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)