm the youngest) the angel was removed again so Chris could have the satisfaction of putting the angel on last.

That angel is on top of the tree in my living room. Every time I see it, I remember being a kid, excited about little things like that. I remember my dad, who lifted me up to put the angel on for years after Chris lost interest, even when I was probably much too heavy. It wasn't until I turned 10 or 11 and lost interest too that my dad started putting the angel up by himself.

I wonder if he ever grieved that - the loss of that simple tradition, the young children we once were. I know that Roo seems taller every time I see her and I think, she's growing up faster than seems fair. I'm sure my parents felt the same way. I'm sure my mother looks at me now sometimes and thinks, how is Jill an adult already? It was just a few years ago she started kindergarten. I think that, too.

I didn't think much about my dad being the one to put the angel up until three years ago, the first Christmas after he died. My mom and I put up our little tree - four feet tall, pre-lit - and the last box I opened had the angel in it. There was this moment when I put this last decoration on the tree, and it hit me - the last time I put the angel up, I had help. My father was lifting me up. The last time my hands were on this piece of nostalgia, my father was alive and I was young and I thought he would live forever because he was my daddy.

I always miss him more at Christmas, and I don't know why. My father wasn't a big fan of Christmas. I know that his faith in God was strong. But he had little patience for the commercial side of things - for the flash and the expense and the hassle. I think he saw the modern Christmas celebration as something for the wealthy or the unwise with money. He hated that the birth of Jesus Christ was, for most people, a secondary part of Christmas.

I know that Christmas was hard when he was a kid. His family never had money. One year finances were so tight that my uncle Danny stole a Christmas tree because they weren't going to have one otherwise. Up until I was probably 8 or 9, we bought a fresh tree every year, and there was always a moment when my dad took his wallet out to pay that he sort of stopped, and I know he was thinking of the year Danny stole a tree.

We didn't have any of the kind of traditions that were a given - there were things we'd do for a year or two, or once every few years, depending on circumstances. But there were several years when we'd all sit together and my dad would read Luke 2. He had a very distinct way of reading aloud - sometimes he'd run words together and sometimes he'd pronounce them each more slowly and distinctly - but I found it comforting. I miss the cadence of his voice, his speech patterns. I miss the sound of him speaking, and as the years roll on it gets harder and harder to remember the exact pitch and I think, I heard that voice nearly every single day for 24 years. How can I forget it in only three?

But it's slipping away, and I've no choice but to let it. I'll add it to the list of things I don't remember about my dad anymore. I cry every time I add to the list, and I cling more tightly to the things I do remember about him. How has it been three years already? It seems like yesterday.

I miss him. I miss him every day, but I miss him especially at Christmas. I think it's because enough of what I still do remember about him has to do with Christmas. Probably because my brain has pushed aside memories of school and friends and Girl Scouts and piano lessons and made room only for memories that it thinks are important and valuable, like Christmas.

There are very few Christmas decorations and songs and other things that don't remind me of my dad in some way. I hear "White Christmas" on the radio and I can remember my dad singing along with it, doing his best Bing Crosby impression. There are ornaments from my childhood that I broke more than once and each time it was my father who patiently repaired them with Super Glue. My mom bakes homemade cinnamon rolls every December and when I eat one I think, Dad loved these. Even the act of fluffing my artificial tree's branches reminds me of him, because he was allergic to pine trees and the year we bought a fake tree was probably the happiest Christmas he'd had in ages.

When we opened presents on Christmas morning, it was always my dad who got the camera and took pictures. He never told us to say cheese. He'd just say to my brothers, "Hey, boys," and when they looked up, he took their picture. He was funny that way. We never believed in Santa - my parents didn't feel comfortable lying to us - so I knew, the year I pulled the funnies off a brand-new dollhouse, that it was my dad who had stayed up late putting everything together. He installed batteries, he assembled bikes and inflated their tires, he put stickers on little toys and games. As soon as a toy was unwrapped, my dad would make sure it was ready to be played with.

He was always putting things together, fixing things, finding things, improving things. It wasn't until he was gone that I really appreciated how many things he did, how his mind was always working, how he was always figuring out how things worked and what he could do with them.

But he was most of all a good father, the very best in the world. I always knew that he loved me. He told me so every night before I went to bed, so that when I fell asleep his words were still in my ears. On Christmas, at bedtime, he told me he loved me, and he always said, "Merry Christmas, Jilly Bee" and smiled at me, that smile that I can see traces of in my own face sometimes in the mirror if I turn my head just so and crinkle my eyes like he did.

He's been gone for three years, and I still don't know what I'm going to do without him.

Merry Christmas, Daddy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Grief and Healing, Part Two

I feel like I ended part 1 in an awkward place. But it was either there, or at the end of this part, and I felt it was best not to try anyone's patience.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

So, what is this process of grief? If you've ever taken a psychology class you've probably heard of the five stages of grief - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Accptance. These don't go in order, you may not experience all of them, and you may experience each of them more than once.

Many birthmothers would tell you that in placement, denial doesn't often come first – depression and tears do! Placement is hard. You can't really completely prepare for it. I know that when I was pregnant I heard stories about placement being all warm-fuzzies, but no one ever talked honestly about what happened right afterward. It stinks! It's hard. I wasn't at all happy. Maybe you weren't either. That's okay. Keep in mind that the time after placement being insanely difficult doesn't mean adoption was the wrong choice. It just means you love your baby an awful lot. It hurts because we love our children and we aren't parenting them, because of a lifetime of experiences with them that we'll miss, because it hurts not being around them. I've never met a birthmother who hurts because she feels she picked the wrong family or because she's worried that her child is going to be hurt or neglected or damaged in some way by the family he or she was placed with. If you feel any of those things, definitely talk to your caseworker about your concerns and do it right away. Knowing that despite our pain, the babies we placed are happy and healthy and loved gives us something to cling to when the pain is bad. Cling to it! Ride that horse to safety.

As far as the stages of grief go, it's worth noting that they may manifest differently in birth moms than they might in someone grieving a physical death. With denial, for instance, you obviously can't pretend you didn't place your baby, because if you hadn't, the baby would be with you. But some birth moms may want to pretend that they never had a child in the first place. They may opt for a closed adoption and never speak about it or the child they placed. The problem with this is that pretending it didn't happen doesn't mean it didn't happen. Closed adoption is fine if that's what works for you, but let yourself grieve before you close the mental door on this part of your life or it'll come back to bite you.

Anger is a big one – the birth moms I've talked to have expressed anger at God for inspiring them to place, at people who were unsupportive of their tentative plans to single parent or marry the birth father, anger at the birth father for being a less-than-upstanding young man, anger at the adoptive couple for getting to be the baby's parents, anger at themselves for getting pregnant in a situation that let them to choose adoption.

Anger is something that as women we tend to push back the most. But the more anger you let yourself feel, the less anger you'll find yourself feeling. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true. If you get it all out, you're done. But be careful in how you let it out. It's so tempting to unload on your parents or your friends. If at all possible, don't. Find a suitable outlet – a punching bag, a therapist, your caseworker, your bishop or other clergyman. Write – but don't send – letters to people you're angry with. Please don't send them. That part is important.

Post-placement, depression is the big one. Those who study grief say the most acute pain post-loss lasts about two months. Your experience may vary. Let it be what it is. If you're got thirty minutes of crying to do, don't stop at twenty. Don't let anyone tell you to cheer up or snap out of it. You're earned your tears with your love. Own them. C. S. Lewis said, “The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.” The "happiness then" is our love.

The depression can be the hardest to get past. In my experience and the experience of other birth moms I've talked to, each day after placement hurts just a tiny bit less – even if it's just a teeny-tiny minuscule bit. You realize you survived the day before, and it gets easier to think you can survive today and tomorrow, too. If it feels like too much, remember the following: Inhale, exhale, repeat. I can't promise that there's a bright shiny light at the end of the tunnel, but I can promise that the tunnel has an end. You won't always feel this way.

In addition to the things you expect, like depression, you may experience other feelings/reactions that you didn't expect and you might feel they are abnormal. They're not. As I said before, the beautiful thing about grief is that what's normal for you is normal.

That doesn't mean it's something you can anticipate. For instance, you may feel a sense of relief that you aren't responsible for the life of a tiny baby, grateful that you're not getting up every few hours with a crying baby. If you hadn't placed, you wouldn't be allowed to be selfish and irresponsible anymore. You still can, and it's perfectly normal to be a little relieved that this is so.

Jealousy is another thing that comes up – jealousy of the adoptive couple, of single parents, of women who marry rather than place, of women who are married and “allowed” to keep their babies, of anyone who didn't have to do what you did and who hasn't suffered your pain.

Aimlessness may push its way to the surface, too. You've spent the better part of a year growing a baby and preparing for his or her arrival. Now you don't have that to do, it's normal to feel adrift and without purpose. One of my birth mom friends said that after placement she didn't feel important anymore. Please don't fall into that way of thinking. You created life, and you helped build a family. You are still very much important.

I can't speak for anyone else, but impatience was a big one for me. Have you ever seen those JG Wentworth ads where people shout “It's my money, and I need it now!” I SO get that. Many of us are told throughout the process that God has all these amazing blessings lined up for us for this thing we've done. It's normal to feel, “They're my blessings, and I need them now!” The fact is those blessings – what they are and when we get them are on God's time, not ours. You may find yourself, like me, two years after placement feeling like very little has changed. Don't give up. (I remind myself of this every day.)

It's also normal to be impatient with yourself about grief – when do I stop feeling like crap? When does it get better? When do I get to move on? Now would be good! Research suggests that six to twelve months post-loss is the hardest time. All the firsts are difficult. But the second year may be harder for you. The good news is, I don't know anyone who's said that the third year is hard :)

Parenthetically, although I just said "post-loss," the first and second years that I referred to are actually the first and second years of grieving. If you placed ten years ago and promptly stuffed all your grief down, you are only just beginning.

What about disconnect? This one is a little scary, but it's a good sign. As time passes, your deep connection to the child you placed won't be as intense. You won't check your e-mail twenty times a day for a picture anymore. You might not read an e-mail from the adoptive couple right away. You might still feel this insanely irrational love for the child you placed, and yet spend most of a visit talking to the adoptive parents instead of gazing in rapt wonder at the life you created.

I should also mention that you may experience several of these feelings at once. It is possible to feel more than one emotion at a time. It doesn't mean you're crazy. It means you're human. You are absolutely allowed to feel happy for someone and jealous of them at the same time. You can feel sad and happy at the same time (and I'm the "happiest sad" chick, so trust me on this one). You can feel grateful and impatient. You can feel depressed at the same time you feel a lot of love.

I want to say a word about love. The temptation is often to jump back into a relationship right away. If the right person comes along, then by all means. But tread lightly. Be careful not to end up with the wrong person again. After placement, you're still learning who you are. You can't get to know another person properly if you're still getting to know yourself. You're not quite you when you're grieving. It's okay to be alone. As Mr Rogers said, "Solitude is different from loneliness, and it doesn't have to be a lonely kind of thing."

Hang in there - part 3 is coming soon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Grief and Healing, or Something Like That

I don't know if any of you know this about me, but sometimes I like to talk about grief. And by "sometimes" I mean "at least once a week for the past three or four years." It's kind of become my thing. I guess that's okay.

I gave a presentation at the national FSA conference on grief and healing (as they pertain to birth mothers). I think it went okay. And then, because it was easier than coming up with something new, I gave that same presentation at the regional conference last month. I've had several (and by "several" I mean, "as many as two") people ask me for an outline of my presentation. And since I have been too busy/lazy to blog lately, I thought I would finally give in and post it on my blog. In an effort to stretch out my laziness, I'm going to split it into more than one post. Also, it's kind of long, and I think my eyes would glaze over if I had to sit and read the whole thing, and I wrote it. So I'm assuming that no one else wants to sit here for thirty minutes squinting at a computer screen. Even though some of you probably do that anyway, playing Farmville or watching cat videos on YouTube (my favorite is this one) or whatever it is that people do on-line for the 4-6 hours a day that Google says we're spending.

Wow. Isn't it a shame when bad things happen to good sentences? Let's move on.

So, here it is. My thoughts on grief and healing, as I wrote and presented them (with a few clarifications and additions), minus the insightful comments that other people made during my presentations. Sorry about that. I should have taken notes.

If you've wasted as much time as I have on-line looking at baby animal pictures, you may have seen a photo or two with the caption “You're doing it wrong.” A kitten with its nose in the pages of a book may accompany the line “Facebook: you're doing it wrong.”

You may feel at times like, “Grief: you're doing it wrong.” But the odds are, you're doing it right, because what's wrong for someone else may be right for you. How many of you have ever felt like you were grieving placement improperly: too long, too short, too much, not enough?

[Here I paused for a show of hands]

No two birth moms are going to grieve exactly the same, and that's okay. The intensity and duration of your grief aren't as important as what you get out of it – its productivity. Grief can and should be productive. As long as it's moving you forward in some way, you're doing it right. You won't find yourself moving forward very much at first. Grief is more of a reflex. It's up to you to make it work for you.

And it is work! It's neither easy nor fun, but the only way out, as they say, is through. You can push it back, stuff it down, box it up all you want, but eventually it's going to have to be dealt with. I recommend starting now! It won't get any easier. But it's important.

How many of you have felt like you shouldn't be grieving at all?

[Here, again, I paused for a show of hands]

I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that because adoption was the right choice, it shouldn't hurt, that maybe we don't have a right to be sad. But the thing is, we do have a right to be sad. We need to be sad. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross* said, “Grief is the reflection of the connection that has been lost. We think we want to avoid the grief, but really it is the pain of the loss we want to avoid. Grief is the healing process that ultimately brings us comfort in our pain. That pain and our love are forever connected.”

When I think of the kind of life I want to live, I think of my Savior. He set a perfect example for us. Do you all remember that short scripture that's so easy to quote? “Jesus wept.” If He wept, I think it's okay for us to weep, too. Emotions - the full gamut of them - are a gift from God. Embrace them.

Give yourself permission to grieve. It is a perfectly healthy response to any kind of loss. I had a birth mom tell me once that she felt selfish for being sad, because she knew adoption was right for her baby. If any of you share that belief, I want to disabuse you of it. Your grief is NOT selfish. You grieve because you love, and it is the most selfless love in the world.

The world won't always understand this. For example: when my father died, my mom was treated with sympathy, kindness, patience, and understanding. No one accused her of being selfish for her sadness. On the other hand, after I placed, people told me I was being self-centered, that I needed to stop thinking about my own pain and do something for someone else, that I needed to snap out of it and move on already. It goes without saying that that kind of attitude isn't very helpful or respectful. If you've been on the receiving end of that kind of “advice,” please disregard it. You need to grieve just as much as someone who has lost a spouse.

Placement is a death, in a way. Your baby is gone – he or she no longer exists. In their place is someone else's baby. And you're not just grieving one single moment of loss but a lifetime of things that won't be as the child grows up - or, rather, things that will be, but without you.

I hope you like depressing cliffhangers, because that's it for part 1! Part 2, which deals with the specific aspects of grief, will be up in a few days :)

*Quote taken from "On Grief and Grieving," by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Saturday, December 3, 2011

In Which December is Also Adoption Month

I feel kind of bad that I hardly blogged at all for National Adoption Month. I feel like I should have had SOMETHING to say about it, being a birth mother and all. But I guess that's part of why I didn't say more - I am a birth mother. Every month is adoption month for me :)

It's like that for anyone who's been through something big. There might be a day or a month for cancer or adoption or civil rights or anything else. But whereas most people think about it for a day or a month, if it's personal for you, every single day is, for instance, National Adoption Day. It's not a once-a-year occasion.

I don't specifically think of adoption every single day, but I do think of Roo and, as I placed her, adoption is in there somewhere. I can't separate Roo from adoption. Without adoption, I wouldn't be blogging right now. I'd be chasing a two-year-old around, trying to keep her from breaking the ornaments on my Christmas tree.

Or not. It's the weekend, so I might not have custody of Roo today; H would. I know that having to share custody would have broken my heart. I try to remember that kind of thing whenever I get these rosy ideas about what being Roo's mother would be like. I wouldn't even get to be her mother full-time - and not just because of H. I would probably be at work today, because if I'd chosen to parent Roo, I'd be working at least two jobs to try to keep afloat. I'd have to. I mean, I'm falling under as it is with the one job I'm working now, and I only have to take care of me. I can't imagine trying to take care of someone else.

It's just ... I love her. I think I'm always going to imagine what one thing or another would be like, even though I know my imagination glosses over the reality of what it would be like. I can't help but think about her, and I can't help but miss her.

It's not always a terribly sad thing. And over time, it's become something that isn't always Roo-specific. I miss having a baby and I miss being a mother in general.

I've been told by more than one birth mother that I'm lucky because I "got to" parent Roo for a couple of months before I placed her, that they're jealous. I hate hearing that. I feel like it diminishes the difficulty of placement - like it was a breeze because I got to spend time with Roo first, or like I was always going to place her but I parented first just to see what it was like. Whenever I hear placement stories, birth moms say things about how they cherished their time in the hospital because they knew it was their only time with the baby they were going to place. They often say that they wished they had more time.

Sometimes I selfishly wish I'd had less. Not that I would ever, for anything in the world, take back a single second I spent with my baby when she was mine. But the fact that I hadn't previously made an adoption plan, that I planned to be and was in fact Roo's mother, that made it so much harder for me to place her. [I want to specify here that I'm not saying that it was any harder for me to place than it was for anyone else, but that parenting first made adoption harder for me personally.] I knew exactly what it was that I was going to miss. I had been not just a mother but Roo's mother. If I hadn't been above 100% certain about P and M, I never could have placed.

But as I said, I have moments these days where it's not baby Roo that I miss entirely; it's motherhood. I have always wanted to be a mother. I worry sometimes that Roo was my only shot at motherhood. Sometimes I feel okay with that. Sometimes I think, "Roo is enough. The time I had as her mother was enough. If that's all I ever get, I'm okay with that." Other times all I can think is how grossly unfair life is. The key is balancing those times, making sure the former is more common than the latter. I'm not quite there yet.

But I'm getting better.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Guest Blog Alert!

Today I have a guest post up at Genuinely Jarman. You can read it HERE. It's nothing deep or earth-shattering (not that much of what I write ever is!). I had a few thoughts recently about little things that I didn't expect when I became a birth mother and I wrote them down, and you can read them if you click above.

And that's about it.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I outed myself at church* a few weeks ago.

I'd been feeling this itch for weeks that I needed to speak up about adoption in my ward. I'd let several opportunities pass by because I didn't know how people would take what I had to say. Finally, the first Sunday of the month, I got up to share my testimony. Normally when I get up, I have an idea of what I want to say. If I don't focus my thoughts ahead of time, I end up tripping on my words and stuttering and it's pretty thoroughly embarrassing. But that day, all I could think was, I need to get up. I need to speak.

I feel like someone in the congregation needed to know that I'm a birth mom. I don't know who and I don't know why, but now they know. I don't remember everything I said, but I know that I talked about how much God loves us, and how our greatest heartaches can bring us our greatest blessings, and then the words flew out of my mouth - "Two years ago I placed a child for adoption."

You want people to sit up and take notice? Announce to a group of ostensibly abstinent people, a group to which you belong, that you once got into a little bit of trouble. One girl actually did literally sit up. I had to smother a laugh.

I like to think that I managed a decent segue from my blurt back into God's love, but I don't remember. All I know is that it's out, and I'm out, and my goodness, but it's a relief! I wish I'd said something sooner. It wasn't as scary as I thought.

Here's the thing - I'm not ashamed of being a birth mom. I think that having Roo and placing her are the absolute best things I've ever done and that I'll ever do. I am proud of the choice I made, and I am ridiculously proud of my little girl.

Keeping silent about my story - not speaking up when I've wanted to in the past - feels like an act motivated by shame, and that's not how I feel. I mean, I do try to choose my words carefully, and I certainly don't introduce myself to people by telling them I'm a birth mother. My adoption story, mine and Roo's, is a precious burden - it's the most sacred thing I have ever been a part of, and I want to do it justice, to explain things the right way when it feels like the proper course of action. But whatever my reasons for keeping things to myself, my silence can be interpreted as shame.

I'm done letting people think I'm ashamed of these things that I've done. If people decide to take my story wrong, to focus on my mistakes instead of the good, then that's their choice. But they're not going to misunderstand my love for Roo or the choice that I made. I am speaking up because I love her.

*Some of the words in this post might be confusing to my readers unfamiliar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So I've included relevant links in a few words to help explain what I'm talking about. Move the mouse around to find them :)

Friday, November 11, 2011


I've been on sort of a ranting kick lately. I'm sorry about that.

It's easy to fall into the trap of ranting about things because when it comes to adoption, there's never a shortage of misunderstandings, improper terminology, and wrong ideas. I sometimes feel the burden of educating people, correcting their misconceptions, giving them right ideas.

But I don't like ranting all the time, and I can't imagine that anyone likes to read it all the time. I certainly don't want Roo to think, when she's older, that I'm the sort of person who spends most of her time on a soapbox. I'm really not. I'm fairly even-keeled as far as temperament goes (no, really!).

I feel the need to step back today, to cut through the clever (to me) turns of phrase and the whining. Because that's not how I feel today, or even most days. What I feel is grateful - so very, very grateful!

I am acutely aware that my adoption situation is what many people would consider a best-case scenario. Adoption was 100% my choice; I wasn't lied to or coerced or forced in any way. I have a great relationship with P and M. I get e-mail and pictures and videos and visits. I get to see firsthand how clever and happy and absolutely darling my little Roo is, and how she is thriving. I have my blog as an outlet, and my support group as a collective shoulder to lean on. I've been able to process my grief for the most part.

There are a lot of birth parents out there who aren't as lucky. I don't know how they do it.

I'm grateful that I don't know. I'm grateful that things have worked out the way they have. I'm grateful for what a wonderful life Roo and her family have, for how happy they all are and how much they love each other. I'm grateful for the gift of adoption. Although I have days where I miss Roo a lot, I try not to take my situation for granted. I try not to let a single day pass without reminding myself that I have an awful lot to be thankful for.

I am a lucky girl.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Guest Post

Today I have a guest post up over at Portrait of an Adoption. If you haven't read this blog before, you should definitely start. Carrie is an adoptive mother who writes beautifully about the ups and downs of adoption. She is featuring a guest post on her blog each day in November to celebrate National Adoption Month, and today is my day. Click *here* to read it.

I do want to add a caveat. My post is about the pain of placement, and I didn't try to pretty up the feelings. But I do not feel any of that pain now. I left that dark beast behind me. I am in such a good place with things. So when you're reading, please keep in mind that the pain I described was temporary, that I got through it, that I'm happy now, and that it was absolutely worth it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm Old, and Here's Why

When I read through this for typos and grammatical errors, I noticed that it felt a lot more melancholy than I intended. It felt very matter-of-fact when I was writing it. So when reading it, please keep that in mind. I am mostly over my October Crabbies and, on account of today being my day off, I'm feeling pretty good. This is mostly my way of explaining why, Crock Pot aside, I feel old, and why I don't mind.

So, my birthday turned out okay. Nothing special, nothing exciting, but that's what happens when you're an adult, isn't it? Nothing is as big a deal as it was when you were a kid. When you're a kid, the whole world stops for your birthday. It's an Event. People fuss over you and pay special attention to you. You get asked how old you are, and no matter what you answer, people are excited for you. "You're four? Hey, that's great! Four is a great age!" There will be presents, and a cake in the shape of an animal. (I had a giraffe cake one year. You can't beat that.)

But when you're an adult, you get, "Oh, happy birthday!" and that's about it. No one tells you, "How exciting to be twenty-eight! It's such a fun age." No one asks, "What did you get for your birthday this year?" Because the answer is usually just, "Older." The question I keep getting asked is, "Did you do anything fun for your birthday?" People don't even assume that I actually did do something fun - they ask if I did. Because I am an adult, and adults are very often too tired to do anything fun, because they spend all their time working, and cleaning the house (even though the house should, by all rights, stay clean, because they are never actually home), and worrying about things like the weather and their car's gas mileage and Kids These Days and how quickly fruit seems to spoil. (Or maybe that's just me.)

Two days after my birthday marked three years since I found out I was pregnant. In my mind, my birthday and that day are inextricably linked. I'm okay with that. Grown-up Jill was born when I saw those parallel pink lines, so it feels appropriate that the two dates should come to mind as a pair. It also means that I miss Roo just a tiny bit more around my birthday, but that's okay.

Grown-up Jill is three this year. She feels much, much older.

I want to make it clear that I've always been bothered by young people who complain about how old they are. That hasn't changed. If you can't rent a car, you are not old, so please shush. I used to joke about being prematurely old, on account of my fibromyalgia (which totally sounds like an old person's disease, doesn't it?) and the fact that I can't get off the couch without making some sort of pained noise, and how I hate most popular music, and having used, more than once, the phrase, "When I was your age."

I didn't really believe that I was old. It was just something funny to say. I knew I still had a lot of growing up to do, and I was okay with that. I wasn't in any great rush to get it over with. I've never understood why younger people are in such a rush to grow up. You have the rest of your life to be an adult - why speed to get there? I realize in retrospect that I probably should have started to grow up sooner, but my parents were very kind in letting me take my time. They didn't rush me. I appreciate that.

Then I found out I was responsible for growing another human being, and that whole no-big-rush thing sort of went up in smoke. If pregnancy didn't grow me up enough (I thought it did), placement sure finished the job. I found that I no longer felt the least bit young. As amazing as it was discover that I could love another person as much as I love Roo, to discover that I could love enough to hurt myself, it was also heavy - it aged me. It's a great responsibility, to love so much. It changed me. I'm so glad it did! But it's a very grown-up sort of change.

I envy birth moms who are able, after placement, to go back to being young and carefree and giggly. I wasn't able to. Although in all fairness, I was never particularly giggly before, and I don't think I've ever been carefree. I was a frequently serious child (thanks to an anxiety disorder), and a serious teenager (thanks to a mood disorder), and a serious young adult (thanks to growing up with anxiety and mood disorders). None of that's gone away.

It's not that I never laugh, or that I'm never happy. I do laugh, quite frequently as a matter of fact, and as far as happy goes, I'd say I'm happier than I've been in a long time. But I still feel old. I guess part of the problem is the people with whom I spend my time. At church, I am part of a congregation of young single adults, ages 18-30. That is a huge age range, I think. I thought it was ridiculous when I was 18 and I think it's equally as ridiculous now. My particular congregation skews young, and there are several girls in it who graduated from high school a few months ago. They are very young, and very giggly, and not the least bit serious. They are legal adults, but they haven't had to grow up yet. They haven't had to be selfless. They have probably never worried about kilowatt-hours or interest rates or insurance deductibles. And that's okay! I'm glad they haven't. Like I said before, I don't think there should be any great rush to be an adult. But being around these people who seem so very young, makes me feel old. I share none of their interests or their current life experiences, and yet I find myself grouped with them time and time again because of the way things are organized - we're all 18-30! We're all alike! Psh. The more I'm around them, the older I feel.

Then I go to work. In reality, I am not really that much younger than some of my co-workers. I think the biggest difference is that they're married (or were married) and have kids, and I am ostensibly this young, selfish, single person who never has to think of anyone else, and who has less money deducted from her paychecks because there are no dependents on her insurance. Any time anything age- or life-related comes up, I hear, "Yeah, but you're still young," in a very dismissive tone, as though because of my apparent youth, I wouldn't know what it's like to be an actual grown-up.

Every time I hear that phrase, hear the word "young," I think, I don't have the words to explain how little you understand. I'm not young. I haven't been young in a long, long time. I can't remember the last time I felt young. Even before I placed, even before I got pregnant, there was my dad's death, and his cancer before that. I vaguely remember thinking once or twice back in beauty school that I was kind of still a kid, but my mind blurs. Was it beauty school? Or was it college before that? Those phases of my life sort of run together in my memory. They feel like ages ago. I think it's probably been six or seven years since I felt young. And that ship has since sailed.

I don't mind. I'm quite comfortable being an adult. There is something very improving about rising and falling on my own merits or lack thereof. It's something I can recommend with great enthusiasm. I've embraced it. I want Roo to be proud of me, and I don't think she would be if I regressed after placement, if I clung desperately to my youth. Instead, I cling to my love for her. I want to set a good example, the kind of example I owe to her because of my love. If Roo were to grow up and be in my situation - not a birth mom, but single and alone in the world at my age - I wouldn't want her to be giggly and carefree and a child. I would want her to be responsible, to take care of herself, to work hard. I know that she has an excellent example in her own mother, but should she ever look to me, I'm mindful of what she'll see. I want her to see maturity and responsibility and contentment and faith in God. I'm working on them, and they're not conducive to the prolonging of my youth.

I'm not young, and that's okay. I'm okay.

And in case you're wondering, for my birthday, I went to my mom's house for dinner, and my brother and his family came, and there was a cake in the shape of a rectangle, and I got older.

Friday, October 21, 2011

In Which Jill Counts Her Blessings in a Roundabout Sort of Way

I haven't blogged in a while. I haven't had much to say. I'm not comfortable with blogging just for the sake of blogging. I think that if I don't have anything to say, I should keep quiet lest I prove that I don't have anything to say.

I don't have anything adoption-specific to say today, but I do need to whine, and I don't see my therapist, John, until next week. This month is our 6th anniversary. I should buy him a present. Six years is ... what, wood or iron or something, right? I miss John. I used to see him a lot more but he's decided that I am a functional adult - or, at the very least, that I'm no more messed up than the average American - and so I only see him a few times a year now.

That's okay, I guess. I mean, I am busy. I pretty much live at the library now. I got a really nice promotion so I work full-time and I have benefits and everything. I also have a desk now, and an official Maricopa County ID badge. Also, to answer the question that people always want to ask about working for the government, no, this does not get me out of jury duty. I got a summons for November 1st.


Part of why I haven't posted is that I've been sort of a bear lately. Well, not all the time. I mean, I've been a bear quite a bit lately, but I've also had plenty of those overwhelmed, sobbing-on-the-couch moments, so I've been like a bear with a mood disorder. I blame the calendar - it's October. I always get depressed in October.

Part of it is my birthday (this Sunday, if you were wondering), which is usually not a particularly happy occasion, and part of it is what my birthday represents - another step further away from the life I thought I'd have, and another step closer to dying alone in a house full of cats. Except that I'm allergic to cats, so they would have to be robot cats, which concerns me, because what do you do if your robot cats don't get along? Can they be re-programmed? Should I get a robot dog to keep them in line? So many questions.

In addition, I can think of no less than twelve years when weird or bad things happened on or around my birthday. Car accidents, panic attacks, deaths, hospitalizations, 9-hour solo shifts at the hair salon ... and, most notably, a positive pregnancy test. Happy birthday, right?

Every year I think, this year will be different - nothing bad is going to happen, and my birthday will be a happy day. I am very nearly always proven wrong. Good things have happened - the first birthday I had after placement was made quite happy by a great visit with Roo and her family - but it seems like it's rare that I can shake what I have come to refer to as my birthday curse.

All week I've been waiting for something to happen. Nothing too bad yet - although I did find out the other day that a man I greatly admire has a girlfriend who is roughly half my size and has limbs like a stick insect. But that's okay. In twenty years, those stick-insect arms will probably become brittle and arthritic, and my chubby arms and I will have a house full of robot cats for company.

I digress.

While nothing catastrophic has occurred, a lot of little things have gone wrong. I could list them, but I'm trying not to dwell on them, because when a lot of little things add up, they're something big. Like library fines. Twenty cents per book per day for an overdue fine doesn't seem like much, but if you have eight books that are two weeks late, you've got a fine of more than twenty dollars, as I explained to an irate patron today.

But I don't want to focus on my ruined Crock Pot meal, or my three new bruises, four scrapes and blood blister. I want to forget that my electricity went out while I was at work the other day and I had to replace the contents of my refrigerator. And I am not even going to get into how many stupid mistakes I made at work this week (27) or how many times people swore at me (2). I don't want to get so shortsighted that these individual twenty-cent fines are all I can see.

Because a year from now, when I'm panicking about turning 29, I'm not going to care about any of that. I probably won't remember any of it. It's not going to make a difference. It's not important. Two years from now, when I'm sobbing into my breakfast cereal over my lost youth on my thirtieth birthday, I won't remember this year, or next year. Ten years from now ... well, ten years from now I'll be pushing 40, and that's scary. But the little things are going to fall away and I'll probably have ruined so many Crock Pot meals that I'll have learned to like them that way and I'll be able to do my job in my sleep and maybe I won't bruise so easily as I get older. But what's important to me right now, and what will be important to me next year and the next year and in ten years and every year after that, is that the Unexpected Birthday Occurrence of 2008 brought me Roo, and that I placed her for adoption, and that it is the best thing I have ever done.

There's some vaguely cheesy quote out there about how this thing and that don't matter but what matters is that you make a difference in the life of a child. I'm too lazy for Google right now. But it's true, isn't it? None of this, not the Stick Insect Girl or the Crock Pot and certainly not the robot cats, none of it will matter in the long run. What matters is Roo. I feel cheesier than a fondue pot for saying so, but what matters is that I made a difference in her life (and the life of her family) - and that she's made a difference in mine.

And nothing, not even a lifetime of bad birthdays, can take that away.

Hey, maybe John was right. Maybe I am functional after all :)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Open Adoption Roundtable #30

If you are a regular reader, you might be puzzled by the #30 in the title (I've never done 1-29), as well as the phrase "Open Adoption Roundtable."

Allow me to explain. No, wait, allow the creator of the Open Adoption Roundtable to explain, as follows: "The Open Adoption Roundtable is a series of occasional writing prompts about open adoption. It's designed to showcase of the diversity of thought and experience in the open adoption community." (See *here* for more.)

While I've been on the e-mail list for ages now, I have never felt the urge to participate. I'm not sure why. I'm also not sure why I felt the urge to participate today, but I did, so here goes. Prompt #30 says, "Do you remember the first time you heard about open adoption?"

(Allow me to apologize in advance for how scattered my thoughts are, and for any typographical errors. It's just been one of those days.)

I'm not sure I remember exactly - I can guess. I don't even remember when adoption itself was introduced to me. As far back as I can remember, I knew that my mother was adopted, and that it was a good thing because it meant she was special - her parents picked her, and they loved her. Personally, I always got the impression she was their favorite, but that might just have been the way I saw it as a child.

So adoption, in my mind, was closed adoption. There was no contact with the biological family, no connection. Although my mother occasionally put her name on adoptee-rights mailing lists, her heart wasn't in it - she didn't feel a void in her life. She mentioned, when I asked, that she was mostly curious about what her birth mother looked like, and she (my mom) wished that her birth mother could see that she was happy, and that adoption had been the right choice.

I know that my grandparents wished they knew more about the young woman who was in their lives for a matter of minutes. I imagine that they had questions for her, both for their own peace of mind and that of the tiny baby they'd been entrusted with. But what they knew about her was little enough to fit into a text message. They learned to live with it.

I had more of a thirst. When I was a teenager, or maybe 20, I was able to do some digging and I found my mother's biological family. She had a half-brother 5 years her senior, and two younger half-sisters. Her birth mother had died a few years before, and had never told anyone that she once placed a baby for adoption. I remember wondering how a person could keep such a heavy secret for over forty years. But, I thought, that was adoption for you.

Fast-forward several years to my first meeting with a social worker. I was only a few weeks pregnant at the time and the cells dividing inside me didn't even seem real yet. The social worker, S, discussed what she called my "options" with me, and adoption was one of them. I tuned her out because I wasn't particularly interested in adoption. I vaguely remember the phrase "open adoption" being thrown around but it didn't mean much to me. S told me about a few birth mothers she had worked with who had placed very recently, and I think she said something about visits or pictures. This caught my attention, and it mystified me. Visits? Who on earth would do such a thing? In my mind, adoption meant a signature on a legal document and silence for at least 18 years. It meant unanswered questions. That's just the way things were - right?

The next week I met the aforementioned birth mothers, and they showed me pictures of the children they had placed. They talked about how much they missed their babies, but how nice it was to be able to see them and know that they were okay. The fact that they spoke so openly about things threw me. Adoptees, I expected to speak. But because of my mother's experience, I thought that birth mothers would want to keep secrets.

The more I heard these women speak, the more I thought to myself that if I were ever to choose adoption (not that I EVER would, I thought), openness was the only way to go. I imagined how alone my biological grandmother must have felt, and how hard it must have been for her to hand over her newborn baby girl to two strangers and just walk away, never knowing for the rest of her life if her baby was happy and cared-for and loved.

Because of my situation - parenting for a bit before placing - I knew that I had to have an open adoption or no adoption at all. I had such a connection to Roo. The thought of never knowing anything about her was too much. I needed openness. I needed it then, and I need it now.

I need it for myself, if I'm honest. I don't think I could have healed if I hadn't been able to see Roo and hold her and tell her I love her after placement. I don't think I could have stood not knowing what she looked like or if she was happy.

But I think that as time passes and Roo grows, the openness will be less about me and more about her. I think of my mother, wondering for years if she resembled the woman who grew her and gave her life (she does, for the record). I think of her wanting to tell her birth mother that adoption was the right choice, that my mom has had a happy life. I think of my grandparents, wondering about the young woman who gave them their daughter. Roo won't have to wish or wonder - she knows what I look like. I know that she's happy. P and M know who I am.

Every adoption situation is different; I know that. I mean, I would never presume to tell someone how to fold an origami crane when I've only ever folded a chicken. But I do believe that open adoption, when it is done right and for the right reasons, is the very best kind of open adoption. Everyone benefits - the adoptive parents, the birth parents, and the child most of all.

Isn't that what adoption is all about?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Up and Away

First of all, I want to thank the awesome peeps who commented on my last post. I got a lot of really good feedback, and I feel like slightly less of a brat than I did before. I'm going to try to be more patient ... and also more direct.

And now for something completely different. (Happy birthday, Monty Python!)

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that I've been feeling the urge to tell more people about my being a birth mother. I'm not sure why, but the itch is there. It's a little bit annoying, to be honest. I mean, I don't think I will ever be so blasé about adoption as to throw it out there when I first meet someone. When someone says, "Tell me about yourself," I never say, "Well, for openers, I'm a birth mother." My experience with adoption was and is much too significant, much too important to be mentioned in the same breath as an introduction.

But when it feels right, I've been speaking up more and more. There's always this brief moment of panic where I wonder, what will they think of me? But more often than not, the reaction I get is, "Wow!"

I don't know if it's because people are genuinely impressed or because they don't know what else to say. I'm content to believe that it's the former.

Still, every now and then, I'll hear that phrase so loathed by every birth mother of my acquaintance: "I could never do that." It doesn't matter how the person means it, it's still cringe-inducing. But you know what makes it worse? When people specify what "that" is - "Oh, I could never give my baby away."

You know what? I could never give my baby away, either.

I promise I'm not being deliberately obtuse. I know what people mean when they say "give up" or "give away." But I didn't give Roo up, or away. I placed her. I will very nearly always correct someone who says "give up" or "give away." I don't even think about it most of the time. If it's a situation where someone else is talking and I'm supposed to be listening, I'll catch myself interrupting with "placed" every time the other person says "gave up." I can't help it.

Usually when I correct people, they'll brush my correction aside. "Same thing," they'll say. But ladies and gents, it is absolutely NOT the same thing. There is a difference between placing, giving up and giving away, and I can tell you right now that only one of them applies to adoption as I've experienced it.

In case you weren't aware, I like words. I like learning them and what they mean and I like using them correctly. I adored semantics before I even knew what that particular word meant. Can we talk about words here for a minute?

Even before I ever thought about adoption, the word "placed" always brought to mind care and deliberation - it's a verb one would apply to the action taken on something that is precious and important. I might drop my purse, I might set down a book, but something of value, a piece of fine china, for instance, is carefully placed on the table or in a cabinet. I toss my mail on the counter, but I place my jewelry on my nightstand. When I place something, I don't let go prematurely. I make sure that it's just where I want it before I loosen my grip - I make sure my target is stable. I slide my water pitcher into the refrigerator, but I place my full glass of water on the table. I take care. Placement is always done deliberately. When I care about an object, I don't let it go. I place it.

"Gave up," on the other hand, suggests something that should be the object of less care. People give up things that are bad for them - their vices. You might give up smoking. You might give up sugar for Lent. You might give up drinking soda. There are other uses for "gave up" though. People will give up on a sports team that isn't going to win (maybe next year, Dodgers). If something is too hard, what do you do? You give up. You quit. Giving up is quitting. I don't know about anyone else, but I sure didn't choose adoption because I wanted to quit being a mother. "Gave up" is a poor, mean way to describe the impossible choice a birthmother makes. Saying a birthmother "gave up" her child makes it sound like she was a drug user who couldn't kick the habit, or a selfish person who didn't want to bother with parenting.

I didn't give up my baby. You know what else? I sure as heck didn't give her away.

Have you ever wandered through the cosmetics section of a department store? There are signs everywhere for free lip gloss, bonus eyeshadow compacts and miniature bottles of perfume that can be yours with a purchase of $40 or more. Do you know what those little freebies are? They're giveaways. The samples of medicine or cereal or granola bars that come packaged with your Sunday paper? (I don't know if they do those other places, but in Phoenix sometimes you get NyQuil or Frosted Flakes with your newspaper.) Those are giveaways, too. Giveaways are cheap. They cost the giver either very little or nothing at all. Of course, you usually have to pay for those one way or another - your $40 purchase, or a newspaper subscription. If a giveaway is really free, it's usually given in the hopes that it will entice you to spend money - the giver stands to gain from his or her generosity.

That doesn't sound much like adoption to me, either.

But, hey, I'm talking about giveaways as a single word. I've forgotten semantics. What people have said is that I gave my baby away. Really? Gave away? Well, if I ever decide to replace my couch, I'll give away this one. I won't sell it, because it's not really worth anything. I'll put an ad on Craigslist and give my couch to the first person to contact me. People give things away because the things are no longer wanted, no longer needed, and have no value. If it's worth something, you sell it, you don't give it away.

Place, give up, give away. Which one of these three sounds the most appropriate given what you know of adoption from my blog? I love my little Roo. I always will. I wanted her. I needed her. She has infinite worth. She is dear and precious and very much loved. Because I love her more than I ever thought one person could love another person, I placed her. I took deliberate care. I didn't give her up or away, and I never, ever could, not in a million years.

So, please, don't tell me that either of those is the "same thing" as placement. They are worlds apart. I know which one I did and why. If I correct you, it's because I want you to know too.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Worst Person in the World

I need an outlet today. I need to get something out of my brain. It's only vaguely adoption-related, and it's nothing I'm proud of, but I need to get it out just the same.

I never watched Keith Olbermann's TV show - I had to Google him to figure out how to spell his name. But I am vaguely familiar with one part of the program because of an episode of "The Simpsons." Apparently Mr. Olbermann liked to single out individuals with whom he disagreed and label them that day's Worst Person in the World.

I'm not sure by what authority he makes such claims, or in comparison to whom. If Keith Olbermann had ever met my high school band director, Mrs. Woodard, he'd think Ann Coulter was just a sweetheart. Mrs. Woodard was a musical Mussolini. When I quit band after my sophomore year, she spent ten minutes yelling at me and telling me what an awful person I was and how I was a quitter and loser and I'd never amount to anything and how she was ashamed of me. Apparently this was meant to convince me to stick around.

I digress.

Most of the time I think I'm a pretty decent person. I'm not perfect, but I think most of us have our moments, don't we? Most of the time I am mostly good, and I do the best I can. It's human nature to judge people and to compare ourselves to others. As long as I keep it to myself, or between myself and God, and remind myself that I probably shouldn't be judging, I think I'm doing alright. I am much less judg-y than I used to be.

But every now and then I'll have a thought that is perhaps not very kind, and I wonder if anyone else would be as mean, or if Keith Olbermann was mistaken because I am the Worst Person in the World. I don't want to think these thoughts, but they keep popping up and several of them have been doing so regularly since my mom got married last December.

Usually it happens when I hear my mother's husband say he has eleven grandchildren.

My mother has eleven grandchildren. She's only got ten, strictly speaking, but she likes to count Roo, too. I mean, Roo's already got grandparents and everything, and I don't count Roo when people ask me if I have any children, so it's a little funny for me, but whatever. If my mom wants to count Roo as #9, she's allowed.

I actually insisted that she count Roo at first, because after I placed it seemed like most people I knew expected me to just move on with my life and pretend I never had a baby. My mom counting Roo as her grandchild was an acknowledgement to me that even though I wasn't a mom anymore, I had had a baby, and I still loved her. I was mostly fine with my mother counting Roo until last December, when my mom got married.

I am not at all fine with my mom's husband (let's call him Rick, just for fun) counting Roo. I have mentioned this to my mother on many occasions. I don't feel that Rick has any right to claim Roo as a grandchild, because he's never met her and isn't likely to, and he's never going to be a part of her life. He doesn't get to claim Roo. Not as far as I'm concerned.

If I'm honest, and I know this is just me being juvenile about my mom re-marrying, I'm not 100% comfortable with Rick claiming he has any grandchildren at all, because none of them are his kids' kids. They're all my mother's grandchildren. Rick isn't the least bit bothered by this. He started calling himself “Grandpa” pretty much the day he proposed to my mom.

My brother's youngest, L, was born two months after my dad died. His birth was a great blessing - he came when we needed a reason to be happy, something to celebrate. Of course, this means that L never met my dad, which is very sad.

A few weeks ago, Rick mentioned that L is his favorite grandchild, because L never knew his Grandpa Willy, so Rick is the only grandpa that L has ever known. That bothered me. What kind of person would take joy in the fact that a little boy never got to meet his own grandpa? It made me think unkindly of Rick, and I'm still bugged by it.

Am I awful for thinking these things? Am I awful for being bothered by these things that Rick says? Am I awful for not wanting Rick to claim Roo as his grandchild? But she's totally not his grandchild. Not at all. He doesn't get to claim her. He hasn't earned that right. He won't. It's just … I feel very, very protective of Roo and her story and the part that my dad played in everything (being such an awesome dad that I wanted the same for Roo, etc). Rick's presence in anything Roo-related feels intrusive. He doesn't belong.

Speaking of, as long as I'm admitting to being this selfish, horrible little brat, here's the other Rick-related thing that grates on me. Rick has, on more than one occasion, told people that he and my mother have nine children.

Um, excuse me? No, no they do not. He has five and she has four. THEY do not have any kids together and, parenthetically, as my mother is 54 I'd lay money down that they aren't going to. When Rick says things like that, I feel like he's pretending that my mother wasn't married to my father for 32 years. Rick and my mother don't have any children together. Rick is not my dad. I don't need Rick to be my dad. I have a dad. He's “laid this mortal by,” to quote a hymn, but he is still my father and he will be forever.

Am I awful? I need honest feedback here, because if I'm an awful person I should probably see my therapist more often and learn to make a conscious effort to be less awful. Even if I am awful, though, is it normal to be awful about these sorts of things? Even if you remove adoption from the situation, would it be normal to have these feelings about Rick, or am I just a rotten human being?

It's nothing personal against Rick - just the language that he uses. I mean, he's a nice enough guy, and he and my mother are happy together. But he's not my father and he never will be. Which makes it uncomfortable for me when Dad-related things come up, and there's Rick. It's intrusive and uncomfortable, and the fact that it's such an issue for me makes me feel like the worst person in the world.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Which Jill Feels the Need to Disagree

(or: I Hope You Like the Word "Mistake" Because I'm Going to Use it a Lot in This Post)

There's a birth mom blog out there that I read every now and then. I know some people who love this blog but I'm not one of them. I don't mean that in the sense that there's anything wrong with this blog or the woman who writes it, because it definitely fills a need. It's just not a good fit for me.

The blog author has a number of opinions I don't share. Which is fine! There are those who need and appreciate her perspective. I just don't happen to be one of them. But I do read now and then because the psych-major part of me finds it terribly fascinating how two women can experience the same thing (placement) in such different ways, and come away from it having learned different things and with such different perspectives.


I've never felt the need to comment before - well, maybe once, but when I was about to, I saw that someone else had commented with the sentiment I was going to express (and they put it better than I could have), so I left it alone. But a couple of weeks ago, I read something that rubbed me the wrong way. I want to address it here.

I don't make a habit of addressing other people's words on my own blog. Normally I would respond to something I don't agree with in the comments of what I will call, for lack of a better word, the offending post. I do my best to disagree agreeably. I did just that - I left a comment on the post in question. The blog author moderates comments, however, so my response didn't show up right away.

I waited a few days. And a few more days, and a few more. When two weeks had passed, it occurred to me that the blog author might not be willing to post a comment that disagreed with her. Maybe she felt I missed the point of the post (which is entirely possible, as I tend to be a bit thick-headed at times, and the part I took issue with wasn't the main point of the post). Maybe she thinks I'm an awful person for saying what I did. I don't know. All I know is my comment was rejected. I can live with that.

So I'm going to disagree here on my own blog, because although I may be biased I think my disagreement is important. My point is important. It may not be important to this other blogger, or to any of you, but it is important to me, and this is my blog, so here goes.

I'm not going to quote exactly, because if you didn't read the original post I don't want you to go Googling it to figure out who wrote it. I don't know this birth mom personally so I don't want to judge her or her situation and I certainly don't want to see her or her blog attacked based on my opinion. But I'm really, really bothered by some of the words she used.

The gist of what she said was that we (birth moms) owe a debt of gratitude to adoptive couples for "cleaning up our mistake."

Um, excuse me? My mistake?

I am grateful to P and M for a great many things, but not once has it ever occurred to me to see their adoption of Roo as "cleaning up my mistake." Just the thought of using that kind of language to describe it makes me angry.

I made a lot of mistakes, but Roo isn't one of them. Getting pregnant with her might not have been my intention, but I don't see it as a mistake. Conceiving her, carrying her, giving birth to her, taking care of her until I found her family, and placing her for adoption are collectively the best thing I have ever done. I love Roo more than anything. But she's not just my tummy baby or P and M's daughter. Roo is a precious, cherished, beloved daughter of God.

The one thing Roo is NOT is a mess to be cleaned up. She's not a "mess," or any kind of mistake, and I didn't place her to clean anything up, to fix anything or to hide anything. I placed her because I love her and I knew that adoption was what was best for her.

I also can't imagine that P and M saw adoption as a way of cleaning up my personal "mistake" - they barely knew me, why would they do me that kind of favor if that phrasing (cleaning up a mess) were accurate? The adoption of their little girl wasn't a dreaded inconvenience or a hassle or a personal favor. It was something they'd prayed for, something they wanted very, very badly.

I am grateful to P and M - for the great parents they are to their children, for the good examples they are to me, for their love and prayers and support and openness, for a million other things. But I've never looked at things as if I owe them something for taking a "mistake" off my hands. Nor do I think they owe me anything. I think we're square. They owe Roo unconditional love and care and support and a happy childhood and all the other things parents owe their children. I owe it to Roo to make myself a better person for having had her. But that's where any sense of debt ends.

The fact that this birthmother referred to her placed child as a mess to be cleaned up hurts my heart. Badly. She's certainly allowed to feel that way if she wants to, but I'm allowed to feel the opposite. I would hate for someone who doesn't know about adoption to stumble on a post with that kind of language and get the wrong idea about why a woman might place her child for adoption. I would hate for someone to read that and think that birthmothers see their placed children as mistakes, as things to be ashamed of, to be hidden or cleaned up.

Shame is the last thing I'll ever feel about Roo, no matter how she turns out. I am proud of her and the decision I made for her. I was recently given a new assignment in church, in a position of leadership with the women of my congregation. I mentioned this to an acquaintance of mine who is just learning about adoption, and I said, sort of jokingly, that I couldn't wait until an opportunity arose to tell the women of my ward that I had a baby. This acquaintance, C, jumped in quickly.

"Oh, you shouldn't feel like you have to tell anyone. No one needs to know," she said.

"I don't have to tell anyone," I said, "but I want to. I'm not ashamed of Roo. I like to tell people about her."

C seemed unconvinced. I am convinced. I'm not proud of a lot of the decisions I made three years ago. But having Roo isn't among them. She's nothing to be swept under the rug. She's nothing to be ashamed of or hidden.

I love Roo! She's my little friend. I think she's the most wonderful and amazing person in the world. It is precisely because I love her so much and because I think so much of her that I placed her. It had nothing to do with me or my past or my future. It was all about Roo.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How To Irritate an Adoptive Mother

I've found that in adoption circles, I am known as the "Happiest Sad Chick" but more specifically I'm remembered for two pieces of writing: my piece on cold risotto, and my rant called "How To Irritate a Birth Mother."

I've gotten quite a bit of e-mail lately on the latter; I can only assume I have new readers who have only recently discovered it (Hello, new people!). A few weeks ago, I heard from one of those new readers, Sharon. She is the mother of an absolutely darling little girl named Ava, who was adopted. Sharon blogs about adoption and other things at I Believe in Miracles. (I love this post from a few days ago.)

Sharon contacted me to see if it would be okay if she pulled from "How to Irritate a Birth Mother" for her blog, and I was very interested to see what she came up with. You can read the results here: *click*

I loved reading Sharon's take on some of the stupid questions I get. I suppose that it's naïveté on my part that I never considered adoptive parents having to answer stupid questions about birth parents, too. In this respect I suppose I'm lucky - I only have to answer stupid birthmother-related questions. Couples who have adopted get stupid adoptive parent-related questions AND stupid birthmother-related questions.

Click on over to Sharon's blog for her take on stupid questions, and stay for a while to read some of the inspiring things she's written about adoption. Parenthetically, she lives not far from a place called The Lion Park so her blog also has pictures of Ava petting a lion cub. You have no idea how jealous I am :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Everybody Hurts

Several times in the past few weeks I've heard or read birthmothers express that although placement was a hard thing, there was an accompanying sort of peace and comfort. This isn't something I've never heard before. I heard it all the time when I was pregnant, and also right after I placed. It made me feel abnormal and dysfunctional, because I didn't get any of that. I mean, I knew that I'd made the right decision, and I felt like God was with me. But God was with me in the sense that ... how can I put this?

Okay, remember the '96 Olympics? More specifically, Kerri Strug's vault on an injured foot. She was hurt, and she knew that she was hurt, but her coach didn't say, "Oh, hey, Kerri, why don't you sit this one out? Your ankle looks pretty bad."

Actually, maybe he did, but considering what I have read about her coach, I very much doubt it. I suspect it was something more along the lines of, "You've got the rest of your life to fix this ankle, and only another 90 seconds to do this vault," followed by a couple of swear words in Romanian.

That's how it was for me after placement (minus the swears). God knew that I was hurt, and He put His arm around me, but he didn't let me sit out my second vault. I had to sprint down the mat again and trust that the landing wasn't going to kill me.

So I've always felt like a bit of an outsider when birth moms talk about how they were on a spiritual high after placement, or how they feel like God took away their pain, or how it wasn't that hard because it was the right choice. None of those things fits my situation.

But every woman is different. I've found that comparing myself and my situation to others isn't ever a productive activity. I decided a while ago that I was just different, and that was okay. Maybe placement would have felt different, maybe I would have handled it different, if it had happened within a week of Roo's birth. Maybe if I met other birth mothers who parented for a while, their placement pain and grief would fit with the pattern of mine and I wouldn't feel so maladroit.

I don't know. But here's what I do know: we don't always remember things the way they happened. At my birth mom group tonight, I heard a woman talk about how she had this peace and calm after placement, and how at times she missed that feeling. I know this woman, who placed a few months after I did, and I was there at group the first time she came after placement. She didn't seem to be particularly peaceful or calm. She was a miserable wreck. So it was strange for me to hear tonight that she remembers things the way she does. I suspect that the peace she has with her decision now has colored her memories of her pain. It got me thinking about the other placement stories I heard during my pregnancy and later.

Most of what I heard seemed to be really happy stories, about how even though placement wasn't fun, it was beautiful or peaceful or something like that. I wonder now - how many of those stories are true and how many of them are memories recalled by women whose pain was simply too stale to properly recount? I mean, I'm not saying anyone was lying, or even that they weren't remembering correctly. For all I know I just encountered an unusually high number of women for whom placement wasn't a gut-punch trauma. But I think, the odds are that one or two of them are like my friend who spoke tonight.

That's not a bad thing. I want to stress that. I think that we remember things the way we do for a reason. It's like ... well, to use a relevant simile, it's like childbirth. When you're in labor, it is awful. It's uncomfortable at best and excruciating at worst. It hurts! You don't forget that pain right after the baby is born. The baby makes it worth it, of course, but the pain was recent enough that you're not going to soon forget. You've got a good point of reference for a ten on the pain scale hospitals use. You see your OB-GYN a few weeks after the baby's birth for a check-up, and she asks you about your pain. You might be uncomfortable, but compared to the pain of actually getting the baby out, you're at, what, a two?

But the older the baby gets, the fuzzier that pain memory gets. Your lack of sleep doesn't help your memory any. But while you remember childbirth being painful, you find that you can't quite remember how bad a 10 is. You think, I was uncomfortable then, but my head really hurts now. This migraine is an 8 on the pain scale. By the time your child is two, if a pregnant woman asks you about labor, you'll brush off their concerns.

"It hurts, but you get through it," you tell her. "You won't remember it when you hold your baby." Which is a lie. I still had staples in my gut the first time I held my baby. But time has made the pain memory fuzzy. So, maybe you've decided to have a second child. You can handle the pain of childbirth, you think. And then labor starts.

My mother recalled her second labor once. She said that once things got started, she remembered really fast what it felt like, and she thought, "Oh, no. It really was that bad." But until that moment, she didn't remember the pain properly, and it's a good thing because if she had, my oldest brother would be an only child and I wouldn't be here.

I was going somewhere with my analogy, I know I was.


Oh, right. Placement. I think that time, and acceptance, dulls the memory of placement pain for some women, and when they recall their experience, it turns into a lot of unicorns and rainbows that weren't really there, or that were there but only for a few minutes at a time.

I think that, for one reason or another, some of these women need to forget their pain. Maybe they're going to need to go through something else painful in the future and if they recalled placement exactly as it was, they wouldn't be able to handle it. Maybe their pain has served its purpose and it was time to send it packing. Maybe they don't need it anymore.

I believe that God had, and still has, a purpose in the way I've grieved and hurt after placement. I absolutely believe that He is going to use it for my good. Maybe it's because He doesn't want me to have a metaphorical baby again for a while - maybe I need to remember to keep myself from making decisions that are going to cause me to hurt again. (I should mention that I don't think of placement as a decision that caused me to hurt - I think of the bad decisions I made that led to my pregnancy as the ones that caused me to hurt.)

I don't know what that purpose is yet. Maybe I never will. I do know that every woman who has placed a child for adoption was hurt by that choice on some level. Everyone handles their hurt differently, but everyone hurts.

I don't hurt like I used to. I hope I never do. I do wonder if someday I'll be the one describing placement as a peaceful thing but I'd rather not be that girl. My pain has strengthened me. The memory of that pain is a reminder that I can be strong when I need to be. It's a reminder that there are things - and people - in this world worth hurting for.

Not every problem I have is going to be a second vault. But if a twisted ankle sneaks up on me, I know I can handle it. I can land on one foot again if I need to.

I did it before. And I would do it all over again in a heartbeat - for Roo.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Years

Today is the second anniversary of the hardest day of my life. Two years ago, I signed a piece of paper (in triplicate) that said I was no longer a mother. I signed the paper, and I handed my baby girl over to her new parents, and I went home with empty arms.

Sometimes I can't believe I'm still here, because just the memory of the pain of placement is overwhelming. Nothing in my life has ever been as excruciating as placing my baby for adoption. I couldn't have even begun to imagine feeling that kind of pain until I felt it. Once I felt it, I couldn't imagine that I could hurt so bad and still be alive.

And yet ... there's none of that kind of pain today. Today isn't a sad day for me. It's a happy day - not even a happy-sad, just a happy-happy. Roo has been in her family for two years, and I think that's a great thing. I am happy for her. I want to celebrate! I hope it's a similarly happy day for her and her family. I hope they're celebrating.

Two years ago, P and M each wrote me a letter, and they gave the letters to me at placement. When I'd stopped crying long enough to read them later that night (or the next day, I don't remember which), I started crying again, because each letter was just so perfect. P and M both managed to say exactly what I needed to read. I took great comfort in their words. I read those letters at least once a day for a week. Then I read them once a week.

Once a week faded into once a month, maybe, and eventually the letters stayed put in my nightstand drawer. I knew they were there if I needed to read them, but I didn't need to anymore.

Last night, I was having a really hard time with things. I felt stuck, like nothing in my life is ever going to change no matter what I do, and I missed Roo. Not two-year-old Roo, but my newborn baby, the one who was mine. I decided I needed to re-read my patriarchal blessing (click the words if you don't know what they mean). I dug through the mess of papers in my nightstand drawer. I found a copy of my blessing, and two envelopes with my name on them - my letters.

I read my letters from P and M again, and I cried again. It has been two years since they were written, and I'm in a completely different place now, but both letters still said exactly what I needed to read. I am so grateful for them! I was grateful for them two years ago, and I'm just as grateful for them now.

More than that, I am grateful for the people who wrote them. I couldn't have placed Roo with anyone else. I am so glad that she gets to be their daughter!

I got to see Roo last week. I don't think I wrote about it, but I saw her and her mommy. It was wonderful. The best part of our visit was towards the end. Roo had been answering every question with "no."

I'd ask, "Roo, do you like chocolate cake?" or "Is pink your favorite color?" and she'd give her little mischievous smile and say no. So I expected a no when I asked her another question.

I asked, "Roo, do you know that I love you?"

No small smile this time, but a bright one, and she said, "Yeah."

And then she went right back to answering no to every other question, because she is two. I wanted to make sure, so I asked her again if she knew that I loved her. I got another "Yeah." My heart melted.

Two years ago, when she was tiny, I placed her for adoption. Today, she knows that I love her.

I am so blessed.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Real" - a Rant

I don't know if anyone else does this, but quite often I'll hear someone say something and it will take an hour or two for my brain to process exactly what they said. If I'm lucky, it won't be a big deal, but sometimes it's the sort of thing where I think, hours later, "This is what I should have said."

I had just such a moment this past week. A woman with whom I am becoming acquainted was talking about adoption. I don't know if she reads this blog, but I hope so, because I want her to know what I should have said on Wednesday.

I had mentioned that Roo looks like P and M. It's not particularly important to me that she looks like them, but the fact is that she does, and that's what I said. This woman - I'll call her C - said, "Isn't it funny how that happens sometimes?"

"It is," I agreed.

"I know a family who adopted kids who look just like them. You look at their family and you can't even tell which ones are their real kids."

I heard the words, but I didn't process them properly. If I had, I never would have let them slide like that. I never would have let the conversation continue from there. But I did. And I hate it. I had a prime opportunity to correct a misconception, and I didn't. I want to do it now, as I should have done it Wednesday.

C, I know what you meant to say. I know that when you said "real" you meant biological. But here's the thing - you didn't say biological. You said real. Adopted children are real children. Roo is 100% real, and 100% really P and M's daughter. She is their real child.

You're new to the adoption world, C, so I don't blame you for using incorrect language - most people do. But I want to correct it, because if you're going to be coming to my birth mom group to support your friend, if you're going to be around people who are so intimately acquainted with adoption, you're going to have to change your vocabulary.

All adopted children are real. They are real children. Being adopted doesn't mean they're not their parents' real children. Ask any parent who has adopted - their kids are their kids, all of them, no matter what.

If Roo isn't her parents' real child, what is she - Pinocchio? Psh. Roo isn't going to grow up wishing on a star that someday she'll be real. She is her parents' real child. She was from the moment they first held her. I think they would agree.

Maybe I'm belaboring the point here, but I want to make it abundantly clear. Adopted children are their parents' real children. I don't believe for a second that P and M (or any adoptive parents, for that matter) consider their children to be anything but their real kids.

Blood doesn't make a family. Love makes a family. It makes them real.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Just Me and My Memories

I always remember dates. I'm not sure why. I can tell you important dates, like family birthdays and wedding anniversaries and the day I first went to the temple. I can also tell you other dates that I don't have any real reason to remember. I know the date I started beauty school, the date I started working almost every job I've had, the date I bought my houseplant, the date I graduated from high school. I remember the birthday of my childhood best friend. I remember dozens of random dates, and every time they roll around again, I'll think, it's been X years since this happened. I don't know if anyone else does this, but I do. Let's call it part of the magic that is me.

So, today is August 29th. For another few minutes, anyway, and by the time anyone reads this it will be the 30th, but work with me here, okay? It's the 29th, and it's been the 29th all day, and all day, I've been thinking, it's the 29th.

Two years ago I started this blog. I don't know whether I chose the date intentionally or not. In retrospect it feels sort of symbolic for me to have started blogging on August 29th because my blog marked the beginning of the end - the end of my time as Roo's mother, the end of the life I'd grown to love. Three years ago on August 29th, it was the beginning of the end of something else - my father's life.

My mother said today that she can never remember, but that she knows it was the end of August. I thought, how can you not remember? August 29th is practically part of my genetics at this point. August 29th was the date that my mother came into my bedroom and told me that she couldn't wake up my father.

I tried to wake him up, too. I don't know why I thought I could when she couldn't, but I tried just the same. He was breathing, so I guess I thought he'd come around. I remember my mother looking a little lost, and asking if she should call an ambulance. I said she should, and she called. We followed the instructions of the 911 dispatcher and moved my dad so he was lying down. I went outside to wait for the ambulance. It was one of the blue ones. They had the lights and sirens on. Some part of my brain registered that they'd made good time, and I reminded myself that it was an ambulance, and that making good time was kind of a thing with them.

I led the paramedics into the living room. Four of them started working on my dad, and a fifth sat down with a clipboard and started asking my mom questions. She couldn't answer them; I think she was in shock. But I could. I explained about the brain cancer, the surgeries. I gave him dates (I always remember those) and brought over bottles of prescription pills so they'd know what my dad had been taking - an antibiotic, a steroid for the post-surgery swelling, and Temodar for the cancer.

In the midst of this I heard someone call out my dad's blood pressure, and when I heard the numbers, I knew he wasn't ever going to wake up. I was right. He died eleven days later and I was the one to call my brother and sister to tell them.

It is the curse of this memory of mine that although I cannot remember math from a class I took four times or any of the French verbs I learned last semester, or the names of people I have met more than once, or what comes after the part about the country folk being "up and to arm" in that poem about Paul Revere, I can remember in excruciating detail August 29th of 2008. I remember to the minute what time things happened. When my father said he had a headache. When the ambulance was called. When my mom and brother and I got to the emergency room at Gilbert Mercy.

I've been looking at the clock all day, thinking: this is when this happened, or that. Three years ago this is where I was, and this is what was happening. Three years ago right now, for instance, I was on my way to St. Joe's in Phoenix, where my father had been transfered. I remember thinking how quiet the freeways are at night, and how peaceful the city seemed. It felt wrong for things to be so tranquil when the future was so scary and uncertain. It seemed unfair that people were sleeping soundly in their homes while my home was never going to be the same again. I envied them their peace, their sleep.

My dad died on September 9th, but I don't grieve much for him that day. In my mind he was gone on the 29th. I grieved today. Oh, how I grieved!

I spent much of the day at my mother's house, which might have been a mistake. I love my mother, but the house is so full of reminders - here is where the EMT with the clipboard sat. Here is where my father's prescriptions were. Here is where the couch was, the couch on which my father fell asleep for the last time. Although it's my couch now, and I'm sitting on it as I type this (sometimes I hate my couch). It's not just the memories, though. It's my mom's new husband.

It was hard today to think so much of my father, and to see my mother happy with someone else. I'm glad that she's happy, of course, but it was still hard. It was hard for my mother to ask me, when I drifted off for a moment or two, what I was thinking of, and to tell her how I was reliving that day - That Day - knowing that her husband was in the next room, and that he could probably hear. I didn't want him to hear. I didn't want him to know these details that are etched so deeply in my memory. It felt wrong. I don't know why.

I digress.

I wonder if, two years ago, I picked the 29th on purpose. I know that I knew what anniversary it was, what significance the day had. I'm not sure. But I'm glad that I picked it. Because this day, this sad day, has other memories attached to it. It's not just the day I lost my dad. It's the day I sat at my computer and tried to think of a name for this new blog I wanted to start for Roo. It's the day when I watched my baby sleep and thought, this really is the happiest sad. It's the day when I started something new that would prove to be more therapeutic than almost anything else has ever been in my life.

I like the contrasting memories. I think this is part of why I chose to place Roo on the 9th. I wanted to blend the memories of these two very different September 9ths, as I'd done with the 29th of August. Although I find that, in retrospect, the roles of peace and pain are swapped from the 29th. My father was the pain and adoption was my peace. My father's death on the 9th was a surprisingly peaceful thing. Placement was pain.

I would never be foolish enough to claim that time heals all wounds. I don't believe that. But I do believe that time changes them. I think sometimes it changes them enough that we can live with them. Maybe some people mistake that for healing. I don't know.

I'm certainly not going to say I've healed. Look at it this way: I had a c-section to deliver Roo. I was cut open, and sewed back together. That wound has healed. I know it has healed, because it no longer bleeds or hurts and I forget I've even got a scar there most of the time. I know that it once hurt, but I find that I can't remember what the pain felt like.

It will never be like that with my dad, or with placement. I may not be bleeding as I did initially, but it's a wound that still hurts from time to time. It happens much, much less frequently with the placement pain, because I took the time to grieve properly. I put off grieving for my dad. It hurts. Sometimes it bleeds. I know the scars are there. I remember the pain. The trick is to keep the pain in the past. Some days are easier than others.

But here's what else I know - there's a difference between being scarred, and being broken. And I am not broken. These dates that are written on my heart, they're not the days that I was broken. They're the days when I got knocked down.

But I got back up.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Blogday!

Happy birthday to my blog! Strictly speaking, I'm a day early. Tomorrow, my blog will be two years old. I feel like I should throw a party for it or something. There definitely needs to be cake. Of course, I think most occasions call for cake. If I found out I was going to need kidney dialysis, I would probably mark the occasion with cake.


I thought one way to celebrate would be to finally publish the Facebook page for this blog. What Facebook page, you ask? Why, the one right HERE (I think that's the right link). I've been thinking about it since July, and I thought my Blogday was an appropriate occasion for this kind of shameless self-promotion.

I've considered a Facebook page on and off for a while now but I always decided against it because I thought, what kind of ego do I have that I think my blog needs a Facebook page? Do I think I've got so many fans that people are just clamoring for one more way to adore my blog? It felt like way too much of an ego thing, even though that was never my intent when I considered it.

For the most part, I figure if people want to keep up with this blog, they'll ... you know. Read the blog. It's not tricky, really. And for people who thought I personally was kind of cool, they could friend me on Facebook. I used to have a little clickable picture in my sidebar for just that purpose.

But ... I don't know. I got more friend requests than I expected to, and from people I've never met. And while I am very flattered that people wanted to be my friend, I felt a little uncomfortable sharing so much of myself (and the occasional Roo picture, although I'm careful with privacy settings on those) with people I don't know very well or at all.

Not that you probably particularly care about that (unless I didn't accept your friend request, in which case I apologize), but I'm getting to a point. The point is that I do want people to have a way to connect with me elsewhere, if they want to, and I thought a Facebook page might be a good way to do that. It's safer for me, privacy-wise, and it would give me a chance to share some of my adoption-related thoughts on Facebook without boring my non-adoption friends. Also, if you don't have a Blogger account (or, like my mother, you have one but never log in) and don't want to miss when I post something, you can be a liker on Facebook and keep up that way.

I'm not saying you have to "like" me on Facebook. I totally understand if you don't want to. But if you want to, now you can. I plan on being very liberal with the "block" button to keep the meanies away, and I promise to keep the ego to a bare minimum.