Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Come What May and Love It"

Now picture this in the middle of two large adults on a
queen-sized bed.....yep,,,,

I woke up just after midnight early this morning to my almost 40 lb. three-year-old crawling over me to get “in the middle” between me and daddy.  What he really meant was that he wanted to sleep near daddy—it just happens to be in the middle next to me.  He is a daddy’s boy for sure.  I lay there for a few minutes wide awake, torn between taking him back to his bed or letting him stay.  But, that only lasted for a few seconds, before I was swept up in his sweet presence, and I put my arm around him as he quickly fell back to sleep.  Sleeping with this child is like having a noisy windmill in bed.  Arms and legs everywhere, teeth grinding, occasional snores.  But even with those possibilities, I was caught up in his face this night, lying there peacefully dreaming of who knows what—bikes, monster trucks, chocolate chip cookies, jumping off the highest thing he can find.  I noticed how angular his face has become with the loss of baby fat, and touch his beautiful, shiny, silky jet black hair--the thing that garners the most comments from other people.  It occurred to me in that moment that everything I held most precious in this life was gathered together on that mattress.   An approximately 5’ x 6’ space on this vast earth held everything that makes life the most joyful for me.  This last week, through a few different experiences, I have come to accept that this may be my family.  I had hoped to have a big family, and as every year passes, and the number in my head slips farther down from what I had wanted, reality has begun to set in.  I have been fighting it.  We hope to adopt at least one more, and I have been hoping this last time through the adoption process would bring a sibling group of two.  But, I have started to wonder if I am fighting something that just isn’t meant to be.  And I have started to wonder if there isn’t something else out there I am supposed to be doing.  I have been praying to have more children for as long as I can remember.  But, this past week, it struck me that that is not the hand I have been dealt.  And it’s not a sub-par hand.  It is just a different hand.  
Easter Sunday.
Which means there is something else out there that will fill in the gap.  Something else I am supposed to be doing that is not meant for a friend with five children.  It’s not better.  It’s not worse.  It’s just mine.  It’s my own, individual mission.  And the longer I push for something that is not meant for me, and ignore the gentle pushes to pursue other things, the longer I keep from enjoying the blessings that will come from that other pursuit--the one meant for me.  And the longer I will look to my little family gathered on this small mattress in the middle of the night, and not feel it is enough.  And it is enough.  We still plan on finishing this second round of adoption, but this will be the end of it, and I will be happy no matter what.  And in fact, I look forward with a fresh excitement as I let go of old dreams, and open my mind and heart to new ones.  “Come what may, and love it.” (quote from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin) 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why I Have to be a Great Mom.

Trying to get a picture with the
new "light hat".  D insisted on
pushing the camera button
and picking the filter. Took a few
tries, but we had fun and what else
matters??  Nothing else matters.

I’ve written many times before about the scrutiny applied to adoptive parents, and I’ve expressed how, even though I know it’s necessary, it is hard to take sometimes.  It’s so invasive, and every area of your life is investigated to make sure you are good enough.  John and I used to joke that we don’t look good on paper.  Divorces.  Abuse in our families.  John was arrested twice, both of which were dismissed within 24 hours, but one of those was for domestic violence.  An argument with a girlfriend led to a revengeful call to the police, which led to an arrest.  And a subsequent breakup…. And the list goes on.  It doesn’t look good when you’re trying to prove you’d be amazing parents!  But, interestingly enough, these are the things that have pushed us both to have the desire to be amazing parents.  I won’t speak for John, except to say that his growing up with an incredibly abusive father and then living with a single mom on welfare certainly has its lasting repercussions.  I will speak to my experience, and how it has pushed me to try to be the best mom.

I experienced the divorce of my parents and the breakup of our family when I was eleven.  A couple of years later, my mother remarried a man who turned out to be a psychopath.  Most people associate that word with a dangerous killer, but it’s really a personality type and is much more common than just in headline criminals.  My stepfather is/was one.  He still is, but he’s not my stepfather anymore.  I won’t go into all the details—that’s a story for another time.  Suffice it to say, he had an impact on me—on all of us.  He was destructive and manipulative.  He could be charming and he could be scary.  I know now that he was a coward, but in the moment, you don’t always know that, and you don’t know if this will be the time he will snap and do something much more drastic than you thought he was capable of.  I felt very out of control, and I think there are lasting effects from that still with me today.  He could be so cruel, and then the next morning would be joking around.  And, when you are young, that is just so confusing.  I have continued to have dreams over the years of being attacked and never being able to defend myself.  I freeze.  I can’t scream.  I can’t fight back.  It’s awful.  I was never attacked physically by him, but I think that feeling of being out of control has stayed with me.  We had confrontations—screaming, yelling, struggling over things, I did get shoved to the ground once but that wasn’t as bad as having gasoline thrown on me.  And he was a smoker, so I knew there was a lighter in his pocket.

Anyway, I will stop there.  My point in sharing this is that I have never wanted my children to feel the fear or neglect or insecurities that I felt.  Every day I work so hard to make sure that D knows how much I love him.  I hug him and tell him how sweet and handsome and smart and strong he is.  I look him in the eyes and tell him these things all day every day.  I try to not seem frustrated to be parenting him, because I want him to know that I love being his mom.  I never want him to feel that he is a burden.  When he is grown, I know he won’t remember a lot of his childhood, but I want him to remember how much I loved him and how much I loved being with him.  That is my goal.  It is what I work for every day.  It means more to me than most will know, without knowing the whole story.  If I can do this one thing, then I will have been a good mom.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Our Invitro Experience.

Most people come to the crossroads of adoption because of infertility. We were no different.

The first time I walked into my doctor’s office to talk about my infertility, I was twenty-one.  I was thirty-nine when D’s adoption finalized.  Seventeen years.  Granted, there were breaks in there.  I was married at eighteen, moved out at twenty-five and was divorced at twenty-six, so there were a couple of years here and there that I wasn’t actively pursuing pregnancy.  But, only a couple.  I married John a year after the divorce, when I was twenty-seven.  Knowing that I had not been able to get pregnant before, made me start looking into infertility solutions pretty soon after we were married. 

Anyone who has been through the infertility rollercoaster knows it is an emotionally, physically and financially draining process.  One of these days, I should get all my medical records together and lay out the long list of tests and procedures I endured over a seventeen year span.  Biopsies, laparoscopy, medication, dye tests, x-rays, cat scans, ultrasounds, probing of all kinds—mostly of the uncomfortable kind, artificial insemination, lots of ovulation tests and timed “activity” of all kinds….and the list goes on.  I went through several doctors as each came to the same conclusion—“we don’t know what’s causing your infertility and we’ve done all we know how to do”.  Tears.  Next! 

In the Fall of 2004, I met a couple of women who were going through the Invitro process.  It was the first time I had really considered it.  Years of failed fertility had left me with little hope, but hearing that this had worked for them gave me a glimmer that I held on to tightly.  I scheduled my consultation, and off we went…quickly.  Our doctor had been on the forefront of the invitro technology here in Southern California, and at the recommendation of a patient of his, we moved forward.  The next eight months would prove to be more difficult than I had expected.

It started out normal.  I was checked out to make sure I was healthy and able to go through the process, and though I was heavier than I am now by about thirty pounds, I was still deemed strong and healthy enough proceed.  So, the medication began.  It starts with Follistem, which does just what it sounds like it does—it stimulates the follicle, or egg, development.  I was supposed to have been on it for about ten days.  On day three I could hardly stand up and was in a lot of pain.  I called the doctor’s office to tell them that I thought something was wrong.  They said that it wasn’t abnormal to feel some discomfort, but after explaining to them that I was way beyond “discomfort” they had me come in for a check-up.  I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but I couldn’t even stand up straight at this point.  After feeling my abdomen, they did an ultrasound.  I wish I could find the picture of that ultrasound (Google “hyperstimulated ovaries” and you can see what it looked like!).  I had an over-the-top reaction to the Follistem, which would set the tone for the rest of this whole experience.  Ovaries are normally the size of a walnut.  Mine were now “kissing ovaries”.  They had grown so large that they were touching each other.  Each one was bout five inches long by about two to three inches tall and wide.  They were full of eggs.  The ultrasound picture looked like a spider web.  Tons of eggs in there of various sizes pushed against each other, causing lots of pain.  We stopped the Follistem. 

Here is what is supposed to happen.  The Follistem stimulates egg development and your ovaries “recruit” a few eggs into the ovaries and then the medication helps them to grow to the right size for fertilization.  Usually this means a few eggs, which are then harvested (via minor surgery and a nice long needle through your cervix to suck them out), fertilized by hand, and then the fertilized ones are put back in with the hope that they will nestle in and begin to grow and you will be officially pregnant.  But this isn’t what happened.

You would think that producing lots of eggs would be a good thing, but it’s not.  What happened is that instead of taking a few eggs and nourishing them properly, my body kept recruiting.  So, my ovaries were filled with lots of eggs in various stages of development—some were the right size, but many were past their prime or too little, and they were all packed in so tightly, fighting for nourishment, that none of them were particularly healthy.  The other thing that happens, is that because you have so many eggs that are all affecting hormone production, different hormone levels skyrocketed.  We almost had to scrap the entire process and start over.  Hormone levels had to be within a certain range, and I was about seven times higher than I needed to be, so we just waited for them to drop, hoping they would slip into a normal range within the time frame needed for everything to still be viable.  This also meant I was getting my blood tested every day, which meant a fifty-mile round trip and needles every day, not to mention I felt awful and was in a lot of pain.  On the last day possible, my levels dropped into the right range, and we scheduled the surgery.  It is minor surgery, but it still requires being put under full anesthesia.  The doctor recovered forty-three eggs when all was said and done.  Forty-three.  About fourteen times what it should have been.

Then, we waited three days while they fertilized our eggs, and prepared to put them back in.  I felt so sick, but figured it was just all the hormone manipulation and stress.  It wasn’t.  I went back in, excited to be putting the eggs in, and the doctor came in with more bad news.  I had Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome.  The condensed explanation is that the drugs had caused “leaky” blood vessels, and essentially, my body was taking the water from my blood and depositing it into my chest and abdomen.  So, my blood was getting thicker and my abdomen was filling with fluid.  The problem with elective procedures is that your insurance doesn’t cover complications that arise because of it.  My doctor wanted to admit me, but knew it would be a huge expense.  He gave me the option, but we chose to monitor it for a few days and then if it got to what he considered to be a dangerous level, he would have no choice but to admit me.  The solution?  Drink lots and lots of fluids.  Seven to Eight liters a day of anything I could stomach.  My stomach was distended.  I had to pee every forty-five minutes or so.  I looked like complete hell.  And I felt worse.  It was one of the worst weeks of my life.  On top of that, I had to go in to have my blood drawn every day.  Sunday morning, my doctor called and said he had been awake through the night worried about me and wondering if he’d made the right call.  The problem with “leaky” blood vessels, is that thick blood leads to clots, which are life-threatening.  He gave me one more night and said if my blood hadn’t shown improvement the next morning, I would have to be admitted.  I was so spent physically.  I just could not drink the amount I needed to.  My poor husband was trying to keep me on target, but I was done.  The next morning, the tests looked better, and I began to improve.  I was still anxious to put the eggs back in, but they said we would have to wait a few months to let my ovaries and everything shrink back to normal size, and allow my body time to recover. 

For three weeks, I made the drive every day to have blood drawn.  It’s a good thing I have hoses for veins, because by the time it was over, I looked like a drug addict, and the thought of the needle going into my bruised arms again just made me cringe.  Eight fertilized eggs were frozen, but they weren’t the healthiest of eggs.  He called them B+ eggs.  I was used to being a A+ student!  Putting them back in was another saga.  Ideally, you put eggs back in right after you harvest, because your body is naturally at the right stage for them to be received and implanted.  But, when you use frozen eggs, you have to get your body back to that stage in an even more unnatural way.  More drugs.  And these were worse.  I had daily shots in my stomach and shots in my hips.  The stomach ones were actually not too bad.  The needle was small, and John was able to do them.  The hip ones were so painful and cause huge knots almost immediately.  My friend was a physician’s assistant, and he did those for me.  The needle was bigger, and after everyone knotted it, but became more difficult and much, much more painful.  I used to dread those, they hurt so badly.  I don’t remember exactly how long I had to do those—close to two weeks or so.  These affected me emotionally more than any of the other drugs had.  It was the first time in my marriage that I felt angry and could have driven off into the sunset and never returned.  I knew it was the drugs talking, but it took a toll on me.  I don’t ever want to feel that way again.

Despite the physical and emotional toll on my body, we were able to go back in as planned and have the embryos put back in.  By the time my eight B+ eggs thawed out, only three of them had survived.  My doctor said normally he would only put two back in because of the high risks associated with triplet pregnancies.  But, because of the low quality of the eggs, he left it up to me, and we chose to put all three in.  He wanted me to promise that if all three took, we would consider selective reduction to ensure a healthier pregnancy.  What a shock that was!  I am not a fan of abortion in any form, although I do believe that in the case where the mother’s life is in danger, then she should be able to make that choice.  I spoke to a few people with my same religious beliefs to see how they felt about that choice should that occur.  They all assured me that in a case where my life or the life of these other babies was in danger, that we rely on the expertise of these doctors to help us with that decision, and that it would be okay no matter what I decided.  I felt fine with that, except that I just didn’t want to have to make that choice.  Not because I felt any guilt at aborting, but because I didn’t want to give up even one child.

I wouldn’t have to face that decision, though.  None of the embryos took.  I wasn’t pregnant.  Again.  I was very sad and disheartened.  The three women I knew who had recently gone through Invitro had all had healthy babies.  I was the only one who failed.  I know it wasn’t my fault, but I was very sad.  By this time, six months had passed since we had begun the process, and I was worn out.  Physically and emotionally drained.  We met with our doctor and he said that if we wanted to try again, he felt like he had a better handle on how my body would respond now, and that we could make some adjustments and hopefully be more successful.  He said I was certainly the exception and that he only had maybe one patient a year that reacted to all the drugs as badly as I did.  I didn’t know if I wanted to do it again, but John really wanted to try, so we did.

We dropped the rest of our money on a second round.  This time, I only produced a paltry twenty-three eggs!  Still seven to eight times more than I should, but a much healthier round.  Still only about eight were viable.  I didn’t go into Hyperstimulation and we were able to put three embryos back in within a few days of harvesting, which was another round of day surgery and anesthesia.  John was so excited and hopeful.  I was not so hopeful.  Disappointment after disappointment had left me too cautious and a little hopeless.  We waited a few days and I was sick to my stomach.  He had considered these “A+” eggs and as good a round as we could hope for with the way my body reacts to everything.  I was working in the garage with a friend of mine the day I went in for the pregnancy test.  It was a blood test, since it was so early in the process.  I couldn’t focus on anything.  I was painting and had my big overalls and work boots on.  I finally told her that I was tired, and wanted to go lie down, so she went home.  I went inside and saw the light flashing on the answering machine.  My heart sank.  I was afraid of what the message would be.  My fears would be confirmed.  I wasn’t pregnant.  I crawled into bed, boots and all and just cried.  I couldn’t even speak.  It would be about four days before I said much of anything.  John and I holed up in our house.  I just couldn’t face anyone or anything.  I have dealt with a lot of emotionally difficult situations in my life and had never just shut down.  But, everything came to a head that day, and I shut down.  I knew I would recover.  I always did.  I just needed that time to mourn, and I took it.  I had great friends who understood and didn’t push.  They knew when to leave me alone and they knew when to step in.  They would be that same great strength for me when we faced an even more devastating moment in having to give our first almost-adopted son back to his birth father.  That experience was even more tragic for us because we had gone through this one.  But, maybe in some ways, this prepared us for dealing with that one. 

Loss is a difficult thing.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of.  Those who went through all of this with us, were part of a small handful of people who could comprehend what an incredible day it was when we finalized our adoption.  The greatest joys can only be as great as your greatest sorrow.  Opposition in all things.  And these difficult moments made having D that much more of an incredible miracle.

Our little miracle.  D came to us through adoption, and what
a dream he has been.  Born May 2009.  Took him home July 2009.
About two months later, we attended an adoption seminar and prepared to start the process.  We decided we were done with fertility issues.  What good would it be to have a child if my body was so damaged by the process, or the emotional battle took too great a toll on our marriage?  What would be the joy in that?  So, I came to terms with the fact that I would never experience pregnancy or have a child that was part of me biologically, and I was fine with that.  I just wanted a child, and it didn’t matter what he or she looked like.  It would be four more years before that dream would be realized, but what a dream it would be.

The Surfboard. My second favorite Gotcha Day memento.

I was reading a thread on a Facebook post recently about the terms that adoptees/adoptive parents/birth parents don’t like.  Things like “real mom” were pretty universally disliked.  But there were others that I was surprised to find were so controversial.  The term “biological mom” was disliked by lots of birth mothers, because they felt that was such a cold, scientific term and they felt like much more.  I even saw that “birth mom” was disliked by many because birth mothers (for lack of a better term….I don’t know what to use any more!) felt that was a description of one event and not what they really meant in their children’s lives, even if they had placed them for adoption.  But the one I’ve been thinking about the most is how many families didn’t like the term “gotcha day”, which refers to either the day the adoptive families took their new child home, or the day the adoption was finalized.  I was surprised this was so controversial.  Both those days are certainly monumental days in our lives, and though we don’t do a full on celebration for either day, we certainly recognize it and maybe get a special dessert or commemorate it in some small way.  We do need to be sensitive about how the child feels about that day because it may be a very bittersweet day for them.  For us, a dream came true.  For them, a dream fell apart.  It marks the point of no return for their biological family.  It marks a day of finalization when it became sure reality that they would no longer be an official part of their biological family.  And no amount of showering of love and gifts can replace that loss.  So, of course, we need to be sensitive.  I’ve heard of some families that ask their adopted child every year how they feel about it and if it is something they want to celebrate.  Some years, they are sad and don’t want to celebrate, and some years, they do.

That said, one of my favorite things in our house—one of the few things I would try to save in a  house fire, is the thing that commemorates the finalization of our adoption.  This surfboard.  We threw a big party when everything was done, and I wanted something that everyone could sign.  I didn’t want to do a mat for a picture frame.  I wanted something more personal.  As we thought about it, we came up with the idea of a surfboard.  John loves to surf and we love the ocean and we live fifteen blocks from the beautiful blue Pacific.  And on top of that, when we chose D’s name, the one thing that sealed it for us was that D meant “son of the sea”.  Our house is an old beach cottage style and it just seemed like the perfect fit on all levels.  A friend of ours went through his boards and gave one to use that his kids used to use.  It was signed and dated by the surfboard maker and had been built in the 70’s.  It was perfect.  Well, not yet.  It was perfect later after everyone had written a special note to D on the night of this perfect party.  This board hangs in his room, and I often stop and read the signatures and the messages and remember what an incredible time that was.  After so many heartbreaks, this dream had finally come true.  The adoption finalized when he was sixteen months old, and each birthday since, we have stood it up, and marked his height in red up the center of the board, so it’s meaning is growing each new year.  There are expressions of love and sweet messages from kids on there, and there are things like "Scharpf Forever" and "remember your mother is always right" and clever bits of advice, often about surfing or being happy.  But I think my favorite one is a simple phrase...."And then there were 3."  It makes me tear up every time I read it.  I think that summed up that day best of all.  One of these pictures shows a photo behind the board and a teddy bear.  The photo was taken the day we finalized as we celebrated....where else?  On the beach, and on a surfboard.  The bear is wearing the onesie I made for our little Isaac who was returned back to his birth father after five months.  Many thought that onesie belonged to D, but he never wore it.  It's been on that bear since the day Isaac left.  I thought it fitting he be there to help us celebrate.  It makes that statement even more meaningful and powerful to me.  And then there were 3.

To read more about some of the memories mentioned in this post, see these links:
Our failed adoption:
What kind of adoption language to use or not use:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Loss is Loss

Maybe I’m just coming to a less selfish point in my life, and realizing that not everything is about me or directed at me in some way.  What a shocking revelation that is….  It has occurred to me lately that we all need to take a step back and see things for what they are—nothing more and nothing less.  In all the adoption classes we’ve taken, and the difficult experiences we’ve had over the years with failed fertility treatments, a failed adoption and everything in between, I have found it interesting that we all compare our grief.  I’ve heard it from both ends, too.  I’ve had people who feel that the things they have experienced have been worse than what I have experienced and they say something in the form of “well, at least you didn’t have to _____________”.  And I’ve had people who were amazed at what we have been through say something like “Wow, I’ve had ____________ happen, but that was nothing compared to what you’ve dealt with”.  It’s as if all the painful experiences in life can be measured on a line, with one standing behind the other in some grand descending order.  So, how does it go?  Does having to give my soon-to-be-adopted son back to his father trump your miscarriage?  Is losing a parent farther down the grief line than losing a child?  What if it was a more tragic death? And what about dissimilar experiences?  Does your ongoing chronic health problem match up to my losing a job?  Does my frustration with my weight win our over your depression?  We even do it with children.  My three-year-old can experience some pretty big grief over losing a monster truck—a seemingly insignificant thing, so should I just tell him, hey, I’ve lost a child, so suck it up?

What I have come to understand is that loss is just loss.  It is the same emotion though perhaps driven by different experiences.  I’ve had many, many friends over the years who were afraid to tell me they were pregnant, especially if it was unplanned, and especially if they were not wanting to get pregnant at that time or ever again.  So, does the stress and grief of a mother overwhelmed with several little children, who just found out she was pregnant again when she had hoped to wait until things had maybe settled down—does her grief go in front of or behind my grief at not being able to get pregnant at all?  What about when my grief is magnified by years of failed fertility treatments, including two very difficult rounds of invitro, neither of which worked?  Now do I win?

Loss is loss.  It is still grief.  There may be degrees, but it is the same sadness and pain and depression.  We would do well to stop comparing our emotions in an effort to either justify our level of sadness, or to make ourselves or a friend or loved one “snap out of it and be grateful for what you have.”  The truth is, most of us are very grateful for what we have.  But, sometimes we are just sad and hurt over something we have lost.  Maybe it was a loved one.  Maybe it was the dream of having that loved one.  Maybe it was the dream of a stable income or a good retirement or a healthy life or a home or a particular friendship.  During our adoption/foster care classes, we got a little refresher course on the stages of grief, and we learned how we have to move through each stage before we can progress to the next one.  No matter what the loss is, our feet must touch each step. Some may be quicker than others.  We might breeze through denial and then wallow a lot longer in anger before moving on, but they all have to happen.  It is something we all have in common, so, in essence, we would do better to stop worrying about whose grief is greater and whose deserves more sympathy, and just mourn with those who mourn.  Because, even though the driving force may differ, we are sharing in the same experience.  I’ve often told stressed mothers with several children who felt like they couldn’t break down in front of me, that it is okay for them to be sad and upset and stressed, and it's okay if I know about it.  I always say that they are learning the lessons of patience and compassion through the difficult journey of caring for their children, and I am learning the same lessons through the difficult journey of trying to have children.  Same lessons.  Because patience is patience and compassion is compassion and loss is just loss.  No grand sequential lineup.  It just is.  So cry on my shoulder because you’ve changed 3000 diapers today and soothed 26 temper tantrums and done 16 loads of laundry, cooked 3 meals and 12 snacks, all with your husband deployed.  And I will cry on your shoulder because the cysts in my ovaries are extra painful today and I still have health complications left over from the hormone manipulation that is invitro and my aging parents are experiencing health problems and I don’t have two shiny nickels to my name and my family is so far away and my long, long-awaited son keeps asking for a baby brother and I can’t give him one, though it is my greatest wish.  And, then, soon enough, we will eat some chocolate and laugh about our breakdowns and suck it up and be grateful for what we have.  But, for now, let’s let ourselves grieve together.  We just might learn something from each other that will make our lives a little bit better.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Top 10 Cool Things About Adoption (But Only I Can Point Them Out....)

It occurs to me that a lot of my posts are about the challenges of the adoption process, whether emotionally, psychologically or logistically.  A few conversations lately have led me to compile a list of the cool things about adoption.  However, a warning.  These are things only adoptive parents can point out!  If you have been able to birth your children, trust me when I say, these will not be welcomed comments coming from you.  I know.  It’s not fair.  But experience (and my parents) have constantly reminded me that life isn’t fair.  So, if you feel the need to make one of these comments to a friend of yours who is adopting or has adopted in the form of “Well, at least you get to…..”, for the love of all that is good in this world….DON’T!  Maybe just casually introduce them to this blog instead.    I’m just trying to preserve your friendship….maybe even your life.

Here goes, in no particular order.
  1.  No stretch marks!  I MIGHT have them from years of weight fluctuation and whatnot, but not from being pregnant!
  2. No gaining fifty pounds and being so uncomfortable.  Especially those unfortunate enough to have been nine months pregnant in August.  I feel for you!  It’s a bonus to not have to deal with that.  (I have certainly gained weight before, but due to lack of self-control and laziness, not pregnancy…)
  3. No physical recovery after delivery.  No C-section.  No surgeries.  No stitches.  No drugs.  No hours and hours of labor.  No being away from home and being woken up every thirty minutes to feed or eat or take my vital signs.  Don’t get me wrong.  I would love to be able to get pregnant and have a baby.  But this post is about the silver lining of adoption, and if I’m looking for awesome things about it, this is one of them!  I am healthy and strong and feel amazing when I go pick up my baby.  I don’t need days to recover.  I am ready to hit the ground running.
  4. When I take my newborn baby to the store, etc., everyone tells me how great I look for just having had a baby!  Yes, I may be vain, but being complimented is awesome.  Sometimes I tell them the truth.  Sometimes I just act like I’m a total rock star and dropped fifty pounds in 2 weeks and say “thank you!”  Sometimes I know exactly what they mean when they look at me and look at my baby and say “how old is he?”  I admit…I like to toy with them.  However, I will say that if another new mom asks me, and I can see the frustration on her face, I absolutely tell her the truth.  She has enough on her plate to be feeling any worse about her body.
  5. The flurry surrounding bringing the baby home.  This may not be a plus for everyone, but I personally enjoyed getting the call and then having a baby within a week.  There were no months of planning and anticipation.  When you don’t know what age you will be bringing home, it’s really hard to prepare.  But, I kind of enjoyed the complete rush of suddenly getting that child.  A fast and furious week of preparing and it’s done!  Truth be told, that was one of the most fun weeks of my life.  I describe the adoption process as “hurry up and wait”.  But actually adopting is a lot of “wait and then hurry up!”
  6. The phone call.  This is one of my favorite parts.  We only have one child, but we took home two, and we took calls on many more.  I LOVE when the social worker calls and says “you’ve been matched with a child” and proceeds to give you all the details of this little person you know nothing about.  She gives you all the background information, what he or she looks like and all the challenges that may come up, at least as far as they know.  It’s such a fascinating phone call.  It’s so exciting and scary, but mostly exciting.  I loved hearing D’s physical description and I yearned to hear more and to finally see a picture.
  7. The ability to brag about your baby.  There is something about not being connected through DNA with a child that allows you to be more open to bragging about how cute or smart he or she is.  I don’t have to worry that people will think that I think this baby is so awesome because I had something to do with his creation.  I can be an obnoxious, bragging parent, all the while giving credit to someone else.
  8. No saggy breast-feeding boobs.  Okay, there is an amount of sagging that comes with age, but it’s not exacerbated by months/years of breast-feeding!  Gotta take the perks (so to speak) where you can get them!  Sorry breastfeeders, but you know it’s true!  Worth it, but true.
  9. Bottle feeding.  Yes, I KNOW that breastfeeding is best.  But if I can’t do it, then I will enjoy the great things about bottle feeding.  One of them is that my husband and I were much more equal in the amount of time up at night with our baby, because he could feed him, too.  We traded off nights, so I knew every other night I wouldn’t have to get up at all.  And that made for a less tired mom, which was a happier, more vibrant mom.  Don’t get me wrong.  I loved my nights feeding my baby.  But, I also loved my sleep.
  10. All the excitement.  Everyone is always excited for a new baby.  But the cool thing is that when all of your friends know you have been waiting so long, and then suddenly you have this baby, they are so excited, too.  My mom said today that if you want a life with peaks, you have to have valleys, too. As we waited years in the valley, it made the peak that much more glorious, and not just for us, but those who have patiently waited with us.  I so loved how everyone stopped by bringing gifts and wanting to see the new baby and hear the story.  I know they do this with births, too, but sometimes you’re not always in the mood for all the visitors after a pregnancy and delivery.  But, I was so ready and it was so much fun, and I didn’t care that I retold the story a hundred times.  I could have retold it a hundred more and never been tired of it.
Adoption ain’t for the faint of heart.  It is a long journey.  But, if you look at the fun things about it, it can make you excited to get on the path again, or maybe for the first time.  My journey has taken us through our local foster care, so these ten things may not be accurate for everybody’s adoption experience.  And, though perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, they are all true.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Other Mommy, and Why It's Important to Love Her

Oh my gosh, I can't express how much
I love this kid!  Is he the cutest, or what?!
It’s 4 a.m. and I just spent a half an hour helping my sweet son go back to sleep.  These are tiring, yet precious moments.  There is something about 4 a.m. that brings clarity of mind as I sit there with his little hand in mine as he drifts back off to a peaceful, dreamy state.  These last few months have been emotionally draining for me, for reasons I won’t go into except to say I’ve been sorting through a lifetime of struggles that have, for one reason or another, come to the surface lately.  It’s as if I’ve been shooting wiper fluid onto the windshield of my life and clearing all the dirt and bugs and haze away, and am able to see more clearly.  I wish it was that easy, but the good thing is that it is definitely making it easier to drive.  I had a conversation with D (my son) in the car a couple of months ago.  We have always been very open about his adoption, but he is only three years old, and it’s not like it comes up in conversation all the time.  He doesn’t understand the concept at this age, and frankly, we are busy living life and it just isn’t a topic that comes into everyday life, as we go to the park and have dinner and read books.  So months pass, and I started to realize that I didn’t want to have a big sit down discussion with him one day to say “hey, you’re adopted”.  My goal has always been that he just knows.  I want him, when he’s older, to be able to say “I’ve always known I was adopted”.  I don’t want there to be a moment he found out, as if it was a deep dark secret we were keeping from him. Children think secrets mean something is wrong, and more specifically, wrong with them, and I never wanted him to feel that there was anything wrong with the way he came to us.  I am learning that this is easier said than done.

Think about it.  How many times, and at what age, did you sit your child down and discuss conception and their birth with them?  And is it something you worked in to their everyday lives?  Probably not.  Anyway, one morning, a few months ago, I started to think that I needed to make more of an effort to slip it casually into conversations, so it just becomes knowledge.  I have done this before, but that’s easy when they are two.  When they are almost four and able to have conversations and ask tons of questions but not yet fully comprehend concepts, it becomes more difficult because they can hear you and understand your words, but not the meanings.  Which can just lead to confusion, not clarity.  So, this particular morning, we were driving and somehow babies and whatnot came up in the conversation and I said something to him about when he was born and how he was with his other mommy.  I thought it was innocent enough.  But I saw his face fall through the rear view mirror, and I heard the fear and concern in his voice when he said “aaawww.  But I don’t want to be with another mommy!”  And I realized this is going to be harder than I thought.  It was a heartbreaking moment.  It didn’t occur to me that the word “mommy” to D had a wide range of meanings.  It is the person he lives with.  The person he spends all day with, playing and going to the zoo and bathing and tucking him in at night.  In his little mind, he was afraid of having to go do all those things with someone else that he didn’t know.  I quickly reassured him that he wasn’t going anywhere else with anyone else, and that I was his mommy and he would stay with me.  But throughout the day, his concern was vocalized several times.  “But I don’t want to go with another mommy!"  It would just come out randomly.  And I would hug him and say, “honey, you aren’t going anywhere.  You are staying with mommy and daddy.”  

Fast forward to a couple of days ago.  I had decided to leave it at that, and approach the subject later when he was more able to understand the idea.  We were talking about birth and how he was born (or “borned” as he says) in a hospital.  I was sticking to ideas he could understand.  “You were so tiny!  You were just a little, tiny baby and you were in the hospital.  Later, we got to bring you home and you were my tiny little baby.  You were so small and mommy fed you and held you.”  He has been fascinated with babies lately, and he will crawl into my arms and lay down and say “I want to be a baby again”, and we will pretend for a minute or two that he is so tiny and that I’m feeding him with a bottle.  And then I will tell him all the cool things he can do now that he couldn’t do as a baby, and he will laugh and add to the list, and then be happy with being three.  So, this particular day as we were discussing how small he had been and how he was born in the hospital, he said “when I was with my other mommy?”  I was blown away that not only did he remember an extremely short conversation, but that he had put it in its proper context.  And what was even more amazing, was that he wasn’t afraid.  He said it, I said “yes, when you were with your other mommy” and that was it.  He was satisfied, and we moved on with the day.  It was probably a more powerful moment for me than for him. 

The thing is, I want her to be a part of him.  I want him to know that there is room in my heart for her and that I am not afraid for him to love her.  She passed away before D was even a year old, so he will never get to meet her in this life.  But she is forever a part of him.  And she is forever a part of me.  She gave me a gift that I cannot repay, and there is love enough to go around.  One day I hope to meet her and I want to be able to show her an amazing man and reassure her that she made a good choice.  And I want D to have nothing but good feelings towards her.  So we will continue to, age appropriately, talk about his “other mommy” and the contribution she made to his life.  They may not always be easy conversations, but they will always be important.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Not to Say Regarding Adoption....Not That We All Agree...

One thing I have learned during the whole, long adoption process is that we participants are a touchy bunch!  Like many adoptive parents, my journey began with years of failed fertility treatments, during which I got tired/annoyed/offended/whatever you choose to call it, at the comments people would make about everything from why I probably could not get pregnant, to what other things I should try, to why how I should be grateful for all the things in my life and not worry about it.  Blah, blah, blah.  As we have moved through the adoption process, and especially as we experienced a failed adoption, more opinions were offered up—opinions from people who had never experienced adoption in any form and yet seemed to have clear answers for us.  And now that we have an amazing little boy, more questions and comments come.  Not all of them are unwelcome, but some are said without much thought, that is for sure. I read somewhere recently that children don’t process intent until about five years of age.  In other words, when they are acting out at you, or treating another child badly, there is no intent of hate or animosity behind their actions.  The article made a point that has stuck with me.  It said something about how their actions aren’t at all about how they feel about the person they are mistreating, but they are all about how that child feels about him or herself.  For example, a three-year-old girl hits another child.  It has nothing to do with whether or not they like that child.  It has to do with how she feels about herself—maybe she felt threatened, or insecure, or jealous or frustrated, and most likely none of those feelings had anything to do with that child.  It is often more about something going on at home that is causing feelings that she then takes out on someone else.  We are the ones that read too much into their actions.  They don’t hate.  They don’t really even process love.  They understand feeling secure and happy and cared for.  I think, more often than not, this is still true as adults.  Not the part about not understanding love or other feelings.  But I think the things that offend or anger or upset us say a lot more about how we feel about ourselves than how we feel about the person that was offensive or upsetting.  A secure person is much more able to brush those things off and not internalize them.
I was on a Facebook page centered on adoption recently, and the question was posed “What phrase or question concerning adoption bothers you the most?”  I was kind of fascinated by it and followed the thread for a few days.  There were so many things.  And interestingly enough, some phrases that some people really liked were completely despised by others.  I won’t go into all of them, but there were some universally disliked ones (and a few others I’d like to address) that I think are worth mentioning.  I know we all need to be a little less sensitive.  I know that certain terms and phrases bother us because of personal experience.  It was interesting to see how birth mothers were offended more often by terms used by adoptive parents, and vise versa.  And in general, I think we all need to relax and take a step back and understand that there usually isn’t negative intent behind the questions/comments.  Usually it is ignorance.  That said, I find there are a few terms that are universally unacceptable, and if you know someone who is adopting, or has adopted, or is considering adoption, you might want to take notes.

Birth Mom/Natural Mom/Real Parent/Child of your own:  There were a few conflicting opinions on “birth parent” and many preferred “natural parent”.  However DO NOT, under ANY circumstances us the word “real” in describing a birth mother or adoptive mother.  What does that mean, anyway?!  Some people use “real” in place of biological.  Don’t tell me I’m not my son’s real mom, when I have spent three and half years wiping tears, changing diapers, caring for him when he’s been sick, playing with him every day, and showing him all the love I possibly can.  Don’t say it!  You won’t like the response.  Don’t say his “real sister”.  Although some people differ on biological vs. birth vs. natural parent, we all agree that we dislike very much the word “real”.  Someone commented on the thread that they had seen obituaries that read something like “so and so is survived by two daughters and an adopted son.”  Uh, no.  Big no no.  I consider my son just that—my son.  No need or desire to ever specify how they came to be a part of the family, especially in an obituary.   And we’re not step-brothers or step-sisters.  We are brothers and sisters.  And if in doubt, ask the person what term they prefer.

Personal questions about the process:  Okay, everyone feels differently about what questions are appropriate.  Personally, as you can see by my blog, I am very open to any discussion.  However, I think we all agree that you need to use some discretion in asking and NEVER ask these questions in front of the child!!  Never ask how much the child cost, (even the less-offensive question of how much the adoption cost) should not be asked in front of the child.  No child wants to feel like a pound puppy who got his shots, papers and for a fee was able to go home with a nice family.  I don’t mind being asked about it, but not in front of my son.  Some people are offended by personal questions and I’ve heard them say “you wouldn’t ask biological parents what position they were in when they conceived, so why would you ask about the details of adoption?”  Again, just ask.  I like to share the experience with others.  But some don’t want to.  Ask first, and not in front of the kids, and don’t be offended if it’s too personal to share.  Just think if someone wanted a play-by-play of everything that happened from conception to birth, or if you had a miscarriage—some things are too private and/or too personal for some people to share, and we need to respect those boundaries.

Opinions about adoption when you have never been part of the process:  This is one that got to me (and still gets me).  Many times, people who have never been adopted or placed a child for adoption or adopted a child, will have very strong opinions about the process—where you should go (foster care, private, international, etc.), what kind of child to take or not take, how adopted children will act.  It amazes me that they are so opinionated, and yet would never consider adopting a child themselves.  I’ve had people tell me how difficult adopted children can be, as if biological children are a walk in the park.  Don’t say it.  I have one parade, and you’re raining on it.  I have one option to have a child and you are telling me that path is sub-par.  Don’t say it.  Be supportive and show love—that’s the best thing you can do.  Any parent knows that life raising a child always has challenges.  Just because my challenges may look different than yours doesn’t mean it will be any less joyful and fulfilling.  And my guess is that 95% of our challenges will be very similar.

In general, as I said above, I think our sensitivity to the subject says more about how we feel about ourselves than about the person asking the insensitive question.  I believe that if we are okay with who we are, then a lot of that stuff just rolls right off of our backs and we don’t care.  But, it is something very close to our hearts, and it’s hard sometimes to not get emotional about it when someone refers to my beautiful little boy as not my real child.  If in doubt, pull the person involved aside and ask in sincerity what terms he or she prefers, and my guess is that 99 percent of the time, they will appreciate you for being sensitive and caring and showing so much respect.

If you are navigating the adoption process, or know someone who is , check out my post about seven things you should not say to people going through the process:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I don't mean to be greedy, but I want another one.

One of two photos I have of D in the hospital.
(A dog only gestates for 60 days.  A monkey varies.  The little
guy in the middle??  Well, for us it was just over 900 days)

It’s been exactly one year since we got back on the list to adopt again.  We had to wait one year to even get on the list to begin with.  It took three months to get our physicals and paperwork done and another seven months to finally get our interviews, and then two more months of processing before receiving the call that we were officially waiting.  They tell you to consider yourself pregnant when you are on the list because a child could come any time.  Well, it’s the longest gestational period I’ve ever heard of.  I was looking at a list of animals with the longest gestational periods (yes, I’m random like that) and with D we were only beat out by the Black Alpine Salamander which gestates for two to three years and some sharks which can gestate up to three and half years.  Well, technically we might have tied with the salamander since it was two and half years of waiting before we got D.  And, really, if you count the extra fourteen months of waiting for the adoption to finalize, then really we win!  Sorry sharks!  So I guess, right now at twelve months, we are only up to the Bottlenose Dolphin, and it didn’t even make the top ten list.  Perhaps maybe I just need to cool my jets.  Oh, but the waiting can be so hard.  

D is growing like a weed, and I so want him to have a sibling or two and I want to have more children.  Sometimes after a hard day with him, I wonder what the heck I’m thinking in wanting more.  But most days, he is my funny little companion who keeps me on my toes and makes me see life in a whole new way.  He reminds me that there is still purity and innocence in this world.  He reminds me to stop and look at bugs and leaves and funny cloud shapes.  He reminds me that no job I hold down right now would be as important as these experiences with him.  He reminds me why I wanted to be a mother.  And he reminds me that even though I hold fear that we might have another heart-wrenching experience like losing our little Isaac, we could also have another experience like keeping our precious D.  And so we wait.  Next month, we’ll pass up the Manatee, and by the time D turns four in May, we will have shot right past the camel, velvet worm, rhinoceros and walrus and we will be neck and neck with the giraffe.  I hope we don’t catch up with the elephant.  And I sure as heck don't want to catch up with those extra-long-gestating sharks.  I hope it's soon. I hope we have more kids in our home before the 2013 holiday season sets in.  I hope we get to keep those kids forever. I hope.

(side note...the last part of this post was inspired by the last few things Red says in Shawshank Redemption, lest anyone think I was stealing the idea....which I was, but at least I'm giving credit.  His last paragraph or so has stuck with me lately, and describes in a way how I feel about this whole process)