Under the Dogwood

Our Dogwood Tree

Our Dogwood Tree

Full heart, open hands, wriggly toes. This week I sat with my daughter in the sun under the dogwood tree in our front yard. Spring breezes lifted our hair as we wiggled our bare feet in the grass and gazed up at the creamy dogwood blossoms.

Sitting under the dogwood reminded me of last spring, when I was crazy-mad with longing to be a mom. I wrote this post to the universe, one in a series of letters to my unknown child, desperate to be allowed to love. It still stuns me that I finally, finally get to be a mama.

Grass on our toes

My toes…and my daughter’s little ones!

Being a mom is without doubt the biggest, most incredible joy of my life. And I can’t think of it without gratitude and heartbreak for the woman who made it possible for me: my daughter’s mom. Lisa* chose me and my wife to raise her daughter. Even though we see each other often, even though I know Lisa is navigating her grief, even though I know it was her decision to make, my heart fills and my tears spill when I remember what my joy cost, what it goes on costing.

After that perfect moment under the dogwood tree last week, we met with our daughter’s mom for a picnic by the river. Lisa fed her daughter strawberries. They giggled together, playing in the grass under the trees, watching the people pass by on the waterfront. The afternoon sun sank behind the nearby office buildings, and we all shivered and felt cold. That afternoon was a perfect moment, too.

I’m an adoptive mom. My motherhood is not simple, and it is never just one thing. For me, motherhood, like life, is always joy holding hands with sorrow, cold wind and hot sun, shadows and light. It is sometimes hard and messy, but it is always full of hope…and I work every day to make it honest, to embrace it all, as it is, without holding back.
###

This is a Perfect Moment Monday post inspired by Lori Lavender Luz. Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between. On the last Monday of each month we engage in mindfulness about something that is right with our world. Everyone is welcome to join. Read more perfect moments on the blog hop.

 

*Lisa has given permission for me to use her first name online. I find it more respectful to call her by name than to refer to her always by her role or function as a biological mom. I know many folks in the adoption blogging community use initials, so I think it important to clarify that her name appears here in respect and with permission. ~ Liz

Lessons from the Great Airport Debacle of April 2013

chicago

Chicago on April 18 (credit: Stephen J. Serio)

I’m a new mom. 32 hours at O’Hare with a baby: definitely a new experience. When our flight was finally cancelled after a 13 hour delay, I realized we were going to run out of formula. I sat on the floor and sobbed. Strangers stopped to ask if they could help, but I turned them away, ashamed of my tears.

After security reopened its gates at 4am, my wife left the airport for a nearby drugstore. When her taxi couldn’t get through because the interstate was closed (semi-truck wreck), the roads were closed (extreme flooding and sinkholes), and the driver didn’t know the area, my wife got out and walked in the driving rain. A kind stranger stopped and gave her a ride. Another gave her a ride back from Walgreens. This took five hours.

I spent those five hours with our baby walking the K gates in Terminal 3. Somehow being alone in the airport with my daughter was infinitely worse, and my need to survive without help finally broke. I found an outlet, charged my phone, and started texting. The first text I sent was to my daughter’s mother: not the one walking in the rain, but the one at home, my daughter’s first/birth/bio/tummy mom.

delaysI know all new parents probably struggle with figuring out this adventure called parenthood. Maybe others are quicker than I am to realize that being a good parent isn’t something you can do alone. But as an adoptive mom, my determination to be a good parent is compounded with the layer of being-good-enough-to-adopt. My wife and I had to prove — to ourselves, to the social workers at the agencies, to the world in general — that we would be good parents, just to get the chance to try.

When other parents hear that we have a very open adoption, with weekly contact with our daughter’s birth/first family, they often say: “I could never do that. Too much pressure.” I won’t lie…it DOES hook into my need to get it right, my drive to do it well, my hope to be an awesome mom. But my relationship with my daughter’s bio mom also gives me support I wouldn’t have otherwise, because we love each other.

I suspect that this is not how it is SUPPOSED to work. I should be heroic, invincible, always reassuring my daughter’s bio mom that she made the right choice in picking me. Instead, I’m imperfect and flailing, a chaotic mess of brave struggle and hopeful love.

My daughter’s bio mom wrote me back right away. She checked in later as we waited through more delays, more weather. She was one of the first people to welcome us home. Maybe this isn’t the way it is supposed to work. Maybe other adoptive parents will call this “co-parenting” or accuse me of failing to hold up my end of the bargain: my daughter’s bio mom shouldn’t have to worry with me through the ups and downs of new parenthood.

But I’m a new mom, new to parenting, new to adoption. And I find that my daughter’s mom, more than most people, not only knows my daughter but knows ME. She gets what it means for me to be alone in the airport, frantic with worry about my wife, terrified about food for our daughter. She gets me and she loves me, just as I am.

So I don’t know if I am doing this adoption parenting stuff in the best way. But I do know this: love is never one-sided. Love is connection and vulnerability, helped and helping, giving and receiving back. That’s what it means when I say that, in our open adoption, we love each other. We, none of us, do it alone.

Adoptee Memoir: The Sound of Hope

book-tour-bauer-coverAlthough I’m an adoptive mom and married to an adopted person, I still often feel like an adoption newbie. So I was excited to read a memoir by an adult adoptee, Anne Bauer‘s “The Sound of Hope.” I found the book because of a “virtual book group” organized by brilliant blogging mama Lori Lavender Luz (who has a new book of her own, by the way, that I can’t wait to read).

Anne writes with courage and clarity about her journey to find her birth parents and establish a relationship with them despite the misgivings of family members on both sides.

This book wrenched my heart. I hurt with Anne during her father’s unstable, chaotic rages and her mother’s “unspoken rule: Don’t talk about it and it won’t exist.” I ached for the loneliness of her journey to find her birth family. I was frustrated by the lack of support and unfair blame, shame and guilt heaped on her not only by family but by total strangers who assumed a child can only have ONE family.

What surprised me most about this book was Anne’s birth mom’s withdrawal after their reunion. I hadn’t thought about how difficult it might be for a birth parent to reconnect with their adult child. I’m so grateful to Anne for telling her story, and hope that more adoptive parents will read it and consider how they might redefine family in the way that best benefits their child.

Below are a few more of my thoughts about the book, in answer to specific questions raised by our virtual book tour.

Question: In her adoption memoir Anne Bauer speaks of her connection to her birth mother and father, “The bond between us couldn’t be completely severed as everyone wanted it to be. Another part of me existed somewhere in the world, a part I was once attached to and depended on for life. To me, the umbilical cord served a function that was much more than physical. It was my essence, my origin, my connection to my biological ancestors. As far as I was concerned, the cord was still attached. Who were these people who were the cause of my existence? Did they wonder about me in the same way I often wondered about them?” What are your thoughts about this passage from your lens (adopted person, birth parent, adoptive parent)?

My Thoughts: This passage made me cry! As an adoptive parent whose child has a close relationship with her tummy mommy and grandparents, I feel so grateful that our daughter will not have to wonder like Anne did.  What captured me most was what Anne herself only gradually realizes: it isn’t just the back story of who her birth parents are (as people) but the story of how they made her and loved her that she longs for. My daughter’s story isn’t complete (her birth father is in a distant orbit, elliptical and askew) but it is rich in symbols, pictures, and stories — proof that she is overwhelming, abundantly loved by her birth family. I’m aware that the contact that we have (seeing each other about weekly) is sometimes hard for our daughter’s tummy mom. I know that contact may change as our lives change. But I know, deeply and with profound gratitude, that my daughter’s mom will always keep us close for the sake of our daughter. We are blessed, blessed beyond measure.

Question: Why didn’t the outspoken, loving maternal grandmother take a stand against the abuse? Did the added stress of raising children bring on the mental health issues with her father or were Anne’s adopted parents hiding this when they had the home study? If that was the case, how can social workers see beyond the smoke screen or when a couple appears too perfect?

My Thoughts:  I think Anne’s adoptive parents definitely hid their mental health issues. Several times in her story, Anne mentions her mother telling the kids not to tell anyone about their father’s rages. Anne’s mom is embarrassed when her husband screams at them with the windows open so the neighbors can hear. At one point in the story (before the family moves back to New Jersey), Anne’s grandmother does confront her mother about the father’s behavior, but she ties it to his inability to keep a job rather than to his (mis)treatment of his children. When Anne complains to her mom about her dad’s behavior, her mom responds with a “let’s be grateful” litany. So from my reading of the story, I think there is a larger system at work here: general avoidance of mental health issues by the public (emotional abuse isn’t taken seriously) and a belief that as long as kids are fed and clothed, how they are treated physically and emotionally is of lesser importance. I hope that this is changing.

Question: How does a social worker know signs to look for if one of the adopted parents is a functional alcoholic or has an undiagnosed mental health issue?

This question ties in with the last part of the previous one about seeing beyond smoke screens. This is hard for me to answer because I’m not a social worker, and hard for me emotionally because I am close to an adopted person who experienced abuse. I also feel a sense of corporate responsibility because I am an adoptive parent.

Here’s one example of a guide for social workers who are screening potential adoptive or foster parents. I don’t know if this type of screening would help catch signs of hidden mental illness or alcoholism. I do know, from completing a home study two years ago, that we were asked and answered hundreds of questions. But, to be honest, we were focused more on “passing” than on inquiring about our social worker’s credentials. Both of us have been in therapy for a long time, so I worried, too, that if we had “red flags” for parenting, we also had ways of talking about them that made us seem like we’d done our work. (Remember that Anne’s mom took her to a psychiatrist during the wedding fight…going to therapy is no guarantee.) I remember feeling a lot of curiosity: would we make good parents? Could they help us with training and resources? (Yes, they did). I think my natural love of learning was squashed a bit by my own paralyzing anxiety that we would never be chosen and never get a chance to be moms.

I worry that birth parents are encouraged to place because potential adoptive parents will give their child a “better” life. Agencies who are only interested in placements and not in child welfare are not going to be honest about the abuse that happens in adoptive families. So I think that’s one place we can start: we can push for more transparency and for agency follow-up. When I found out that we had two post-placement visits (from the agency) in one year, I was a little disappointed. Don’t they want to check with us in two years, four years, five years, ten years, and make sure we are still doing a good job? If I was a birth parent, that’s what I would want! Especially if my adoption wasn’t open.

Since follow-up and transparency are not naturally in an agency’s best interest, it has to be something that we, the adoptive parents with the agency fees in our pockets, push for and demand. We need to choose agencies that are truly child-centered.

….

I encourage you to check out what other members of the virtual book group had to say about this book.

To continue to the next leg of this book tour, please visit the main list at LavenderLuz.com.