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.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Thursday, December 6, 2012
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
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.