Monday, November 3, 2014

Some Thoughts on Why I Chose Adoption

November is National Adoption Month. Yes, again. I swear it was just National Adoption Month like a week ago but you know how these things sneak up on you. I mean, here we are, already a full month into Pudding Season and it barely feels like a day. But I digress.

I had this wild idea on November 1st that I was going to post every single day this month, just like I did that one year. Then I laughed at myself, because if my ADD has reached the point it has where being paid isn't motivation enough to get work done at work, I sure as shoelaces don't have the brainpower to post thirty times this month, particularly when I haven't even managed to post once a month this year.

I think that sentence made sense. Also I don't know if "sure as shoelaces" is a thing but the phrase that came to mind included a word that, while it begins with the same "sh" sound as "shoelaces," is not one I have ever used on this blog before to the best of my knowledge because my mother raised me better than that.

Of course I'm sure she also thought she raised me better than to have a baby with a guy I met on MySpace, but there you are. Roo got here how she got here and she's my favorite, so ... you know.

I'm just full of asides today. Positively bloated with them in fact. Sorry.

I turned 31 last month. It was a much more low-key celebration than 30 last year. My mother took me out to lunch, and I had dinner with some friends. My favorite part of the day is the time I spent with Roo and her family at a park. I took off my shoes and ran - "ran" - around the playground with Roo and her sister. We pretended we were some sort of fairies from a cartoon both of them seemed familiar with but that I had never heard of. It was great fun.

I let the girls lead me on a long walk to the far corner of the park and back (I think we were meant to be on some sort of fairy rescue mission) and on our loop around to the playground I ended up walking next to Roo.

As a general rule I've never seen any notable physical similarities between me and Roo. She is a tiny, adorable girl clone of H. Her eyes are a different color but the shape and poetic depth match his - I always thought his eyes held galaxies. It sounds almost unbearably saccharine to say that I got lost in his eyes but it's the truth. Roo's eyes have that same sort of dreamy quality. She inherited H's ridiculously long, dark eyelashes, too. I wish that H and I had gotten along as well as our genes did. Roo is excellent work.

As I said, I don't see much of myself in Roo at all but I had this moment walking next to her, when I realized she was walking fast like I do, when I wondered if a casual observer would have spotted any similarities in our strides - or our ear shapes, or our postures, or our hands. Would Roo look like she were mine if someone didn't know any better?

I don't need her to. I don't necessarily want her to. I just wondered. Because as we walked it hit me, the magnitude of what I did when I created life. Here was this perfectly formed person, a complete and unique entity. A life. A whole human, complete with hopes and dreams and a sense of humor, and I made her from scratch.

I say this not to wound any of you but because it was a vaguely terrifying thought. I had no idea what I was doing when I got pregnant, I really didn't. These teenage girls who think they're just having babies - they have no idea, either. Babies grow up. One minute you're going to the doctor to hear a heartbeat for the first time, the next minute you're pushing a five-year-old on a swing and watching her point her toes as she tells you you're not pushing hard enough. "I want to go higher," she'll insist, and it will hit you that this is only a fraction of what she wants, and then you'll begin to understand the enormity of what you undertook when you created life.*

This is why I chose adoption for Roo. Because I knew I could give a baby what she needed but, as the saying goes, babies don't keep. People who tried to talk me out of adoption insisted that today's parenting magazines and websites were misleading me - babies don't need much, and they need love most of all. I won't argue that. But babies grow up. Toddlers need more than babies, and grade-schoolers need more than toddlers, and then they become adolescents, and then, heaven help us, teenagers, and the older they get the more they need - not just temporally but emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.

I knew that I could provide everything that a baby needed. But I also knew that my baby would grow fast, and I knew that my ability to provide wasn't going to grow proportionately. I didn't want Roo to struggle or suffer while I tried to figure out how to make it work. She deserves better than that. I wanted more for her than that.

As I walked next to her, this perfect little person with dirty feet and a messy ponytail and a few blades of grass stuck to her leg, I had the thought that this was one of those rare, beautiful, perfect snippets in the space-time continuum. It was a beautiful day, warm for October, with an overabundance of bright sunshine and fresh air. I was walking across a field of slightly prickly crabgrass, matching strides with my favorite person in the whole world, and we were both very happy.

If I had to choose a single moment to live over and over again, I would have a hard time picking just one but this moment on my birthday would be a top contender. It was maybe twenty or thirty seconds from start to finish but for that short stretch of time absolutely everything in the world felt okay. I haven't felt that in a long time. It was glorious.

If I were Roo's mother** I am sure that I would enjoy countless such moments. I would. Roo and I would have great fun. But our lives would be so, so difficult. Those moments would be a sharp contrast to the constant struggle to stay above water. I could have done it. I could have kept her and been her mother and somehow made it all work.

But this is so much better - the way things are, I mean. Whatever else happens in her life, Roo got the best possible start. She's got the very best parents who love each other so much, and who love her and her siblings deeply and forever. Roo is confident and secure and well-adjusted and kind and buoyant and about six hundred other adjectives that I can't even use to describe myself at thirty-one. Adoption was the best choice I could have made. Roo herself is the proof.

I get uncomfortable when people try to pretty up what it means to be a birth mom or turn the choice to place into some kind of fairy tale. There can be so much beauty in adoption, but there is always pain. No woman sets out to become a birth mother. I don't think it's the first choice for very many women. It's beautiful and it hurts.

I am not brave or selfless or an angel or a saint. I'm not extraordinarily strong. I'm not a hero. I'm a bundle of flaws and good intentions and fleeting hope and once upon a time I fell irrevocably in love with this small person and every single day I was her mother she broke my heart because I knew she wasn't going to be my daughter forever and it terrified me. But I always knew.

I don't know if I've ever said that before on this blog, but there it is. I knew the second I first saw her tiny body in an ultrasound that my baby wasn't mine. When I was settled into a hospital room to recover from my c-section I looked up into the doorway every few minutes for at least four hours, waiting for someone to come in. I didn't know what they looked like then but I was watching for Roo's parents.

When I saw their picture for the first time, I knew. I saw their firstborn in their picture and I thought, that's Roo's sister. I saw P and M, and I thought Oh, there you are. And it scared me.

Adoption is scary. It's one of the scariest things I've ever done. But it's also my favorite thing I've ever done; it's the thing I am most proud of. It's brought me the most joy.

That flawless moment walking next to Roo at the park didn't fill me with any kind of desperate longing for her to be mine. There was no sadness that the fantastic little girl matching my steps isn't mine. I was happy because she was happy, and she was happy because she has a happy life. Not a perfect one, but a happy one. She bounces back quickly when things don't go her way. She notices the lovely little things in the world and they fill her with joy. She looks around and sees possibilities. She dreams.

That's what it's about, isn't it? Everything else is just filler.

I want to be like Roo when I grow up.

*I posted a picture of my three-year-old self on Instagram last week and when my mother saw it she said, "That's my baby," and she had this look on her face as though she were blindsided that that baby had just turned 31 - as though I had just been three and she couldn't quite account for the passage of time.

**Please don't comment and argue that I'm still her mother. Please just don't.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Some Thoughts on Adoption, Five Years Post-Placement

Greetings, Blogland! I haven’t blogged in pretty much forever, which is weird. I used to blog so much in the early days after placement and it seems kind of weird now that blogging was such an integral part of my life. It’s not even something I think much about anymore, which is good. I mean, if I do stop to think about it, my brain kicks into overdrive and I end up with thirty drafts of new blog posts, so it’s probably just as well.

I'm trying to be less of a perfectionist so I'm blogging today even though I feel that my thoughts are disorganized and not particularly pretty and I don't even want to read them for proofreading purposes. Allow me to apologize in advance for the scattered messiness that will follow. I probably should have taken a Ritalin. Thank you for reading and I'll try to disguise my ADD better next time.

Roo is five, you guys! Holy cow. She started kindergarten and is doing so, so well. M had her call me to tell me about her first day. Roo was really excited about lunch and recess, and a few weeks ago M told me that Roo has memorized all of her vocabulary words for the year and then some. She is pretty much the cleverest kid ever and I am very proud of her.

I got to hang out with her a few days after her birthday and we had so much fun. She is very imaginative and very chatty and happy and easygoing. I was such an anxious child; one of my fears for Roo was that she would inherit my worry (I worry about worry). But she is SO not anxious. Every good thing about her I credit to her amazing parents. I don’t want to start a nature-vs-nurture debate but I know what I was like as a kid – I was born worried – and I feel confident that Roo is the way she is because of the way she’s being raised.

I love that she has the parents she does. I didn’t know how awesome they were when I picked them but I couldn’t possibly have chosen any better. I’m probably making myself a target here but adoption has been the best thing on earth for Roo and so I count it as the best thing on earth for me. I know that mine is a best-case scenario and that tons and tons of birth moms and adoptive couples aren’t so lucky. Every day that I spend any time at all on the internet I am reminded of that.

Roo is doing very well. I, on the other hand, have what I will euphemistically refer to as “things going on.” I feel happier now than I have in a while but pretty much the first nine months of my 31st year were rough. I was attacked by a feral pack of feelings and I had difficulty in fending them off. I still have problems with them at times but I am making progress in that area. Being an adult human female is hard sometimes.

A few weeks ago was my five-year placement anniversary. It was such a non-issue, you guys, you wouldn't even believe it. M texted me and we had a lovely conversation that way but most of my feelings on the 9th were about my dad because I’ve been missing him like crazy lately. Five years is a pretty good chunk of time for a birth mom, I think, and I thought that maybe I ought to write about my feelings about adoption these days. As I said before I think Roo’s adoption was the best thing in the world. But other than that, you know what? I don’t think about adoption that much. I just don’t.

I know a lot of birth moms who feel this lifelong connection to adoption. Many of them are in school for social work. Many of them spend a lot of their own time and money and a lot of effort in assisting expectant and birth parents, and I respect them so much for it. I’m just not one of them. I still talk at high schools on occasion but I don’t feel this deep need to make an adoption my life’s work. My inner 10-year-old wants to be a writer, thankyouverymuch, and and while adoption is a part of me because Roo is, my feelings are for her and her adoption, not every adoption and every person involved in adoption. I don’t feel the need to connect to a greater sisterhood of birth moms. It's not what I need at this point in my life. I have dear friends who are birth mothers but the ones I'm closest to get me on a level that has nothing to do with adoption and everything to do with who we are as human beings.

I don’t think that being a birth mom is the most interesting thing about me and I don’t want it to define me. I don't like a lot of what I see various adoption communities becoming on the internet. I don’t like the way that there’s this us-vs-them division between birth and adoptive parents, I don’t like the way birth moms get idolized or vilified or any of that. A birth mom was a fleshed-out person before she placed, and placement doesn’t change that about her. There’s good and bad in all of us and I’ve been beating back the “hero” label for years because I’m not a hero, I’m the 0.10 % who got pregnant on the pill, who carried and delivered a little girl she loved more than life itself, a little girl she loved enough to give a better life, even though it wasn’t with her. 

Blah. I'm probably making enemies left and right here, aren't I? It's not that I object to there being this greater adoption community, or that I don't think people should let it be their life's work. It's just not *my* life's work.

Five years post-placement, I don't think about adoption much at all. I think about Roo, who happens to have been adopted, but that does very well for me for now.

She really is the most fantastic little kid and I feel privileged to get to watch her grow up and spend time with her. She saved me. I don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn't gotten pregnant when I did. I don't like to think about it. But I've had to lately. I've gotten myself into a few messes lately and wondered what's going to save me this time. I felt for a few months this year that perhaps nothing would; that I was finally just going to self-destruct.

But one of the things that I have come to realize about myself during this difficult year is that for as much of an emotional train wreck as I am there is some part of me that refuses to give up. There is some part of me that made myself get up every morning and go to work and smile when people said hello to me and continue to exercise most days even though all I wanted to do was sleep for the next five years until my current problems work themselves out.

I didn't used to have that inside of me. I know that I didn't because nine years ago when I started therapy it took very little to break me into pieces. 22-year-old Jill would have cracked starting last November, with almost no provocation. I am profoundly grateful for this strength I've found, and I do believe that it grew from placement.

I've wasted a lot of bandwidth comparing the death of my father to the placement of my daughter. My general conclusion is that my father's death was harder because I still can't make it okay, because I don't see any good that came of it. I haven't necessarily changed my mind about that but I do feel strongly that adoption required more of me than pushing through my grief did, and for precisely the reason that I always concluded my father's death was harder: because adoption was a choice. I chose this hurt. I chose to smash my heart into bits, even though it felt like little of it remained after my dad died.

I placed Roo on purpose, and it changed me fundamentally and deeply and forever. It hurt worse than anything in the world has ever hurt me and I can say for certain that it is the best thing I have ever done in my life. It made me stronger in a way that nothing else could possibly have done.

Roo saved me the first time around and placing her made me strong enough that this time I can save myself. I don't know how I'm going to do it but I know that I can.

I'm not sure of many things. I don't know what the next year of my life is going to look like. I'm not entirely certain what the next week is going to look like. But one thing that I know for sure, as Oprah would say, is that if I had to live my life over a thousand times I would place Roo for adoption a thousand times more.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Dearest Roo,

Today you are five years old. How did that happen? I swear you just barely learned to walk and now you're reading chapter books and dancing and playing tennis and starting kindergarten in the fall. How did you grow up so fast? You're taller every time I see you, and smarter. You are the most fascinating little person I have ever met. Everything about you is interesting to me. You are my favorite in all the known world. There is a light in your eyes that fills my soul. When you smile, it seems impossible that there's anything other than joy in the world.

Do you have any idea how amazing you are, Roo? Everything about you is a miracle to me. I haven't found the words in any language to properly express how much I love you. It's not something I can explain. It's something that I feel. I didn't know I could love anyone on earth even half as much as I love you.

I was scared when you were born. You were brand-new and tiny and I knew what I wanted for you; I knew what you deserved. I was scared that I didn't have a way of making sure you had everything in the world that you deserved by merit of the love I felt for you. I wanted to be the best mother in the world because you deserved it.

I couldn't do it. I certainly couldn't be the best father in the world. You deserved that, too.

As desperately as I loved you I could never quite shake the feeling that I was raising someone else's child. The moment I first saw you my heart claimed you but some ineffable part of myself wouldn't settle down. A few hours after you were born, when I was recovering in a hospital room and you were burrito-wrapped in your bassinet, I found my gaze moving from your sleeping face to the door. My rational mind expected no visitors but the waiting part of myself kept watching the doorway. I didn't dare use words for what I was anticipating at the time but the truth is I was waiting for your parents to come in.

I took you home and you were mine for nine fragile and beautiful weeks but the entire time, I knew.

I have never fought anything in my life as desperately as I fought to be your mother. I warred with myself for the first seven weeks of your life, searching for some way to change what I felt in my heart. I wanted you so badly! I had already been through so much pain. I had already broken so many times. I couldn't bear the thought of shattering again. I loved you so much! How could I not be your mother?

Then I found your family. I saw their picture on my computer screen and the part of me that waited in my hospital room stopped waiting. It wasn't your dad or your mom that did it, either. Would you believe, darling Roo, that the first member of your family I found was your big sister? I was ready to keep looking at profiles and reading letters but I saw your sister in that photograph ... I looked at her dear, perfect little cherub face and I thought, that's Roo's sister. I knew she was your sister. I knew. I looked at your parents after that but it didn't matter who they were, because if they were your sister's parents they were yours as well.

No matter what else happens in my life, no matter what I believe or disbelieve, no matter what circumstances change, I will never believe anything contrary to this: your sister was meant to be your sister, and you were meant to be hers. I have never known anything to be true as strongly and solidly as I knew that the two of you were meant to be together when I saw that picture, and nothing anyone ever says is going to change that.

I love that you girls are such good friends. I hope you always will be. I hope that you always take good care of each other.

There's more to your story that your parents have told you, or will tell you when you're older, and more that I need to tell you as well, but I'm saving that for you and only you. But today, on your birthday, I want you know two things for sure.

The first is that there's no doubt in my mind you were meant for the family you've got. You belong together. I couldn't have placed you with any family in the universe but theirs. I couldn't have done it! I tried. I met with other families and I wanted them to be right but none of them were and it wasn't until I met your family that I knew why no one else would do.

The second is something that I hope is already a solid and immovable fact in your mind: I love you. How inadequate those words sound! They're overused. They've lost meaning. But in the absence of any others, I'll use them over and over again and hope that repetition will lend them weight. My dear little Roo, I love you. Nothing in the known universe will stop me from loving you. Any good thing I ever accomplish in the world is because of my love for you. Any improvement I make, any happiness I find, any good and worthy thing I do is a manifestation of my love for you. My task as your birth mother is to take the love that I have for you and spread it around.

Never doubt, not for a second, that you are loved. There's no one else in the world for whom I'd break my own heart. Only you.

You were worth it. You always will be.

Happy birthday, darling girl.


Your birth mother Jill

Monday, June 30, 2014


I've had a lot of feelings lately and I'm going to address most of them in my next post, but today I want to talk about one set of feelings in particular.

I haven't been happy for a while now. It began with what my father used to describe as "general malaise." Then my discontent started creeping into other areas of my life, slowly and a little at a time, the way that hot cheese will escape the end of a Hot Pocket when you cook it too long. 

I was talking to a friend about feeling unhappy and she asked what changes would need to happen in my life for me to feel happy instead. I thought that a good start in answering was to list the things that I felt were contributing to my unhappiness, and I had an epiphany of sorts about the way that I've been seeing myself. In order to get you there, let's go back a few years.

Five years ago, June 30th was a Tuesday.

I wish I could say that I know this because I have the savant-like ability to name the day of the week that any given date fell on, like the girl with autism in that one Baby-Sitter's Club book that handled the issue of autism badly, even for a children's book from the 80s.

Alas, that is not the case. And parenthetically, precious few of the books I loved as a child have held up well over time from a literary standpoint.

I remember that June 30th, 2009 was a Tuesday, because it was my due date. Roo's due date. I knew that she wouldn't be born on her due date, because pretty much no one delivers on their due date. But the date still felt significant, because it was the date I'd had in my mind for nine months, and reaching it felt like a great accomplishment. So even though I knew she wouldn't be born that day, I felt like something should happen to mark the occasion of my due date.

Nothing did. It was a perfectly average Tuesday in every way, except for the fact that I was really super-duper pregnant and Roo kept kicking me in the kidneys (they must be pleasantly squishy or something, because she always kicked them). She stayed snug and warm in my belly for another week, and absolutely nothing happened on my due date. Despite my expectations, my hopes, and my timeline, all I got was a backache.

To quote my friend Rob, isn't that just like life?

I got to thinking about that the other day - about expectations and plans and mental due dates. How many times in my life have various due dates come and gone with nothing to show for them? Dozens, at least, if not a hundred or more. But despite a dearth of any savant-like skill with dates, I do tend to remember them, and more often than not I use them as a way of measuring my progress, or more specifically my lack thereof.

Three years ago I realized that it had been a decade since my high school graduation (May 24, 2001) and I quite naturally took inventory of my life in that space of time. It was an eventful decade, but I still felt like a failure, because I was single and fat and working part-time for $8 an hour. I always thought I'd have a college degree and a husband and children and a Volkswagen by the time my ten-year reunion rolled around. I had nothing to show for the decade that had elapsed since high school. It's been thirteen years now and I've still got nothing to show.

Even the revised life plans that I made when I placed Roo didn't come to fruition. I knew where I wanted to be when Roo was 1 year old, and 2 years old and so forth, and I am not in any of those places or stages of life. But, I told myself, that's okay. I just need to adjust my timeline. Change my when-Roo-is-four goals to my when-Roo-is-eight-or-nine goals.

I'd been feeling better about things last August, but then I took an online survey. I don't typically do that but at that time every single Target receipt I got had an invitation on it, and I needed to kill time while my cupcakes were in the oven. Nothing cuts to the heart of your insecurities quite like answering demographic questions. I already knew all of these things about myself, but it wasn't until Target asked me on one page that I thought, I am in my late twenties, I am single, I have never been married, I have no children, and I make less than $30,000 a year. That cheered me right up, let me tell you. I was glad to have cupcakes to look forward to; I needed them.

And then last fall I hit another due date, another deadline I set for myself. I turned 30. It wasn't as scary as I thought it might be. I actually had several days of birthday, culminating in a party where my fantastic friends surprised me with this cake:

(How you doin', Tom Selleck?)

I should mention that the very first thing I did in my thirties was put my contact lenses in, and then put my glasses back on. Isn't memory loss supposed to start in your forties? Anyway. After my week of birthday, I thought, well, shoot. I'm 30 now, and all I have to show for it is half of Tom Selleck's torso.*

All of those demographics that Target reminded me of (and more) kept coming to my mind. No husband - not even a boyfriend (not since the Bush administration, how's that for a frame of reference?), not much income, no children, thighs like a t-rex. It's a depressing way to look at your life, and the other day, when I thought about changing things, I wondered - at what point do I stop defining myself by the things that I lack?

Because that's what I've been doing since my birthday and probably my entire adult life. When I look at these due dates, at these deadlines, I feel that I've fallen short because of what I don't have. (And before you suggest counting my blessings, know that I actually have a list of my blessings. I am a compulsive list-maker; if you ever want to know what my faults are I have a Google doc I can show you.) I didn't used to do that. When did I start? When did I stop seeing myself as a whole person with innate value and start seeing myself as a collection of empty spaces?

My only consolation, if you can call it that, is that I know I'm not alone in this. I think it's a societal disease, this idea that who we are is what we're missing. I know plenty of other women who are put into boxes marked Single and Childless. How messed up is that? I've written before about how labeling birth mothers dehumanizes them. It's true for everyone, and especially when that label implies that they've come up short, that something is missing.

I want to get married. I want to be a mother. But I want to be happy even if neither of those things ever happens for me. I want to feel whole just the way that I am now. I want to see myself as the sum of what I do have, good and bad, and not as a list of unfulfilled dreams. I want to be enough. I want the woman that I am right now, right this second, to be enough for me to be happy.

When I was a child I was focused on what I could do, what I did well, and what I wanted to do. I didn't ever feel like I wasn't enough as I was. What changed in the past twenty years? I mean, obviously plenty of things have changed, but who I am fundamentally, as a human being, as a child of God - what's really changed? Nothing has changed. If I was enough then, I'm enough now.

I don't mean to imply that there's no room for improvement. I want to end each day as a better person than I was when I began it (how's that for an unattainable goal?). But I'm tired of feeling inadequate because of the things I don't have. Here's the thing - I'm never going to run out of due dates. I'm never going to stop having occasion to mark my progress and reevaluate my life. I don't have a lot of control over that. What I do have control over is how I let these due dates affect me.

Roo will be five in a little over a week. Another milestone - another deadline. I am light-years away from where I wanted to be when she turns five. I may never get to where I wanted to be at this point in my life. That doesn't have to matter. I can still be happy with where I am.

I know I'm not going to get there right away. It takes time to change the habit of being dissatisfied. But I want to start now. I want to learn to be happy with myself and my life, no matter what. It's time. I'm due.

*The left half. Well, my left, his right.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Parenting and Being an Adult

Roo's birthday is coming up in a few weeks. I'm not sure where the last five years went but she's starting kindergarten in the fall and she has already started reading chapter books and is generally much smarter than any five-year-old has any right to be. She is my favorite.

That Roo has the parents she does feels like a gift to me. The more I get to know people the more I realize that P an M aren't just excellent parents. They are exceptional human beings. The world could use more people like them. I look up to them in so many ways and I hope that if I ever grow up, I end up being their kind of person. The only downside I can see to Roo being their daughter is that children so rarely appreciate their parents. I hope that Roo is the exception and that as she gets older she realizes how amazing her parents are and how blessed she is to be their daughter. I hope that as she gets older she knows that I wouldn't have placed her with just anyone, and that in fact I couldn't possibly have placed her with anyone on earth but P and M - not for a second.

I have never worried even once about whether Roo is happy and healthy and loved. She has such a good life and such a good family. I used to wonder if, as Roo got older, I would wish I had parented her but the opposite is true. The older she gets, the more I love my choice and the less I care what anyone else thinks of it. Things people might say that used to offend me just make me laugh now. I wish that I were this certain of every decision I've ever made in my life!

But even though I don't regret my choice, I do still wonder sometimes what life would be like for me and Roo if I had parented her. I don't consider things too deeply because I can't wrap my mind around custody arrangements and child support and I honestly don't know where I would be living or working right now. But I do think, if I had parented, I would have an almost-five-year-old now. I would have registered her for kindergarten. How scary is that? I don't have a clue how any of that works. How do you know you've found a good school? A good teacher? How do you prepare a child to go from preschool to kindergarten?

I'll confess to ignorance in pretty much the entire realm of childcare at this point. I have no idea how much a child is supposed to eat or how much sleep they should get every night. I don't know when naps stop. I don't know what you're supposed to teach them and when. How much TV is too much? Do kids still get chicken pox? So many questions.

I know that most people don't know any of these things when they have a baby. They just figure it out as they go along, which is kind of a terrifying thought, isn't it? All these people who haven't a clue what they're doing are raising children, and those children are going to be adults someday whether they're raised right or not. It sounds like a terrible idea. Who came up with this? Somehow it works and enough of us make it to adulthood (relatively unscathed) to keep the world going. I'll never understand it.

P and M seem to have the whole parenting thing figured out. They're not perfect but I think they do a better job of it than anyone else I know (although I will admit to a slight bias in their favor). I think it's because they were ready for parenthood when their firstborn was placed with them. They were absolutely ready to be parents. They were prepared. They stay calm. They make rational decisions. They are adults.

This is, I think, my problem with the idea of me registering a child for kindergarten. I don't feel like enough of a responsible adult to be trusted with that kind of decision. I know myself. I do stupid things more often than I remember to eat and I make bad decisions almost exclusively. I had to have help picking a health insurance plan and I don't actually understand any of it. I once ate half a can of chocolate frosting in a single sitting. My mother could make a list entitled Ridiculous Reasons My Daughter Has Phoned Me and the Equally Ridiculous Questions That Followed. (I once left her a voicemail that went something like, "Hi Mom, this is Jill, your youngest child. I think I poisoned myself. Will you call me back when you get a minute? No rush.") I will make it through an entire day off work without remembering that I'm supposed to eat regularly. Last year I bought a t-shirt with a pattern of unicorns on it and I wear it to work (also, ask me about my whale shirt).

The idea that I am a both a registered voter and a government employee should terrify you. I am thirty years old but make no mistake, I am not an adult.

I used to bristle at the idea that as a birth mom, I chose adoption because I wasn't ready to be a parent. "I was ready!" was my battle cry. I thought that I proved it by parenting Roo for nine weeks. I think I even blogged about the not-ready-for-parenting school of thought, because I remember writing the phrase "I was absolutely ready to be a mother."

But what I've come to realize in the past little while is that, no, I absolutely was not. I wanted to be a mother. I wanted it desperately. But that doesn't mean I was ready. Looking back I can see that. And what's more, I still don't think I'm ready.

I want to repeat that because when I realized it, it hit me with great force. I am not ready to have a child. I'm 30. When I'm in a quiet room I can't hear my heartbeat because my biological clock is ticking too loudly. I am jealous of pregnant women I see. My insides feel all squishy when I see babies. My mind is blank of every thought but one: I want one of those! Babies are awesome and at my age, when I see one I am biochemically predisposed to want one of my own.

But that's not enough. What on earth would I do with one? For the most part I'm no better off than I was five years ago. I make a lot of the same stupid choices and I have some of the same bad habits and I am an absolute child about things for the most part. The biggest difference between the Jill who placed Roo and the Jill who is typing this is that the latter is five years older and needs a haircut.

I don't want to discount any personal growth I might have done. I am a slightly better person right now. But I don't think I'm any better prepared to be a mother.

I already know I'm going to get comments from mothers telling me, "Nobody is ever really prepared for parenthood. Nobody is ever really ready." People are going to tell me that you figure it out as you go along, that you get ready as you parent. People are going to point out that plenty of people who aren't ready to be parents still have kids and make a decent go of it. And I believe all of that.

But believe me when I say that if I met an amazing man tomorrow and we fell in love and got married, I would think long and hard before having a child right away. I have more issues than Newsweek. I know I'm not ready to be anyone's mother. And isn't this the perfect time to figure that out, now, while I'm not anyone's mother?

I wasn't ready for Roo and I'm still not. I am so, so grateful that her parents were ready, and still are. I couldn't have placed Roo with just anyone. I love her too much for that. I could only have placed her with them and I'm so glad I did!

I think there will come a time, maybe a few years from now, when I stop panicking every time a bill comes in the mail, when I do my taxes before April 15th, when I give up napping under my desk at work, when my therapist no longer calls because he's worried about me ... there will come a time when I unironically describe myself as an adult, when I will see babies and think not only of how much I want one but of how much I have to offer to one as a mother. It's going to be a good day.

I'm just not there yet.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Let it go

Last night I attended Roo's last dance recital. Dance is boring, she says, so she's going to try something new in the fall. She danced pretty well for a four-year-old. It looked to me like she knew the choreography better than any of the other little duck-costumed preschoolers on the stage. Her face really sold it for me, too. This girl was serious about her duck dance. M and I sat next to each other and we both took video of Roo dancing. It was one of those moments that could have been photographed for a PSA about open adoption.

After the recital M found Roo among the lines of tiny dancers filing out of the auditorium, and my heart felt full to burst. To someone who doesn't understand the beauty possible in adoption this will sound weird or even awful, but it makes me so, so happy that M is Roo's mom. They belong with each other. I see the two of them together and I think, that's what I want, if I ever have the chance to be a mother again.

I don't feel a smidge of sadness about the almost-five-year-old who danced so enthusiastically in a sparkly duck costume last night. She's got as good a life as any little girl could ever hope to have. She's pure sunshine - goodness and sweetness in human form. She makes me happy. It's impossible for me to feel any pain where she's concerned. In that sense, as far as placing a child for adoption goes, I am way beyond “over it.”

But this afternoon I got a reminder that there are some things I might never get over. It's a reminder I've gotten several times before but I keep managing to push it out of my mind. And, just like so many of life's disappointments, this one is because of laundry.

I was a mother for nine weeks before I placed Roo for adoption. When you've got a baby, you've usually got this entire collection of things for the small human in your care. It's quite amazing how many things accumulate for such a tiny person. I had a crib and a car seat and a stroller and a Pack and Play and crib bedding and blankets and burp cloths and dozens of teensy little outfits and socks. There were pacifiers and miniature fingernail clippers and bottles and stacks and stacks of other things that modern society says are required for the well-being of a ten-pound person. I spent every penny I had on accouterments for my baby. And I was happy to do it. I loved every last accessory.

Then one day I didn't have a baby anymore.

But I still had all this stuff. Scads of it. Boxes and boxes worth of baby things. Most of them I was able to put aside without an overabundance of pain. Clothes were a different story. The last load of little laundry I did, the one after placement, just about killed me. I folded up clean Onesies and sleepers and knew that I wasn't going to put them on my baby ever again. I didn't have a baby to put them on.

Eventually all of Roo's things were packed into Rubbermaid storage boxes, which were labeled and tucked away into a back corner of the garage. The crib was taken apart and bubble-wrapped and nestled with the mattress on top of the boxes. The car seat and stroller were mummified in plastic and hidden with the rest of the proof that I used to be somebody's mother.

My mother consoled me with the idea that in a few years I would likely be unwrapping and unboxing everything with my husband, getting things ready for the child we were expecting together. I clung desperately to the idea of this storage being a temporary thing. I thought, I will be a mother again before this pink-patterned car seat expires.

But I wasn't. Roo turned two and her baby things remained untouched. I considered selling them but I panicked when I tried. I wasn't ready to let them go. If I ever thought of the boxes after that I decided to worry about selling their contents when Roo was three. I would be ready then. But I didn't think about the boxes very often. I wasn't at my mom's house very often and I certainly wasn't spending time in her garage. Roo's third birthday came and went and her baby things never came to my mind.

I found some way to block from my mind the existence of those boxes and that shrink-wrapped furniture. I would see baby clothes at Target and have vague memories of how, in my early twenties, I used to collect little outfits here and there for some future child but my mind never jumped from that collection to the storage boxes. I managed to forget about the sad reminders of my interrupted maternity until last month.

My sister-in-law is pregnant and due in August. This pregnancy is something of a miracle and, with more than four years having passed without a new niece or nephew, I am almost desperately happy at the thought of holding a Barber baby again. My sweet nephew Elliot died two years ago, before he was born, so every day Becky is pregnant with this little girl is an answer to prayer.

My brother and his family were in town for Easter. They're getting ready to move to Texas this summer and somehow or other it came up that they were going to have to buy a new crib and mattress for Baby Girl. My mouth knew what to say before my brain did.

“I've got a crib and mattress in the garage. It's yours if you want it.”

They said that they did, and I loved the thought of their miracle baby sleeping in Roo's old crib. I felt ready to let those things go. I was proud of myself. I was finally ready! They reassured me that I could have both items back when I needed them but I said I didn't think that day would come and they were welcome to keep what I gave them. And then the conversation moved on, and again I forgot about the things in my mom's garage.

Today my sister-in-law sent me a text message asking if my offer of the crib and mattress was still good. I said that it was. She asked if I still had the bedding and I said I had everything. When I used the word “everything” I was thinking of bumpers and blankets and I was ready to part with it all but then Becky asked what I meant by “everything” and I suddenly remembered the box of baby Roo's Onesies and sleepers and I lost it. I went full-on Kim Kardashian with my ugly crying.

I want my sister-in-law to have the crib and mattress. I want her to take the box of bedding. I'm ready for that. But those tiny clothes … will I ever be ready to let them go? Roo starts school in the fall. How am I still haunted by her gingerbread jammies? How is it that five years later the thought of her pink polka-dot Onesie reduces me to tears?

I have a box full of baby clothes that I'm not using, that I may never use. I want to let it go. I want to want Becky to take them. I don't want tiny striped socks to have this kind of hold on me. What's it going to take for me to be ready? How long will it be before the ghost of the baby who was mine stops casting a shadow over a box of clean laundry?

I don't know. I know plenty of birth mothers, including several who parented before placing, but none who placed before I did. I don't have anyone to look to as an example of what trajectory my grief hoarding might follow.

I've passed the point where I'm hanging on to little laundry for some future baby. I wasted a lot of time with motherhood as my only life's goal. It would be fine if I were married or expected to marry but I have to think differently as a single woman in my stage of life. I have to plan for a future where I'm the only one who's going to take care of me because there are no guarantees. I know that I wouldn't marry me right now. I've got too much baggage and I probably always will. I expect to unpack it on my own.

The memory of the newborn I placed is strong enough to keep that box of baby clothes in my mom's garage. I just wish that the thought of the five-year-old that baby became was strong enough for me to let the box go. I'll get there someday. Someday I will be able to open that box, to save a pair of jammies or two as a reminder, and let the rest of it go.

Maybe that day will be sooner than I think. The crib and mattress will be loaded into a Texas-bound van in July. And a few days before that, Becky and I will open the boxes that I haven't touched in five years. We'll pick out sheets and blankets for her tiny miracle. Becky is one of the strongest women I know. Maybe her strength will make me brave and we'll open the box that hurts me the most.

I've cried alone over these things for so long. Maybe crying over them with someone else will give me the courage I need to finally let them go.

Friday, May 9, 2014

(Good?) Advice

I've mentioned before that, for one reason or other, people in the adoption community will occasionally come to me for advice. Bad idea, people. I once advised a co-worker to take naps under her desk. I am full to bursting with bad ideas that amuse me. Which isn't to say that I intentionally give bad advice; rather that I seem to be incapable of giving good advice because it simply isn't in me. I, too, take naps under my desk.

I digress. People will ask me for advice and sometimes I will offer it. Today I am offering advice to a group who have not asked for it, because someone has suggested that I am uniquely qualified to do so. I was asked by someone who works with birth mothers to advise women who have recently placed children for adoption. I asked what "recently" meant and was given a nebulous response that I promptly threw out. For our purposes today I want to go beyond the weeks and months immediately following placement, because I've beaten the dead horse that is post-placement grief for these many years and I'd like to find another carcass to swat at. I want to talk to women who are out of the fog that settles when relinquishment papers are signed, but who have not yet hit the one-year mark. If you fit into this category, what follows is for you. (If you don't, all I can tell you is that life is full of disappointment.)

So, you've placed a child for adoption recently but you have reached the point where you are awake and dressed more days than not and you're no longer crying yourself to sleep. Good job! I knew you could do it. I wish I could tell you that it's a calm ocean and clear skies from this point forward but it's not. For the rest of your life, you're going to have little moments where it hits you that you once placed a baby for adoption and how could you possibly have done that? Who does that?

You did. You did, and it was awesome, and you're awesome. So what if a tiny lost sock at the grocery store makes you teary-eyed. You made a family. You win. And, hey, free tiny sock.

Anyway. I want to tell you some things today that no one told me when I was where you are. I don't know if they qualify as "Things I Wish I'd Known" but they are things to know, in any case, and maybe you'll find them helpful.

So. (A needle pulling thread ...)

You're probably at the point where people no longer have to drag you bodily to social functions. You find yourself wanting to go out and see people, even if you are slightly terrified that adoption or your baby will become a topic of conversation. Be careful where you go and with whom. I said in a previous post that your surprise pregnancy was a symptom of a greater issue. I believe that. I wasn't living a happy, wonderful life when I got knocked up. There were so, so many other things going on.

I'd bet a tenner that it's the same case with you. Hence my caveat. If you go back to the same friends and situations you were in before, I hope you've got the birth control thing figured out because if you don't you're likely to end up pregnant again. I know (and dearly love) a number of repeat offenders. I'm not saying it's easy to change your life or lifestyle. I'm just saying, be careful. Placement can be a fantastic re-set button. Whatever agency or organization you placed through should offer post-placement counseling (if they don't, they should). Use it. Become a better person. Therapy is a beautiful thing. Figure out why you ended up  where you did, and resolve to stay away from there from now on.

Here's a fun fact for you: for the rest of your life, people are going to misunderstand you and your story and adoption. It hurts right now when it happens. It bothers you a lot. It feels personal and offensive and is the catalyst for many a crying fit. You will hate everyone.

Here's another fun fact: it will bother you so much less as time passes. As you become more and more comfortable talking about adoption, correcting or dismissing people will take zero emotional toll on you. You will be much less defensive. You're still going to blurt out "placed" when someone says "gave up" but you won't tear up if they insist that their terminology is right or ask why you didn't want your baby. (I tell them it's because she threw up on my sofa. Bad joke. Sorry.)

You will also, in perpetuity, encounter people who think you made the wrong choice or that adoption damages children. Right now it hurts like hell when you hear this. It makes you angry and defensive and frustrated and you will rant. Oh, how you'll rant! But you will come to understand that it doesn't matter if everyone you meet for the rest of your life thinks you did a bad thing. You know you made the right choice, and your placed child is happy, and no one else's opinion matters or ever will.

Friends and family will ask about your placed child less and less. It will seem like you're the only one who cares or even remembers. This will bother you. Eventually this too will pass. I let it go with some people, and I brought it up with others. It turns out that many relatives weren't sure what I felt comfortable discussing. They weren't sure if mentioning Roo would be painful for me. The more I told happy stories about her and open adoption, the more questions they were comfortable asking. I still have relatives who pretend she doesn't exist. That's on them. I still love them and enjoy making them uncomfortable by showing pictures of Roo being her adorable self.

The media is never going to get adoption right. You'll be happier if you avoid movies and TV shows with adoption-related plots. I stopped watching the show "Glee" when a pregnant Quinn was counseled to give her baby to "Someone who really wants it." I knew when I heard that line that adoption wasn't going to be handled in a sensitive or accurate manner. I don't miss it.

I know some birth moms who go out of their way to watch movies and shows with adoption in them so that they know what bad ideas they're going to encounter and have to correct when they talk to people. If you want to do that, more power to you, but I hope you like the phrase "gave up" because you're going to be hearing it a lot. Also, let's compare our lists of things that "Juno" got so, so wrong. Mine is 15 items long.

Here's something I do wish I had known four years ago when I was approaching Roo's first birthday. It won't always be like this. The pain or the relationship or the need for visits and contact. It will all change, and it will be a good thing. My relationship with P and M is a continuously evolving thing. Because we are all adults and are willing to communicate openly and honestly, it gets better and better. I don't see Roo nearly as often as I used to. I don't need to. It's not that I wouldn't be happy to see her more often. It's more a matter of weeks and even months will pass and someone will ask when I last saw Roo and I'll think, wait, when did I see her last? The need to reassure myself that she's happy and healthy and loved is gone. The desire to see her and her family because I love them pops up every couple of months.

At some point you will realize that although your love for your placed child hasn't changed or dimmed a tiny bit, it fits into your heart differently. You feel that love for a person who is 100% someone else's child, someone you don't know as well as they do. You will realize it, and it will be beautiful.Your love won't feel like a beautiful burden. It will feel like a bird in flight.

I spent several years overwhelmed by the love that I have for Roo. There was so much of it and I didn't know what to do with it. I had a mother's love in my heart but I wasn't a mother. Then I saw this post on Humans of New York. A woman's dying husband told her to take the love she had for him and spread it around. I decided to do that with my love for Roo. It has made all the difference in the world.

There will come a time when having placed a child for adoption will cease to be most important thing about you. Your birth child will cease to be your whole world. It is scary and you might think it's never going to happen with you, because you love your child too much. But here's the truth: I love my Roo with every bit of my heart, and I will often pass several days without giving her more than a moment of thought.

It has to be this way. It's better for both of you. Your placed child deserves a birth mama who has used her experience as a stepstool rather than a crutch. Neither of you benefits if you spend the rest of your life obsessing and ruminating and crying. Even someone who loves and lives and breathes music has to turn it down sometimes and enjoy the silence. It's the silences that make music beautiful.

It's the time that I don't spend with Roo that makes our visits so precious to me. It's the weeks or months that pass without hearing her little voice that make every word she says my favorite word ever spoken. If I thought about her every second of every day, I wouldn't appreciate what a wonderful little person she is to think about.

When I was where you are now, I felt fractured without Roo. She was my whole heart and my whole life. She is neither of those things anymore. She is still infinitely dear to me and I think I'll always love her the best and the most. But I had to step back. You will too. Roo is P and M's daughter. For real. I had to let her be completely theirs to love her completely. I placed her on September 9th but I didn't let her go until nearly 2 years later. I didn't start to heal until then. I wasn't sure I would. I was afraid to step back and figure out who I was without her. I thought it would break me.

In letting her go, I became whole again.

You're going to get there, too. It's going to be beautiful. I can't wait for you to see.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visiting Hours

I just want to take a moment to express my stunned semi-disbelief at the fact that Roo will be five years old this summer. Five! You guys, seriously. I swear, she just barely learned to walk. 

I got to see her a few weeks ago, which was fantastic. I mentioned this to one of my friends and she seemed unclear on what happens when I do see Roo, and I got to thinking how many times people misunderstand openness as it pertains to me and my relationship with Roo. So let's clarify at least the visiting part of that, and let's use a lot more words than are necessary because that's what we do here at The Happiest Sad. Well, that and the occasional meme.

First of all, let's clarify the word "visit." I'm not sure when or where I settled on that word to describe spending time with Roo. The word "visit" conjures up images from my childhood of spending time with my maternal grandparents. "We're going to visit Grandma and Grandpa DeWitt," my mom would say, and there was always this element of formality where you had to sit in a chair and make polite conversation and you weren't allowed to ask why everything in the curio cabinet smelled like an improbable cross between dust and aspergillis. Those visits certainly weren't much fun. The only good thing was that my grandfather - eleven years older and three times more patient than his wife - would eventually take pity on Little Jill and give her one of those miniature ice cream cups with the wooden spoon that fitted into the lid.

I am thirty years old but when I see those little ice cream cups I swear I can still feel my grandmother's disappointment looming over me like a rogue weather system. Bless her heart.

I digress.

What I really do, I think, is hang out with Roo and her family, but it sounds weird to say you're hanging out with a four-year-old, because if I'm honest she and I probably have different taste in movies and the last deep conversation we had was about gummy bears. So let's go with the word "visit" and pretend we grew up with the kind of grandmother who baked cookies and showed love. Bless her heart.*

Visits with Roo and her family are my favorite and they are awesome. There is no formality to them. It's just time spent with my friends. I use the word "visit" to describe any time I spend with Roo's family. I have been to dance recitals, we have all gone out for breakfast (and often lunch, and once dinner), and we have spent many happy hours at parks and playgrounds. The latter is where we hang out the most because it's the most fun for the kids

Roo always says hello to me. She says, "Hi, Jill!" and she smiles and it is awesome. Her big sister says hi to me, too, and I usually get a smile from their baby brother. M and I will talk and catch up for a bit until Roo insists that I play with her. "Jill, I want you to come play with me," she has said, and how do I say no to that? I can't. At that point I basically just let her boss me around for an hour or two. I have gotten so, so much sand in my shoes. You wouldn't believe it.

She has a very good if imagination when it comes to play, but she also has favorite things. Every playground we have been on has been a pirate ship. Roo seems to like the idea of a pirate ship. Once we made sand angels - maybe that's an Arizona thing, but it's like a snow angel only you're in the sand - and Roo's big sister said, "Hurry, get on the pirate ship, you're getting covered in water!"

Roo was feeling stubborn. She did not want to stop making sand angels. "I'll be fine," she told her sister. "I'm a mermaid." She's a problem solver, isn't she?

We are very often mermaids, or pirates, or mermaid pirates or pirate princesses. A few weeks ago when we were pirate princesses we used our rainbow power to subdue a particularly mean eel.

Roo likes to swing and climb and I have held her little shoes many, many times so she could climb better with bare feet. I always tell her how proud I am of her and I try to compliment her on that sort of thing more than on her general adorableness. When she climbed high even though she was scared, I told her she was very brave and that I was proud.

She knows that I love her but she is still a little kid, so when it’s time to leave she gives me a cheerful, “Bye, Jill!” and runs off, and I usually have to stop her for a hug. I always ask first if I can get a hug and if I can give a kiss. She always obliges. I tell her I love her and she will usually reciprocate.

I dearly love her siblings as well and so I will give them hugs and tell them I love them, too, because it's true and because I don’t think any child can ever hear enough that they are loved. After my last visit – a few hours at a park, I told Roo and her sister that I had fun and that I always have fun with them. “We have fun with you, too,” Roo's sister said. So many warm fuzzies, you guys.

You might have noticed that at no point do I attempt to parent Roo or offer parenting advice to her parents. This is where a lot of people get confused. I think there's this misconception that openness is a shared custody agreement. So I want to be very clear: P and M are Roo's parents, one trillion percent. That's what I wanted for her. I'm just a friend of the family who happens to have birthed one of the family's kids for them. P and M are doing an awesome job at the whole parenting thing. It's not my place to interfere.

I have been asked, along the custody line of thinking, if I get Roo all to myself at visits. I don't. There have never been any just-Roo-and-Jill visits and I'm totally okay with that. I love her whole family so, so much. I would be sad if I didn't get to see and spend time with them too.

I end up seeing Roo and her family every couple of months or so. This works out well for all of us. M and I text pretty frequently and keep up with each other on social media. We've worked together on adoption-related events in the valley so I see her often, which I love.

The other question I want to answer is whether visits are emotionally difficult for me. They are not. When I first placed I was worried that visits would be like placing Roo all over again - I'd get a few hours with her and then have to let her go. But visits have always been good for me, from the very first one. They allow me to see the good that came from the choice I made to place. I get to see firsthand that Roo is happy and loved and has an awesome life. I get to know her and be part of her life. I do cry when I drive home from a visit, but they're happy tears because I feel like I don't deserve the blessing of this amazing open adoption and yet I have them anyway.

Let's be honest - I do a lot of stupid things. I struggle to be a kind and compassionate person and I'm more narcissistic than anyone has a right to be in their thirties. If life were about fairness I would never see or hear from Roo again. Every single day I thank God for these blessings I don't deserve. I thank Him for letting me have her for a little while, and I thank Him for letting P and M have her forever. I am so glad she's theirs.

Every time I see Roo with her family, I remember why I chose adoption, and why if I had to do things over, I would choose it again without hesitation. As badly as it hurt at first, it doesn't hurt anymore. And Roo's happiness is worth it.

*My grandmother loved me in her own way. She was just stubborn and set in her ways and didn't care much for my father, and I am like a short girl clone of my dad so I probably never stood a chance. She was a good mother to my mother and that's what matters at the end of the day, right?

Bless her heart.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On resemblances and regrets

 I started a draft of this blog in an e-mail to myself at work and when I copied and pasted into blogger the formatting got all borked. I tried to fix it but I stopped accruing html skills ten years ago. Apologies. So if the font is inconsistent in size or serif, please know that it bothers me as much as or more than it bothers you.

A few days ago M Instagrammed a picture of Roo at the Phoenix Zoo. I have looked at this picture probably twenty times because Roo is pretty much my favorite thing in the history of ever. 

Most people I know will insist that Roo looks just like me. I’ve never seen much of a resemblance; she looks much more like H than like me. But no one ever met H, and people tend to see what they’re looking for, and Roo did get half of her genes from me. But saying that is misleading, isn’t it? Scientifically it’s more accurate to say that Roo got half of her genes from my parents. The reason that biological siblings sometimes look nothing alike is that each person is the result of a random combination of their grandparents’ DNA. This explains why in my family, siblings look like this:

We're all white. Does that count as a resemblance?

and cousins look like this:

Definitely related.

If I were better at math I think I would have become a geneticist, because this stuff fascinates me to no end. 
Anyway. I’m aware of Mendel's laws and yet I was surprised when I saw this picture of Roo in front of the baboons, because I didn’t see a resemblance to H or to me. I saw a resemblance to my sister. My first thought was, sheesh, I don’t even look like my sister. My next thought was that here is this little person who looks something like my sister, and my sister has never met her, and probably never will. My sister shares DNA with Roo. My sister’s kids share DNA with Roo. From the grandparent-gene perspective, my nieces and nephews could end up looking a lot like Roo. And they will never meet. 
I wondered, for the first time ever, how the other members of my family feel about Roo’s adoption. I know that they think I made the right call and that they are proud of me (I think). But I wonder what they think of Roo herself. I wonder if there is a sense of loss for any of them. My oldest brother met Roo and has met P and M as well. But my other brother and my sister never met my little girl and I can’t imagine any circumstances in which they would. They have to have come to this conclusion as well. Does it bother them? Has it occurred to any of them that their kids share DNA with Roo, too?
My pregnancy has to have raised awkward conversations between my oldest brother and his kids. They lived in town at the time. At that point I’m sure the only birds-and-bees conversation that had taken place involved married mommies and daddies, or if they didn’t, the mommy-without-a-daddy thing probably wasn’t presented as a viable option. I know that my sister told her kids that they had a new cousin when Roo was born. And now I wonder, what was the conversation like when I chose adoption? How do you explain to a child that her cousin isn’t her cousin anymore? 
I wonder especially about my brother Christopher’s family. His youngest, Violet, was born exactly three weeks after Roo was. What kind of conversations went on in their house? My youngest nephew was still a baby when I placed Roo, and my youngest niece was born six months after placement. How will they find out about Roo, if they do at all? I mean, I’m a blabbermouth about adoption but I don’t know how my siblings have chosen to handle the issue in their own families. 
I get that parenting is pretty much all awkward conversations, but how many awkward conversations have I personally been responsible for? I wonder now. I never wondered before, but I wonder now how my siblings explained things to their kids. About Roo when she was mine and about Roo when all of a sudden she wasn't. I never considered or appreciated this burden before. I never cared.

I care more now, I think, and I feel guilty that it's taken me so many years to care. Who am I that I wouldn't give a thought for five years to how Roo and her adoption affected people other than me and Roo and her family? She will be 5 in three months, and yet this is the first time I have ever stopped to think about any of these things. I’m not sure what that says about me as a sister, or as a person. I mean, I know that I’m an inherently selfish being, but honestly, I should have considered these things before. I should have considered them many times. How am I just now realizing, at thirty years old, that I am not an island?

I wonder how much of my lack of consideration for this is due to the fact that my mother was adopted. For my whole life I have simply accepted that I share DNA with people I will never meet. I'm not just talking about my mom's birth family, either. I have cousins on my mom's side that I have never met, and cousins on my dad's side I've only met once or twice. I'm half envious, half mystified when I meet people who are close to their entire extended families. It's nothing I've ever experienced. Is that sad? It sounds sad, I think. I've never given it too much thought. 

But whatever the reason, I'm only now starting to wonder if my family is similarly blase' about having biological relatives they've never met. And I wonder if they include Roo in that relative count. 

I think maybe it's time for me to have a few awkward conversations of my own. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hopes and Fears*

Last week was an adoption picnic and I went to it, as I go to every adoption event, because I knew Roo was going to be there and I will take any chance I get to admire the fantastic little girl who used to live in my womb.

Roo will be five years old this summer, and frankly I don't know how that happened. I swear she just barely learned to read (before she was three, you guys!) and now she'll be in kindergarten in the fall. Because I don't see her every day, she always seems so much more grown up each time I see her. Taller - although not much; genetics are not on her side as far as height goes - and smarter and more independent.

Gone are the days when Roo was a tiny baby whose decisions were made for her. She has her own mind and she does as she pleases, within the limits set by her parents. Case in point: when Roo's daddy brought her to the picnic - she had been at a birthday party earlier - she didn't want to socialize. She wanted to play on the playground and I could barely get a hello out of her. She was too focused on climbing the jungle gym.

I watched her run off in her princess dress and for a moment I missed the tiny, chubby baby I used to be able to hold captive in my arms. It was easier to feel connected to her then, when I could hold her warm weight and clearly remember her little feet kicking me from the inside.

I missed the darling toddler who would play pretend with me because she was the age when children will play with anyone who sits down with them. I felt less connected then but she was still so small and she was easy to distract in my favor.

I watched Roo climb higher and higher - surprisingly adept at keeping her dress in place as she ascended  - and I realized, maybe for the first time, that openness is not a choice that Roo made for herself. It's a choice that was made for her. She knows who I am because her parents thought it would be best for her and for me. She did not ask to meet me. She did not ask to have me in her life.

And I realized that the time may come when she does not want me in her life. It may not come, of course, and I hope it doesn't, but as I watched her climb I thought, I have to prepare myself for that eventuality. If the time comes that Roo would rather not have a relationship with me, I will have to find a way to be okay with that.

I don't know any adults who grew up with an open adoption because it's such a relatively recent phenomenon. I know adults who have reconnected with their birth families, but none who grew up with a birth mom in their lives. What will my presence do to and for Roo as she grows up? Will I be a benefit to her or a burden?

Such heavy thoughts for a picnic. This is what happens when you use caffeine as a substitute for sleep.

Roo grew tired of the jungle gym and came over and we had an Arizona snowball fight with the rest of the picnic attendees. We made play dough shapes together ("Don't make any more seahorses," she told me. "Make something else") and she made me a valentine card and we watched the ducks swim in the pond.

("I wish that I was a duck," said Roo, "so I could swim all day and people would feed me." She looked pensive and then added, "But Mommy would miss me if I were a duck here.")

For now, Roo is happy to play with me when she's not asserting her independence. My hope is that she will always be happy to see me. That she will be able to feel my love for her. That she'll be a happier, healthier person for having an open adoption that includes her birth mother as a sometimes presence in her life.

But my hope is also that she will make the kind of choices that will result in peace and happiness in her life, whatever those end up being. My hope is also that if the time comes when she feels I am a hindrance rather than a help, that she will be strong enough to let me go. I don't want to be an obligation to her. Openness was chosen for her as a benefit, not a burden. I don't ever want to be a burden.

I don't want to not be a part of her life. The thought that someday Roo might not need or want me around scares me. And I don't want it to happen, and I don't anticipate that happening, I really don't. But I want the choice to be hers, when she's old enough to make it.

*Dear Keane: please forgive me for stealing your album title for my blog post. Hopes and Fears is my favorite of your albums, and "This is the Last Time" got me through a rough patch. I love you guys, even though I hated the heck out of your collaboration with K'naan.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

If You Want to Help a Birth Mother

In my local adoption community, I am seen as a success story. Not as any kind of hero or role model, but as a success. I placed my baby for adoption after a brief stint single parenting. I went through the messy grieving process and came out of it a better person. Four years later I have a career of sorts, an apartment, a car, and mental health. I am doing well. I have a good relationship with the child I placed and with her family. I've got 99 problems, but adoption ain't one.

I know way too many birth moms who can't say the same. I have seen open adoptions - and birth mothers - fall apart spectacularly. I am more acutely aware than ever that I hit the jackpot as far as adoption is concerned. I wish everyone could be so lucky. 

I think this is why, in the last three months, I've been asked for advice by adoption caseworkers and their ilk. They all want to know the same thing: why did things work out well for me, and how can they ensure similar successes for the birth moms they work with?

I wish I knew. I am hesitant to give advice because every situation, every adoption is its own little planet. Every person is different and every adoption is different and things can change so quickly. I've never wanted to set myself up as an example of what to do or how to be. That makes me very uncomfortable, particularly when in adoption, two people can do exactly the same thing and end up with vastly different results.

I've tried to explain this, but still I'm asked, "What can we do to help birth mothers?"

I'm expected to have some exclusive insight as a birth mother. But all I can think of is how right after placement, there was almost no help on earth for me - not that there was none offered, but that nothing worked. The only thing that made me happy was seeing my baby girl and how well she was doing. I lived for her and for those moments. Other than that, there was too much going on to be helped by any single entity or program. I had too many different issues.

That's the real gist of it, isn't it? There are always too many things going on in a birth mother's life. We can talk all we want about how there ought to be support and programs to help women who have just placed a child for adoption deal with that issue. And I'm not saying those things aren't important. But what we're forgetting is that so often, an unplanned pregnancy isn't the overarching problem. It's a symptom. When a woman is facing an unplanned pregnancy in the kind of situation where she's considering and choosing adoption, the pregnancy isn't her problem. If you want to help a birth mom, you have to realize that.

Not that there's ever one single underlying issue. There are dozens. Low self-esteem, co-dependence, abuse, depression, anxiety, daddy issues … sometimes it's a combination. But part of what makes placement so gut-wrenching is that you've got the grief of placing a child layered on top of these other issues that were never treated. In my personal experience, if you want to help a birth mom, you have to help restore her sense of self-worth. 

I'm not saying that every single birth mom has made horrible life choices or gotten herself into a bad situation. But the vast majority of those I have met (and I include myself in this number) ended up pregnant because a lot of other things were going on. My pregnancy was a symptom of a much larger problem.

I've always hated the term "crisis pregnancy" because it sounds like some sort of emergency or disaster. My pregnancy wasn't like that. The fact is that it saved my life. I was self-destructing spectacularly before I got pregnant. Roo saved my life. If I hadn't gotten pregnant, there would have been a crisis situation. If you want to help a birth mother, don't look at her pregnancy as a crisis. Look at it as an opportunity to make positive changes in her life.

So, adoption professionals, here's my advice to you. If you want to help a birth mother, stop looking at her as a birth mother. Look at her as a person. She had problems before placement and she's going to have them after. There is no one-size-fits-all help for her. Don't put her in a box. You can do better than that. She deserves better than that.