Posts tagged ‘adoption’
When we started the adoption process we were handed a checklist by someone, I honestly can’t remember who. It was either the social workers at our agency, or one of the other blurry people involved in our quest to become parents. I don’t exactly remember what the checklist said, but in my memory it was a basic list of character traits of children and family situations. Again, it’s all a blur, but in the way I tell our story, the checklist factors in a big way. I say “we didn’t check any boxes” when asked how our adoptions went so quickly. Although, I do recall saying I wanted a healthy infant. I wanted to experience as much of parenting as I could possibly, and for me that included all the joys of infanthood.
So I guess that means I checked off infant and healthy. I remember thinking that I was surely in this for the baby snuggles and sweet newborn gurgles. I definitely was not in it for the exhaustion of parenting a special needs child who would need to be dragged to numerous appointments, consuming our very identity as a family from normal adoptive family to a special needs adoptive family. That was not for me. I didn’t have saintly patience, bottomless understanding, and for @$#% sake, I was certainly not religious, nor did I have a mission to save a child. I wanted to be a mom, a normal mom, whose greatest worries were cloth or disposable diapers, mini-wagon or minivan, violin or piano lessons. Thankfully, I got all those worries figured out with ease; disposable, minivan, piano.
However, now I have many other worries; medication 5 times a day, annual Brain MRI’s, Kidney ultrasounds, EEG’s, EKG’s, 3 hour long eye exams, IEP’s and emergency medication that is always within reach. My youngest was four months old when my normal motherhood transformed into extra special motherhood in the blink of an eye. Well actually, it was over a month or so period and after some specialized testing, DNA samples, multiple visits to specialists and a hated phone call from the doctor (you know the call, the one you get that knocks you so hard out of denial and into reality that it physically hurts, and you cry a cry reserved for death and loss, but it’s coming out of you while you sit holding a basket of laundry, on the cold wooden staircase in your house, listening to your husband’s side of the conversation). That was it, I was now the mom of a special needs child, and life was now transformed from normal to special.
I really did struggle with accepting my new role and still do some days, but never did I struggle with accepting my daughter’s new role. I believe it was Raquel, one of our social workers, who said “kids are kids”, and that is so simply true. My daughter is still herself; with a bit extra that most of us will never have (thankfully). I am still her mom, with new worries, but no less terrifying than the ones I have for my “typical” child. And honestly, the greatest thing I have learned so far on this extra special journey is that we are all extraordinary in our own ways, we each have that something extra special that challenges us, but also brings us great joy and love.
“Do you think you’ll be able to love a kid that’s not yours?” “Do you ever wish you had a child of your own?” “Do you know who K’s real mother is?”
Questions like those once had tremendous power over me. They had the power to sting. They had the power to make me feel less than. But, they don’t have power any more. You see, I became a real mother over 15 years ago to a child who is every bit my own.
I was real when the delivery nurse placed a newborn baby in my arms. I was real when I walked out into the California sunshine with my girl. I was terrified, but I was real. I was real when relief rushed over me the next morning because M and I had managed to keep K alive for an entire day. Real, when the terror returned and I realized I had to keep her alive for every day of my life.
K was mine when nightmares sent her climbing into my bed because sleeping next to me was the only thing that made the bad dreams go away. She was mine each time she ran into my arms when I picked her up from school. She was mine when she held me after my mother died and said “Mommy, what will I do if you die?”
It’s been a long time since I thought about any of those questions. Why think about things that have no power? But last week, we spent two nights with K in the ER. She’s fine, thanks, but those were a couple of exhausting, scary nights. There were moments when I had to force myself not to cry. I had to listen to the doctors and pretend not to be afraid.
In the midst of it all, I heard that question from long ago – “Do you ever wish you had a child of your own?” And my mind repeated the answer that I’ve known for every day of K’s life – I have a child of my own and she is everything I ever wished for.
I was thinking about Dad today. Yes, Father’s Day is this weekend but that’s not what brought him to mind. It was actually a Mother’s Day memory that made me think of him. One Mother’s Day, my sisters and I had created a really special gift for Mom. We bought her a ceramic basket and placed maybe 100 small pieces of paper in it. On each piece of paper we wrote something special about her. We gave her the basket and we took turns reading each one aloud.
Dad listened attentively at first. They were great memories and let’s face it; it was a pretty thoughtful gift. I imagine he enjoyed the stories and was probably proud of his daughters for coming up with the idea (which I think we stole from a magazine but still). After a while though, he started interrupting us. “Hey, I was part of that too” or “There are two parents in this family” etc. Laughing, we kept telling him, “Dad, it’s not your basket.” He didn’t think it was nearly as funny as we did, but he finally stopped interrupting us and let us finish.
Of course when Father’s Day rolled around that year, we did something similar for him. After his reaction, we had to. If there was anyone Dad would play second fiddle to, it was definitely Mom. But overall, that position was not his favorite spot in the band.
Truth be told, maybe we gave Mom credit for more stuff than we should have. She was the gold standard of mothers so it was easy to do. There’s the physical stuff – we credit her for all the blue eyes in the family, but Dad’s eyes were blue too. I started wearing glasses in third grade so mine were certainly courtesy of Dad. And there’s the non-physical stuff – I think Dad gave my brothers their work ethic, my younger sister her strong sense of justice, and my older sister, her all around goodness. His sense of right and wrong was a force to be reckoned with, and he passed that on to all of us.
When I look at K, it is her birth mother to whom I give thanks. A’s choices brought K to us and I will never forget that. But yet… I don’t remember A having sapphire blue eyes. K’s eyes are unforgettable. If A’s were like that, I know I’d remember. And it’s not just the stunning blue color; it’s the sparkle behind them that’s remarkable. I wonder if those are a gift from her birth father. What about K’s ability to remember the directions to anywhere she’s ever been? Or her innate ability to reach out to someone who’s lonely or sad? Those may have come from him. I’ve just never really thought much about it before. Huh… It may not have been his basket but he was part of it too.
So, on this Father’s Day, I will remember all the wonderful fathers I have known, like I always do. But for the first time, I will remember a particular high school boy who is now a grown man. I will think of him, and I will thank him for whatever he gave that made my girl the incredible person she is.
We tell a lot of stories in our family. Most of them are true, some are not. My girls fight to recognize when their dad is telling a true story, and when he’s just making up a fantastical fiction for them to enjoy. The girls still seem confused as to whether or not their dad rode a dinosaur to school when he was young. They seem better at guessing my truths and bluffs. I am not sure why, but it could be because I am the one who tells the stories with the hard truths and absolute facts (as I know them to be).
I often feel like I’m a witness in our own family court, and my girls are the determined lawyers wrangling the truth out of my testimony, in every last detail. I find it hard to separate the facts that I know, the feelings I have, the hunches, and assumptions which I have made over the years.
The girls especially love the stories where their dad or I (usually me) did something dangerous, or flat our stupid as kids. They love to hear how we got in trouble, ended up in the ER, or got sent to our rooms for what seemed like eons. One of their favorite stories is about the time I went off a jump on my bike and wiped out so hard that I ended up in the ER covered head to toe in bruises and scrapes. First, the story was loved due to the danger, blood, and guts (and that I didn’t have a helmet on!). Next, they loved hearing how embarrassed I was going to camp the next day, looking like a zombie fresh from the grave. Lately, they have fixated on the part when the nurses grilled me about what “really happened,” as they didn’t believe that my injuries were caused solely by my daredevil 9-year-old self.
I’ve told the girls this silly story (complete with viewing of the scars I still bear from that day) many times. It started for me as a cautionary tale about the need to wear helmets and to ride bikes safely, but it has morphed into many other tales according to the girls’ curiosity, and interest about the topic, players, setting, or plot of that fateful day. This story is an easy one for me to tell as it only involved me being a dumb kid, trying to show off to a bunch of my neighborhood friends. Thankfully, no permanent harm was done, no lives were lost, and the course of my life was not forever altered. The same cannot be said of all our family stories.
Our family stories, like the stories of any family I imagine, contain the joys, hopes and great loves of our family members. Our stories also contain the sorrows, fears, anger, and immense loss, which are the inherited lessons from our families of origin. We each have a birth story, we each have family who love us, and cherish us. The paths that brought the four of us together, to form our family, have taken many turns, some not of our own control, and have had joys and sorrows, love and loss along the way. These stories of love and loss, joy and sorrow, I tell like the bicycle story, focusing on the girls’ curiosity and interest. I want the girls to recognize themselves in our stories, and to see their role in our family reflected through the routes we’ve taken and the adventures we had. Hopefully, one day my girls will tell their own stories (hopefully with a helmet on) about their lives, and be able to understand the deep, meaningful connection that our family stories have to their sense of self, and belonging, in their own family.
I’m in second grade and I get the lead in “Little Red Riding Hood.” It’s VERY exciting. I’m proud and my parents are proud. Dad is so proud he takes over a “mom-job” and works with me on my lines. A lot. I mean, a real lot. So I’m ready.
It’s the day of the show. Dad takes the afternoon off from work and sits with Mom and my little sister in the audience. The show starts and my class is performing our little second grade hearts out. The stage is big and we’re small but we’re doing fine. Time for the big finish.
I should tell you that our version of Little Red Riding Hood is different than most. In ours, Grandma comes through her encounter with the big, bad, wolf just fine. At this point, it’s my job to open a box and hand Grandma a gift. So. I pick up the box, take off the lid, look inside. And it’s empty.
I do what any 8 year old would do in the circumstances. I panic. The stage which had already been big now looks huge. The audience looks like it’s doubled in size. I look at my teacher, Mrs. Patterson, in the wings. She assumes that I’ve forgotten my line and starts to mouth it to me.
So now I’m panicked and I’m mad because, as we’ve discussed, I know my lines. I point to the box and mouth back to her, “There’s nothing in the box!” She gestures to me to keep going. I know this won’t work but I do what I’m told. I pull nothing from the box and I hand nothing to Grandma and the play ends.
I go out to the audience and see Dad and explain what happened. He leans down and tells me to listen very carefully. He says “Gail, there’s a saying in the theater that applies just as much in life. That saying is ‘the show must go on.’ No matter what happens to you in life, I want you to remember that and just keep going.”
It’s been more than a few years since I was in that play. I’ve had a number of opportunities to remember Dad’s advice, but none as meaningful as when M and I were trying to start a family. In spite of our best efforts and the efforts of the best science of the time, it didn’t look like it was going to happen. It was hard. And it was sad. It felt like I had been handed another empty box.
But I heard my dad’s voice and we just kept going. We kept going until we landed at the doorstep of JFS of Metrowest where we met Dale and Raquel of Adoption Choices. They listened and they heard me. Their kindness helped me let go of the box. It wasn’t empty. It just wasn’t mine.
It’s hard to believe but our daughter K just turned fifteen. That dark time seems so long ago and I can barely remember the sad, empty woman I was. You see, I just have to look at K’s face, I just have to hear K’s voice to know. Yeah, I have the right box now.
I worry about my daughters. I worry about the usual mom things like their safety and well-being. I worry about them eating enough vegetables and fruit (they don’t!). I worry that they don’t get enough free play time in our busy schedule, enough adventures in the fresh air, and whether or not they’ll ever ride a two-wheeler without training wheels. (I hear there is a woman called the bike whisperer…She teaches them to ride in three lessons! I may need to call her soon).
I also worry about adoptive mom things like bonding, openness, self-esteem, relationships with their birth families, talking about adoption, loss, and sadness. I worry the adoptive mom worry, that no amount of love I give them could possibly fill the hole in their hearts left by the loss of their families of origin. I worry that any new unexpected behavior runs deeper than typical development, I worry it runs straight to the heart of their loss, and grabs on with vine-like tendrils which may be impossible to unwind.
These are the worries that keep me up at night, after one of my lil ones has awaken me with a need for water, or snuggles, or let’s be honest, a need for dry pj’s and a change of sheets. Instead of following my usual bedtime routine again of reading or more typically these days, listening to an audiobook, for a bit until I drift off to sleep, I find myself searching for answers to that day’s worries. I find myself playing the “what’s adoption-stuff and what’s just kid-stuff” game over and over in my mind. I despise that pointless game, and I don’t know why I play it, especially when it is an irresolvable question.
However much I dread the nighttime visits from the worry monster, I am also thankful for all my worries. I am thankful that my worries keep me thinking about our family life and my daughter’s well-being. I am thankful that my worries oblige me to reach out for help from teachers, friends, professionals, and most importantly family. I am even more thankful for the people in my life that are brave enough to listen to my worry, and even braver to ask uncomfortable questions and offer a kind word, or the possibility of taking a new path. I am most thankful that I have my two beautiful and courageous girls to fret my mother worries over each and every day.
Fifteen years ago, on Valentine’s Day, K’s birth mother chose us.
She picked us from our “Dear Birth Mother” brochure. I can’t remember what the proper name for the document actually was. It may in fact have been brochure. I know that’s what M and I called it. It was a booklet of text and pictures shown to potential birth mothers to help them decide if we were the right family for their baby.
I remember agonizing over its creation, trying to select the perfect pictures and just the right words. Not to mention the sheer difficulty of putting it all together in the era before digital pictures. We made fifty copies and waited.
While we waited, we went to pre-adoptive parent education classes. At first, my favorite part of the class was when new families brought their new baby/child and told the story of how they became a family. “That’s going to be us some day,” I’d think.
But not a single one of the first fifty potential birth mothers expressed any interest in us. We regrouped. We took a vacation to San Francisco. We changed our picture on the brochure cover and made some more copies. I didn’t love the babies coming to class as much. As much as I hate to admit it, as much as it makes me seem petty and small, I couldn’t help but think “why them and not us?”
Until Valentine’s Day, 1998, when she chose us. She liked our picture on the cover. She said we looked nice. We talked on the phone and we emailed. She got to know us better and still thought we were nice. Two months later K was born and we became a family. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of K’s birth mother and thank her for that.
And on the fifteen anniversary of my very best Valentine’s Day, I also give thanks to all the women who didn’t choose us. I was once told, “The soul of the child that was meant to be yours will find you.” I don’t know if that’s always true but I know my child found me. She just needed me to wait for her.
A few weeks ago, an inquisitive first grader, with adorable crazy curls, wearing a tousled outfit (reminds me of myself at that age) walks into her kitchen during Daisy Scouts, and overhears me talking to her mom about our family. The Inquisitive first grader then asks me what adopted means. “We’re an adoptive family; I’m her adoptive mom, or everyday mom. She also has a birth mom who gave birth to her.” I explain a bit more about adoption and how it is for our family, then she announces “that’s sad” and says “who’s her real mom?” I of course laugh it off, and tell the now slightly bothersome, yet still adorable, first grader that neither of us is imaginary, that we are both real moms. Then she avoids my eyes, spying some cookies up on a high shelf, asks her mom for some, and heads back to the scout meeting. Her mom and I gave each other that, “Yup, that’s first graders for you” look and moved on with our conversation.
I rather enjoyed my conversation with the inquisitive first grader, she’s a kid I really like, and I appreciate her frankness. I am also amused that we made it all the way to first grade before anyone asked about my oldest daughter’s “real” mom. We are lucky to live in a pretty progressive place, in an enlightened age, and to have many different family make-ups in our daughter’s school, in our community, and in our church. We have always felt welcome and accepted in our community, and most importantly felt like a “real” family.
With all that said, we do still work on keeping appropriate adoption speak and realistic images of adoption present in our life, most in particular in our girls school. This week, my oldest daughter will be sharing a book with her class, which she and I made, about her adoption story. My husband and I will join her in class to help with the presentation, and to guide, or deflect, any conversation or questions her classmates may have. We will also be bringing in a few of our favorite picture books about adoption for the class to borrow, and some photographs of our family, including some of our daughter’s birth family to share with the kids. Hopefully our story will teach the kids how real we all are, and that the most important thing about our adoption is how real the love is that our daughter has from all her parents.