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Adoption thoughts

Adoption is a process which is fraught with the possibility of manipulation, coercion, and bribery. Faced with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy, it must be difficult to decide that your child will be better off with another family, and money can often complicate the decision making process. The desires of adoptive families leave them vulnerable to exploitation, but also give incentive to exploit biological families. Third parties, such as lawyers and social workers, have their own agendas. With all of the competing interests and high emotions involved, it is not hard for one party to take advantage of another.

In some ways, we were quite lucky. We got to know Katja’s biological family before she was born. We were able to visit them several times a month—we shared meals with them, introduced them to our dog Nyx, attended medical visits, and talked about a wide range of subjects. Moreover, they had made the decision to adopt before talking to an adoption facilitator, so we were not concerned that they were being forced into anything. They knew what they wanted and they chose us to adopt their daughter.

We were unlucky in other ways. Our adoption facilitator behaved in a way that we feel, in retrospect, was unethical. He billed us at lawyer rates for tasks that could (and should) have been done by an assistant for far less, such as delivering documents and transporting the biological family to appointments. At one point, he informed us that “Birth parents are just not that bright.” This set off red flags for us, but we had already spent most of our resources, and had to make the decision to either continue working with him or give up on the idea of adoption altogether

It frustrated us that he referred to all of the people we met as possible matches as “birth mothers.” We knew the term was widely used, but until the final documents are signed, the mother is a pregnant woman considering adoption. The term “birth mother” sets up the assumption that the adoption will happen; it is no longer as much of a choice. The terminology is probably comforting to most adoptive parents, but it was not comforting to us. It gave us the feeling that biological families were not treated well by the facilitator, that their calls and requests were not respected unless the potential adoptive parents pushed, and that the facilitator was setting everything up to profit as much as possible from the process.

After the facilitator blew through nearly all of the trust account we established for the adoption in a month and a half, we tried to work with him to limit the cost of the adoption. We were told, point blank, that if we couldn’t continue to pay, the match would be cancelled and he would find another adoptive family. Happily, we had established a strong enough bond with Katja’s biological family that we were able to work with them directly, and were able to cut out the middle man. Still, it was incredibly upsetting to feel like we were being blackmailed.

We have been working through a lot of thoughts about adoption as Katja gets bigger. We want her to know her biological family, and we are trying to stay in touch. We want her to know that she was not abandoned and that her biological parents love her very much. We want Katja to know that she was “picked out special,” and that she is dearly loved by both biological and adoptive families. She is being raised in a family where two of her grandparents were adopted, as was her great aunt, so there is no question about whether adoptive family is good enough. We are Family, and she is part of it. She may not look exactly like anyone else in the family, but we’re an odd group anyway, so that should be all right. We will make sure that she is raised in an environment with as many cultural influences as much as possible. We are hoping to do some traveling so she experiences more than just one place and group of people.

Our daughter is a funny, smart, beautiful, strong, loving, and brave little person. She eats almost anything we put in front of her, including spicy foods, and she enjoys experimenting with combining different tastes. Unless she’s tired, she doesn’t cry when she falls down because there are too many other interesting things going on. She loves music and loves to dance, getting her whole body involved and clearly enjoying herself. She likes making noise with the piano. She’s starting to learn to talk and she is definitely communicating nonverbally; if she doesn’t like something, we have no doubt about it! We are incredibly lucky that she is part of our family.

Adoption can be good. We know that her biological family still feels this was the right choice. Obviously, we do, too. At the same time, I wish that our society had enough support in a wide variety of ways to make adoption unnecessary, to allow every family to make choices about parenting and raise their biological children in a safe, supportive way. I am glad that Katja is our daughter, though.

I will be writing about the adoption process, the ethics, and various other subjects as they come up. This particular post was inspired by a post at Peter’s Cross Station, here: http://peterscrossstation.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/by-special-request-10-red-flags-that-your-adoption-agency-might-be-coercive/ I have not addressed everything in that post, but it’s a beginning.

An odd state of being

Another step in the adoption process was completed last week. I am starting to believe more that this could actually happen.

Infertility and everything we went through during that process made me very leery of getting excited about things that might not happen. Every month, I hoped that I was pregnant. Every month, I wasn’t. Every time it ended up hurting, even though on some level I came to expect it. We went through the testing and the appointments and, eventually, the IUI, hoping again every month that something would go right this time. It never did, and we ended up being told that we are “impressively infertile” and that the doctor could not ethically do another intra-uterine insemination (IUI). He suggested in vitro fertilization, despite the fact that we had said we did not want that and, as we found out later, that we were not good candidates.

Another doctor, more tests, and we were told we had next to no chance with IUIs. The doctor was willing to do it, but he gave us the numbers and said that if it were a choice he had to make, he would not do it.

We spent years hoping every month. We spent years having that shown to be a ridiculous hope every month. I stopped believing much, and getting excited about something that was not definite became something that I could not do.

I am afraid of getting hurt that much again.

Adoption is not definite. I know that this has a high likelihood of going well. I know that we are doing everything we can to make it work, and it looks promising. I, however, am still afraid to hope too much. I remember how much the failed hope hurt. I want to be excited, but I am holding myself back.

This step helps a little bit. I am beginning to hope. We are starting to put together a registry, which, for me, is quite difficult. It means that I can see this adoption as a real enough possibility to actually plan for it, at least on some level. We are moving furniture and figuring out where things will need to go to if another person ends up living with us. We are talking about looking for another car to accommodate both the dog and the child at the same time; our current car is fine, but Nyx takes up the entire back seat.

I do not think I will completely believe it until all of the paperwork has been signed and all we have to do is get through the six months before the adoption is finalized. Until then, it would be very easy for this to fall apart, and I am afraid. I should not be – in Magic 8 Ball parlance, all signs point to yes – but infertility taught me not to hope, not to let myself open up that far. I am in the situation of planning for something I do not quite believe in but desperately want to have happen.

It is a very odd state of being.

Open adoption

We have been talking a lot about openness about and in adoption. I have been somewhat surprised at people I know who think that it is all right to not tell a child that he or she is adopted. That is the basic part of openness about adoption. We believe that lying to a child is wrong, especially about something this basic. We each have an adopted parent, and both of them knew from the very beginning that they were adopted. It was not a big deal. It was part of life. It certainly was not anything to be embarrassed or upset about.

Some of our friends have been somewhat surprised about our approach to telling the child that he or she is adopted as early as we are planning (baby books, for instance, so the concept is there from the beginning). I do not want their story to be a surprise to them at any point in their lives.

If everything goes smoothly, we will be adopting a child who does not look like us. That will raise questions; that is not something that is easily ignored. I have heard about an adoptee who was a light-skinned African American adopted into an Italian family who was convinced until he was a teenager that he was just a slightly darker-skinned Italian. He was quite upset to discover he was adopted.

I do not want to raise a child without opening up the discussion and letting them ask. In the second King Fu Panda movie, the panda asks his father (a duck) why he never told the panda that he was adopted. The father’s response was, “You never asked!” Communication has to be open. It has to be all right for the child to ask anything and not feel uncomfortable, and it is our job to make sure that the the openings are there. Adoption will not be a taboo subject; it will be discussed as easily as food, work, school, and any other common subject.

In terms of meeting with the biological family, there are pros and cons. If we make that agreement, we will hold by it, of course. It can cause some emotional challenges, probably more for me than for the child (I cannot speak for Xander), but I think it is important. If a child knows that there is another family out there related to him or her, it is quite possible that the other family will be romanticized. I know when I was little, if I got angry with my parents, I would wish I had another family. How much stronger could that wish be if you actually knew there were people out there related to you? If the child has the opportunity to meet their biological relatives somewhat regularly, that romanticization could be limited. Also, seeing biological relatives may help with self-identification; it is good to see people who look like you. My older brother and younger sister are both built differently than I am, but I am clearly a combination of my mother and my father. I liked knowing I have my dad’s shoulders, for instance, and my mom’s hips. I think it might help the child grow up with a more comfortable sense of self if he or she knows that they look like someone.

I want adoption, the concept of more than one family, to be comfortable. I do not want the child to feel ashamed or unhappy. I have a lot to learn about a different culture so I can understand how everything fits together for the child, but at the same time, the child will be raised as our child, as part of our culture. I would like the child to feel comfortable with both cultures and to be able to find a path that suits them. I do not expect that path to be easy, necessarily, but I want the child be completely sure of our love and support.

This is going to be an interesting road we wander down…

To write or not to write?

I’m feeling selfish.

If/when we end up with a child, I will want to write about that experience. I don’t, however, want to write about it here. This is my space.

I am not a mommy blogger. I don’t have any issues with mommy bloggers; I think they fill an important niche, and in a lot of ways help people feel like what they are going through is a little less lonely. That particular niche can create a very important community.

I don’t want this little corner of the internet to be part of it. This blog was created because I needed to sort through a lot of things that were going on in my life at the time. I had left an incredibly toxic seven-year-long relationship. I was redefining myself. I was house hunting, working, trying to find my balance again, and learning that a lot of people I thought were friends had decided that I was not an acceptable human being because of what the other person had been saying. I used words then, as I do now, to help me find my way through life and to understand it better. I suppose it is also useful for understanding myself better. I still need this space to make sense of a very strange world. I will have a place to write about being a parent, but it will be private, not associated with this.

I do not expect many people to read my rambles. I’m sure that if I became part of the mommy blogging community I could have more readers and make more connections, but that isn’t what I’m doing here. I don’t particularly care how many people read this. I certainly enjoy seeing hits on my statistics, but I’m not shattered if they don’t come. This is the space I use to figure things out.

I have been limiting what I say here lately. Adoption is a frustrating process, and much of what goes on, I can’t talk about, either because of privacy issues or because it would not be sensible for one reason or another. I have, therefore, been ignoring the blog for the most part. I simply can’t sort anything out here. Despite having very few regular readers, it is a very public place and I am very easy to find.

One thing I have been thinking about, though, is the question of privacy in adoption. I have read several bloggers who say that they haven’t told anyone about the biological family of their child because it isn’t their story to tell. I completely understand not telling perfect strangers, but not telling family seems odd. We are going to make sure that the child (if this works) knows from the very beginning that he or she is adopted and was picked out special. The “how you came to be” story will include the biological family. There won’t be any surprises. If there were information that we wanted to keep from the child, I could understand it; for instance, if you didn’t want your mother in law to tell your child that their biological parent was in prison, then perhaps you would hold that piece of information back so you can broach the subject at the appropriate time. We are lucky enough to not have that issue. It would also depend on your relationship with your family, I’m sure. I’m not very worried about it. We’re not giving anyone else information that will surprise or upset the child, because the child will have all of the available information from very early on.

I have also been wrestling with other things, like the possibility of raising a child of a different race. Raising a child to be strong, independent, and curious, and how that would be different depending on whether you are talking about a boy or a girl. Reading about the impressively insensitive questions people get from strangers and trying to figure out how to answer them. Thinking about nature versus nurture and wondering what will come of that.

This is the first time in the five years that we have been trying to have a child, one way or another, that I have felt like it might actually be possible. We might actually be parents sometime soon.

Oh, and I’ve discovered that nesting is most definitely not hormonal. I have been cleaning and organizing and painting and trying to make the house perfect. It won’t end up being perfect, of course, but at least it will not be quite as cluttered. I was not expecting that, but it is rather amusing and good for the house.

Now that the blog hosting has been shifted, I’ll be taking part in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge again. I do enjoy that, and, if you are interested, please stop by!

A grey day

Sometimes the words just come. Sometimes they don’t. Today is one of the latter days.

I’ve been thinking a lot about adoption, of course. People keep saying that it will all be worth it in the end. I hope so. The process is not pleasant, to say the least. That isn’t helping my state of mind. The worst is almost over, though. I am feeling more often that everyone involved in the process is advocating for someone else, and that nowhere in this are our needs really being noted. We want a child who does not have fetal alcohol syndrome and who was not drug exposed. If we were capable of conceiving, neither one of those would have been an issue. I don’t want them to be an issue now, but the feeling I get is that we should cut some slack in that area. What if the biological mother didn’t know she was pregnant while she was drinking? We’re not passing a moral judgement on drinking. All we’re saying is that we don’t want to deal with that issue, because we wouldn’t have to if the child were genetically ours.

I’ve been thinking about Daniel, too. I still miss him a lot. Baseball season starts again in a few months, and, while I am very much looking forward to that, it is a little bittersweet because it is one of the things we both loved. Our team was the feeder team for his team, so we even saw the same players over time.

It’s a confused, emotionally messy kind of day. I’m not in a bad mood, or a sad mood, just kind of grey. I’m home sick today, which probably has something to do with it, and by tomorrow I should be a little more positive in my outlook. For the moment, though, I’ll spend the day on the couch, drinking broth and watching Netflix, and that will be good.

Adoption process frustrations

I figured out one of the things that makes the adoption process so hard. It’s like the two week wait, but it takes a lot longer and there are more people poking at us.

For those lucky enough to have avoided infertility treatments, the two week wait is the period between the time that the egg and sperm are supposed to have joined and the point at which you can do a pregnancy test. It’s a bad time. Hope wars with fear. You know the chances of everything coming out well (generally not great chances, just to be clear). You can try to keep your mind off of it, but that date on the calendar is looming. When that date comes, you will either be cautiously joyful (you still have to get to the second trimester, after all) or you will be sad again and have to either gear up for the next month of trying or make the decision to stop.

Two weeks of holding your breath, hoping, fearing, and daring to dream a little is pretty exhausting.

Imagine how much fun that would be if it were extended indefinitely. Add in social workers, doctors, a home study, applications, and awkward communication.

We don’t know how long this will take. We don’t know if or when biological parents will like us enough to choose us. We don’t know if we will find someone who wants to give us a healthy child.

There are a lot of variables. Just as with the two week wait, we’ve done all we can. We’ve submitted fingerprints, medical records, applications, proof of employment, and anything else we’ve been asked for. We have a few things left, but we’re reaching the point at which the best we can do is sit back, relax, and hope for the best.

I’ve been trying to sort out my feelings so I can understand why this process has felt so frustrating and invasive. The more I understand, the easier it is for me to get through this process.

New language twitches

I have twitched about a lot of words. Some of them are admittedly silly – empathetic versus empathic, for instance. As we’re working through the adoption process, though, I’m finding other words and phrases to twitch about, some of which I had never thought of before.

Just to start with, we’re supposed to create an introduction of us for people considering us as adoptive parents. In a lot of places, this is called the “Dear birthmother” letter. This has started to make me twitch a little. The person reading this information is not a birthmother. She’s a pregnant woman. She may not have even completely decided whether or not she wants to move forward with adoption. She may still be considering keeping the baby once it’s born. “Dear birthmother” seems like it makes assumptions. It also draws a line in the sand, almost like all this person is can be defined in that word. Birthmother. This shuts the relationship off. I don’t know yet how I feel about open adoption (we’re working through that) but we don’t use the word “birthmother” in this society for anything other than adoptions, and the line stops there. Biological, not nurturing, not being part of this possible child’s life. Just birthmother, emphasis on birth, with no expected contact after that. It’s like the birthmother is some kind of breeder. I’m probably being oversensitive and trying to understand all sides of the issue, but this puts my teeth on edge.

Next up is adoptive parents who refer to “our birthmother”. The first time I read that phrase I stopped, went back, and read it again. This person is the child’s birthmother, not the birthmother of the family. “Our birthmother” just strikes me as really weird.

I’d prefer a little more clarity, I suppose. Biological parents, perhaps, and adoptive parents. That’s clear, and there’s no way I would ever say “Oh, she’s our biological mother” because I already have one of those. “She is my child’s biological mother” is easier for me.

I have a hard time seeing this process from the perspective of a pregnant woman thinking about trying to find another family for her child because we have wanted a child for so long. I understand that circumstances force this reality, and I know that she will have to gain some level of trust to be willing to relinquish her child to us. I know that, at least to begin with, this adoption will be open to an extent, because the biological parent(s) will be looking through possibilities and choosing people they would like to be adoptive parents. That scares me a little, but we’ll handle it as we move forward, I’m sure.

The language surrounding adoption is awkward. We talk about how we would raise our child, because by the time we are dealing with education and discipline and exercise the child will be ours. The child, at that point, is not a child, he or she is our child. At the same time, it is awkward talking about that in the introduction because we are talking about a child that we don’t even know yet, that isn’t born, and it feels almost assumptive to say “This is what we’ll do with our child, and maybe it will be the one you are carrying, maybe not.” It’s semantically odd. We can’t say “We want your baby” because that runs creepy right up to the edge. I wouldn’t be happy with someone saying that to me, so I will certainly not say it to someone else.

We’re trying to communicate to someone who may be young, may be scared, may not be sure if this is the right thing to do. We’re trying to show our life so that person understands and we are trying to avoid saying anything stupid in the process. It’s just very strange. I hope it works out well, because at the moment it feels very much like we’re walking blind, trying to figure out how to explain who we are to someone who has never met us. We’re asking someone to trust us with a child, and we can’t meet them until after they’ve decided that we might be good enough. We have to try to get the words right now so they make sense to an unknown audience.

We are doing the best we can, and we will have help from professionals who have done this before. We will manage, I’m sure, and hopefully we will appeal to someone. Right now, though, I just don’t want to screw it up, and I don’t even know how to avoid that yet. We’re still learning the language.

What would you change?

One of the questions that keeps coming up on the many, many forms we have been filling out is, “If you could change anything about your spouse, what would it be?”

This has given rise to many snarky comments, including “…your face!” and “Wait, I have to pick just one?!” When we come down to it, though, neither one of us can think of anything in particular.

We’ve known each other for seven years. While we have been involved for all but five months of that time, we have, more importantly, been friends. There are certainly minor irritants in the relationship, but we have gotten used to them. It would worry me at this point if his irritating habits went away, and, furthermore, they really aren’t irritating at this point. They are part of him. Neither one of us came into this relationship looking for the other person to change in any specific way, and we accepted that the other person would change in ways we could not predict.

When I met Xander, he was training to be an archaeologist. Now he’s a mathematician and a teacher. When he met me I was working for the school district, and since then I’ve settled into a new career in housing that I didn’t even know existed. I have changed in other ways, too, as has he. People we love have died on both sides. Our infertility caused a strain on the relationship and changed how we perceive the world. We have been through job loss, raising a puppy, and working on the house. We came out of each experience with a stronger relationship, appreciating each other more and with a deeper love for each other. We are still friends. Coming home to him is the best part of my day, and, while many things may change, I seriously doubt that this will change.

I understand the question, and I know why they ask it, but all I can come up with is “Nothing”. I love all of who Xander is and I believe that I will continue to do so, even as we change. I know that no one goes into a relationship, a marriage, expecting that it won’t work. I think we are doing pretty well so far, and I’m hoping that we will continue to grow together and appreciate the changes we see in each other.

While many of the questions are repetitive and irritating, it is interesting to talk through them and understand why each of us responds in the same or different ways.

Taking the next step

Adoption is a process. I keep having to tell myself that, because at this point the process involves filling out a lot of forms. Forty pages for one place, ten for another, all kinds of questions I never expected to have to answer. Our history, our families’ history, health, emotional involvement, how we see each other, how we see our families, our relationships with everyone, and all kinds of odd pieces of information.

I keep reminding myself that at the end of this whole long drawn out repetitive process we will hopefully have a baby to show for it. All of the questions are to help a birth parent be absolutely sure that we are acceptable people so they can be comfortable with their choice. I understand that. At the moment, it’s irritating and frustrating and rather tiresome.

In flying, there’s a saying. “The most important thing is the next thing.” It works in many situations, and this, I think, is one of them. We can’t get anywhere without jumping through all of the hoops. We’ve made the decision to go through with this process, which means we have to take these steps. The better we do, the less time we will have to wait. At least that’s what I’m telling myself at the moment.

The biggest unknown in this is how birth parents will see us. It’s like a popularity contest but we don’t even get to see the judges. We’re supposed to lay out our lives, try to help other people understand who we are, and then we will wait. Maybe they’ll like us, maybe not, and all we can do is hope that what we write and the pictures we send out will appeal to someone.

It’s a little scary in a strange way. We’re putting everything out there and hoping that someone will like us, like our dog, like the cats, whatever – that something will appeal. We can’t write to a particular audience, since we don’t know the audience. We just have to be ourselves. I’ve always disliked that phrase. “Be yourself!” Who else am I going to be? We have to write the way we do. In my case, that’s pretty much how I speak. We have very different writing “voices”, and writing answers to all of these questions requires that we combine voices, which is sometimes a bit odd.

At some point we will have a baby. That’s what matters. That’s why we’re filling out forms and putting up with all of these questions. Someone will like us, someone will want us to raise the baby they birth. It’s a little hard to see right now, so I’m back to the most important step being the next step. We can get through reams of paper if we need to. We know what we want. It’s just going to take a while, and we’re just at the beginning of the process.

On to the next step.

Almost a new year

In 2010, we got the second opinion that confirmed our infertility. My grandmother stopped recognizing people she’d known for years, and when we were visiting she was afraid of Xander, which made me very sad. Worst of all, of course, was that my younger brother died. There are days that I still want to just curl up and make the world go away when I think about that. Last night I said it was a very good thing that we were going out for Chinese food on Christmas because Daniel loved Christmas and if we just stayed home I might have a very hard evening. Chinese food is something to look forward to, though, and we’ll figure out a movie to see so I can relax and enjoy the evening. The final little piece from 2010 (and I’m just going on hope, here, that nothing else will blow up before January 1) was that the first adoption agency we applied to rejected us with no explanation other than a form letter and a general comment about “not enough babies, too many families.” That did not make me very happy, either.

2011 will be better. One way or another. I’m declaring it. I probably shouldn’t, but I feel the need to look forward to the new year rather than be terrified of how much more could go wrong.

At this point, we have been accepted by an adoption agency and we know who will be doing our home study. We can start tentatively moving forward. We have something new to think about and work towards. On some level it would be easier to just go forward as we have been doing, use the income we have to work more on the house, get another car to help with the periodic transportation issues, and let go of the idea of having a child. On the other hand, though, we both want a baby and we’re not willing to give up yet. We’ll keep reassessing, but for the moment we both want to try this avenue.

I’m not expecting the new year to be perfect. In my 35 years so far, no year has been without its challenges, at least not that I remember. No year has been without pieces of good, though, either. This year we became closer friends with several people, I got a teenager involved in belly dancing, I started learning Zumba, Xander graduated and got his teaching credential for what he wants to do, I got my hair cut and it looks good, and I get to spend a lot more time with Xander because I only have one job. It hasn’t been an unrelentingly bad year, just very hard on many levels.

I hope next year will have less hard things to deal with and more happy parts. I can’t expect that, exactly, but I can hope.

I’m cleaning house right now both literally and figuratively. I’m working on what I need and what I don’t, what I want to do and what is habit that doesn’t help. I cleaned my office last weekend and will do more work on it this weekend. The house is very clean right now and I will try to keep it that way. I need to extend that to the yards sometime soon. For the moment, though, walking in to see a clean house, knowing that everything at home, at least, is pretty stable, is a good thing. I can hold onto the work we’ve done, everything we’ve been through, that makes our marriage stable, makes our house a home.

I will move into the next year more confident, more relaxed, more rested, more sad, and more joyful. Life is not simple, but perhaps
next year will be a little easier.