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.