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.