Sunday, December 9, 2012

Giving My Baby Back. The Worst Day of My Life.

I wrote a little bit about this in another post (see The One That Got Away:  Memories of a Failed Adoption for some of the background info I won't cover again here) almost a year ago, and in that post I said I would write more about the story later.   Well, today is the five year anniversary of that incredibly painful day when we had to hand over our little guy and I want to tell you a little bit more about that week.  I can't tell you everything.  I still have trouble writing about it.  But I will give you the highlights.

I will start with Monday, December 3, 2011.  I was at a retirement get-together at work.  It was a casual thing, so I had arranged to have Isaac with me.  The paternity test had finally been ordered and we were awaiting results.  Isaac was snuggled in his carrier on my chest.  It was mid-afternoon and I decided to leave, when I noticed a missed call on my phone.  My heart immediately began to pound as I recognized the social workers number.  I called voice mail as I walked to my car, hardly able to breathe.  I knew as soon as I heard her voice that she wasn't delivering good news.  The test was positive and our little Isaac was to returned to his father after almost five months of being our baby.  I was in shock.  I just kept saying "oh no, oh no, oh my gosh" as I walked to my car trying to keep it together.  I was physically shaking as I strapped him into his seat.  I don't know why the tears didn't come, as I'm usually pretty quick to cry.  I called the social worker back but she didn't answer.  I didn't call John because I wanted him to come home before he heard the news, as I knew he would be upset.  I called my friend, Genie, and told her, still unable to cry.  Somehow I made it home.  John is normally home like clockwork around 4:15, but wouldn't you know that today he decided to go buy new running shoes and didn't get home until almost 7:00.  I was dying.  Adrenaline was pumping for hours.  I wanted to be calm so I wouldn't freak Isaac out, but my world was crashing in.  So many years of trying to have a baby.  So many years of failed fertility treatments.  I had hoped and prayed so hard that the test would be negative.  It wasn't.  My stomach was in knots.  How was I going to break this to John.  I was feeding Isaac at the table when I heard his car pull up.  He walked up to the front door which was open and was upbeat as usual.  He stopped at the front door and noticed something was wrong.  "What's up?"  I said "The test was positive."  He said "Oh no!  Are you serious?!"  I said I was and he walked back into the yard and broke down.  And that's when my tears came.  And they didn't stop for four days, and even then, it was for short periods of time.  I am not exaggerating when I say I cried for four days straight.  I couldn't stop.  I didn't go to work.  I couldn't focus on anything.  I couldn't eat or sleep or pull myself together.  John went to work.  I think it helped him to keep a routine.  I couldn't gather myself enough to even get out of the house.  The dam had broken and there was too much force behind the rushing water to allow anything to even begin to fix it.  I prayed harder than ever, but I knew the answer was no.  I tracked down the biological father's e-mail and wrote him a long letter--a last plea that he might consider leaving him with us.  I knew it was probably in vain, but had to try.  We had an exchange of e-mails and I came to terms with the fact that it wasn't going to happen.  We did agree that he would do a transition over the weekend instead of just showing up and taking Isaac home.  I was grateful.  Friends and family fasted for us on Thursday (a practice in my religion of abstaining for food and water for two meals in order to focus on drawing closer to God, especially when there is a particular desire for help).  I think that is the only thing that got me through it.  I woke Friday morning December 7 (our own personal D-day) and was able to dry my eyes for the first time all week, and focus on the day ahead.  Isaac's father and grandmother would be arriving that evening.  This whole thing wasn't his fault and I didn't want to feel angry or show any harsh feelings towards them.  I didn't want to show how hurt I was.  I knew this was hard for him, too, and he had been robbed of these first few precious months with his son.  We were all victims.  I'm leaving out so many details, but to make a long story a little shorter, when they arrived and he walked in the living room and knelt down to see his son, I was so touched.  I even snapped a picture for him.  I could see the joy on his face and I felt the healing begin.  It would take years, but that is when it started.  We talked for two hours--Me, John, Isaac's father and grandmother.  We filled in all the gaps for each other on what had been going on and the lies that Isaac's mother had told.  It was a wonderful conversation.  We were still heartbroken over what would have to happen over the next 48 hours, and I still held out hopes that maybe he would change his mind, but we were beginning to accept it.  The next morning, they took Isaac for a few hours and then brought him back for a nap.  They took him again that afternoon, and brought him home for one last night with us.  My mother flew in that night to be with us, and I am so grateful for that.  I finished Isaac's scrapbook--got it all caught up with all the pictures we had taken and all the journaling, so his father could have a record of the months he had missed.  We packed up everything we had for Isaac--all the gifts given to us by friends at two different baby showers.  We gave them everything except three things.  One was the little onesie I had made for him that said "Superman was adopted."  I put it on a teddy bear my brother and his wife had sent us, and that bear still has it on today in my son's room.  The other thing was a little brown and cream striped sleeper he had worn.  I saw it in the box of stuff and took it out and tucked it away.  It smelled like Isaac and I wanted to keep it.  The funny thing was that John asked me later where that had gone because he wanted to save it.  I thought he might be upset that I was keeping it.  I smiled and told him I had already taken it and saved it.

Saturday night in the middle of the night, Isaac woke up screaming and was inconsolable.  It was the weirdest thing.  He had never done that before and it was upsetting to me.  It was as if he knew a big change was coming.  I held him and we stared out of our bedroom window at the moon together as I talked to him. He finally settled and we put him in bed with us--something we had never done--and he slept the rest of the night with us.

Sunday, December 9th was the day.  They were supposed to come get him at 10 a.m.  I tried to keep Isaac awake, but he was so tired.  I was sick to my stomach.  John was pacing waiting for them.  Isaac fell asleep right before they got there and I was worried about sending him off asleep and just having him wake up in a car on a five hour drive with two people he really didn't know.  One of the hardest things about this whole day was thinking that he would feel we had abandoned him.  As far as he knew, we were his parents, and then one day, we hand him over to someone else.  That bothered me for months, and actually, it still does.  They got there, and I lost it.  I felt the fear wash over my face as I knew the moment had come to say goodbye.  Isaac's father would tell me later that it was the worst day for him, knowing he had to take him away from us.  His mother cried and kept saying "I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry."  I told her it was okay, that it wasn't her fault.  I said we would be fine.  She had a niece who had struggled with infertility, so she had some idea of what this meant to us.  I woke Isaac up, slid him into his carrier and kissed him goodbye and they left.  it was 10:30 in the morning and it was over.  I wasn't a mother any more.

I laid on the sofa in tears and shock for awhile.  A few friends stopped in to check on us, and by the afternoon, I felt like I was pulling myself together.  But grief is like the ocean.  It washes over you and then recedes for a time and then hits again, and sometimes the waves are lighter and sometimes it's like a Tsunami and you think you won't recover.  I cried every single day for months.  I couldn't sleep at night.  I worked and worked to the late hours hoping I would be so exhausted I would just crash.  No such luck.  I would lay in bed and hold that little bear with the onesie like it was my baby boy, and just cry.  Christmas was the worst.  I had been so close to my first Christmas with a child, and that had been ripped out of my hands.  John was just as bad as I was.  It was a tough time in our lives and a tough time in our marriage.  But we survived.

Oh, there is so much more to tell, but I will end this story here for now.  December 9th hasn't come and gone since then without revisiting that weekend.  And although life is good now, and I love my little guy, nothing will ever take the place of my first child.  I think about him every day.  I keep in touch here and there with his father and I see pictures of him and he is handsome and perfect.  I don't know why we had to experience that horrible event, but we did.  I understand grief and loss now more than I ever did before and that has made me more compassionate and kind, so I suppose that's the silver lining.  Isaac's father gave him a new first name, but kept Isaac as his middle name, which I thought was a beautiful gesture.  His middle name had been John, but that allowed me to give D that middle name instead, so it worked out.  Five years, though, and I can feel that pain as if it had happened this morning, at 10:30 a.m.

The One That Got Away: Memories of a Failed Adoption

NOTE:  This was originally posted in January of 2012.  I wanted to reference it and noticed it was gone from my blog, so am re-posting it.

My little Isaac has been on my mind a lot lately.  I don’t know why.  It’s been just over four years since we lost him.  It’s not the anniversary of anything—not his birthday, or the day we took him home, or the day we lost him back to his biological father.  Maybe it’s because we have finally gotten back on the list to adopt our second child in the last couple of weeks.  Whatever it is, I’ve been thinking about him a lot more than normal.  Sometimes when people hear about our failed adoption, they make comments about how it’s good that we’d only had him five months or else it would have been even more difficult.  But the thing is, I always saw him as my child.  I bonded with him the first moment I heard about him over the phone, and by the time I held him for the first time at the foster mom’s house, I was done.  He was mine.  He was a low risk adoption—99% guaranteed to go through.  His mother relinquished rights and hand-picked us out of the pool of waiting couples.  She told us she didn’t know who the father was, and that she’d hidden her pregnancy from everyone, so nobody knew about this precious baby boy except herself and the social workers, and of course, us.  After years of failed fertility treatments, including two very difficult and unsuccessful runs at invitro, and then more than a year and a half getting through the process to get on the list for adoption, this amazing boy was ours.  I was elated.  I finally got to be the one at the baby shower on the receiving end, holding the cute little baby and telling my story.  It was a most wonderful time.  And then, the hammer fell.  To keep the story short, the birth mother had lied about everything, and after placing him with us, called the birth father to tell him he had a son, but that he couldn't have him because he’d been placed for adoption.  She looked us in the eye and told us she didn’t know who the father was and that she hadn’t told him, but she had.  It took a while for him to get the paternity test, and a few weeks before Christmas, he came to take his son.  That is all a story for another blog entry, but I just wanted to say that it didn’t matter that it was “only five months” (and it is still very painful to hear that comment from people).  We were devastated.  We had lost our long-awaited child.  We had a deep bond with him, and he had become a precious part of our lives.  I still have a hard time talking about it, and this is the first time I’ve written about it since just after it happened.  We still miss him.  I think about him every day, and I still shed tears every now and then when I look at photos and think of that difficult day when I put him in the car seat and kissed him good-bye, so afraid that he would feel I had abandoned him.  He is doing well now.  These pictures were taken two days before his father took him home.  I had been crying all week, and praying for strength.  I asked my friend to take some pictures of us so I could have some final shots of us together.  And in an answer to that prayer (although not the answer I REALLY wanted!) I woke up that Friday morning calm, and more prepared to face the impending weekend events.  
The strange thing was that I could not get him to smile, and that was very unusual.  I tried playing with him, as you can see in the photos, but no smile.  It was as if he knew a traumatic change was coming and he just wasn’t his normal self.  But, I’m happy with the way they turned out, and glad we were able to capture a sweet moment with him before he went away.I still consider him my first son, even though when people ask, I say that Dylan is the first.  In my mind, Dylan is our second, but I keep Isaac tucked in a special spot deep in my heart that I can only pull out in private.  Dylan will never take his place, although he did fill a deep void when he came to us a year and a half later.  If you know someone who had a failed adoption, I hope you never say "well at least he was only ____ months old", and I hope you never assume the next child will ever take his place.  You would never think that if you lost a biological child.  It is such a painful experience, and it doesn't ever go away.  I know he is with his father who wanted him so deeply, and I know that’s where he needs to be, but my sweet little Isaac will always be the one that got away. 

***You can read more details about this in my latest post "Giving My Baby Back.  The Worst Day of My Life"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Perfect Family. It Ain't Happening. And It's a Good Thing.

The perfect family.  What a terrible goal.  And yet, it just seems like that’s what we all are trying so hard to attain and the thing at which we are failing so miserably.  I don’t mean that to sound so depressing and negative, but, let’s face it, it’s an unattainable goal.  One thing I’ve learned in my two-decade quest to have a child is that so many of things we thought we would have when we were older just don’t happen for one reason or another.  And it’s not a bad thing.  We think it is for some reason.  We think that we should have reached all those goals we set for ourselves at eight or fifteen or twenty-two.  Why is that?  Since when does an eight or fifteen or twenty-two-year-old have such amazing prophetic insight to know what we will want or what will benefit us most twenty or thirty years down the road?  Heck, I don’t even have that kind of insight for the next six weeks!

I have posted several times about this “Attachment Parenting” class that we have been taking, and will continue to post because there have been so many amazing insights and bits of information that are worth sharing in this six-session course.  This notion of having the ideal family is one of them.  As often goes with this class, there was an activity to illustrate the point.  They gave us each a sheet of paper with an outline of a child on it.  We were directed to list inside the outline all the qualities we had ever dreamed of having in our child.  What did we wish for?  What did we think our child might be like when we were younger?  Outside the outline, we were told to write all the qualities that we thought we would have as parents.  What did we want to be like as a parent?  How did we envision ourselves in that role?   What things would we do differently, because we just knew that our parents were wrong about certain things and we couldn’t wait to show them the correct way to parent.  Trying to be one step ahead of where this game was headed, I tried to make sure I was well-rounded in my wish list.  I didn’t just want a “good” kid.  I wanted him or her to be independent and creative and have a good work ethic.  And I wanted to look like a great parent and say that I wanted to be involved and affectionate and disciplined.  And there is nothing wrong with any of these things.  In fact, I thought I had a pretty good list.  But, I was surprised with what happened next.  One of the other teachers picked up a trash can and walked over to our tables and said “now throw it away”.  And she made each of us crinkle up that paper with our well-thought out descriptions and throw it towards her as she caught it in the trash can.  They told us to go ahead and mourn the loss of that ideal, get over it and move on.  It was a light bulb moment.

The thing is, how can we know how life is going to turn out?  How can we have even a ten percent chance of being accurate with what twists and turns our lives will take?  Now, some people know what they want to be when they grow up and they go out and they do it.  But it’s rare.  Most of us have goals and dreams, but the tides and swells take us this way and that and we adjust and shift our focus and move on to other things.  And that’s amazing.  Human beings are so flexible and can go with the flow in so many ways.  So why do we look back on it and wonder what happened to those dreams?  I’ll tell you what happened to them.  Life.  That’s what happened.  And it’s a good thing.  Go with it.  Because more often than not, we get more interesting and incredible opportunities than we even knew existed at eight or fifteen or twenty-two.  And often, we are faced with things we never would have chosen, and after fighting through those battles, we realize that we are better people because of it and never would have become who we are without those challenges.  And that is the point with raising kids, and especially adopting kids.  Our family may not look like or act like the family we thought we would have.  We may have gotten kids through a completely different channel than we had planned.  And they come with relationships and baggage and all kinds of things we never expected.  But we need to see that our life has a greater purpose than making a beautiful Christmas card  photo.  We have work to do.  We have children to help and love and raise.  We have so many ways that we can make a difference in this world and in the lives of others and that is fulfilling and life-changing.  It will bring happiness if we can throw away that dusty image in our minds that we created decades ago and that is pinned in our brains as the ideal life.  We are going to have bad days.  We are going to have days where we feel that we are the worst parents in the world.  Our kids are going to pitch fits and embarrass us in public.  Our kids will have mental and physical challenges.  They might have birth defects or ADD or be painfully shy.  They might struggle with self-confidence, or go through difficult phases of biting or hitting or spitting or all of the above.  They might tell us they hate us or that we aren’t their real parents.  We might have days where we aren’t feeling so much love for them.  We might have days where we aren’t feeling so much love for ourselves.  We will get sick, sometimes with long-term, debilitating illnesses.  We will get frustrated and lonely and depressed.  And that’s okay, because we will have many more wonderful moments and even entire days.  And we will mercifully catch glimpses of perfection when our children look into our eyes and we know for a fact that we’ve made a connection and we know that they know that we love them and that we are in it for the long haul.  Even forever. 

The thing is, we aren’t here to have a perfect family.  We are here to give our children the best opportunity at perfecting themselves that we can offer.  And I don’t mean that they need to be perfect, but that they have the best chance of being their best self.  So crinkle up that ideal list in your mind and throw it away.  Burn it if you have to, so you can’t possibly dig it out of the trash.   And then grab your kids and go to the zoo.  Do some craft project with them and don’t worry if it makes a mess or if they don’t follow your directions to a tee.  Just revel in the fact that you are spending time with them and that there is love there.  Hug them, laugh with them, accept them and nurture them.  And relax and know that that is what family is all about.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Kite. Pull Your Children Closer and They Will Soar.

Aaahhh, discipline.  Discipline, discipline, discipline.  It’s one of the main things I hear people talking about when they talk about what is wrong with “kids these days”.  And frankly, I’ve been one of those people.  I’m a little old school.  I think keeping score during kids games is great.  I think we coddle our kids too much.  I think we negotiate way too much with them and sometimes “I said so” is just the answer they need to hear and deal with.  But, I had an eye-opening experience during a class we are taking for our yearly foster care licensing hours requirement.  It’s an amazing class called “Attachment Parenting”.  It is designed more specifically for kids who have been in the foster care system and for whom traditional discipline and parenting tactics just don’t work, or even perhaps backfire.  For example, a kid who has had thirty placements and is under the assumption that they are not wanted or cared about or not good enough, does not need a time out.  In some ways, they have been in time out for years.  And in fact, being pushed away yet again for not doing the right thing reinforces those feelings and worsens behavior.  It doesn’t serve the purpose that it might with a kid who has grown up in a loving home and hasn’t faced a lifetime of rejection.  So this class teaches different techniques to help, not only discipline and teach these kids, but more importantly and central to the class, help them form attachments to others, especially you, as a new adoptive parents.

I found that the techniques and information, however, was extremely applicable to all families, and shows more creative, positive and successful methods of parenting any child.  One image that really stood out to me was the metaphor of the kite.  I snapped a picture of the diagram out of our workbook, so I apologize for the less than stellar quality.  As you can see, the kite represents the child.  We, or the caregiver, is the kite-flyer.  Our attachment with the child is represented by the string, and the tail represents discipline.  Our goal is to get that kite flying high.  Don’t you think that is an amazing image and an amazing, but daunting goal?  Many people think that training and teaching are the things that will make a child successful.  But I found it really compelling that what they have shown in the research is that it is the attachments make our children soar.  If you think about how a kite works, it is the string that keeps it in the air, not the wind or anything else.  It’s a little ironic, because we think that it’s the wind that makes it fly higher, and in some ways it is.  But the string is what keeps it up there.  The one thing that connects it to the ground, is the one thing that can make it fly the highest it’s ever flown, and do it again and again and again.  The tail of a kite is there for extra stability.  Some need longer tails than others, but it isn’t really the key to flying.  And if you think about it, when a kite starts to falter or wobble or get too close to the ground, there isn’t an experienced kite-flyer that would think that adding a longer or heavier tail, or even cutting it shorter or all the way off, is the solution.  No.  The solution is to tighten the string, or to strengthen the attachment.  Pulling that kite in closer will help to stabilize it and get it back to a point where it can go high again.  Isn’t that the same with our kids?  More and more discipline isn’t usually the answer.  The answer is to draw them closer.  Spend time with them.  Touch them.  Gaze into their eyes and tell them how wonderful they are.  Hug them.  Go out for an ice cream.  Read stories and play catch and race around the yard chasing each other.  It might seem too simplistic, but it is so true.  More often than not, kids struggle and lash out when they are feeling unstable—when something has shifted in their world, no matter how small, and there is anxiety about it.  We are usually the ones that need to shift and see that we are meeting their needs.  And please don’t confuse needs with their every whim and desire.  These are two very different things.  One of the teachers in this class said that one of the homework assignments she gives in her parenting classes is to spend ten minutes a day playing with your child and report about it the next week.  She said she has had classes in which one couple in thirty made the time to do it.  The other twenty-nine couples said they just didn’t have time.  No time to spend ten minutes a day with their child for one week.

Think about it.  When is the last time you were having a tough time, and having someone reem you out for not being focused enough or not doing something correctly, or distancing themselves from you helped make you a better employee or better spouse?  But what about a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, compassionate service or just encouragement?  How often have those things made an impact?  And if it's true for you, how much more true is it for a young child who can't process in his mind what exactly his needs are and how they could be met in a way that would make him happier?  And so he drowns in his grief and sadness.

We must pull our children near and listen to them.  We must love them and help them to love us and others.  We must show them affection, laugh with them, dance, play, wrestle and run with them.  It’s not just play time.  We are forming attachments.  We are forming relationships.  And ultimately, we are forming who our children are.  Don’t tie them down with heavier tails of discipline.  As important as discipline is, it is just a thing to help stablize them.  Instead, try increasing your love and strengthening your bonds with them (while still being firm, of course) and see if the discipline problems don’t take care of themselves.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Trading My Mother for "Lots of Toys"

You can try this activity at home.  Do it with your kids if they are old enough.  It is a powerful visual.

We attended a class tonight, and one of the activities really hit home.  Actually, several of them did, but this is the one I’m writing about tonight.  When we adopt a child, we often think about the great life we want to give them.  And, in particular if we adopt a child out of foster care or out of an orphanage in a foreign country, the focus can often be on how much better their life will be with us than where they have been.  But we forget that the best day of our lives—the day that child comes to live with us, is the worst day of his or her life.  It is the day that everything changes for them.  Familiar people, sights, smells, textures, languages that are spoken in the home or city, pets, friends, and the list goes on.  In an effort to give this child a fresh start, sometimes we are too quick to sweep away the things we think are part of the problem, and replace them with the things we think are part of the solution.  And we throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So here is how the activity went tonight.  We had to write down on five cards the names of five attachments we have to important people in our lives.  I just picked the first five that came to mind.  My parents, my husband, my son and my sister.  (I really encourage you to do this activity as you read this.  The impact is so much greater than just reading about it.)  Then we partnered with someone and the instructor told us that sadly we were going to lose one of those relationships. We had to hold up our cards with the names facing us, and let them blindly choose a relationship to go away.  The first to go was my Dad.  She asked how that felt, and I said “painful” and I meant it.  My Dad has had a heart attack and two rounds of cancer in the last five years, and so I had already contemplated the fact that losing him might be a reality sooner than I thought.  It brought up those feelings again.  Then she said that now we were going to lose two of them, and she blindly pulled my sister and my husband.  I was standing there holding D and my Mom in my hand, and I can honestly say, I was starting to panic a little.  The thought of losing all three of those relationships was not softened by still having my son and my mother.  Then, she said we had to lose one more and she pulled D out of my hand.  My sweet boy that I have waited so long for was gone in a blink.  By now, my heart was really feeling physical pain at the thought of that loss.  She asked if anyone in the room had been left with the one relationship they would have picked of the five.  Nobody raised their hand.  That is hard for me to say, because I don’t want to think one relationship is above the other, or that I love one more than the other.  But the fact is, my husband would be the toughest one to lose.  He is my partner and his loss would affect every single aspect of my life in a much greater way than anyone else.  He is my son’s father.  He is the main breadwinner.  He is my daily support and best friend and the person I lean on the most.  The loss of my husband would have a much more devastating affect than any other one, even though I would mourn greatly for those losses, too.  Then, they picked five of us to come to the front of the room.  John and I were both chosen.  And they said that we now had to lose the last one, but they were going to give us something great in return.  The first lady’s new card said “My own room”.  I was next.  They took away my Mom and gave me “Lots of Toys”.  Lots of toys.  That was my trade for my mother.  They took D away from John and gave him “a pool”.  The next two people got “big beautiful home” and “dance lessons” in exchange for their cherished relationship.  It was a powerful moment.  The instructor made the trades with such excitement in her voice….something like “that is so cool that you are going to have lots of new toys!”  But how could that ever be a replacement for my mother?  And yet, that’s how we see it for these kids.  You may argue that their mother is a drug addict or abusive or something else.  But the fact is, that person is this child’s mother and he or she will always, always love her and want a relationship with her, and a pool, or a bunch of toys will never replace her, or heal a broken-hearted little child.

One of the other great things that was said tonight is that so much of this grieving and healing process is not to fix the problem.  The loss of these relationships is not a fixable problem.  The process is about learning to adjust.  A light bulb went on inside my head.  All the things that have impacted my life in a negative way cannot be fixed.  I have to adjust, not resolve.  I have to learn where to file that memory, not shred it.  It can’t be thrown away.  It can’t be shredded or burned.  It is a part of me.  What a relief.  That really was the conclusion I came to.  What a relief to know that I can heal without having to forget.  I can let go of the need to wipe out certain things and embrace just learning how to put that thing in its place and move forward.  Healing doesn’t mean we were never wounded.  It means our body has healed, and even if it still bears a scar, it’s not the focus of our life anymore.  It has been treated and healed as completely as possible, and now we get up and get on with it.

I stood there holding my “lots of toys” card thinking how superficial and so totally unimportant that was to me, and how it didn’t even hold a candle to having my mother.  I felt a rush of empathy and compassion for these kids who lose everything that is the most important to them.  I felt worse for the kids whose adoptive parents think they are the solution and that starting over and severing ties was the best thing for them.  I hope they are not threatened by their child’s love for these people left behind.  Someone once said that love isn’t a pie, where if I get a slice, that’s one less slice for someone else.  Love is just love and you can give it all away, and still have all of it.  It’s magic that way.  That child can love all of you, so don’t make them choose.  Be a part of the healing process and let them know that they are free to love anyone they choose for as long as they want.  You might find that letting go and just loving these children will allow the love to bounce back and find you again, and it will bless your life an hundred-fold.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why I Have No Use for Alcohol or Drugs.

I was reminded recently why I have almost no use for alcohol or drugs, beyond the alcohol that is found in a bottle of vanilla or used to disinfect.

We had the opportunity last week to attend San Diego County Adoption’s Fall Fest.  It is an event in which kids that are a little harder to place for adoption are showcased via profiles and pictures to families with approved home studies who are on the list waiting to adopt.  Here’s basically how it adoption preferences go.  An newborn Caucasian girl is the most requested placement.  Next is other newborns, followed by infants under two, followed by children under five.  Then, somewhere in there are sibling groups of two or more along with older kids and special needs children in no particular order.  The bigger the sibling group, the older the child (or children) and/or the greater their special needs, the harder they are to place.  And so it goes.  The Fall Fest showcased all those groups except individual kids under the age of five who had no special needs (meaning some type of handicap, whether physical, mental or some of both—not meaning general development/emotional issues that often come with neglect, abuse or the other myriad of reasons children find their way into the system).  The only time a child under five was showcased was as part of a sibling group.

There were more than fifty kids or sibling groups showcased that night.  They gave us each a packet to take home so that we could think about the kids we were interested in and look at their information again to decide if we wanted to move forward.  The particulars are private to families waiting to adopt, but I wanted to share a few things that stuck with me, and will share in general terms to respect that privacy.
The one thing that stood out to me as I read through these profiles is that, almost without fail, the reason these kids had been removed from their homes was due, in some part, to substance abuse.  I am so tired of hearing people argue that drugs and alcohol are no big deal because they are only harming their own bodies.  While that may be the intent, and it may be the case for some, for many people, there are innocent victims.  The abuses laid down in these profiles would make anyone cringe.  There was neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, kids exposed to drugs and alcohol, and kids exposed to sexually explicit materials and/or things occurring in their own homes.  There were kids whose permanent physical and/or emotional conditions resulted in decisions made by parents under the influence.  There were kids who have had little to no contact with parents since being taken into custody because those parents can’t get it together enough to even make one visit in months.  In almost every case, all of these problems were brought on by drug and/or alcohol abuse.  Did you know that the worst thing that a pregnant mother can do is drink alcohol?  Did you know that with almost every drug, most of the damage caused in utero can be reversed or adjusted to as the child grows, but damage from alcohol, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, is permanent and irreversible?  Cocaine, heroin, meth....none of them hold a candle to the damage caused by alcohol to a fetus.  Don't get me wrong, drugs are damaging, but in comparison to what alcohol can do--the supposedly less harmful substance--it's not even a close race.

I do feel for these parents with substance abuse problems.   Many of them grew up in similar circumstances.  I once heard a mom whose kids had been taken away from her tell how she had been exposed to drugs so early on, that she had done her first line of cocaine at the age of five.  She was pregnant with her first child by thirteen, and the father was in his thirties.  Her second child by the same man came along just a couple of years later.  She eventually pulled her life together and got her boys back and is doing well now.  I do have compassion for these parents, but, our kids need to be protected, whether we have compassion for their abusers or not.  Did you know that seventy percent of prisoners in California were in foster care at some point?  It’s an incredible statistic.

I don’t have all the statistics on alcohol and drug use, but I have enough to know that I have no use for any of it.  I have had struggles in my life and made choices I was not proud of, so know that I am not standing in judgment.  But this was one thing I never desired.  I never understood the draw of being so far gone that you would not have control over what might happen to you.  That never appealed to me.  My religion has a health code that includes abstaining from alcohol and illegal drugs as well as tobacco.  There was a time in my youth when I adhered to this health code mostly because that was what I had been taught.  But, I have had the truth of that health code confirmed to me time and time again through my own experiences and the experiences of those around me.  I believe it now more than ever.  

I know there are many people who drink responsibly out there.  I don’t think there is any responsible use for illegal drugs, and sometimes for legal ones.  That belief has been solidified by seeing the effects of these things on our children.  The misuse of drugs and alcohol have had devastating effects on children all over the world, whether through too early exposure or through abuse and neglect heaped on them because of the substance abuse of their parents or others around them.  I wish everyone could read these profiles and see where that abuse has led these children--the innocent bystanders of those who think they are only damaging their own bodies.  I only hope that people will see past the inherent problems that this abuse may have caused in these children and welcome the opportunity to adopt one.  Having a three-year-old at home has limited what we are willing to take on, as his safety has to be a major priority (this is something I will discuss in another post).  But if you are just starting out and are waiting for your first child, or maybe have grown children and are starting over, I hope you will research the option of adopting an older child or sibling group or a special needs child.  You might be surprised at how the reward may far outweigh the work.

***If you are considering adoption an older child, please read my post "How Long Are We Parents?"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How Long Are We Parents?

My mother on the left, still a part of our family, parenting and
grand-parenting after all these years....and we are all far
past eighteen years old.

I had a conversation a few days ago with the man who was cutting my hair that has been on my mind.  I had never met him before, so we were talking a little bit about our lives, and the subject of adoption came up.  He commented about how he had considered adoption, but because of his age and circumstances, he thought a teenager would be best for him.  I told him there was a great need for people to adopt teenagers, as it becomes harder to place kids the older they get.  I was impressed to think he would be willing to take on the challenges that come with adopting children who have so much past history long before you arrive.   I was impressed until he said the following, “I’m thinking a sixteen-year-old would be best because then it’s only a two-year commitment.”  I was speechless.  He went on to explain that after they turned eighteen and left the house, then if they wanted to keep in touch, they could, but that there wouldn’t be as much time involved at that point.  I honestly didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t want to say what I really thought, as we were in the middle of a long overdue haircut, and I didn’t want it turning south because I had offended him.  Call me selfish, but I can’t afford a haircut very often!  But, I did want to say something, so I searched for a way to say something like “Never adopt!” in a much nicer way.  As I was contemplating my choice of words, it just got worse.  He said he figured that with older children there would be some kind of interview process where he could say “Hey, do you like dogs?  Because I have two and I need someone who likes dogs.” If they answered yes, they could move on to the next question, and if they said no, he could move on to the next kid.  A type of adoption speed-dating, if you will.

I don’t mean to criticize, because I do think that in his own way, he was trying to make it a good fit for the child, too.  But I think what he really needed to do was put out an ad for a roommate.  I think he wanted companionship and maybe to feel like he was helping, but not quite the full realm of parenthood.  I don’t even want to drag out my commentary on this, because I don’t want to be negative about someone when I don’t really know them.  He was a very nice man.  I just don’t think he has pondered much about what it means to be a dad.  There’s hardly a parent out there who thinks they will be finished when their child turns eighteen.  I want to delve into the world of adopting older children, but I think that is a separate post, so will gather my thoughts on that soon, because I do think it is an amazing thing to do.  And I think I will just leave this up to you to ponder, and be grateful if you have parents who have been in it for the long haul.  Call them up and tell them thank you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pick me, pick me! Like Middle School Sports All Over Again.

I had a little scare with my sweet little boy yesterday.  We had been swimming at a friend’s pool for a couple of hours.  D was tired and wanted to change into his dry clothes.  He was standing with his friend at the end of the pool throwing in beach balls and then fishing them out as they floated back to the edge of the pool.   I turned to talked to one of the moms and he fell in the deep end.  I just remember hearing silence where laughter and chatter had once been.   His friend’s father was standing right beside them and was getting ready to jump in after him fully clothed, having just arrived from work.  Thanks to a summer of swim lessons, D resurfaced after a second or two and though panicked, had not swallowed any water since he knew how to hold his breath.  I was getting ready to jump in when the father was able to grab his arm and fish him out.  D was so upset, but safe.  He didn’t even choke on any water at all.  I hugged him and told him what a good job he had done holding his breath and how he had been able to bring himself back to the surface of the water.  He sobbed for a minute, denying his success—“No, I not!”.  I reassured him that even though the father had pulled him out, that he had had a big hand in saving himself.  He suddenly stopped crying and said in a happy voice “I fine!”.  I thought about that all afternoon, and ran the “what ifs” through my head.  I wasn’t too shaken by it until I woke up around 1 a.m. just sick over the whole event.  D had crawled into bed with us, and instead of taking him back to his bed like normal, I left him there.  I lay beside him and watched him sleep peacefully.  I inspected his facial features and thought about how quickly he was growing into a little boy.  His chubby little cheeks have receded into a more angular face.  He has freckles on his lips his body is strong and more lean than before.  He is handsome and funny and a fun-loving handful of a child.  I love him so much.

I thought about how often we as parents make mistakes and beat ourselves up over what we think are bad decisions.  There are no handbooks for raising children, although I feel like those of us who adopt get more of one than most with all the classes we are required to take.  But, even so, it’s sink or swim for most of us, and every now in then, we have someone bail us out, too.  This experience made me think about this questionnaire we had to fill out to be in the birthparent profile pool.  The county has a waiting list, but they also have a pool of applicants from which birthparents can choose parents for their children if it is a voluntary relinquishment.  It’s a great opportunity, but can be a difficult thing to fill out.  You want to tell the truth, but you also want to be the fun, happy couple that will make someone choose you.  And all the high school popularity issues (or lack thereof as in my case…) coming flooding back!  You are allowed three pages to answer these questions and three pages of pictures you think will show who you are individually and as a couple.  I will spare you our answers, but thought you might like to see the list of questions.  It took awhile for us to fill this out, trying to judge between how much of the truth to share and how much we didn’t want to scare anyone off!  We just tried to look somewhat normal, moderately fun, not too weird, but not too mainstream, maybe a little edgy…..oh, who am I kidding!  It is what it is, right?  Sigh.  Maybe I should just put in the one about parenting, “at least he’s still alive!”  I mean, that’s a success in my book at the end of the day.

Here are the questions we were required to answer in hopes we'd be cool enough to be would you answer?  Kind of interesting to take a look at yourself and your relationship a little more closely sometimes. 

Following information for both applicants:
  • First Name:
  • Year of Birth:
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Physical Description: 
    • Height:    
    • Weight: 
    • Hair color:   
    • Eye Color
    • Skin:
  • Why we want to adopt:
  • What is each of us like as person?
  • Education level and field:
  • Employment (prior and current)
  • Employment and child care plans when the child comes:
  • Religion (how active, how we will raise our children):
  • Interests, hobbies, and sports (individually and shared):
  • Reading (type):
  • TV viewing (type and how much):
  • Music (type):
  • Describe your home (What makes it distinctively yours?):
  • Describe your neighborhood (urban, rural, etc.):
  • Do you have pets?  What kind?
  • Marriage:
  • How do husband and wife share/divide household responsibilities and chores?:
  • How do you as a couple/family spend your time together (i.e. how do you spend a typical weekend?):
  • Brief description of childhood (number of siblings, where you grew up, relationship with parents, significant memories/experiences/etc.?)  One paragraph:
  • Briefly describe a difficult life experience you had and how you learned from it (one paragraph):
  • Extended family (relationship between grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousings:  geographical locations of relatives; experiences and attitudes toward adoption:
  • Experience with children:
  • Children in home:  adopted/biological   description/personality/year of birth:
  • How are, or will, child-care responsibilities be handled between husband and wife?:
  • Thoughts about relationship with birth parents:  How do you feel about:
    •  Meeting the birth parent(s) prior to, or at placement.
    • Updating of pictures and letters about the child over the years.
    • Receiving pictures and letters from birth parent(s) over the years.
    • Supporting a search for birth parents.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finances...No Stone Left Unturned.

Aaahhh, finances.  Yes, every corner of your life must be examined before you can take home a child.  This blog post will be short and sweet, as I really just wanted to post this Financial Statement that we were required to fill.  It's just an informative tidbit for those hoping to adopt, just so you are prepared for the microscope.  I really have a love/hate relationship with a lot of the things we are required to do and here's why.  I feel like any schmo can go out and get pregnant (...okay, well obviously not ANY schmo...), and yet we have to report our car payments and checking accounts and health insurance, and what we spent on Cheetos last month (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but only the part about the Cheetos).  On the other hand, I know the county wants to make sure prospective adoptive parents have the means to support their children, and this is all done to protect them.  I do understand that, and I think it's necessary.  Social workers get a bad rap, and we have been blessed to have some really great ones who I know for a fact have these kids' best interest in mind.  SO....even though it may sound like I'm complaining, I'm really not.  I do think this financial statement is interesting, though.  Maybe every couple choosing to have children should fill out a sheet like this....maybe it would make them take things a little more seriously.  That said, I really think that we are never completely prepared to have children in any way, and if we knew the reality of what it was going to cost us (and I ain't just talking money), maybe a lot more people would choose to not have children!  And that would be a shame.  Frankly, it is hard, and it is expensive and it will give you wrinkles and grey hair, but it will give you joy and fulfillment and love you didn't know possible.  It will stretch you and improve you in so many ways, and when you think you just aren't a good enough parent, you will find that you are.  And sometimes, those sacrifices we make, including financially, become some of the most memorable, character-building times of our lives--ones we wouldn't trade for anything, not even for the thrill of not living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Take a perusal and let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Mother-of-the-Year Award Awaits.

My little monkey.  He looks higher than he really
was...not that I need to explain or anything....

Let’s see.  I just got back from being gone from my three-year-old son for nine days.  I yelled at him this morning and confiscated his trains until this evening.  I thought I was being the cool mom when I let him climb a tree today, which he did better than the kids almost twice his age I might add….and then he fell out of said tree just seconds after snapping my awesome photo and sobbed for five minutes straight.  He asked “what the heck?!” to some kid at the park.  I’m pretty sure I checked my phone way too many times today, and I let him watch way too much TV this morning.  All in all, I’ve had one of those mother-of-the-year days.  I know that in the grand scheme of things, it could have been much worse.  I mean, he’s alive, right?  He is happy, and he thought it was really funny when I sang him to sleep with “We are Siamese if you please….we are Siamese if you don’t please…ba dunt dunt dunt…”  In fact, he was almost out and he smiled and only half opened his eyes and said “Again.”  Of course, I obliged.  I think we ended the day on a high note.

But, high note or not, these are the things I think about when the social workers are interviewing us about our parenting styles and how we react to conflict and how we discipline.  I think about it every time we are in a required class that has to do with the best way to parent a child (which is what most of classes are about).  I think about what could happen if someone saw me in a moment of anger and reported me to child protective services, and even though I’ve never done anything close to something that would be considered abuse, I worry that because we have an open home study and are waiting to adopt again, that any little misinterpreted action could be a problem.  How deeply would they investigate?  Would they take my sweet boy first and ask questions later?  I know they would only do that in an effort to protect him, but the thought makes me sick to my stomach.  These are the things you think about when under scrutiny. 

I know I’ve talked a lot about how invasive the whole adoption process is, and I don’t say that to scare anyone off.  I know it is designed to protect these kids who have already been through so much.  Logically, I know that this kind of scenario probably would never happen, but, I would be lying if I said we don’t live a little bit in fear of the scrutiny.  We’ve all passed judgment on someone else’s parenting choice, knowing full well we have no idea of the back story or full circumstances.  Fortunately, there usually isn’t much fallout from that criticism.  But what if someone took it a step further and called the police on us?  I know of a few cases in which police were called because a stranger didn’t like the way a parent handled something, even though there was no abuse that happened.  When you have an open file with the county and are visited and interviewed about your choices, there is always fear that something will look like more than it is.  There is the tendency to sugarcoat a little bit to make sure nothing sounds even remotely suspicious.  However, we have also had it drilled into us that it is better to tell the truth than to be caught in a lie.  If you have ever caught a friend or family member in a lie, you know that everything they have ever told you or will ever tell you is now viewed with an element of mistrust.  We have made it a point to be very upfront and honest, even if it meant having to sacrifice some privacy and a little pride.  I’ve even considered whether or not I should openly blog about my parenting mishaps for fear that it could be used against me at some point.  But, I can’t live life in fear….well, not too much fear.  Maybe just enough to keep me on my toes, but hopefully not enough to paralyze me.

So, yes, I will continue to let my little wild child climb trees, and most likely I will raise my voice at him again, although I’m trying to be more patient.  The reason I was gone for nine days was to help with my father's lung cancer surgery, and frankly, although it was hard being away from D, I think it's important that he knows he isn't the center of the universe and that grandpa needed me more right now.  I would bet money on him getting his trains confiscated at least a few more times during his childhood.  He is a stubborn little sucker!  I am reminded frequently that it can be a good trait if we can ever channel it properly.  I will try to teach him to say more polite phrases than “What the heck?!”, but since I know he parrots me, that may be a harder fix.  We have to embrace the extra scrutiny, because until we are finished with our family, it is just something we have to live with, and I know it is meant to protect children.  And, perhaps in some ways, it has made me look at my parenting occasionally as a third party, which I’m convinced is not a bad thing.  I think it’s good to take an outside point of view sometimes to see more objectively what things I could be improving.  Besides, a full investigation would just prove that we are normal, and we have bad days and good days, and we know we aren’t perfect, and that we love him to the moon and back, and isn’t that what they want for these kids anyway?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Infertility Checklist.

Infertility.   I know it’s common.  I know thousands and thousands of women (and even men for that matter) deal with it every day.  But even so, it’s interesting how few conversations I’ve had about it over the years.  Maybe it’s because it’s a painful topic, or maybe because someone is always giving you advice as to what to try next or trying to figure out what you’re doing wrong, and even though you know it’s helpful, it is hard to have those discussions.  For me, the difficulty came because I seemed to be the only one who didn’t eventually get pregnant.  Even most of my friends who adopted had at least one biological child, and so even though we’d been through a lot of similar experiences, it just never seemed like anyone had as much or as long as a battle as I did.  I’ve been trying to get pregnant since I was twenty-one and we got D when I was thirty-eight, so that gives you a small idea of what we have been through.  When we headed into adoption, it was after a year-long experience with our last option--two rounds of invitro fertilization, during which my body reacted horribly and I became extremely sick.  When the second round failed, we were done, and with feelings still raw and tears still fairly fresh, we went to our first adoption seminar to look at our options.

I suppose we are the classic example of why the county makes people go through this checklist and take their “Adoption After Infertility” class.  One of the hardest things about the whole process is how personally invasive it is.  As couples, we have so many personal and intimate conversations about everything from children to our hopes and dreams to marital conflicts we need to resolve, and most of those are kept private.  With adoption, nothing is private.  I have a love-hate relationship with the whole thing, because I know that they are just protecting the children from going from the frying pan into the fire.  And yet, sometimes you feel like it’s just none of their business.  But, I guess it is if they want to, with a clear conscience, place these children in a homes that will be good for them.

I have included both pages of a checklist we were both required to fill out (click on them to see them larger).  During the class we were required to attend, most, if not all of these issues were discussed, and you are supposed to openly and honestly share where you are in coming to terms with each of these “tasks”.  Of course I green lighted everything, and honestly, I do think I was telling the truth.  But a few of them still made me a little sick to my stomach to think about.  As much as I think we were ready to move forward with adoption, I don’t know that grief ever has an end, as implied in #1.   In regards to #4, I wondered if that meant 51/49 was okay, or was it supposed to be 80/20?  Numbers 6-8….hmmm…sketchy, but I’m sure I dabbled here in there.  Number 9-10?  Well, I think it’s hard to answer a question like that when you aren’t in that situation yet.  We all like to think we would be so intelligent in our dialogue, but even with extensive education, it’s hard to know how to handle certain things when it involves your child whom you love dearly.  And #11-#12….am I the only one that sees these as contradictory?  Having had a child placed for us for adoption and losing him back to his birth-father makes me think #11 may need to be reworded.

I do think this checklist is a good starting point for some open and honest discussion with your social worker, your spouse, and most importantly yourself.  You do need to be sure you are ready, although give yourself a little slack and don’t require such a complete, rigid standard.  You might not be 100% on everything, and that’s okay.  I’m still not, and I’m loving our little adopted boy and we’re on the list to do it again!

***Also, if you have experienced infertility, whether you adopted as a result or not, you might enjoy my post Plan B:  It's a Good Thing  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Plan B. It's a Good Thing.

My Sweet Adopted Plan B Child--Running Free

I heard an adult adoptee say once “let’s face it, nobody comes into adoption because that was their first choice”.  I don’t know about “nobody” but I think that’s probably generally true for the majority of adoptive parents.  We are here because this was Plan B, and Plan A failed.  Heck, it might have even been Plan C or D!  This particular quote came from a girl who was a little bit bitter about all she had been through, and even though she had great adoptive parents, there was something in knowing that she was Plan B that bothered her.  I’ve pondered on that statement many times, and wondered how to keep D from feeling that way.  But, as I have thought more about it, I have wondered how many times our Plan A didn’t work out and that whatever came as a result of having to rethink our plans was actually better than our Plan A would have ever  been.  Let’s think about high school crushes we just knew we wanted to marry, or how many times we changed majors in college, or how many jobs we had before we found something we liked, or how often you spent way too much money on something you just had to have, only to find it was not nearly as fulfilling as anticipated.  I’ve heard so many stories of people who suffered some great difficulty, only to find that it was the very thing that propelled them to greatness.  My father wound up with a combination of horrible dehydration and a double kidney infection this summer that left him practically passed out on his bedroom floor in the middle of the night, after having vomited everywhere.  And yet, in diagnosing his kidney infections, the doctor found a cancerous mass in his lung.  He just had surgery in which everything was successfully removed and no signs of spreading because it was caught so early.  We are thanking God right now for that horrible round of infections.  I remember seeing an interview with Richard Dreyfuss about how he was afraid this stupid movie he was in was going to end his career.  It was Jaws.  Lance Armstrong became even more competitive after his bout with cancer.  His body experienced changes that ultimately made him a better athlete.  And perhaps mentally, he was so much tougher having fought that battle.  Whatever it was, the combination paid off in a way that had not happened before the cancer.  There is story after story of incidences in which the thing we so desperately wanted faded off into the sunset and surprisingly left an opportunity for something better.

I won’t say that adoption is better than birthing a child.  I would still jump at the chance to be pregnant and have that wonderful experience.  But I don’t pine away for it like I used to do.  Age has blessed me with the ability to look back on my life and acknowledge that I have learned some fabulous lessons from experiences I would never have wished upon myself.  I have come to know amazing people because I was forced to.  I have had my eyes opened to new possibilities, and also just to the idea of having them open.  I have learned to pay attention to the people and things and opportunities that grace my pathway, and just assume that I have something to gain by taking a closer look.  Years of fertility treatment brought grief and many tear-filled nights.  But it also brought knowledge and compassion I have been able to share with others going through the same thing.  Adoption has caused me to ponder what it is that really makes a family, and what I’m willing to go through to have my own, Plan B or otherwise.  Maybe the “B” stands for blessing, or better, or beneficial or brave.  Or maybe it just stands for best, because that’s what it’s been for us.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It’s a Marriage, Not a Birth: Get Over It. Love It. Embrace it.

I’ve been told that adoption is more of a marriage than a birth.  I think that is pretty accurate and the older the child is at the time of adoption, the more of a marriage it is.  At first I thought that because we got D when he was so young, that this wouldn’t really be as true for us, but it is.  Think about the differences between a birth and a marriage.  A birth is when a human life enters the world not ever having known anything else but his mother and father.  I add father because even though he hasn’t physically touched his father until birth, he is still made up of DNA and other physical things that came directly from his father—things that physically touched him.  This child has known no other life besides his own and in some degree, that of his parents.  An adopted child has a history before you—family, friends, DNA, culture, and so many other things—and that’s okay.  It’s even good, so embrace it.

As I’ve sat in numerous adoption and foster parent classes, I have been privy to many, many discussions, some which included me, and some to which I not-so-subtly eavesdropped.  It has been interesting to hear how many prospective adoptive parents would like to erase their potential child’s past and “move on”.  Things like drug and alcohol abuse, neglect, mental illness and so many more issues that have plagued various birth parents lives, become the reasons for criticism.  And keep in mind that many adoptions happen as the result of very coherent, deliberate choices by wonderful birth parents to place their children with families because they just don’t feel that they can give those children good lives.  Those choices are made out of a great love for their child and extreme unselfishness.  But, as one who has adopted out of our local foster care, I can say that most adoptions aren’t the result of a choice like that.  I believe that adoptive parents really need to face this fact:  adoption is not the same as a biological birth.  Accept it.  Mourn the loss of it, if that bothers you, and get over it.  It’s not the same and it never will be and that’s not a bad thing.  It’s just a different thing.

I remember sitting through a wonderful class that was all about how we need to not cut off all ties from a child’s birth family or the life they had before adoption.  The instructors taught about how continued visits with biological family long after adoption can be most beneficial to the child.  They taught us to not throw away clothes or blankets or anything from the child’s life before adoption because no matter how tattered and dirty those things might seem to us, they are one of the few connections that child has with their biological family and with a former life that is becoming more and more distant in his memory.  They talked about not changing their names (especially in older children) because it may be the only thing their mother ever gave them.  They talked about the difficulty in still having contact with the biological family, but that in many cases, that contact was very healing for a child.  They discussed how many adoptive parents don’t want the hassle of more extended family, or regular visits, or dealing with people that aren’t their own family.  They said often adoptive parents are insecure that a child might perhaps love someone else more than them, and maybe want to return to live with that family, but that on the contrary, usually what happens is that the adopted child realizes this was the better choice for him and is happier to have discovered that for himself.  Ironically, right after the bulk of this class was taught, I heard an adoptive father turn to someone else during a break and say “Well, I’m severing those ties as soon as possible.  I know what’s best for my child and they aren’t it.”  I was totally surprised that he had missed every single principle taught in that class, and I felt sadness at how his child may feel, not only with his parents’ attitude towards where he came from, but also without that connection that might have helped him to heal more quickly and more completely.  Adopted children need to sort through all these things at their own pace, not at a pace that is more convenient for us.  A marriage is two people entering in to a contract, with risks on both sides.  Don’t forget it’s a risk for the child to take you, too, and he never asks for you to leave your past behind.

Adoption is a wonderful thing.  If you have read any of my blog entries, then you already know how I feel about it.  But it is the marrying of two worlds.  It is two or more people that aren’t blood-related coming together just like in a marriage.  As you willingly step into that union, remember that you are taking that child to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until…well, I know the traditional vows ends with “til death do us part”, but I believe in the eternal nature of families, so I will replace that with “forever and ever”.   

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Maybe We All Need Parenting Classes (and other truths we don't want to admit)

I wonder how many parenting classes the average parent has had.  As I look at this picture, and think about the things this crazy child does, I wonder if maybe I need more!  I wonder how many parents are CPR/First Aid certified.  With all the frustrations and mounds of paperwork required for the great state of California to deem me an acceptable parent, I do think there are some good things that come out of it.  Every year, we are required to complete eight hours of classes that have something to do with parenting our hopefully soon-to-be-adopted child (we don’t have another one in our home yet, but have be current just in case we get the call).  If you include the first year of the process to get approved to adopt, that means we have attended at least 29 three-hour classes, not including the three we are due to attend this month, or the three-hour CPR/First Aid classes we have to attend every other year.  And even though we are only required to have eight hours each year, the classes are almost always three-hour classes, so that really makes nine hours each year.  The math=96 hours of parenting-related classes, not including the twelve hours we will attend this month, making the total at least 108 hours!  Okay….ENOUGH MATH!

So, what kind of classes?  Here is the list.  Many of these have multiple sessions, but even so, we have been required to take so many hours that we have had to repeat the classes over the years.  Keep in mind that these classes are for foster parents and adoptive parents, as in California, you have to be certified for both since technically you are foster parents until the adoption is final.

·         --Embracing Your Child’s Heritage (I did another blog post based on this class called “Am I Racist for Wanting a White Baby?”)
·        -- Risk Factors (which will “examine current information about inherited illnesses (including mental illnesses), congenital conditions (including cerebral palsy), and the risks and effects of prenatal drug exposure, alcohol and HIV.”)
·        -- Attachment Parenting (session is six three-hour classes designed to give tools and techniques to help children who have experienced trauma, abuse, neglect, etc., be able to form healthy relationships)
·         --Kinship Adoption (for those adopting an extended family member)
·         --Adoption after Infertility (required for those adopting because of failed fertility treatment….we had to take this one)
·         --Adoption the Lifelong Process (covers issues that arise over the life of an adopted child, including how to talk about their experience before and after adoption, how to talk about birthparents, exploring what it means to them to be adopted, etc.)
·         --The Placement Process (self-explanatory—all the nuts and bolts of the adoption process)
·         --Adult Adoptee Panel (one of my favorites—usually two to three people who were adopted as children and now share their stories, the challenges they faced and how they overcame and/or deal with issues that often arise in adopted children)

Those are the core classes that are repeated every year.  Then there are others that are taught from time to time.  Here are some of the ones I’ve seen recently:  Beyond Consequences (better ways to discipline children, especially those that have been affected by neglect and/or abuse and who don’t respond positively to traditional discipline methods;  Social Skills for Youth, Parenting the Hurt Child, Anger Issues, Shaken Baby Syndrome, etc., etc., not to mention classes about the particulars like how your adoption benefit works, applying for extra help with special needs children, plus the initial PRIDE classes which is the nine-class session everyone has to take when initially getting certified to Foster Parent/Adopt.  These classes go through so much information from the basics of the process, to many of the things that kids and parents in the system go through.   Double Whew!

My point in sharing this, is that at first, I felt a little frustrated.  I mean, you look around and you see so many people that you feel (and I know this is totally judgmental!) have absolutely no business being parents.  Often their pregnancies were unwanted, or they are on drugs and/or alcohol and continue to abuse those substances while pregnant, or they are living on the streets, or have no means of supporting a child, or even worse, of being able to actually have feelings of love and commitment to a child.  And yet, I, as a potential adoptive parent, have to jump through so many hoops and have people ask me very personal questions about past relationships and my job status, and look at my bank statement and ask how my childhood will affect my parenting.  I have to take a class about adopting after years of infertility treatment to make sure I’m in the right state of mind to have a child.  They question stupid decisions I made twenty years ago, checking carefully under my fingernails to make sure there is no dirt there.  It is really hard to not get self-righteous about how I can be a better parent than someone else.  And I say this as a person who does not look down on others for any of those reasons.  I do try to have compassion and know that I don’t know their circumstances and therefore have no right to judge.  But when we stand side by side, and they are allowed to keep their child and I have to do just the right dance to get mine, it’s hard not to start making comparisons.  That said, here is what I’ve learned from this, as I implement my silver-lining approach to life….maybe more of us need parenting classes.  We have to take classes to get certified for all kinds of things—driving a car, getting a degree, handling food as a waitress, learning to sew, becoming a Zumba instructor, and the list goes on.  And how many of those involve something as important as the 24/7 care of a human life?  I have a wonderful group of mom friends, and when we get together, do you know what the bulk of our conversations are about?  Yep….parenting.  How to be better.  How to help our children read and write and sleep better and not be brats and potty train and stop whining and be unselfish and share and grow to be wonderful, productive members of society who care for their fellowman.  Okay, maybe it’s not always worded like that, but that truly is the intent.  And yet, most of us only have a few years of experience.  Maybe it’s not such a bad idea for us to take a class on how to be better at the most important job we will ever have.  I have found that I have drawn many helpful truths out of the almost 100 hours I have spent in these classes, and am wondering if maybe, in all the frustration of going through “the system”—maybe they have this part right.  And maybe we can all take a step back and be more open to accepting help and seeking out answers from those who have gone before us and have tread that water.  Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel every minute of the day?  I’m grateful for this adoption experience for so many reasons, but one of the big reasons is that I have been forced to learn and to be more open.  I’m not cured, but I’m better for having lived it and for embracing what I have to do and seeing the great benefits, and I think letting my carefree child jump off big cement dolphins is maybe part of what makes me a good mom.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Thing About Waiting....

“Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.”  This is a favorite quote from the book “A Thousand Splendid Suns” that sums up our entire fertility treatment and adoption process.  My friend, Genie, pointed it out to me one time in reference to our long, tiring quest to have a child.  Not to compare my challenges with those of Miriam’s in the book, but it is such a beautiful, concise statement that is so eternally true. It has been almost nine months since we have been back on the list to adopt again through San Diego County Adoptions.  It has been almost two years since we finalized D’s adoption, and we started pretty soon after jumping through the hoops to get back on the list.  It took six months to get everything finished, and seven more months before we could get our final interviews and home visits.  Two months later, those were finally processed and we were back on the list in January of this year.  I suspect it will be about another year before we get a call.  I hope and pray that it is sooner, but mostly I hope and pray for the right child (or children) for us at the right time.  

(As always, all my poems and artwork are copyrighted!
Please don't use without permission.)
Why is waiting so hard?  I’ve decided that I can handle just about anything if I know there is an end to it.  If someone told me the exact date I would be given a child, then I could have handled the years of waiting more easily.  You would know how much time you had to pursue something else, or to tie up loose ends, or that you could save all that money you spent on pregnancy tests, and you would know exactly when to start getting excited.  It would still be hard to wait, but it would be much, much easier.  The worst thing about not knowing is not knowing.  Five minutes before your trial is over feels just like five years before because you don’t know the difference.  We’ve all waited for something--maybe a job offer, or a wedding proposal, or a raise, or acceptance to graduate school, or a call from the doctor to say you are in remission.  It’s the fear of the unknown that gets us.  We want to know—it is human nature.  We want to know what we are dealing with so we can plan and prepare and have some control.  And we know whenever that thing we are waiting for decides to finally arrive, that we will be so relieved or happy or excited and we will be able to move forward instead of feeling like we are in limbo.  I’ve learned, though, that strangely, the greatest lessons are taught during those times of waiting, much more so than at the moment we are granted that thing we so desire.  And so, we wait.  But, it’s different now.  Instead of crying and stressing over each childless day ticking by, I have decided that this time around, I will enjoy walking the path, and I will pay attention to everything along the way, and I will be grateful that I’m walking this path with the sweet hand of a vibrant, little black-haired tank of a three-year-old boy holding my hand.  I wrote and illustrated this poem about him.  It captures so much the way I see him.  His name actually means “son of the sea”.  It was one of the things that sold me on his name, and I have found that it is very fitting.  He is difficult to tame and a little unruly at times, but magnificent and strong, and I am in awe when I stand with him, as I am with the ocean.  We are enjoying every minute together.  And as much as I want another child, and want him to have a sibling (or two) with whom he can share his life, I know that if that doesn’t happen, we have been blessed beyond measure to at least have him.  That said, we still stand on the shore and wait…