Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Today is this blog's third birthday! I feel like there should be cake. There should always be cake, don't you think? Not just for birthdays but in general. There should always be cake. I would bake one but I tend not to bake, as I live alone and I lack the self-control to keep from eating everything that comes out of the oven. Although if I'm honest, sometimes I don't even turn the oven on. There's no need to lie to myself. I make cookie dough for eating, not for baking.

I digress. Today my blog is three. Birthdays are a good time for self-reflection, aren't they? No? Well, too bad. To answer the question that no one has asked, I have not gone back and read my blog to commemorate the occasion. I tried that last year and had to have an extra session with my therapist to curb the ensuing bout of self-loathing. (I have evolved since placement, and I quite sincerely thank God for that.) A few minutes ago I read through the first two entries of this blog, and I decided that was enough. I don't need to go back. I know where I've been, because I was there. I will occasionally reflect on the dark days of my adoption experience, but only as a means of gauging how far I have come. Going back for more than a moment or two would accomplish nothing. I want to go forward.

I wish I could achieve that sort of psychological clarity in other areas of my life. I like to think that I possess the right mental skill-set to achieve that. Every one of my grade-school report cards mentioned my critical thinking skills (also, that I seemed to be bored a lot). The problem is that I have not yet learned to use my skills for good. I am like a teenage superhero, doing my best to save the world but occasionally using my superpowers for nefarious purposes by accident. While there may not be any comically-nicknamed villains on the streets of Mesa because of my neglect, there are consequences, and they usually involve a tearful existential crisis* in my therapist's office.

Because in addition to being untrustworthy with baked goods, something I know to be absolutely true of myself is that I am a world-class Monday morning quarterback. I don't know of anyone whose second-guessing skills rival mine, although in all fairness, I have had decades of practice. I am the Muhammad Ali of rumination. And I blame my brain.

I blame my brain for a lot of things, because pretty much every problem I've had can be traced (however tangentially) back to my brain. My brain is a jerk. Have you ever seen the scumbag brain meme? Here's my favorite:

When I found that on Pinterest, I laughed for about ten minutes. I was tired. Anyway. I blame my brain because if it didn't remember things so well, I would have less to ruminate on. Of course, my brain doesn't remember everything well, because that would be convenient and useful.

For example: I've been playing the piano since I was Roo's age, and the only song I have ever been able to memorize is "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." So I have to scan the room before I mention my piano-playing skills. I won't tell anyone that I can play if I'm in a room with a piano, because then they'll want a demonstration, and I'll play my little song, and I can practically hear people think, "Wait, did she say she's been playing since she was three or since she was twenty-three?" It's humiliating. I can play really complicated pieces if I have sheet music, but I'm useless without it.

My brain refuses to remember the notes to a song I have played more than a thousand times, but it will remember conversations word-for-word, and it will remember them for years. This is especially detrimental for someone as socially awkward as I am. I can recall pretty much every stupid thing I've ever said, and the uncomfortable looks on the faces of the people I said them to. I can recall, and my traitorous little brain comes up with other, less-embarrassing things I could have said. Come on, brain! Why can't you come up with better things to say when I can still say them? What good is a snappy comeback three months later?

One of the things I like best about writing, particularly on the computer, is editing. Until I hit "publish," nothing is permanent or fixed. I can take as long as I need to come up with just the right combination of words. For instance, the third paragraph of this post was re-written nine times and I may edit it once more before I publish. I can mull it over, read it out loud to see how it tastes, add and subtract words and phrases and rearrange until it says exactly what I want it to say.**

I can't do that in real life. My car did not come equipped with a flux capacitor.  So while I can remember conversations I've had, and while I can think of how I could fix them, I can't actually go back. Ideally, this knowledge would keep me from constantly editing past conversations. Ideally it would keep me from looking back so desperately and with such agony.

I'm pleased that I've gotten there with adoption. It has taken me nearly all of the past three years to stop looking back and thinking of things I want to edit. For my next trick, I want to stop editing the rest of my life. I don't imagine I can live my life completely without regret. But there's a difference between regretting something, and re-living and editing it at night when you ought to be asleep. I tend to do the latter. Again, I blame my brain.

You know, I would love to say that there is a point to all of the preceding, but I confess I've quite lost track of it. Sheesh. This is embarrassing. Where was I going with all this? Blog birthday, self-reflection, scumbag brain ... hmm.


I think I was explaining why I don't read my own blog. Well, that'll teach me to ask and answer my own questions, won't it?

I meant to self-reflect and talk about how far I've come in three years and I ended up talking about why I should probably be seeing my therapist more often. But you know what? I kind of don't care that I ruminate a lot. Is it really the worst thing in the world? No.

The fact is that I have come really, super far in the past three years. I am a different person entirely. I am a happy person. There was a time when I thought I would never be able to say that about myself, but I'm saying it now and it's true. I am happy. I am happy almost all the time, and sometimes I am really ridiculously happy and people probably want to punch me in the face for it. My life is quite far from perfect, but that feels so unimportant to me. Far from perfect is still pretty rad.***

I'm not where I thought I'd be at this point in my life, and that's not a bad thing. I think I've ended up where I needed to be. I believe that God has a plan for me that's a lot greater than anything I could ever come up with. I know that when I've trusted Him in the past, amazing things have happened. I trust Him now get me where I need to be next.

I'm not the same woman who started blogging three years ago and I wouldn't be her again for anything in the world. It makes me wonder how much more awesome I'm going to be three years from now. I can't wait :)

*I am proud to say that my therapist decided last December that I am a sane, functional adult, and I only see him four or five times a year now, just to check in. I could probably see him less often but I've decided it's good for him to see someone who is happy and doing well, even if it's only seasonally, because I know that his office deals with a lot of sexual deviants, and I feel like he probably needs the occasional mental hand sanitizer to keep from crying himself to sleep at night.

**This doesn't mean that I am proud of everything I have ever written. I think most of this blog is crap. But everything I have posted here was, at one point, exactly what I wanted to say and I felt pretty good about it at the time. Even if I'd never say it now and am now in fact slightly ashamed of having wanted to say it ever.

***Sorry about that. Two weeks ago I caught myself using the word "rad" and I don't know where it came from but it's like a virus. I can't seem to stop using it. I counted a few days ago and I described more than nine different people and things as "really rad." I think I need help.

****I was pretty stupid to say that everything I've posted on my blog was, at the time, exactly what I wanted to say. It's not even true. I'm not happy with the conclusion of this post and no amount of mulling has fixed it. The smart thing to do would be to think about it for a while and come back to this post, but if I don't hit "publish" today the post's point, such as it is, would be moot. What I should have said is that everything I've posted on my blog was good enough at the time.
Also, I feel like I should apologize for the sheer volume of my footnotes today. I'm not going to, but I still feel like I should.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


One of the things I used to worry about right after I placed Roo was how I was going to tell people I was a birth mom. A lot of people knew already, but in my head I had a lifetime of awkward exchanges ahead of me, and I dreaded it. I felt good about the choice I’d made to place, but I didn’t trust that the rest of the world would understand. The fact that I was still extremely miserable compounded my worry – how would I ever convince people that I’d made the right choice when I was so unhappy?

I became preemptively defensive, and any time I was asked a question to which my birth motherhood was the answer, I warred with panic and lost. I became adept at explaining away my weight gain, my unemployment, my necklace. I had an arsenal of clever responses that were so well-rehearsed, I wondered if I would ever need to tell the truth.

I knew that in my personal life, I would have to be honest with certain people but I felt that such honesty would be a matter of much thought and prayer and likely panic. My thought was that adoption was such a special thing to me and not everyone deserved to know about it, about Roo. This didn’t stop me from doing presentations at high schools with my adoption agency, but classes full of teenage strangers didn’t bother me. I’d never seen them before and I’d never seen them again. There was no pressure. I had nothing to lose.

I felt that more was at stake with friends and acquaintances and co-workers. I thought more than once that if I said the wrong thing, or the right thing the wrong way, I could ruin a relationship. The first adoption conference I went to offered a class called “Who, When, and How to Tell Your Adoption Story.” I was desperate for this class, which was taught by two birth moms who had the experience and perspective I lacked.

The women who presented had very different ideas about telling their stories. One of them was very open about it. She said she tended to tell men she was a birth mom on the first date. I knew that would never be me. The other birth mom was more private, and she validated my idea that sharing my story was a matter deserving much consideration. Although I liked and respected both women, I connected more with the latter, and I decided to follow her example.

When I did occasionally feel that I needed to share my story with someone, I spoke carefully, mentally filtering out details that felt too personal or too irrelevant. I was careful not to appear too excited, because I didn’t want to give the impression that I didn’t love Roo, that placement hadn’t been hard, that I didn’t miss her. The people I told seemed hesitant to ask questions even when I told them I didn’t mind. Adoption made them uncomfortable and very often it was never brought up again.

I’m a little embarrassed at how long it took me to realize that these people were taking their cues from me. I was awkward about adoption, and it made them feel awkward. I had to ask myself what I thought was going to happen if I were ever completely honest with someone about adoption. I was afraid that they would think less of me. I knew that was stupid. Rationally I couldn’t think why anyone would think less of me for being a birth mom. And I decided that if someone would think less of me for having placed, I didn’t need them in my life anyway. Keeping quiet felt like an act motivated by shame, and I was certainly not ashamed of my choice. Placing Roo is the best thing I’ve ever done. I realized I needed to start acting like it.

The next time a question came up, I didn’t dodge it. I told the truth – that I had a baby girl, that I placed her for adoption, that it was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, that it was worth it, that I love her. And I waited.

“That is so cool!” was the response. I showed them Roo’s picture on my phone, and that was it.

I know that I was lucky – the person I talked to could have reacted very differently. One or two people have, and I'm sure one or two more will in the future. But I decided then that I liked the feeling of being straight with someone about adoption. Once I realized that, it became much easier to talk. Or if not easier, then maybe a little less scary. I don't think I necessarily owe anyone my story. But neither do I feel like I'm doing anyone any favors by keeping quiet. I'm certainly not doing myself or Roo any favors.

The fact is that Roo is and always will be an important part of my life. It only makes sense that the people who get to know me know about her too. So much of who I am is because of Roo. So many things remind me of her. If I keep her a secret, I have to filter every word I say, and if there's one thing I am terrible at, it's filtering what I say (apologies to my mother, who tried her best to teach me better).

Most people who know me know that I’m a birth mom, and they think it’s cool. It like to believe that it doesn't define me in their minds; it’s just one of those things that are true of me like my height or my eye color or the fact that I talk really fast. (I hear things like, "I heard about adoption the other day, and I thought of you" less often than I hear, "I corrected someone's grammar the other day and thought, 'this must be what it feels like to be Jill.'")

So far, every date I have been on has been with a man who knew about Roo before he asked me out. Not that I have been on a lot of dates, but still. I have saved myself a lot of worry by being open about being a birth mom. The men who have taken me on dates knew what they were getting into when they asked me. I didn't have to worry about slipping up in conversation, or about an impending awkward discussion of my past. Everything important is already out there.

I have become that birth mother that was never going to be me. I am the woman who tells new friends, acquaintances, and random strangers that she placed a child for adoption, and I love it. I love being that woman! I want people to know about Roo. I want them to know that adoption can be an amazing thing. I want them to know that even if they know of fifty other adoptions gone wrong, or five hundred or five thousand, adoption can still be an amazing thing.

Roo's adoption is an amazing thing. And I'm telling everyone.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Openness and Contracts

My dad was almost never sick, but when he was in his late twenties, he was sidelined by a bout of pneumonia. If I had been allowed to choose what I have in common with my father, pneumonia would not have been on my list.

A few weeks ago I thought I had the flu, which depressed me because I have never had the flu, and I didn't want to break my 28-year streak. The urgent care doctor told me that he didn't think it was the flu, because his office gets a memo from Maricopa County any time there's an outbreak of something like that. I wanted to tell him that I get those memos, too, because I actually work for Maricopa County, but I was having trouble breathing. The doctor suggested a chest x-ray (I can cross that off my bucket list), and forty minutes later (I apparently wasn't suffering enough for them to hurry) I had something new in common with my dad. There was a colony of intrepid little pneumoniae in my left lung. But I am much better now, and on the bright side, I managed to lose 4% of my body weight in a week. Achievement unlocked! I bought new jeans to celebrate.

And that concludes The Happiest Sad's version of What I Did for My Summer Vacation (the abridged version, anyway. The full version includes a lot of Doctor Who). Back to business. And by "business," I mean, "expressing an opinion that is going to make me a handful of angry enemies." It's been a while since I've done that, hasn't it? I think it's time.

A few days ago, the Salt Lake Tribune ran an article about open adoption. Specifically, the article addressed the idea of a legally enforceable openness contract between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. It's an interesting read, although in typical internet fashion, most of the comments will make you weep for humanity.

Many of the people I colloquially refer to as my "adoption peeps" have taken to blogs and Facebook to opine. They're making a lot of good points. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't have my own little opinion about things. So here's what I think about this issue as it pertains to me.*

The argument on the birth mom side makes sense: an openness contract gives a birth mom peace of mind. It also gives adoptive couples a push to be completely honest about how much openness they're comfortable with in an adoption, which can save a birth mom from the heartbreak of an "open" adoption that suddenly closes. Such an agreement would be periodically re-evaluated to suit the changing needs of all sides of the adoption triad.

I understand that, I really do. And I don't have a problem with an enforceable openness contract if both the birth parents and the adoptive parents want it. But I think such an agreement should be optional, not mandatory, and I would not have taken that option had it been presented to me.

I want to make it abundantly clear that this is just my opinion about my individual situation. There are likely countless adoptions where an openness contract would have been beneficial. Mine just isn't one of them, and I want to explain why. 

I realize I'm not the best person to talk about the problems that can arise in an open adoption, because although my relationship with P and M has been imperfect, we've been able to work through the problems that have come come up. I am acutely aware that the openness I've got is what many would consider a best-case scenario. Our level of openness has changed from time to time, but there has always been communication and love and respect. I know that there are plenty of birth moms who placed with couples that later reneged on the openness they agreed to at placement. I've never felt their particular pain, and I am grateful that I've never had to. I've never been there. I can see where a contract would have benefited them. But I don't think it would have benefited me.

In my case, an enforceable openness contract would have made me suspicious of any contact I got from P and M. The openness I have now means the whole world to me, because it comes from love rather than legal obligation. If there were a contract, I would always wonder - did I get a picture and an update because P and M wanted me to have it, or because they felt like they had to give it to me? At the time that I placed, part of me - the part of me that never got over being bullied in grade school - was always slightly suspicious of people who regarded me with any affection. I think that if my openness were a matter of legality, I would feel like a burden to P and M. I would never quite have trusted that they loved me, or that they really wanted an open adoption. I would be grateful for contractual openness, but I would worry that it wasn't freely given.

Relationships are about people, not paper. I would have been uncomfortable with a piece of paper dictating the terms of one of the most important relationships in my life. Part of being an adult is learning to work through problems rather than hiding behind a legal document. (I refer to adoptive couples as well as birth moms. I know of at least as many immature adoptive couples as I do immature birth moms.)

But (I can hear you saying) what about couples who promise openness and then disappear, leaving a birth mom heartbroken? It happens. Shouldn't there be some kind of legal safeguard for the sake of the birth mom?

I'm going to say no, and despise me if you will (I can take it). Because adoption isn't about the birth mom. The choice I made to place Roo for adoption was the first decision I ever made in my life that had absolutely nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with her. I placed with the hope of an open adoption, but I also placed knowing that openness wasn't guaranteed and that it might not be forever. I had to be okay with that.

I reminded myself of this dozens of times in the two weeks between meeting P and M and placing Roo, and I am glad I did. I had to know that I was making the right choice. If I had faltered at the thought of a closed adoption, I think I'd always wonder if I really, truly made the right choice for Roo. But each time I thought, they could close the adoption at any time, my next thought was and if they do I will learn to live with it, because this is the right choice for Roo.

My conviction had to be about what Roo was going to get out of adoption, not about what I would get from it. My choice for her wasn't open adoption. It was simply adoption. Openness was a happy by-product, not the end goal.

The thing is, I trust P and M to make choices for Roo that are in her best interest. If I didn't trust them to do that, I wouldn't have trusted them enough to place her with them. I will admit that in the beginning, openness was very much about me and my needs. I feel kind of bad about that in retrospect. The most important person in Roo's adoption is Roo. Every decision about openness that is made should be made in her best interest.

The Tribune article about openness contracts says:
"In Utah, courts have ruled that adoptive parents can [close an adoption] because after the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parents are the sole and absolute judges of what’s in the best interest of the adoptee."

Adoptive parents are real parents. I don't use modifiers when I talk about P and M. They're simply her mom and dad. Roo's welfare is completely up to them. They are the sole and absolute judges of what's best for her, and that's how it should be. They know her a lot better than I do. If there ever came a time when openness wasn't good for Roo, I would expect them to close the adoption, because Roo comes first. I'm sure I'd be wrecked for a while if they closed things, but I trust them completely, and I trust that if they closed things, it would be because it was best for Roo, and that they would communicate that to me with love and respect. I would do my best to weather that storm. I've been through worse.

But that's just me with my happy little open adoption. I reckon if Roo's adoption had closed abruptly and without reason, I'd be singing a different tune. (But, trust me, you don't want to hear me sing any kind of tune.) I think an openness contract should absolutely be offered as an option. But I wouldn't have wanted one, and I wouldn't take one now.

I do think the idea of a legally enforceable openness contract has merit. But I also don't think it's for everyone. Adoption isn't for everyone. It's a choice that some people make. I think that openness should also be a choice. 

I recognize that I'm probably oversimplifying a lot. I'm in a really good place with adoption right now precisely because of the openness I've had. It's easy enough for me to say that I'd have gotten to this point even with a closed adoption, but I don't know for sure.

So let me say this about that: I think that couples who want to adopt should think long and hard about what they're really willing to do as far as openness, and they need to make this decision before a child is placed with them. I think that a verbal agreement should be honored, because that's part of being a compassionate human being. If a couple agrees to a certain level of openness and they realize after placement that it's not working for them, they should have the decency and maturity to discuss it with the birth mom like grown-ups instead of cutting her off without a word.

If a couple needs a legally enforceable agreement to tell them to be decent and kind and respectful to the woman who gave birth to their child and then broke her own heart to give that child the best life possible, open adoption or no, then they have no business adopting.

*Me, not you. You (whoever you are) have a different adoption situation than I do, so your opinion will vary and rightly so. I'm not going to presume how to tell you to think or feel about this. I won't judge you for whatever opinion you have about this and I ask that you extend me the same courtesy.